This Simulator Is for Real: 'Every Physical Product Should Be Made with Our Software' ; Never Knowingly Understated, the Boss of a French Powerhouse Urges the World to Look through His 3D Glasses TECHNOLOGY DASSAULT SYSTMES

Article excerpt

On the banks of the Seine, in the bourgeois Parisian suburb of Suresnes, on the seventh floor of an undistinguished building, Bernard Charls is pacing about his functional little office. The irrepressible chief executive of France's Dassault Systmes is explaining how he sees the world in digital 3D, saying: "All physical products, no matter what, should be designed and made, end to end, with our simulated 3D software."

Dassault is a EUR5.3bn (pounds 3.6bn) group whose innovative computer-aided design (CAD) software has revolutionised the construction of planes, cars, boats, factories, watches, mobile phones - even a dam in Canada, and architect Frank Gehry's Guggenheim art museum in Bilbao.

"Only when manufacturers have looked at every aspect of the design and construction of their products, and verified that they will perform via virtual 3D software, should they be authorised to use the energy, resources and material to build them," Charls argues. "Why build a product that may not work, when in the virtual world you can verify if it will work or not?"

Charls was 26 years old when he joined Dassault in 1983 to lead teams developing new technologies. He had graduated with honours as a mechanical engineer from one of France's most intellectually rigorous universities, the Ecole Normale Suprieure in Cachan. He led the company's thrust into design software and became its chief executive in 2002.

With his lithe figure, contagious optimism and explosive energy, he is a dead ringer for the American genius of dance, Gene Kelly. When it is suggested he might resemble the star of An American in Paris, he laughs: "Some days, yes."

If only, he continues, his fellow countrymen could be so nimble on their feet. "When it comes to the approach to business here, the French may have invented the word entrepreneur but they do not always recognise it." After a pause he adds: "But we are getting better. I have to be positive about my country."

His promise to blue-chip clients such as Boeing, BMW, Toyota, Porsche and Nokia is compelling: "faster, better, cheaper" processes and products, as their far-flung teams of designers and engineers collaborate cohesively in real time courtesy of Dassault 3D simulated images on their screens.

Charls insists there is no need for expensive physical prototypes as the final, virtual prototypes can be verified digitally, so costs and lead times to market are slashed and factory production capacity can be optimised.

Dassault software does not come cheap and businesses must also be willing to make radical changes to the way they operate, to embrace digital management of the life cycle of their products.

But evidently Charls' messianic zeal and the power of IBM's sales and consulting machine, to which Dassault has hooked its wagon, has convinced many. The company enjoyed a 17 per cent rise in revenue and net profit last year, to EUR934.5m and EUR187.2m respectively. A week ago, it forecast a 12 per cent rise in earnings per share this year.

It has a dominant share, 23 per cent, of the global market in CAD and CAE (computer-aided engineering)' there are only four smaller competitors: UGS, PTC, Autodesk and Matrix One. In the early 1980s, it had 50 rivals.

Dassault Systmes was spun out of Dassault Aviation in 1981 when the founder, the pioneering aircraft manufacturer Marcel Dassault, and his son, Serge, told a team of engineers who were working on CAD software to build a separate, prosperous enterprise. …