"Why Would a Canadian Graphics Company Use a German CAD Engine?"
by Ralph Grabowski
"Why Would a Canadian Graphics Company Use a German CAD Engine?"
by Ralph Grabowski
"Veteran CAD CEO on Staying Relevant and Important in Today’s CAD Market"
by Ralph Grabowski
#SEU15 on Twitter
Alright, here we are in Cincinnati for the annual Solid Edge University event. Usually, it's in June to coincide with the annual release of the namesake software, but this year it's in October, and maybe later we'll be able to find out why.
We're starting this morning with the keynote by John Miller, he the senior vice president of mainstream engineering software -- which is the way Siemens says that he is in charge of Solid Edge and FeMap. The theme this year is "Design without Boundaries." Better yet, this is the 20th anniversary of Solid Edge, which originated with Intergraph's Project Jupiter initiative, old timers will recall. This is why Solid Edge is headquartered in Alabama instead of Munich.
The key differentiator of Solid Edge with its similarly-priced competitors (Solidworks, Inventor, Creo, and so on) is Synchronous Technology, which is best described as super-charged constraints. But it is not easy for users to get into it, and so a theme of every Solid Edge University is encouragement to get into SE.
In the photos of John Miller (above and at right) you can see part of a giant statistic, "61% happier." According to a survey (I don't know the source, sorry), people who use SynchTech are 61% happier with Solid Edge than those who don't.
Many Solid Edge users simply employ the software like a Solidworks or Pro/E: a history-based parametric modeler. Switching to SynchTech is a bit of brain tease. And so Siemens PLM is always promoting the great differentiator. At breakfast, I met the designer of cattle feed lots. He is the opposite, he told me. He always works with SynchTech but now needs to learn "ordered" modeling, Siemens' name for non-SynchTech modeling.
Other tidbits from Mr Miller: Microsoft Surface is the sole Platinum sponsor of this event, and there are a number of demo stations where attendees can try out the latest Surface Pro 4 and Surface Book. It always has been Microsoft's desire to drive up the price of Windows-based computers, and so the most expensive SurfaceBook positively beams at $3,200; stylus included. I'll never be able to afford that.
There are now over 200 third-party developers with add-ons for Solid Edge, some of which are showing their products here. And then there is the online Solid Edge App Marketplace where "We have a nice selection, with more to come." Not sure of the official tally of attendees, and so I am guestimating 400-500.
Fascinating talk by Phillip Norman of Ross Robotics, an artist who became an engineer using Solid Edge to invent a universal connector. Think of Lego having only one brick that can handle any type of connection, including circular ones. Anyhow, this led to him forming a company that builds simplified non-metallic robots for dangerous locations like CERN's high magnetic fields.
One thing that potential customers wanted was a low slung robot (low slung so that it would not tip over) that could travel through unexpected terrains and yet not get caught up on its underbelly. Take a look a the wheel at left: those rubbery legs open up to grab edges; a secondary tread is operated by the wheels ensure that when the bottom drags, it becomes like a tank tread, and so cannot get hung up.
Speaking with Mr Norman during the break, he admitted he forgot to mention during his speech that he uses SynchTech extensively. "Once you figure it out, you'd be crazy to go back. It does so many things for me automatically, so fast." He also mentioned that his robots have a lot of artificial intelligence to self-configure, to understand their environment.
The first time he tried out his tank tread idea, it was sending the robot over some local train tracks. He was video taping the robot's movement, but the resulting movie jumped around so much, because he was giggling with joy that his idea worked!
Siemens isn't just all gray and blue engineering software. It's also trying new software, like Catchbook -- simplified parametric software that converts hand sketches on tablets into straight lines and proper curves. It's not yet released, "coming in Fall 2015."
Ken Hosch is director of innovation, research, and strategy, and he is on stage to show off this tablet-based software to let more people be involved in design: helping people draw freehand accurately: it uses D-Cubed's DCM constraint manager to covert freehand ink into curves; edit curves; write notes; place dimensions; creates PDFs, use a stylus to draw and erase; and so on.
Basic entities are lines, circles, arcs, ellipses, and splines. To select, draw around the entities, and then choose an action. Scribble action erases, making breaks in curves, removing entire curves, or the entire drawing. When the software notices a thing is drawn a second time very similarly, Catchbook makes it the same size as the first, and aligns it.
Being parametric, entities are moved intelligently and are snapped to geometric features. Most commands are not executed consciously: nearly every action is done with the stylus or by touch.
Commands appear in a toolbar-like control near the pen. Multiple drawings are stored in binders to create collections.
About to go into public beta. Runs on Android, iOS, and oh, also Windows (heh) https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/catchbook/
Solid Edge ST8
During the break, I learned why Solid Edge University is in October, instead of June with the software release. Siemens felt that its customers should have experience with the new release before coming to the University to take a deeper look at the new functions.
Applications engineer Craig Ruchuti is demoing to us what's new in the latest release-- wait, he just insulted us in the media as being not bright enough to figure out math. (See figure at right.) I guess he doesn't realize that some of us have our engineering degrees, even a PhD, but we love to write.
Well, now I have to stop writing, because there are no electrical outlets provided for the media to keeping powering our laptop computers.
[Disclosure: Siemens PLM paid for my airfare, hotel, and some meals.]
I snapped this photo using my Galaxy K Zoom smartphone, which welds a 10x zoom lens onto an Android phone.
In this case, I used a 4.9x zoom to foreshorten the trains, making them seem more massive. The zoom brings closer the lone Deutsche Bahn worker between the tracks at Munich's main train station. Before posting here, I modified the image using Picasa's Cinemascope filter that emphasizes the red color through saturation, and brightens the scene.
#3dief on Twitter
As I mentioned in the previous blog posting from 3D Insiders European Forum, new features that appear each year in CAD programs are first often times developed by technology providers like Spatial. For
While 3D modeling currently uses precise modeling (b-rep) successfully, it is not so good for organic models, like bones, point clouds, voxels (volume pixels), additive manufacturing (ie, 3D printing), and geology.
What's next for 3D from Spatial is polyhedra: polygonal modeling.CGM Polyhedral is an add-on to the ACIS modeler, and so is licensed separately.
Today, however, working on both precise (traditional 3D solids) and polyhedra data results in polyhedral objects. By V2017, however, Spatial hopes that such operations result in the precise data also being retained.
Hybrid modeling is where the CAD system works with exact (b-rep) and non-exact (polyhedral) geometry at the same time. One interface for both kinds of data.Data comes from raw triangular mesh data, or an ACIS body, or STL data through 3D Interop. Data is stored in the usual SAT/SAB file.
Operators that work with polyhedral data include offset, planar slice, healing, Booleans, visualization, queries, and checking. Certain some downstream operations may not be supported, because precise geometry is lost, such as blending. To get around this, entities like regions not involved in p-operations are not converted to polyhedral. Spatial plans in the future to remove this limitation.
Whether or not CAD vendors implement it depends on their target market. I asked one CAD vendor if he would implement it, and he said, "Maybe. It depends on what our customers want."
As the polyhedral modeler is license separately, customers of CAD vendors without the license will only be able to view the data. There were many questions from the floor on this issue. One asks, "Will we be able to touch the data without a license?" No. Inside the ACIS file, polyhedral data is just one more data type.
Dassault Systemes Spatial
Here we are at conference #4 in Europe, this time at the European Forum for 3D users of Spatial's toolkits. This division of Dassault Systemes is best known for the ACIS modeling kernel, but also is the "retail" source for the modeling kernel used by Dassault's software, CGM, the 3D Interop collection of translators, and additional software.
I miss Day 1, because I was on the other side of Munich taking in the Bricsys International Conference. Imagine my surprise, walking into the meeting room on Day 2 and seeing the ceo of Bricsys (from the conference earlier this week), the cto of Grabert (from the conference last week), the president of the ODA (from the conference last month) -- like a reunion. .
Day 2 User Experiences
Spatial is kind of like the ODA, so that they don't sell to end users, but provide technology used by CAD software companies. Often, Spatial and ODA implement new functions, which their CAD customers adopt, and then tout that they did it themselves.
And so it is a bit odd to hear them talking about user experiences, when the "users" are CAD vendors.
Robert Graebert is chief technology officer of Graebert Gmbh and is at the 3D Forum to describe his company's use of CDS (constraint system) and ACIS for solid modeling. More than 7 million users since 1994, with Graebert CAD software used by Dassault Systemes (heh, the loop), Corel, Onshape, ProgeCAD, CADopia, MC4, and SKA.
"Ideally you want to take your technology to all platforms," he said. And so Graebert has done this with its core software being written to be independent of the operating system. As for ACIS, Mr Graebert gives credit to the ODA for working with Spatial to integrate ACIS into Teigha; all Graebert needs to do is add the user interface to implement the solid modeling functions. Graebert actually provides its OEM customers two versions: ACIS view-only and ACIS editing.
Graebert had more work in integrating CDS constraint system, and was only the second CAD company to do so, according to Spatial. Now Mr Graebert is describing how they did the process. "Some things you might want to consider," he notes, because there isn't a one-to-one correspondence in entities types.
- - -
Next up is Extend3D with Werklicht Pro [German for worklight], a Munich company that does augmented reality for manufacturing. You really have to see the video to see how it works, but I'll try here. Targets on the piece being manufactured, like a transmission, position a camera that also uses two rotatable mirrors to accurately locate a green laser. The laser tells the worker where to place his tool, such as a drill.
The video showed how as the transmission was jostled back and forth, the camera-laser was able to follow along, albeit with a bit of a delay, say a second or so. Now, how does this connect to the CAD system?
Werklicht uses SpaceClaim to position the markers on the 3D model. When physical markers are put on the same spots on the transmission, the software is able to know where to position the laser.
One problem, the speaker noted, that bolt positions currently have to be imported into SpaceClaim as CSV files! In the future, they hope to add automatic target placements.
- - -
Now we hear from Erik de Keyser, ceo of Bricsys. He notes that they have 250,000 paying
customers, the first time I have heard a customer number from the company. He emphasizes that these are paying customers, perhaps a reference to Graebert having 7 million non-paying customers!
He reminds the audience that even though Autodesk is pushing 3D, their two primary products -- Inventor and Revit -- have file formats different from each other and from AutoCAD.
In contrast, BricsCAD does MCAD and BIM using DWG. While AutoCAD has only 2D constraints, BricsCAD also has 3D constraints. This is the result of four years of effort in implementing their own constraint (not the one from Spatial, ahem), direct modeling, surface modeling, deformable modeling, and a multi-CAD translator.
He gets into a discussion of just how unsuitable Revit is to users, who typically start concepts in SketchUp, switch to modeling in Revit, and then do detailing and plans in AutoCAD -- and each one with a different file format.
Gotta say one thing: Bricsys has the nicest slide set of the presenters this morning! (We also heard from a 4th company, but I had difficult following what they were offering.)
Stay tuned for the next session, What's next for 3D modeling?
[Disclosure: Spatial provided me with one night's hotel stay.]
Bricsys International Conference 2015
The conference facilities here are the best I've even sat it, which is a relief to us in the CAD media who have had to deal with no tables; tight seating; bad sight lines at some conferences of other CAD vendors.
With my rant out of the way, we are hearing the keynote from the ceo of Bricsys, Erik de Keyser. Both he and the ceo of Graebert Gmbh represent the most under-rated software systems in the CAD world. Well, maybe one day the rest of the CAD world will clue in.
Whereas Graebert is emphasizing OEM'ing on many kinds of platforms (desktop, mobile, Web), Bricsys is concentrating on many kinds of CAD activities based on the DWG format. So, for example, where Autodesk screwed itself by having a different file format for its AEC software, and a different file format for its MCAD software, so translation has been a nightmare for customers using more than one type of CAD design in their offices. By contrast, Bricsys was smarter than Autodesk, because their AEC software uses DWG, their MCAD software uses DWG.
The most startling announcement so far this morning is how much Bricsys spends on R&D. Most firms spend 5% to 20%; Bricsys spends more than 40% of its revenues on research and development. (See figure above.) That explains the volume of enhancements that it adds to BricsCAD each year, along with mid-year updates.
He points out that the combination of DWG and his Communicator software (data exchange with most standard and MCAD programs) means BricsCAD can play with the big boys, like PTC and Catia. (See figure at left.)
ODA and Bricsys
Neil Peterson, president of ODA, seems to on the same road tour as me, earlier being in Prague and Berlin for other conferences. The Open Design Alliance is the technical organization developing full access to the DWG file format for its 1,250 members, and so keeps Autodesk honest. Here in Munich, he notes that Bricsys is the ODA's strongest members, providing the most amount of code to improve DWG access and peripheral software the ODA provides members.
[Disclosure: Bricsys paid for part of my airfare, two nights hotel accommodation, and some meals.]
There are a lot more people at this year's conference than previous years. (See figure above.) I am guesstimating 350-400, consisting of third-party developers, users, Bricsys staff, and of course those of us in the CAD media.
One highlight of this annual event is learning what's going to be new in the next release of BricsCAD. I say "one highlight" because those of us who are beta testers already know all about it. Here is a list of new functions in V16:
DATAEXTRACTION: wizard that exports almost any property; export configuration saved in Data Extraction file (DXE). Exported file format is .csv
EXPORTLAYOUT exports visible objects from the current layout to the model space of a new drawing.
DRAWING LOCK FILE SYSTEM creates temporary .dwl and .dwl2 files to inform other users who has the drawing open through the new WHOHAS command.
COMMUNICATOR (optional, extra-cost oadd-on) now improts product (assembly) structure from ACIS, CATIA V4/V5/V6, IGES, Inventor, NX, Parasolid, Pro/E/Creo, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, STEP, VDA-FS, and XCGM. PRODUCTSTRUCTURE system variable controls whether the structure is imported as regular blocks or as local mechanical components.
TRANSPARENCY can be set for selected entities, or for all entities on a layer. CETRANSPARENCY controls the transparency value; HPTRANSPARENCY sets transparency for new hatch entities separately.
GDIPLUS is now the default graphics device on the Windows platform, replaceing the GDI device (which does not support transparency). Transparency supported for plotting, but is disabled by default for performance.
BMOPENCOPY creates new document containing a copy of component definition for the selected instance. BMREPLACE change definition file for single or several mechanical component.
ASSOCIATIVE ARRAYS allows changes to propagate throughout the array by maintaining relationships between the items. Properties of each item can be individually overridden and the content of an item can be modified. ARRAYPATH distribute entities along a (portion of) a path (line, polyline, arc, circle, ellipse, spline, helix or 3D polyline). ARRAYPOLAR arrays in a circular pattern; ARRAYRECT arrays any number of rows, columns, and levels. ARRAYASSOCIATIVITY toggles associativity for new arrays. ARRAYEDIT edits associative arrays and their source objects. ARRAYCLOSE saves or discards changes made by the ARRAYEDIT command. ARRAYEDITSTATE indicates whether or not the drawing is in the array editing state.
BIMINSERT now accept CTRL to switch dynamically between entering width and height of the door, and distance to neighbor-entities. Hovering on an existing door or window and choose BIMINSERT in the quad to place the same window or door, with the same parameter values. BIMREPOSITION repositions an existing door or window using the same dynamic dimensions as in BIMINSERT. BIMFLIP mirrors a window or door left/right or in/out with one click in the quad. Assign a different definition file to an inserted window or door using the 'File' property in the properties panel. Parameter values are copied to the new insert if applicable. BIMDRAG allows pressing CTRL to dynamically place a parallel copy. BIMSECTION: work in progress. Drawing generation for BIM projects is being reworked and will switch from using Drawing Views to using enhanced SectionPlane definitions.
DEFORMABLE MODELING does freeform modifications of 3D solids and surfaces and imported geometry by deforming their faces and edges. DMDEFORMPOINT transforms a point lying on the specified face. DMDEFORMMOVE moves or rotates edges. DMDEFORMCURVE moves a set of its edges to the specified set of target curves. See figure at left for before (imported model) and after (after V16 is done editing the imported modelling using deformation tools).
DMREPAIR fixes errors in 3D solids. DMSELECT automatically selects specific 3D sub-entities and combinations:
The figure below shows a Solidworks model imported into BricsCAD with assembly information intact.
GCE (Geometric CEnter) snaps to centroid of any closed polyline or spline, planar 3D polylines, regions and planar faces of 3d solids.
GEOGRAPHIC COORDINATE REFERENCE SYSTEMS add support for projections and coordinate reference systems for New Zealand, North America, Canada, Russia and the Russian Commonwealth of Independent States.
MTEXT now creates and edits multiple columns.
SURFACEs are now fully supported in 3D modeling. Direct modeling commands and 3D constraints can now be applied to surface entities and regions. Applying direct modeling commands to procedural surfaces leads to converting them to a basic surface entity. DMEXTRUDE/DMREVOLVE extrudes and revolve curves, edges, planar entities and faces into 3D surfaces. DMDELETE removes holes (open loops) and faces from surfaces. DMSTITCH stitches a set of surfaces into a single entity of the specified type (3D solid or surface) or determines type automatically. DMTHICKEN converts a surface to a 3D solid with a specified thickness.
SHEET METAL is now an optional, extra-cost add-on module. Two new types of corner reliefs are
supported: Circular and V-type. Feature Coloring assigns specific colors to faces of Sheet Metal features; controlled with the FEATURECOLORS system variable. Lofted Bend is a new kind of sheet metal feature that can be unfolded into a sequence of bends with parameters to control the number of bends and their configuration (quadrangular or triangular). SMLOFT constructs a sheet metal body with Lofted Bend Features and Flanges. SMCONVERT recognizesLofted Bend Features. SMBENDSWITCH converts a Bend Feature to a Lofted Bend Feature. SMREPAIR joins connected lofted bends which are surrounded by flanges and rebuilds them to be tangent to adjacent flanges (if any). SMRETHICKEN supports lofted surfaces. SMRELIEFSWITCH changes Corner Relief Features between Rectangular, V-type and Circular. SMSELECTHARDEDGES selects all hard edges in all models.
Big changes to staid industry
We continue to take breaks in our publishing schedule, now because of our travels to three CAD conferences in Europe. The next issue of upFront.eZine appears October 19 with our analysis of the mechanical CAD software industry and the its current state.
To not miss out on the Business of CAD, email 'subscribe' to email@example.com
And don't forget that all 800+ back issues are available at our archival site www.upfrontezine.com
Here is the full text of the talk I gave at the Graebert Annual Meeting 2015 in Berlin earlier this week:
MobileCAD is Reaching Maturity
by Ralph Grabowski
One of the things I do is watch how CAD vendors react to new technology. I am particularly interested in how CAD vendors react when big shifts occur, like mobile apps.
Some have plunged right in, and are figuring out how to tackle this new type of miniature computer that's taking over the world. Others are standing back, waiting for the first group to figure it out. A third group is just hoping this phase will pass by soon.
What is happening today is a repeat from earlier eras. In the mid-1990s, Windows was finally was good enough for CAD, and vendors struggled how to adapted their single-tasking programs to the new multi-tasking environment. And then it happened again 15 years ago, when they had to figure out how to adapt their CAD software to the Internet. This was a much harder nut to crack, which is why today CAD vendors are still working on solving the Internet problem.
At the same time today, they're needing to figure out how to get a handle on this tsunami of mobile devices, now amounting to two billion devices worldwide.
If adapting to the Internet was tough, adapting to mobile devices is probably tougher. Those CAD vendors who are taking the plunge are finding the waters icy cold. Let me explain.
We enjoy the convenience of phones and tablets. Their users interfaces are effortless to use. We easily take and share photos, talk to each other by texting. But these apps that we so love are back-ended by programmers who are suffering brain-freeze headaches. Every mobile platform has major drawbacks.
Let me outline them for you.
Android: Android has three-quarters of the mobile market. But developing for Android is painful, because every device is freaking different. Vendors have to release multiple versions, targeting the peculiarities of different hardware.
iOS: iOS benefits from uniform devices, but developing for iOS is still painful. That's because Apple keeps crucial technical details hidden under its kimono, like how much RAM is available to apps and the capabilities of its GPU -- knowing this is critical for CAD apps. Also, Apple does not allow free trials in its App Store, which makes it hard to attract the curious.
Windows Mobile and Blackberry: developing for these two operating system is painful, because their market shares are too small to ensure sufficient customers.
Web apps: Web apps have the benefit of running on any platform, but they have their pain points, because Web apps are not as fast, or elegant, or feature-rich as native apps. Take, for example, the difference between running Twitter in a Web browser or as a native app.
So, no mobile operating system is ideal. And so the first brain-freeze that programmers get is from deciding which operating sytem to support. When I interview them, I ask,
"Why'd you pick Android?"
"Why'd you pick iOS?"
I can usually predict the answer they will give:
"Android has the largest market share."
"iOS is the easiest to develop for."
And then they admit the problems. Android devices are so varied. iOS market isn't that large, or Apple is difficult to work with.
- - -
OK. So the CAD vendor has taken the plunge. They have written their app. Their marketing department is excited about the ap, excitedly tweeting and facebooking and telling media people how excited they are about the new app -- that is exciting.
But not the accounting department. That's because CAD vendors make no profit from making mobile apps -- let alone selling any. Users expect mobile apps to be free, or close to free.
Not only free, but it has to work perfectly.
As a result, some CAD vendors have now frozen further app development or else pressing ahead more slowly.
Last week I searched the Google app store and recorded statistics for 51 CAD apps. I think I found all of them. I've got here a list of apps from some of the big-name CAD vendors that have not been updated in more than a year.
App Vendor Last Updated
Buzzsaw Autodesk Mar 2012
Inventor Publisher Viewer Autodesk July 2014
GrabCAD Viewer GrabCAD May 2014
Solid Edge Mobile Viewer Siemens PLM Software Sept 2013
Three had over a million downloads
One app has over 10 million downloads
Four had fewer than a thousand downloads.
One-third of them had not been updated this year.
So, it's a tough market. The good news is that some -- a very few -- CAD vendors have broken out of the pack. Three of them are making amazing progress in different areas.
- - -
So what does it take to port a desktop CAD program onto a mobile device, the way that Graebert is doing? Now remember: other mobile apps don't even try to provide all the functions of a desktop CAD program. One the one hand, this is kind of convenient, because it means they can avoid the commands that are difficult to implement through a touch-only interface.
But not ARES Touch. When you commit to implementing all commands, you can't take convenient shortcuts. For instance, Graebert doesn't simply give us a list of layer names; Touch includes most layer tools, like isolating layers or changing the layer to which an entity is assigned.
Let me turn to some of the challenges of making a full CAD program run on a tablet:
Desktop CAD software relies on the keyboard and mouse -- neither is normally available on a tablet. Tablets offer only touch, and when do we call up the software keyboard, it ends up covering half the screen. On-screen keyboards don't let us hold down Ctrl or Shift keys to modify the behavior of commands. This means that some commands cannot operate as they do on the desktop.
Desktop CAD software is fond of using modifier keys like Esc, Ctrl, and Shift, but they aren't available on tablets. There's a few ways to deal with this:
Desktop CAD has hundreds of commands, and making them all available on a mobile devices is not convenient. After all, we users have been trained to expect minimalism on tablets. Graebert solved this problem by allowing ARES Touch to show or hide commands.
So, all of ARES Touch's commands are available through the Command Bar, a user interface element that is usually hidden. When we open the Command Bar, there is a filter that lets us get to a specific command just by starting to type its name.
Third-party developers can customize the Application Menu by editing an XML file. This shows fewer commands, or exposes custom commands. That XML file allows ARES Touch to work in multiple modes, such as a non-editing mode for only viewing and marking up drawings.
Not every aspect of the user interface gets worse when moving to a tablet. Tablets have user interface elements that typically aren't available on desktop computers:
The loupe shows a magnified view of the entities that are under the finger, kind of like a reverse bird's-eye view that was popular with CAD program in the 1990s.
Graebert have told me that they are looking at implementing other multi-touch combinations, such as using three fingers. Problem is, I find it impossible to remember what more than two fingers do, never mind four or five.
CAD drawings can be stored on tablets, but even a 32GB memory card might not be enough. Then there are the files stored on Dropbox. Graebert needed to figure out how to coordinate them. The solution is to store files in two types of folders.
So two types of folders: one for files we might not want synchronized, and one for those we always need to have synchronized.
One thing CAD users rely on is printouts of their drawings. Back in Canada, a big grocery store near my house is being renovated, and I've been itching to take a photo of the fat roll of drawings that the contractors refer to. Viewing drawings over the Internet has been around for 15 years, but these guys still aren't using tablets or phones for drawings.
So we want to print drawings, but mobile devices are not well suited to printing. Partly because we can't attach printers to them. Printing has to be done over the air, through a WiFi connection or an e-print service from HP or Google.
For CAD drawings, this is not so easy, because we expect drawings to be printed precisely. Even something as trivial -- to us -- as printing a windowed area of a drawing is tough for the typical printer driver to handle, because it requires accurate clipping of entities along the edges of the window.
It turns out that the solution is to use PDFs. There are pretty good libraries available that export documents accurately to PDF format, including for CAD programs. The Open Design Alliance has one. Graebert already can export drawings to PDF, and the next step is printing them -- complete with control over which layers get printed, plot styles, and so on.
In fact, this is similar to the approach Google takes. When you use its cloud print service, it converts the document to a PDF file, sends the PDF over the Internet, and then has the printer print the PDF.
ARES Touch uses almost the same API as ARES Commander on the desktop. The folks at Greabert tell me that almost any desktop CAD function can be ported easily to Android. I haven't tested this, so I have no experience of how well it works. I do agree with them that this is a key advantage to their tablet software.
The stuff that can be ported include those written in...
It turns out that the primary limitation to porting a third-party add-on is the size of dialog boxes. They need to be resized and redesigned to be more suitable for a tablet's screen. To solve this, Graebert has written its APIs so that it tries to change the layout automatically.
Porting doesn't have to be only one-way. It can also go from mobile to desktop. Graebert has found that some of the user interface it developed for ARES Touch is useful on the desktop.
One example is the picture note function on ARES Touch, which Greabert is thinking of adding to desktop ARES Commander. This new function adds photos to drawings using the tablet's camera, or taken from a file. Now, this isn't new to mobile CAD, but in Graebert's version of the command, only a P icon is displayed in the drawing, not the actual image. This helps drawings display more quickly and keeps drawings from becoming cluttered, because the raster images are not loaded automatically.
The pictures are placed on a layer named "Collaboration." To hide the pictures, freeze the layer.
The final challenge I want to talk about is licensing. This isn't something we users care about, but is a big problem for software developers. I mentioned earlier that Apple's app store does not allow free demos that users can pay for later.
The big flaw in Google's Play store is that does not provide enterprise sales. This is where a company can purchase an app for all employees, like 100 copies at once. Right now, the only way Google's store works is for each employee to pay for a copy, and then be reimbursed. Apparently, some very large corporations have their own private Play store, but this is not available to small and medium size businesses.
On the other hand, Apple is working with IBM on enterprise sales, so this drawback may change in the future.
For the past year, the beta of Touch relied on Microsoft' HockeyApp. First we install HockeyApp, and then use it to install ARES Touch. This bypasses the Google Store.
Another problem for vendors is that mobile apps are mostly sold with free upgrades for life. Even Apple's online store for desktop programs running on Macs demands free upgrades.
To solve the problem of pricing, Graebert links the Touch license to the ARES license: buy one, you get the other free.
So, I am very interested to hear today the progress Graebert has made on Touch since I last updated the beta a month or two ago.
The 3D cat long out of the bag
At last year's Bricsys International Conference, the company gave a preview of what to expect in BricsCAD V16. (See https://www.worldcadaccess.com/blog/2014/10/heres-whats-planned-for-3d-in-bricscad-v16-next-year.html.) No 2D or other functions were pre-announced a year ago.
The official BricsCAD V16 announcement will be made today in Munich. Until then, here is what we learned a year ago about new 3D features:
Will all these promises make it into the released version? Stay tuned to this WorldCAD Access blog for all that's new from BricsCAD International Conference 2015, live from BMW World in Munich, Germany.
Linked thru Esri
Final presentation of the day, and we have ceo Wilfred Graebert telling us how ARES Map came about. He surveys companies, asking if they use DWG files. If so, "then we talk." We have a competitive product that they can use to establish themselves in the market. "Sometimes it works."
When the discussions are getting "warmer," we discuss branding. Which brings him to a new partner, Esri -- the GIS people with 350,000 customers and the 200 largest US cities. For a couple of years the two firms have been working on integrating GIS and CAD.
Today he announces a new product: ARES Map: "CAD for GIS and GIS for CAD." Esri has CAD data that need to import data into GIS, or edit GIS data using a CAD interface that's more familiar.
ARES Map is based on ARES Commander, connects directly to ArcGIS servers and ArcGIS Online. Saves drawings in DWG format with GIS-enabled objects.
ARES Ma0 adds a GIS tab to the ribbon, as illustrated above. First step in using it, is to connect to one of Esri's many base map. Then connect to a map service, like maps of wild fires or wind turbines or water networks at the desired level of detail. Data connected to a place on the map is displayed in new GIS Data tab of the ARES Properties palette.
Data can be edited and sent back to the database; the process can be blocked for those users not permitted to make changes -- view-only. ARES Commander does extra checks to determine whether the changes are being made correctly. "It forces me to create good content."
Last year at its Annual Meeting, Graebert surprised us by announcing a 2D MCAD addon. This year's surprise is GIS.
More specifically, Graebert GmbH announced ARES Map is ArcGIS Online running on top of the company's ARES Commander desktop software. "Maps, floorplans, and any infrastructure created with ARES Map are saved natively in DWG, and also contain smart GIS-enabled information associated with entities," they say.
The software is currently in "early access" mode. More info at https://www.aresmap.com
CTO Robert Graebert is back to describe the company's browser-based CAD software. He is describing the project goals for ARES Kudo:
But Graebert has no interest in PDM or PLM or project management; Graebert just does editing systems. Other firms can add the missing pieces.
By collabortion, he means...
A lot of the concepts are not CAD-specific and are borrowed
from Google Docs and Onshape.
By versioning, he means:
The baseline is any feature found in the Linux version of ARES, because the backend to Kudo runs on Linux servers.
OnShape Drawings was introduced 2 September this year, with the Onshape UI -- which unfortunately hides a lot of the UI, so you have to click around to discover functions. Here is how the two are intergrated:
Here is a look at the actual Kudo Web browser-based software, with a sneak peak at the next UI:
(It was written by Graebert)
Now we are hearing from Robert Miner of OnShape
2000: Wrong database (from Microsoft), and market not ready
2009: Operations expertise missing, and funding faded
2011: Funding fading again
What's needed to get server-based CAD working:
OnShape changes its software every 3 weeks.
Now we are hearing how Onshape integrated ARES Kudo into their software. I am waiting on Dropbox to upload photos over the s-l-o-w Wifi so I can show you some of the details.
Lunch is over, and it's time to hear about SiteMaster by product manager Felix Graebert. SiteMaster is the quietly successful secondary business from Graebert, for cataloging the contents of buildings -- from measuring floor plans to designing kitchens. For example, Bank of America used it to survey 3,000 branches in the USA in eight months. Also,10 million square feet of government buildings for the City of Berlin.
Felix Graebert is arguing that mobile CAD is better for site measurements, as the data collection is more accurate.
The SiteMaster collection consists of
So now we are getting a demo of SiteMaster Kitchen. Measurements are made with a Bluetooth-connected laser measuring device. (I looked at getting one, but they cost $350. I settled for a non-Bluetooth model for $50.) Graebert argues that there is a 50% savings in taking measurements, and 70% savings in design -- over doing it by hand.
When using the Bluetooth measuring device, it enters the measured distance directly into the software. Not magically, of course. The way it works is like this:
When measuring ceiling height, for instance, you bring up the dialog box for this. Take the measurement, and the distance is filled into the current field of the dialog box. Accurate measurements are especially needed to determine if walls are 90 degrees or 89.5 degrees; if ceilings are of uniform height, or not.
With the measurements taken, SiteMaster generates 2D drawings and reports. The drawing data is imported into kitchen design software, like Carat, using a simple text-based format.
We're in Berlin this week for the annual Graebert meeting. Leading up to the conference, the company promises some surprises, and here they are.
Graebert GmbH is now the first CAD vendor that will be providing a drafting program on all viable platforms. I'm the one using the word "viable" to emphasize that the program doesn't run on platforms like Blackberry or Windows Mobile. The list now consists of the following OSes, in alphabetical order:
New to the list is iOS, meaning that their ARES Touch software is being ported from Android to iPhone and iPad. Not quite so new on the list is ARES Kudo for Web browsers, better known as the drafting component of Onshape.
And soon on iPad
Graebert's strength is OEM'ing its software, and here at the Annual Meeting it has announced the first OEMer of its ARES Touch software for tablets: CorelCAD Mobile will come out soon, and be linked to CorelCAD 2016: get a one year license of one, get the license for the other product free.
Back to Mr Desbordes taking about mobileCAD. Questions he gets asked about it:
1. How to ensure a good workflow for PCs?
2. Will users want to use a tablet for more than viewing?
3. Can I get enough precision on a tablet?
4. Are there features specific to tablets?
Let's see what kinds of answers he can provide.
1. To access files, ARES Touch has two primary folders, local and cloud. Some corporate users cannot use the cloud due to corporate security policies. Alternative to Dropbox is to copy files using a USB cable. Download files to the tablet, store them there, and they remained unsynchronized until the user deliberately chooses to do so. All references are changed to be relative to the file. Cloud refers to services like Dropbox and Google Drive. When connecting to, say, Dropbox, ARES Touch creates a new folder in Dropbox called /Applications/ARES Touch. Here you can put the files you want to access on the tablet, and to have synchronized automatically -- this allows you to access a subset of all files stored on Dropbox, speeding up access.
2. While most CAD apps for mobile are severely limited in their drawing and editing, Graebert is working through every single command in ARES for desktop, and seeing how to adapt them to the tablet environment.
(New on ARES 2016 is portrait mode, which switches the UI to upright orientation. This is probably most useful on phones -- or tall drawings.)
3. For precision, ARES Touch offers the Loupe, an enlarged area of the drawing under your finger, along with object snap modes.
4. Touching the screen to manipulate the view, and to manipulate entities. Touching to perform some operations is faster than moving the mouse into position, such as dragging on the screen during the PowerTrim command or tapping an area to hatch.
The ceo of Graebert Gmbh tells me that his emphasis is on OEM sales, not necessarily their ARES desktop software. OEM sales means that the ARES software is rebranded and perhaps even modified, and then sold by another company. The best known OEMs of ARES are:
and so on. A third one OEMs ARES Kudo, the Web-based drafting package -- Onshape.
All these OEMs are at this conference, and
On twitter: #graebert15
Moving quickly along, we are now hearing from Robert Graebert, the chief technology officer (at left), and what's new in the next release of ARES Commander, the desktop version of their software that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers.
Some of the new functions include...
If you look closely, you can see some of the new features in the image provided by Graebert, below.
To improve performance, they are getting graphics cards to do more. The bottleneck is no longer the CPU, but how the GPU is used. Zoom is 70% faster, regens are 50% faster. Evening opening files is 10% faster.
Better OLE support in Windows only: PasteSpecial now pastes native objects, like a spreadsheet, as well as edit in place.
LISP has something like 300 functions added.
Currently in beta testing, shipping in November. This will be followed by three service packs, one in each quarter.
Desktop, mobile, and Web
Cedric Desbordes is in charge of marketing at Graebert, and he's now telling us what his company is working at. (See photo at left.) They have taken a huge gamble in being the first to have full CAD on Android, and first full DWG-based CAD in Web browsers. In brief, they now offer:
Much of the same API can be used on all three: LISP, C++, and DCL. Further, each platform has APIs specific, as illustrated below:
Graebert is pushing hard into mobile, because of the following statistics. Mobile is growing in a way that desktop isn't, as well as being overwhelming in total numbers:
He sees that tablets are now competing in the professional and business markets, where iPads and Microsoft tablets tend to dominate over Android. Microsoft has its new Surface 4 and Apple its new iPad Pro -- with Google catching up with its Pixel C keyboard-equipped tablet. In all case, the keyboard is sold separately, I note, ironically.
Mobile CAD is good for accessing your drawings "anywhere," for replacing paper. Mobile devices are lighter and always present; turning on and off is instant. Use tablets for presentations and informal meetings -- easier than a laptop. The camera and mic are useful for recording issues on-site. Can get emails with attachment from the office.
Okay, over the "cloud" or server-based CAD. The benefits for users, Mr Desbordes says, is that you can access files and do editing from "any" device, and makes it easier to share files. Features are always up to date, it is easier to collaborate on complex projects, and versioning can handle different design ideas with no limit in history.
Meanwhile, PCs will not be going away. They have a longer lifetime (phones get broken easily), and have a higher performance/value ratio than mobile devices. Works offline for confidentiality and areas with no Internet connectivity.
News about mobileCAD and webCAD
Alright, here we are in former East Berlin in the Soho House, a very retro pre-wall-fall building, up on the second floor. Here's what the digs look like:
The head of the company, Wilfred Graebert is reporting on company results. Growth is 30%, mostly from ARES and OEM business. Business in Japan has doubled, and Graebert is holding an event in Tokyo end of November. In India, the company has several offices supporting 50 resellers in India.
He is now describing Soho House, rebuilt for software firms and the art and design scene. Three unicorns are housed here -- startup firms that are worth more than a billion dollars. George Clooney stays here -- although fellow journalist Randall Newton says he hears that everywhere. This very room was the powerhouse of the German Democratic Republic, "East Germany." Originally built as a department store, was not destroyed in WWII, and so the Russians used it to set up the central committee of the communist party: "Politburo." After the wall came down, the building was given back to its original Jewish owners.
[Press F5 to refresh the page for updates...]
[Disclosure: Graebert GmbH provided me airfare, accommodation, and some meals.]
Eight chapters, three appendices, 40 figures, and 15,000 words!
The 56-page whitepaper has a list price of $56, but you can get it free just by subscribing to upFront.eZine, the newsletter that for 20 years has reported on the business of CAD.
Subscribe by simply sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Expect to see your copy of the whitepaper in a day or two in your email box, as a 5MB PDF file.
To see what upFront.eZine is all about, you can view all 800+ back issues going back to May 1995 at our archival site www.upfrontezine.com.
About "MobileCAD is Reaching Maturity"
The whitepaper is a collection of interviews with key industry executives, illustrated walk-throughs of apps, and technical tips. Some of the material previously appeared in the upFront.eZine newsletter and the WorldCAD Access weblog.
New for this whitepaper is a survey of 50+ CAD apps: the number of downloads (a sign of their popularity) and when they were last updated (a sign of vendor commitment).
Here's the table of contents:
1 I’m Declaring Peak MobileCAD, For Now Anyhow
2 What the Future of Smartphones Looks Like (and of Tablets, Too)
3 Who Today Are the Top Three MobileCAD Vendors?
4 Why Graebert is Going Mobile Now, Cloud Later
5 Rethinking CAD on Mobile
6 Q&A with Graebert on MobileCAD Design
7 ArcSite: First MobileCAD To Draw With Real-time Constraints
8 How Much Tablet Can You Get for $200?
A Android Tips
B Android App Statistics
C Choosing an Android on Specs
So last Sunday night I had a meeting that kept me from seeing the eclipse of the blood moon until it was fully eclipsed. I had taken along my camera to the meeting, cause I knew the meeting location would have a better sight line than my house does.
Here is how I took this photo:
This photo ended up being the best of the lot: no shakes, and the moon just starting to see some sunlight again.
ASUS Transformer TF-101 design flaw
The original Transformer laptop-style Android table from ASUS was the TF-101, and its clip-on keyboard is being copied today by other vendors. It's a design that makes a lot of sense.
But the TF-101 had a severe design flaw: its battery system could drain the tablet to the point of being unrecoverable. A battery drain itself? Yes. Over the years that I've owned the TF-101, I finally figured out why the problem exists, and how it is cured.
The problem is so severe that when I first bought the tablet from the local Staples outlet, the manager ended up sending his entire stock back to ASUS, because it seemed like they all were dead. The one I ended up with had a peep of life in it.
(I don't know if the flaw exists in today's Transformer-style tablets, but I suspect it does. I'll explain why later.)
This tablet has two batteries: one in the tablet and one in the keyboard. The battery in the keyboard is a second, full-size battery, giving this tablet a remarkable running life. In fact, I use it to recharge my phone on my travels.
The dual-battery system works like this:
1. The wall charger charges the battery in the keyboard.
2. The keyboard battery then charges the battery in the tablet.
Problem: The design flaw is that the battery housed in the keyboard keeps charging the battery in the tablet, even when the tablet is turned off. As the tablet's battery slowly drains, the keyboard's battery recharges it until it too is drained. Brilliant: two drained batteries.
When we plug in the wall charger, it first charges the keyboard battery. Once the keyboard battery has sufficient charge, it begins charging the drained tablet battery. The problem is when we want to turn on the tablet: when its battery is too drained, it cannot start.
Solution: The solution is to detach the keyboard, and plug the charger directly into the TF-101 tablet. (The TF-101 uses the same proprietary connector for the charger as for the laptop-keyboard connection.) Wait for the tablet to be mostly charged before reattaching the keyboard.
Might the problem exist with other Transformer-style devices that have a battery equipped, detachable keyboard? I think so. I have a Surface-class Sony tablet with keyboard. The keyboard is separate from the screen (poor design decision) and so needs its own battery to operate and to communicate via Bluetooth.
When we want to recharge the keyboard's battery, we need to stick the keyboard onto the tablet facedown with magnets; no using the tablet when the keyboard needs charging! Three small pins connect power between the two.
When I leave the keyboard switched on when the tablet is off, the keyboard slowly drains its battery, causing the tablet to recharge it, causing the tablet's own battery to drain.
In this case, the design is one level better than on the ASUS, as the power supply plugs into the tablet, instead of the keyboard. The tablet get recharged before the keyboard.
However, this means that when the keyboard is dead, and so when I need access to a keyboard, I have to use the on-screen keyboard or plug in an external keyboard.
Four conferences in six weeks
Last year's light festival in Berlin during the Graebert conference
If two weeks ago was Prague, then next week is Berlin. We are looking forward to seeing what AutoCAD workalike powerhouse Graebert Gmbh is up to as they invite users and the media to Berlin, Germany for their annual conference. The significance: Graebert is second only to Autodesk in the number of DWG-based CAD users. That conference is happening Oct 7 and 8, and we plan to be there.
Then we're off to Munich to take in the annual Bricsys International Conference at the BMW World center, to see how the company is continuing to extend the DWG format in directions Autodesk never did. The significance: Bricsys has BIM and MCAD working on DWG. That conference is on Oct 13 and 14, and we plan to be there.
Finally, we slip into the Dassault Systemes Spatial conference to see what the kernel vendor has planned for its millions of customers. We have interviews lined up with executives from the company. That conference is Oct 14 and 15 in Munich, as we plan to be there.
BMW Welt this year hosts the Bricsys International Conference
Be sure to visit this WorldCAD Access blog our live coverage of the Graebert, Bricsys, and Spatial conferences.
[Disclosure: Graebert and Bricsys provide me with airfare, hotels, and some meals; Spatial provides accommodation.]