|Al Bunshaft is the managing director of Dassault Systèmes North America. (Mark Wilson for The Boston Globe)|
Advancing computer-aided design
Al Bunshaft, 52, is managing director of Dassault Systèmes North America, a subsidiary of France’s largest software company, Dassault Systèmes. Founded in the 1980s to provide computer-aided design software to the aviation and automotive industries, the company today is known for a suite of 3-D software products - 3-D digital design, 3-D digital simulation, 3-D digital manufacturing, and 3-D digital collaboration. Later this year, the company will move its Americas headquarters to a new campus in Waltham. Bunshaft recently spoke with Globe reporter D.C. Denison.
Is computer-aided design obsolete?
It’s not obsolete, but we’ve come a long, long way since we started using it in the 1980s. We think of CAD as designing planes, trains, and automobiles. But now we’re using 3-D to understand and manage traffic flow in cities, and study and reconstruct the site of the pyramids in Egypt. Procter & Gamble is using 3-D software to not only design shampoo bottles, but also understand how people navigate stores. The world we live in is 3-D, and now we can create virtual, synthetic worlds that can fool us into thinking that they are real.
So you’re extending CAD to a much wider range of uses.
We want to create a lifelike experience, instead of a computer-generated experience. It’s close to what people are using in gaming technology, but it’s for much more serious applications, like simulating emergency room situations for doctors in training. We are also working to create augmented reality products.
How does augmented reality differ from virtual reality?
In augmented reality, we combine the virtual with the real world. For example, a client of ours, a furniture chain, is using our technology for a mobile app that allows you to use your smartphone to combine a picture of your living room with an image of a table you’re thinking of buying. You can really see what that table will look like in your room.
Will this kind of technology trickle down to home and personal use?
There’s absolutely no question that this technology will trickle down to the average person. Companies will use 3-D to let us configure our automobiles. In general, you’ll be able to experience many more products at home before you buy. Another example: Real estate companies are using our software to market high-end condominiums before they are built. As these tools get better at helping us understand our world, they are going to spread everywhere.
Dassault Systèmes is based in France. How big is the Boston operation?
Our company is just under 10,000 employees. We have about 3,000 employees in the Americas, with about 1,000 in the Northeast. In the Boston area, we have about 800 employees. This is the headquarters of our operations in the Americas, primarily because there is a pool of talent here that I think is unmatched. It’s also convenient that this is the nearest time zone in the America to Paris.
Product lifecycle management (PLM) is the core product at Dassault Systèmes. How would you define PLM?
The most important word of those three is lifecycle. That’s what makes it more than just design. It’s managing the lifecycle of an innovation, from when it starts with a concept, an idea, and goes into requirements, definition, and the design phase. Then you have to simulate it. You can even simulate the manufacturing environment. After that we can track changes, parts changes, and defects.
Do you think we’re getting to the point where we’re not going to do anything important without simulating it first?
It’s going to be increasingly difficult to compete without simulations. People don’t use computer simulation because it’s cool, or because it’s interesting technology. They use it because it allows them to get to market more quickly. And it lets them take costs out of their product. BMW now does much of its crash testing using virtual technology. Of course, they are legally required to crash test real vehicles. But they only do it at the very end of the real world cycle. You can imagine how much money that saves, when you don’t have to crash real cars. So yes, I think, yes, in almost every industry it will eventually be necessary to simulate in order to compete.