Acronym alert! SPDM is short for "simulation process and data management"
Aras recently acquired Comet, software that automates the many steps of running simulations, such as meshing the 3D model, running a variety of simulation scenarios, and then generating reports.
Often in simulation demos given by CAD/CAE vendors are simplified to solve just one problem. In real world, however, simulation has to solve more than one problem. For instance, shown below is a simple model with four design objectives.
Aras says that Comet would handle the four simulation tasks in a single run. The Comet workspace is shown below. The large area shows the simulation process tree that is automated. Goals reached/not-reached are shown in green/red.
Simulation templates are created by experts in each of their fields, such as meshing and ANSYS. Once the simulation variables are set up, Comet runs the simulation and adjust the CAD model, as shown by th list of tasks (below) that the software performs. ARAS says this takes 14 minutes to run: Comet runs the entire simulation with no user involvement, until the end.
"If it doesn't appear in a PowerPoint, the simulation didn't happen," joked the presenter Tim Keer, Director of Customer Solutions (now with Aras, formerly with Comet) at the Aras "Future of Simulation" seminar.
Comet normally runs on the desktop, but a version is available from Aras runs in a Web browser, which is suitable for non-expert users who don't need to set up the simulation: just enter data and wait for the results. The browser version also hides proprietary rules from the user and customers.
Aras says they do no favor any other vendor, so Comet works with any MCAD system and simulation software.
Q: Does Comet come with any simulation tools?
A: None, because it works with what you have, except we provide ANSA meshing.
Q: How does Comet work with CAD and simulation software?
A: To link with other software, adapters have to be written that read-run-write the data with Comet.
Q: When will Comet work with Aras Innovator?
A: There is no target date, but fairly soon.
Q: Can I access Comet now?
A: Aras Comet SPDM will be available pretty soon. It will be for subscribers only.
Q: What does the acquisition mean for Comet customers?
A: We will honor existing contracts.
Now on the desktop
Frustum is one of a new spate of CAD companies that are deploying the latest mathematics and computing technology to leap ahead of established players and find themselves a niche. In the case of Frustum, their Generate software generates optimal 3D shapes; until now, it has run only in Web browsers.
The company this week held a Webinar to introduce the desktop version of Generate (for Windows only). I listened in and grabbed some screenshots.
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The Generate software determines the best design of a part based on input, such as stresses and connection points. What's new in the desktop Windows version is interactive modeling, and it is more secure than the cloud.
Frustum claims that Generate creates designs that are actually manufacturable, unlike others.
It has options for optimizing the shape for milling, 3D printing, and casting. These affect the shape in different ways. For instance, designed for casting means the shape must be able to be pulled out of a mold, while optimized for 3D printing means it should have a flat bottom.
Here is the user interface of Generate for Windows.
Generate for Windows can run on a laptop, as was done for the Webinar. But it will run faster on a multi-core desktop computer with a GPU. Only nVdidia graphics boards are supported. Real-time FEA (finite element analysis) does not mandate a GPU. GPU is optionally enabled if the machine has an NVIDIA graphics card.
A future release will add lattice design to Generate for Windows.
Output from Generate is an STL file. A future version might output a b-rep for input to CAD, but it is not a simple problem to solve.
Demo version cannot be simply downloaded from Frustum's Web site. You have to contact email@example.com for a trial version.
MagicLeap is a secretive company that amassed a crazy amount of money over several years -- $2.5 billion in investor's money -- before finally getting around to showing its product a few months ago. This week, it held its first conference for third-party developers.
This was an important event: what can it show for a couple of billion bucks? Two CAD vendors made brief presentation towards the end of the three hours, Trimble for SketchUp and Onshape.
Here are the notes I took during the first three hours of the Webcast, which you can view at https://www.magicleap.com/LEAPcon
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Fascinating spin from MagicLeap's first developer conference. Company execs claiming media like radio and tv (which brought people together) actually were social failures, but VR goggles (which by their very nature are isolating) are inclusive.
Despite the "We Are the [liberal progressive] World" vibe from the MagicLeap developer conference, all the [video] demos show lonely people stabbing their arms in their empty-of-other-humans rooms.
New open-source-based LuminOS from MagicLeap to offers fastest meshing available.
Software roadmap from MagicLeap, looking like development will continue into 2019.
Company, which pocked $2.5 billion in funding, is offering $200,000 for bug bounties.
It's VRML time all over again. MagicLeap wants to create spatial (ie, 3D) Web experiences through their own new browser, Helio and declarative HTML library, Prismatic. Spatial Web to solve on-line shopping problems.
Apparently the primary purpose of MagicLeap is viewing whales. Whales feature prominently in the company's marketing images.
Coming this fall, avatars for picking tv dinners.
"MagicLeap has its own editorial point of view, and putting [MagicLeap] Studios name on content helps us reflect what the company believes in. These are the stories WE want to tell." Content created by Create software, to be delivered next year.
Science fiction author Neal Stephenson of Goat Labs showing the PHILTR, which was pilfered from ComicCon. He says it works with MagicLeap but doesn't say how.
2.5 hours into watching the MagicLeap developer conference and I still figure VR will be as successful in homes as 3D TVs.
Slide shows percentage of kinds of apps being made for Magicleap. Is CAD part of the Productivity type?
Home shopping is back at MagicLeap, which has 10 million shopping items. Pull items from their 3D Web browser into your space.
First mention of CAD is SketchUp from Trimble. Trimble is talking about mixed reality made of hardware and software to capture the physical environment and manage engineering projects. SketchUp has 30 million users and its Warehouse is probably the largest 3D library.
"We are not telling stories, we are not playing games."
Prototype SketchUp software brings models from 3D Warehouse into MagicLeap. https://www.roadtovr.com/magic-leap-reveals-16-ar-experiences-at-leap-con-2018/
Onshape is now on. "I believe we will see CAD move to a new generation, on a new platform: Mixed reality and 3D CAD."
The new Onshape 3D CAD app for @MagicLeap is announced and shown in a video. Use markup tool, and then see the changes in real-time. "This is live editing of CAD."
Although not made explicit, the MCAD editing is done with the Onshape app running in a Web browser or on a tablet -- not by the MagicLeap interface. The 3D view is updated after the editing change is made.
Now with international standards
While CAD software from USA and Europe gets a lot of free publicity from industry magazines, software from other parts of the world tends to be ignored -- Asia, Russia, Africa, and so on. There is, for instance, a thriving CAD software industry in Japan, but we don't know about it, because the user interfaces are Japanese and it is written to Japanese standards.
Software firms in Russia suffer the Japan problem: UIs written in Russian, and CAD written to Russian standards. Some firms are breaking out of the mold, such as C3D Labs (geometric kernels), LEDAS Group (consulting), and NanoSoft (CAD software).
Nanosoft last week released nanoCAD Mechanica 8.5 CAD software for preparing mechanical documentation but with a twist. It's available in English and it includes some international standards, including ISO and DIN. It comes with
More information from https://nanocad.com/products/mechanica/
Users have questions
When Epic Games announced Unreal Studio for CAD users, the Webinar was accompanied by a Q&A panel. I picked out the best questions and present them below; you can read the entire list at https://www.ustream.tv/qna/23532233 . I rearranged the questions to group them into categories, and did some mild edits to make the text clearer.
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What Unreal Studio Is
Q: So basically, Unreal Studio is the architectural workspace (where you import all the files and add the materials) and UnrealEngine is the renderer?
A: That is one way to look at it. However, we import materials and lights from 3ds Max too. And Unreal is a lot more than a renderer. If you consider it as a tool to create interactive experience that also has high visual fidelity, that becomes a game changer.
Q: Do I understand it correctly that Unreal Studio is different to what we using at the moment? And it’s going to become a subscription based?
A: Datasmith is part of Unreal Studio (if that is what you're thinking). It will become a subscription offering, but upon non-renewal, you can keep using it.
Q: Does "royalty free licensing" mean that once Studio becomes $49/month, I can publish as many projects as I want without extra cost?
A: Correct. You'll have to read the full EULA for this but in short, you can create projects and charge professional fees for them (like one would do for rendering images for an architect, as a service) and not have to pay anything to Epic.
Q: Is there any chance for student license after official release in November? I would love to buy it, but 50$pm is not affordable for me.
A: We will have EDU pricing in November, and it will be significantly cheaper.
Q: We already have Unreal Studio if we have been using Datasmith correct?
A: You are on the Datasmith beta, which will be closing April 1st so you must move to Unreal Studio, or Datasmith will stop working. Datasmith is inside Unreal Studio.
Q: Network managed floating licenses will be much easier to sell to management. They want me to spread these practices in the firm!
A: This is something we have on our road-map and that will come soon since it's expected from most major accounts and preferred by IT.
Programming with Unreal Studio
Q: Which version of Python is supported?
A: We are currently using Python 2.7. Here is a reference to get you started: https://epicgames.box.com/v/ScriptingandPythonGuide
Q: So without having a coder on my team, I won´t be able to make interactive archviz scenes, is that right? I though UES could do that.
A: Doesn't require a coder, unless you think visual programming by wiring up functions is a "coder". You can use our Blueprint feature to wire up things without touching a line of code.
Q: Datasmith with Mac support would be a great for realtime workflows, we have large office and would be much needed.
A: You can sort of do this as the UE4 assets you create with Unreal Studio are UE4 assets that you can load in our mac version of UE4. You just need to bootcamp Unreal Studio to get the assets.
Limits to Unreal Studio
Q: After importing model to UE with DS, it builds a scene with all meshes, separately. Sounds heavy on drawcalls. Any plans for auto instancing?
A: We have a lot of optimization planned. But we already support instances if they exist in 3ds Max. Once you have it in engine, then you can use our Python/Blueprint tools to optimize further (grouping, automation of LOD creation, finding/deleting small parts).
Q: What is the max vertex count within UE4? I know when working in Unity it will "break apart" a mesh when over the count for editor rendering.
A: Well, there is not a single value, it's rather a combination of several aspects that combines CPU and GPU load, memory, etc. It's possible to have models as big as 40 millions polygons if you keep drawcalls reasonable but on the other end it's possible to kill performance with small models made of 10k+ draw calls.
Supporting Other CAD Formats
(Among CAD formats, Unreal Engine today supports only MCAD ones.)
Q: Most architecture firms, don't utilize 3ds MAX when their main app is BIM, apps like Revit. Any Datasmith plug-in planned for Revit?
A: Yes, on our roadmap! We haven't started yet, but your one of the many requester for this workflow.
Q: Is there going to be a support for IFC formats in future?
A: We are looking into IFC. I think we will have to support it eventually, but it isn't on our roadmap so far.
Q: How about Aautodesk Fusion 360? Will you support that?
A: We don't have plans to support Fusion 360 directly. However if you can export to Step or STL there might be a chance for you to benefit from Unreal still. If there is a lot of demand for it, we can reconsider .
Q: Is there is a date for Datasmith working with Sketchup?
A: No commitment on the date, but its going to happen very soon. I just saw a build of our plug-in today and we get basic meshes. The smoothing groups are all wrong, and the objects are mirrored, but it’s expected by us in such early days. But don't panic yet, it will be all fine when were ready to beta test it.
Q: What would be recommended workflow for ArchiCAD--> Cinema 4D workflow to use Unreal for VR authoring?
A: Cinema4D is on our roadmap, it was just recently delated [sic]. I can't give an estimate on when it will happen. We are also planning on DWG support, so if ArchiCAD supports that, then maybe it will work for you.
Q: Will this allow for runtime import of common 3D file formats?
A: Not at the moment, but we are hearing this request more and more. Its something we will need to have a look at. Version 1.0 will not have this capability.
How CAD Models are Handled
Q: How does Datasmith handle the tessellation of CAD data? Does it triangulate and optimize vertices / mesh data?
A: We have implemented tessellation algorithm that generates not only optimized geometry for real time but also create UVs directly from the CAD NURBS data.
Q: How will optimization be handled for very dense designs on low-end (client) terminals? That bike model, for example?
A: Have you heard about HLOD [Hierarchical Level of Detail System] in Unreal Engine? You should research that. However, we are also looking into using the cloud to help you deliver to these low-end platforms.
Q: When it comes to using Datasmith’s pipeline to bring CAD models to poly based scenes, optimization becomes important, like pipe detection. Any plans?
A: Yes, we have feature detection coming. There is a bunch of related data prep tools that we simply have to get exposed via interfaces. We have the tech, just need to get it in your hands.
Q: Does Datasmith bring over the rigging structure on CAD models, say for cranes, cement trucks etc. with a piston-based rigging structure?
A: We are importing the product catalog structure (assembly and parts) but we don't currently import the joints and kinematics data. What would be your use case?
Q: I had some issues with unwrapping CAD model during the beta test of the Data Smith. Are everything fixed?
A: You'll have to try 4.19 and tell us.
Q: Will Unreal change the hierarchy naming conventions or file .meta data on import for CAD data?
A: We’re working on meta data support and you'll see things very soon on that. It’s not in 4.19, however (except for some hidden under the hood aspects). If your willing to go the Python route, you can "massage" your hierarchy the way you want it today. In the future we want to add more tools to let you handle hierarchies in the editor as well.
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More info from https://www.unrealengine.com/en-US/studio/getstudio
Goose: meet gander
The CAD work-alike wars just went up a notch.
The ITC (IntelliCAD Technical Consortium) has a working DGN editor. As they put it, now there's two of them in the world -- the other one being MicroStation from Bentley Systems.
Admittedly, the initial offering is basic in its functionality. According to the ITC, the DGN editor does the following tasks, and more:
The ITC itself does not sell or distribute the editor. It is a technology developer for its members. So their member companies decide whether to sell, distribute, name, and market a DGN editor. The ITC says it should be easy for its members who decide to take the plunge: "Take your existing code that runs and customizes IntelliCAD for DWG files and have that same code work for DGN files."
History Bites Back
MicroStation itself got its start as a low-priced Intergraph workalike, originally called PsudeoStation -- because it was a pseudo copy of Intergraph that ran on a terminal (station) -- just a file viewer at first. Intergraph sued the Bentley brothers, but then settled by buying a majority interest in Bentley Systems.
Back then, Intergraph ran its CAD software on its self-designed hardware, typically costing $100,000 a seat. It was the #1 vendor in the CAD industry. But AutoCAD had arrived as a $,1000-disrupter, and by the end of the 1980s Intergraph realized they needed a low-price product to complete. It wasn't sufficient for Intergraph to run "Follow the Leader" ads in CADalyst magazine.
With the money from Intergraph, the Bentley brothers developed MicroStation into a CAD editor that ran on personal computers. Intergraph handled the marketing and sales.
In its eagerness to take down the new #1, AutoCAD, Intergraph began a technical and marketing war against Autodesk. On the technical side, MicroStation became the very first CAD program to read (and then later, write) DWG files -- the Nexus add-on. (I was the consultant to BS, and had suggested the name "Links"; Nexus is the Latin version.) Later, with V8, BS encapsulated DWG inside DGN.
Nexus included a workspace that mimicked the AutoCAD user interface. For a while, BS even tried writing a LISP interpreter, but gave up after they realized that to be compatible with AutoLISP, the (command) function would have to replicate every single command from AutoCAD.
On the marketing front, Intergraph instigated the "MicroStation for AutoCAD Users" campaign. They sponsored a book by the same name (which I co-wrote), and ran non-stop seminars at A/E/C Systems in 1991, pitting a MicroStation operator against an AutoCAD operator (which was me).
The overall theme was to be fair (and it was), but to show AutoCAD users that (1) MicroStation existed and (2) MicroStation was clearly superior. It wasn't; it was different. It was s-o-o-o different from AutoCAD, in how drawings (designs) were set up, commands (key-ins) were entered, entities placed (objects drawn) -- MicroStation's everyday terminology sounded like alien jargon to AutoCAD users.
Why Not? Why, ITC?
The ITC blog cheekily announced the news by asking, "DGN: Why Not?" But the ITC is not the first with a MicroStation workalike. DualCAD from Pangaea CAD Solutions is what I would describe as LanguishWare -- the DGN editor was last updated in 2009. (You still can download it free from https://dualcad.com/index.html.)
DualCAD DGN editor from Pangaea CAD Solutions
MicroStation clones have been possible for a long time, as the Open Design Alliance is the official maintainer of the DGN format. This is unlike the adversarial position Autodesk takes against the ODA over the documenting of the DWG format. (Bentley Systems also has an agreement with Autodesk that allows both CAD vendors to use each other's file formats -- DGN and DWG.) In fact, the name of the organization changed from OpenDWG to Open Design the day that the Bentley-ODA cooperation was announced.
When an ODA member supports DGN, it usually only includes DGN-read (and maybe DGN underlays) with their CAD system's Import command. Any ODA member who wanted to write a DGN editor, could have, by now. But they haven't. There is no market.
AutoCAD workalikes survive because DWG is the universal design language, just as English is the universal human language. DGN is a niche file format from a mid-sized CAD vendor. It makes no more sense to spend programming time and dollars on cloning a DGN editor than to learn to speak Swiss-German.
So while the news today from the ITC is exciting for a CAD business-history obsessive like me, it is my opinion that there is no business case for for a DGN editor. Despite my negative outlook, some ITC member may launch DGN editors as a way of distinguishing themselves.
The ITC just took a bold move.
Massively-parallel computing on the the desktop
In the minds of engineers, simulation is an afterthought. We concern ourselves primarily with solving designs geometrically, and many of our designs don't need to be tested against failure, anyhow. For those that do, we let someone else worry about it after it fails.
And so companies that sell simulation software (and those that want to expand into the realm) are frustrated by our insufficient use of their software. The idea expressed by companies like ANSYS (which sells simulation primarily) and Autodesk (which sells it on the side) is this: if we can make simulation easier to use, then more people will use it (and buy more). This leads to phrases like "anyone can use it" and "software democracy!"
There is, however, the counter-argument from experienced engineers: simulation is sufficiently critical that if designers don't understand what the are doing, then the designs can screw up badly -- like a spreadsheet with a bad formula. The most critical aspect is load assumptions. Get them wrong, and the structure fails, no matter what other loads it resisted successfully. And so we engineers prefer that simulation specialists do the work.
ANSYS is nevertheless hopeful that one day the number of designers using simulation will eventually reach 1 in 1. They quote the following trend line from one of their customers:
ANSYS Discovery Live
To reach the 1-in-1 goal, ANSYS created software that doesn't need geometry that's been "fixed" for simulation, does not need users to apply meshing, and offers users no waiting for solving. Discovery Live performs simulation tasks in real-time, reducing the time hours to seconds. See figure 1.
Figure 1: ANSYS Discovery Live doing real time fluid flow analysis
Discovery Live integrates its real-time simulation with a history-free modeler, SpaceClaim, which ANSYS owns. It operates on the desktop, not in the cloud; it gets its speed by running on a single CUDA-compatible GPU from nVidia.
To use Discovery Live, the designer needs to specify only the inlets and outlets (for fluid flows) or forces and attachment points (for stresses):
The software makes assumptions for nearly everything, like velocities and temperatures, and then shows the results in a cross-section view, automatically so that designers don't need to take the time to set them up. You can adjust the assumed values, of course.
How It Works, and Where It Doesn't
ANSYS wrote Discovery Live to run on GPUs, a process that took several years. GPU is short for graphics processing unit, the chip that powers graphics boards, such as from AMD and NVIDIA. The fascinating part is that GPUs contain an excess capacity of computing power, largely untapped in the CAD world.
It is untapped, because GPUs process data differently from the CPU that runs CAD, Windows, and MacOS on our computers: GPUs process data in parallel, running as many as 3,500 operations at the same time -- a.k.a. massively parallel. (CPUs do between only one and about a dozen operations at a time.)
This makes GPUs suitable for processing graphics used for real time 3D rotations and renderings, but is unsuitable for most other software. This is because most software can only do one thing at a time. In order to do 3,500 things at once, the program needs to split the task into 3,500 threads, run them in parallel, and then put together the result afterwards.
The catch is that programs need to set up this task-splitting ahead of time, which means the program needs to know ahead of time what the user wants to do. In CAD, only a very few operations lend themselves to task-splitting (a.k.a. multiple threads), such as loading a drawing file from the hard drive or generating a photo-realistic rendering.
Another task in CAD that benefits greatly from multi-threaded operations is FEA, finite element analysis, the technology behind simulations. FEA breaks up models into tiny chunks, and then operates on each chunk in each thread. This make FEA an ideal application for GPUs.
AMD and NVIDIA have long dreamed to mainstream software running on their powerful GPUs, because that would boost sales of their boards; most users have no need for them, because the graphics that Intel throws in for free is good enough for most users.
To use Discovery Live, your computer needs a graphics board that runs the CUDA [Compute Unified Device Architecture] engine -- nVidia only, not AMD. For example, a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics board (see figure 2) has 3,584 cores, meaning it can run 3,584 operations at the same time, each at a speed of 1.5GHz. This is like running one operation at 5.4THz (5,400GHz) -- that that, Intel!
The graphics board carries 11GB of its own RAM running at 11gigabits per second, moving 352 bits simultaneously -- 5.5x the 64 bits in Intel CPUs. The price is a reasonable $699, but it needs a desktop computer with a 600W power supply. https://www.nvidia.com/en-us/geforce/products/10series/geforce-gtx-1080-ti/
Figure 2: GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics board from nVidia runs certain software about 1,500x faster than an Intel CPU
And so Discovery Live gets its extreme speed by running in parallel on a GPU:
There is a cloud option for those who do not have the right graphics board, "but the best experience is running it on the desktop," says ANSYS senior product marketing manager John Graham.
The other part of Discovery Live is SpaceClaim, the direct modeler that shook up the MCAD industry when it was introduced in 2005. (I say shook up, because in the aftermath PTC released Creo, Autodesk released Fusion, and Siemens released Synchronous Technology.) The SpaceClaim part lets you edit models interactively during the simulation, as well as build new models from scratch. You can watch the simulation interact as you add and subtract elements.
The software assumes a default material, but you can assign a specific one. Meshing is done automatically through a proprietary process developed by ANSYS.
A simple line graph cleverly tracks the change in efficiency as you make changes. Another part of Discovery Live is, however, manual: you have to repeatedly make changes in order to approach some optimum.
"Simulation is not cheap, but in Discovery Live model-complexity is free," says Mr Graham. Fillets, sharp edges, and other details are a problem for meshing, but not for Discovery Live. "Start learning physics instead of simulation, " he adds.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
My first thought following the demo went into the future: "This does away with the need for cloud computing." And so I wrote an editorial on the implication of using a GPU for edge computing, and how the cloud suffers from a slow data bus speed. See https://www.worldcadaccess.com on WorldCAD Access
Another editor put it this way: "This is the most impressive software demo I've seen in two decades."
Now, this software isn't for everyone, and even ANSYS says so. It is meant primarily for use at the start of the design process, and somewhat in the middle. Discovery Live is accurate in a certain direction, but should not be used for final validation. It is fine to ensure a product doesn't break, but is not suited for validation where human lives are involved. For studies that require deeper physics, ANSYS will sell you AIM. (See https://www.ansys.com/products/3d-design/ansys-aim .)
The hidden advantage of running software on GPUs is that as more cores are added to graphics boards in the future, the software just gets faster. It scales upwards automatically.
Discovery Live will be free during the beta phase, and then is due to be released and sold in the first quarter of 2018. ANSYS plans to add more simulation analyses to the software in the future.
Z VR Backpack G1 workstation
It's being unveiled to the public today at Siggraph, but about 100 journalists got an online preview last week of HP's new Z VR Backpack G1 workstation. Yah, it's a backpack onto which we clip a small Z workstation, don VR [virtual reality] goggles and navigation controls, and then walk about in a synthesized 3D environment.
The people are real, the car is not
The backpack, workstation, and batteries are said to weight little more than ten pounds (4.6kg). "Batteries" in the plural, because there are two, so that we can hot-swap one out when it dies after about an hour's worth of of use.
When we need to get back to generating VR scenery, we unclip the workstation and set it into a docking bay on our desk.
Seeing double on the desktop desktop display display
The idea behind the portability is to have a very powerful VR viewing system that needs no cables running back to a desk-bound computer, as is the case with Facebook's Oculus viewer. The display is 1080x1200 per eye at 90 fps [frames per second].
The Z workstation boasts an i7 CPU running at speeds as fast as 3.9GHz, with up to 32GB RAM, and up to 1TB disk space running Windows 10 Pro. It holds NVIDIA's new Quadro P5200 GPU with 16GB of memory. Built-in Miracast lets others see on their screens what we see wirelessly. We can use any HMD (head-mounted display), although HP recommends HTC's Vive BE or their own HP Mixed Reality Headset. The box has no expansion slots but lots of ports, including 4x USB 3.0 and a Thunderbolt port, HDMI, miniDisplayPort, and HMD power port for the headset.
The starting price is $3,300 and the backpack system is due to ship in November.
Who Is This For?
By way of introduction, HP claims that VR already has millions of users. Well, not quite. The statistic they quote is more nuanced: "Games make up 76% of all virtual reality content, with tens of millions of users." The company does not, however, source the statistic, as I believe the number is much smaller as tens of millions of headsets have not been sold.
Nevertheless, they feel the commercial VR market will be even bigger, a claim I find even dubiouser. Nevertheless, HP sees opportunities in theme parks and product showrooms, among custom designers, in training centers, and with faster prototyping. They see CAD users designing products with HP's Z workstations, creating VR, and then experiencing it -- all their their hardware.
To supplement the new equipment, HP is creating a dozen or so VR Immersion Centers, kind of like an Apple store for trying out HP's VR system.
To further supplement the new initiative, HP got together with a few other hardware and software vendors to imagine human life on Mars in buildings and on farms -- with a population of one million "in the not too distance future." I suppose that real-world challenges on back on Earth, such as housing and farming to prevent mass starvation in the South Sudan, is too realistic to solve here at home.
VR is, after all, about what isn't.
Y Combinator hosted 52 demos at the end of March. "Demo day" means that new software and hardware startups get to show off what they do in a brief demo to potential investors and the world, and hopefully get further funding.
Two of them related to CAD. Here are the synopses quoted from TechCrunch at https://techcrunch.com/2017/03/20/yc-demo-day-winter-2017/.
AON3D Low-cost Industrual 3D Printers
AON3D makes a $15,000 3D printer that costs just $15 per pound of materials that it says can outperform traditional $150,000 3D printers with more pricey materials. It uses Peek, a revolutionary plastic it says is as strong as metal. It’s already shipped 33 printers and booked $450,000 in revenue with 60 percent margins.
Pantheon Interactive VR Development
Pantheon has built a VR game creation tool where you can pull in shapes, sculpt them to your liking, add textures to create a VR world, then drag-and-drop in simple game mechanics. Creators can then instantly publish their VR game to the Pantheon platform, which is hoping to become the central hub for casual VR games by amassing a ton of titles.
The Intergraph division of Hexagon is making sure that CADWorx Plant 2017 R1 works with BricsCAD.
Until now, the plant design software worked only with AutoCAD. By plants, we don't mean horticultural but piping in oil and other fluid processing facilities. https://ppm.intergraph.com/products/3d-product-family/cadworx
Also being announced today is GT Studl for BricsCAD, Intergraph's structural design and analysis and software for concrete, steel, and reinforced concrete structures. It, too, previously ran only on AutoCAD. See https://ppm.intergraph.com/products/analysis-product-family/gt-strudl
Intergraph says that the software works identically on AutoCAD or on BricsCAD Pro and Platinum. The primary difference is that after three years, BricsCAD Pro ($680-and-up permanent license) is 8x more price-effective than AutoCAD ($1,825/year subscription) .
In related news, Intergraph Process, Power & Marine is soon to be renamed Hexagon PPM.
In the last week, a new file format was announced that may be of interest to CAD users.
Pantone File Format
Pantone is the primary North American standard for specifying colors. Kind of like PDF ensures an exact reproduction of a document, Pantone ensures the exact reproduction of specified colors. (Other parts of the world use other color specification standards, such as DIC in Japan.) Using Pantone is easy: you select a color, and then specify the Pantone number. See figure below. Printers and publishers know which exact color to use, making the client happy.
Every color in the Pantone palette is assigned a number
Today, however, computers work with more than just color. There are the real-world modifications to color that effect how it looks, such as surface textures, glossiness, refraction through transparent objects, and reflections. Think about how the same color looks different when used in flat or glossy paint, real or fake leather, the billions of kinds of plastic, flowing fabrics, stained and unstained wood, and metals.
Pantone reacted (a few years late, I would say) by creating a system that records the color given off by the object, and writing a new file format that records the parameters of the color. Their Total Appearance Capture hardware captures the color, while AxF is the compressed file format that records the color for use by other software. It's not a simple process to capture what the eye sees:
The scanner works by flashing different colors of lights at the material at different angles, and then recording the data -- much like a digital camera. See figure below. For example, scan a draped blanket and all the color and texture variations (and even holes) are recoded to the AxF file using RAW format, which can end up consisting of gigabytes of data. (Compression reduces it to megabytes.) Pantone also provides a virtual light booth device, which rotates the original sample while the scanned result rotates synchronously on the monitor.
Guts of the scanner
So far, a few rendering systems work with the new file format, such as from nVidia and Autodesk. Here is the link to the Web page that describes the new products: https://www.xrite.com/categories/Appearance/total-appearance-capture-ecosystem . Pantone's parent X-Rite doesn't give a price ("Request a Quote") but I suspect the hardware is in the tens of thousands of dollars.
(Hat tip to DEVELOP 3D blog for alerting me to this item: https://www.develop3d.com/blog)
Translation from MCAD files
In addition to the new Communicator features described earlier, the V17 release adds these functions.
You can now specify alternate paths for all supported CAD formats. This lets Communicator find standard parts that might be associated with assemblies being imported.
When parts are designated as “hidden” in the original CAD files, you can now decide whether to import them or ignore them, depending on your preference. Not importing hidden parts makes the resulting file smaller.
When an assembly has components that are nested (both locally and externally), the entire structure is now exported to STEP files. This allows other CAD systems to display the BricsCAD product structure of imported models.
Building Information Modeling
This partial list of new BIM features in BricsCAD V17 is provided by Bricsys. They are in alphabetical order, followed by improved functions. For the full list, look at https://www.bricsys.com/common/releasenotes.jsp?i=4471
A SITE WITH MANY BUILDINGS AND STORIES
To give you greater flexibility in developing BIM designs, a single drawing file now contains a “site,” which can have multiple “buildings,” with each building holding one or more “stories.” The default drawing holds one building with three stories. You specify properties for the new site, building, and story elements.
The new bimPatch command allows you to specify a rectangular area on a block that you previously generated with the bimSectionUpdate command. When you use bimSectionUpdate to regenerate the section, BricsCAD checks if the geometry bounded by the patch has changed. If it is unchanged, then the patch is preserved; if changes occurred, then BricsCAD outlines the patch boundary in red.
The new bimRoom command offers you two ways to specify rooms. One is to click a point in the drawing, from which BricsCAD finds the area enclosed by walls and then places a room marker; the dynamic UCS defines the bottom plane of the room. The room marker is a block consisting of a hatch pattern and data attributes that specify the name, number and area. In the second method, you select a 3D solid, which defines the room in 3D with area and height.
The new Structure panel allows you to examine BIM models organized by spatial containment: it lists building elements by Building, Story, BIM type, and then by composition. You can easily modify the organization as any property, including IFC properties, can be used as to group and sort the elements.
IMPROVED: DRAWING GENERATION
The types of section views are expanded to generate full, half, offset, and aligned sections. When placing a section view, you can specify the depth of the section to limit how much detail is shown, as well as use leaders and rectangular frames to label and highlight detail views. When you dimension generated drawings, they are updated automatically after you change the source 3D model.
The bimSection command has a new option named Detail that creates volume sections. To define the volume box, it prompts you for three corner points and uses the dynamic UCS as the base of the box; the base plane is also the section plane. When you hover the cursor over a bimSection element, you select bimSection from the Quad to create a detail section box that’s based in the same plane as the hovered bimSection.
This partial list of new sheet metal functions in BricsCAD V17 is provided by Bricsys. The new commands are in alphabetical order, followed by improved functions. For the full list, look at https://www.bricsys.com/common/releasenotes.jsp?i=4471
BricsCAD V17 adds parametric form features to the sheet metal module. “Form features” mimic the process when a forming tool deforms a piece of sheet metal. After the form is applied (using the new Form Features tab of the Tool Palettes panel), you can edit it directly and parametrically through the Properties bar.
The library contains most commonly used form features, such as bridge, louver, and emboss. You can import form features from other systems, and define your own custom forms. When you import geometry from other CAD systems, you can search for similar form features, and then replaced them with ones from your libraries.
The smFlangeBend command lets you bend an existing flange along a line, obeying the k-factor for given bend radius. The “k-factor” determines how much of the material’s thickness compresses and how much stretches during the bending process. When you import geometry, BricsCAD recognizes incorrectly-made bends and automatically repairs them.
IMPROVED: LOFTED BENDS
Lofted bends gain a feature validation function, which lets you ensure that the bend will work correctly.
New and Improved for 2D drawing and 3D modeling
This is a partial list of the new features in BricsCAD V17 provided by Bricsys. It lists new features in alphabetical order, followed by improved functions. For the full list, look at https://www.bricsys.com/common/releasenotes.jsp?i=4471
3D DRAWING COMPARE
The new 3dCompare command opens two drawing files and then reports the differences in 3D solids and 3D surfaces using color coding. This lets you quickly see the changes made to otherwise identical-looking drawings. The differences are represented as separate entities displayed in two viewports – red entities for additions, green for subtractions.
3DCompare dialog box
Simultaneous 3D navigation in both viewports lets you get a closer look at what has changed. You have the option of leaving blocks and frozen layers out of the checking process. When you have the Communicator add-on, you can check differences in 3D models from other CAD systems, making BricsCAD a universal CAD model checker.
The new AniPath command creates movies by rendering views from a point or along a path. This lets you create movies to show collaborators and clients your building designs and other 3D projects. In creating the movie, you have options like specifying the frame rate and resolution, the overall duration, the visual style, and the movie’s file format.
Dialog box for Anipath settings
Materials in BricsCAD now support physical properties. This means that when you analyze 3D models with commands such as bmMassProp and bmBom, the correct mass is returned no matter how many different materials make up the models. You can use materials provided with BricsCAD, or else define your own. Component materials correctly generate their hatch patterns when shown in section views.
The optional Communicator add-on imports materials with physical properties, should they be assigned to the parts in imported products. When you export sheet metal models, materials are included in DXF and OSM files.
DIMENSION STYLE FAMILIES
The new dimension-style families feature consists of a parent style with one or more child styles. This is a handy way for you to make subtle modifications to just parts of dimension styles. For instance, child styles let you make linear and angular dimensions look different from one another. To create a child style, right-click a parent style in the Dimension Styles explorer, and then select the New Child Style option from the context menu.
Starting a new child style
When you have more than one panel docked to the side of the screen, you can have them share the same space, with each panel getting its own tab. This increases the drawing area, yet gives you all the information you need with a single click.
The Layers and Content Browser are new dockable panels. Whereas before the Layer explorer had to be dismissed, now layer names and their settings are always available to you through the Layer panel while drawing and editing. The Content Browser dockable panel displays DWG and DXF content in a tree-like view from folders that you specify.
Layers in a dockable panel
The new PlaceView command is for when you work with sheet sets. It places named views in layouts.
The new dmTwist command lets you twist 3D solids, surfaces, and regions around an axis by an angle that you specify. This makes it easy to create spiral objects, such as drills and augers in MCAD and cockscrews shapes in BIM.
IMPROVED: 3D CONSTRAINTS
BricsCAD V17 introduces the cone half-angle constraint, which constrains the size and angle of cone shapes. You can now apply 3D constraints to 2D entities, such as lines, xlines, rays, circles, and arcs. New measuring modes are available for circles, cylinders and spheres. The arguments of 3D constraints are now displayed and selected through the Mechanical Browser.
IMPROVED: GETTING STARTED
When you start BricsCAD V17, the redesigned Getting Started dialog lets you easily select from user profiles and work spaces, open existing drawings, start new drawings, and access educational resources, like video tutorials.
New interface for the Getting Started dialog box
When you use the dmMove command on edges, BricsCAD now forces adjacent faces to rotate, instead of moving them along with the edges. This lets you create, with a single click, complex roof-like forms from imprinted edges.
IMPROVED: PARAMETRIC COMPONENTS
Parametric components now define 3D solid features to be created on insertion. This lets you place user-defined features, such as parametric holes, form features, and ribs. BricsCAD does this by applying Boolean operations to the target 3D solid. You can change the visibility each component through the new Exposed property for parameters. Parameters take units, which lets you insert metric components into imperial documents and vice versa.
The dmThicken command now works with more than just surfaces. You can use it to create tube-shaped objects from 2D curves like lines and circles, with just a couple of clicks.
With the recent release of Solid Edge ST9, I had the opportunity to ask Siemens PLM Software a few questions. John Fox is vp of marketing for mainstream engineering at Siemens.
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Ralph Grabowski: How many users does Solid Edge have? Last figure I heard was 550,000. Is this total (commercial + educational) or purely commercial users?
John Fox: At Solid Edge University 2014 in Atlanta, we announced that we had sold more than 500,000 seats of Solid Edge, not including our academic student edition, and not including our free Solid Edge 2D Drafting offering.
It was a nice milestone for us. We generally don’t disclose these types of numbers at Siemens, but we made an exception for that milestone.
Grabowski: A new feature in ST9 is storing the license in an account "on the cloud" and then moving the license from machine to machine, as needed. Does this kind of license cost more than a node-locked one?
Fox: The cloud-enabled licensing method works with our existing node locked licenses, so the cost of the license does not change. It basically makes it very easy for the user to “move” their node locked license from device to device using the cloud to keep track of this.
Grabowski: And is this kind of license specific to SE9 (ie, it cannot be used with earlier releases of Solid Edge)?
Fox: This licensing option is specific to ST9. Solid Edge users can also still use the current floating license, where they use a server to keep track of the licenses. Floating licenses have a small uplift (around 2%) compared to a node locked license.
There is a good blog here on this subject:https://community.plm.automation.siemens.com/t5/Solid-Edge-Blog/Solid-Edge-ST9-and-the-Cloud/ba-p/346814
Grabowski: I see rates posted for subscribing to Solid Edge ST9, which range from $100/month to $420/month, depending on the functions. I am wondering what the permanent license price is?
Fox: We don’t publish the price of our perpetual licenses.
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[Editor note: Other CAD vendors tend to price their annual subscriptions at 1/3 the cost of a permanent license.]
Clicking that link
A reader writes:
One of my biggest challenges now is to accurately characterize the emerging threats of cybercrime and cyber espionage. Nobody wants to hear the bad news and the additional costs, but it’s only going to get worse. The trick for everyone is to determine the right level of response.
I'd argue that the best approach for the cyber criminal is social engineering: getting the unwary to click. OTOH, I see a greater awareness of "don't click if you don't know." Elderly relatives I assist with computers are now paranoid about clicking on anything!
I suppose the issue for the reader might be dealing with protecting the IP [intellectual property] surrounding drawing files? What about stealing license numbers from authorized users: is this an issue?
According to an FBI briefing that I attended, 77.3% of malware installs require someone to open an email attachment or click an email link. On the average:
- 23% of recipients open phishing emails
- 11% click on attachments
More than 85% of the attacks were targeting secret information. Most companies are astonished to find out they’ve been hacked by foreign intelligence services (FIS) when they are contacted by the FBI. In 2013, the FBI notified 3,000 US companies that they’d been hacked.
The FBI did their own security tests on US government security simply by leaving USB devices and CDs around. If I remember correctly, the CDs crudely marked with a Sharpie [felt pen] that read something like “August Reorg” were opened over 80% of the time!
Drawing IP is indeed important and can be monetized in many ways. For example, let’s say someone got your patent drawings and then quickly submitted a bunch of similar patents in that same area.
Much bigger in my opinion than license stealing is the use of cracked software. Obviously CAD vendors lose some revenue from this practice, but what most people don’t realize is that anyone who cracks CAD software can also easily insert additional code to quietly harvest sensitive information from the user’s company on an on-going basis.
Subs and clouds
During last week's conference call with financial analysts, executives from Dassault Systemes described the timeline for Solidworks subscriptions and the cloud. Note that both are optional for customers. Here are quotations:
Yes, we are introducing subscription with our next release, so potentially in earlier November.
So, the price point for subscription is going to be good old and usual formula where payback is over three-year term.
We also introducing, by the way, ... Solidworks on browser in the same timeframe. And it will only be available on the cloud subscription.
"Jim, you're going to need to add water."
PTC ceo James Heppelmann on how augmented reality could help the company make more revenues:
A lot of people are saying that AR [augmented reality] and AR hardware is the next-generation mobile device. Today you carry a screen in your pocket, and there's a screen in your car, and there's a screen on the wall in your house, and there's a screen on your computer, and there are screens all over the place.
Maybe tomorrow you'll put the screen on your head and everything you look at will have digital displays without needing to have their own unique proprietary hardware screens. I'm just looking in my office here, I have a water cooler and I have a coffeemaker, and they both have screens.
So, I think the reason that Microsoft is spending billions of dollars, and the reason Google is spending billions of dollars, and Facebook is spending billions of dollars is this idea that there's a generation of hardware beyond mobile, and it's AR devices.
And the reason that's so exciting is because you can blend digital data onto physical objects and give an integrated physical digital experience. Now that's what's exciting to us, because physical-digital is what IoT [Internet of things] is all about. So IoT is a way for us to get information from the physical world, combine it with everything we already knew digitally from CAD and PLM, and then turn around using Vuforia to augment this back into the field-of-view of the user.
So, when I look at my coffeemaker, it says, "Jim, you're going to need to add water." I don't have to walk over to read that on the screen, it just shows up. And if I say, "How do I do that?" it then takes me through a process using CAD models to explain the process of adding water to my Keurig coffeemaker over there.
It's a powerful idea where IoT, CAD, PLM and SLM [service lifecycle management], because that's one of the primary use cases and manufacturing. All this stuff comes together and aligns unbelievably, and PTC is in such a special spot because we have all this stuff and we have the know-how and the vision and the technology to go do it and we're showing people.
When I read that report, basically it said if you like Pokémon GO, now you understand what AR is about. If you go to work and say, "How could we use AR here at work?", you're going to end up talking to PTC, because all roads lead to PTC when you start talking about AR and the enterprise.
It's one of those experiences when you see it, you just say, "Oh, wow, I didn't know you could do that!", and then your mind starts spinning about all the possible applications of it in your business or your personal life or whatever. So it's an exciting place. We're happy to be in such a unique and strong position with our technology and big ideas about what to do with it.
When upgrades become downgrades
As I work with recent updates to a variety of CAD programs, I notice that the updates are stripping functions out of the free and cheap versions of the programs. Customers are getting less by staying free.
The reason is not surprising. The CAD vendors who are offering some of their CAD software for free now want you to pay. The free version is just the hook; in their thinking, it's high time for you to swallow the line and sinker as well.
I have no problem with this. You would do well to pay the price it costs developers to develop (or license) the software. Even when software is entirely free, I'll send a donation to the programmer whose software I use a lot. When I make revenues using his program, then I feel good sharing some of my profits with him.
Here's where the problem is: when the CAD vendor makes negative changes on the sly. Most do. When a new release comes out, they are sure to trumpet the improvements and new functions added; they are, however, loathe to spell out what's been removed. If that removed function is important to the running of your firm, you want to know that you shouldn't upgrade. The solution is to install one upgrade on a dummy machine and see for yourself what's changed.
On the other hand, if the function-available-now-only-in-the-paid-version is so crucial to your firm's operations, you should be paying anyhow.
CheapCAD Also Becomes LessCAD
The issue affects not just freeCAD. I see it also in cheapCAD, where functions are being removed from the lowest priced version, and then customers have to pay 2x or more for the "pro" version.
Then there is yet another tactic, in which the CAD vendor removes a chunk of commands from the core CAD package, and then repackages them as an optional, extra-cost add-on. Kc-ching!
As one industry commentator put it, "Thing is, all this free 2D stuff is complete spyware. It monitors absolutely everything you do. So they know the most popular commands to pull out and stick in Pro."
As a pro-capitalist, I understand why software companies -- large and small ones -- tweak the feature sets to generate more revenues. The disappointment comes when customers set their expectations on the company they decide to support, and then the company changes the rules, unilaterally.
So, who is doing this? Well think of CAD vendors with cheap or free software, and the list includes the biggest and some of the not-so-smallest.
Peter Bilello, president CIMdata: "We are seeing a shift in expectations in what PLM is expected to do. Healthier business success, unhealthy ones fail. Even though PLM began in the 1980s, it still is not mature. It is not a stagnant industry by any means."
Following the Webinar, Mr Bilello answers questions from the audience:
Q: Agile development seems critical to your approach. Do you recommend a particular approach?
A: No. Companies find one that works for them. Any agile approach can be applicable.
Q: My company is using agile for prototyping and not for real system implementation. Any advice to educate them?
A: Plenty of software in your company probably has been developed using agile; show them what you are already using. Ask software providers if they are using agile, and use that as proof.
Q: You showed an example of an implementation heatmap. Is there a way to connect it to ROI?
A: Yes, and you would want to do that. We have an ROI [return on investment] model that maps right to it. For some implementations of PLM, you have to do the foundation, which has no ROI, but you have to have [the foundation] to build on top of it.
Q: Do you advocate the agile approach for product development?
A: Interesting question. In general, it depends on the type of product; in some products, agile can be used, and has been done with agile. A lot companies think that agile is Design-As-You-Go, but this not true. It still has a target to which you go. If you have well-defined outcomes, then agile can be used; if not, then something else has to be used. Some industries are heavily regulated, if you can't plug the regulations into them, then you can't build it, and if agile cannot handle it, then it cannot be used.
Q: From what domain in the enterprise PLM lead from?
A: Not engineering, not IT. It should be from the COO or CFO or even CEO level. It cuts across so many components of the organization. Engineering may be the champion, but the owner should be one level above them.
Q: What is the best way to keep up with changing technology?
A: Do research. There is a lot of information on the Web; there are lots of events; electronic magazines, paper magazines, user events, our own weekly newsletter and information session.
Blow to American and European CAD vendors
As of 1 January, 2016 national and local Russian government offices are banned from using non-Russian software, when a local version exists. Minimum local ownership is 50%. An agency will create a list of acceptable programs.
Russia has a healthy CAD industry, with ready replacements for MCAD, plant design, and AutoCAD; not quite so robust are BIM systems. Foreign software companies last year sold US$1.4 billion sales to Russia, of which $300 million was to Russian government agencies.
Russia Today explains the reason for the blockage:
While the latest [Russian prime minister] Medvedev’s order can be seen as supporting domestic software producers, Russian politicians and officials have often pointed out the dangers of surveillance and data leaks that come with the use of foreign computer programs in state bodies and government-owned companies.
Moscow Times adds:
As Communications and Mass Media Minister Nikolai Nikiforov put it a year ago: "We stand for complete sovereignty of information."
Not surprisingly, a few other countries are attempting the same, most notably China. The Association of European Businesses warned darkly that non-Russian software firms would freeze investment or pull out of Russia. Well, I kind of doubt it, as 80% of their sales were to non-goverment firms.
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.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Open Design Alliance released an update to its DWG read-write libraries that added multi-core processing when opening and regenerating drawings, and so on. At the time I wondered how long it might take members to apply the new functions.
Well, now it is a couple of weeks later, and the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium is releasing an update to IntelliCAD that incorporates it. Here's the details of what's new in IntelliCAD 8.1:
You cannot, however, purchase IntelliCAD 8.1 from ITC today. It builds the software for its members, who then add their branding and customizations, and then ship the software to end-users. To learn who carries IntelliCAD, see https://www.intellicad.org.
From Q1 2016 Results Earnings Call Transcript
Carl Bass, Autodesk ceo: This is probably the first time we've really talked about [Internet of Things], and it's one of the areas where our customers are really interested in. I was doing the prepared remarks last night when I came upon this tweet, and it made me pause about including it, because the tweet was something like "IoT is like teenage sex, everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone else claims they are doing it."
And so it did give me a little bit of pause, but let me just tell you that we do know what we're doing and it has become a huge focus for our customers in all of our industries. IoT has been often associated with just purely manufacturing, but it's also in the building space and I would say this is both for vertical and horizontal construction, a big deal. Sensors have been built into every building, they are being put in every infrastructure project from electrical infrastructure to sewage infrastructure, to dams, roads, bridges are all having it.
The important thing for us is figuring out how do you help customers not only collect that data and analyze that data, but how does that feed back into better products that they build in turn for their customers.
Also many of our customers are contemplating transitions of their own. You've certainly seen things along the lines, from large industrial companies like GE talking about essentially jet engines as a service as opposed to selling jet engines and railroads as a service, and so it's a huge interest.
What we saw in the market was that there was a real lack of contemporary modern tools to do it. There are a lot of old tools that have been around for a long time. We're doing some in-house development that we started from scratch and we will be opportunistic about finding M&A [mergers and acquisitions] opportunities.
by Ralph Grabowski, reprinted from Design Engineering magazine
Around the year 2000, the Internet bubble was getting seriously big. Established CAD vendors looked for ways to show they were hip to the new thing. PTC integrated a web browser into Pro/E and Autodesk came out with a lean file format, DWF, so that drawings would be transmitted in less time over slow connections.
Meanwhile, an unknown CAD company caught the attention of Microsoft, who was looking for software to promote its upcoming Windows 2000 launch. That company, Alibre, had figured out how to run MCAD software on servers, with the results appearing on remote desktop computers.
The problem, however, was that most of us still had dial-up modems, and so this Internet-based CAD system didn’t catch on. Alibre was rewritten as a traditional program and then was purchased by Geomagic and 3D Systems. Today, it still runs from the desktop.
Fast forward a dozen years, and Internet-based CAD is busting out all over again. A fresh round of financing and advances in web programming has encouraged all kinds of companies (e.g. sunglass.io, ShapeSmith and TinkerCAD) to feverishly write cloud-based CAD programs and viewers that run in today’s heavy-duty web browsers.
Figure 1: OnShape collaborating in a Mac Web browser and on an iPhone at the same time.
Back when SolidWorks was launched in 1995, it surprised the industry by running only on Windows. This was at the time when serious CAD ran on Unix, like Pro/E, or on DOS, like AutoCAD. CAD on Windows was thought to perhaps have some potential, just as today CAD on servers is considered “interesting.”
The OnShape guys are determined to rewrite MCAD for the post-Windows age. As such, it has to run on any kind of hardware and operating system, access files from a central repository, allow simultaneous editing by many users, and throw away difficult aspects, such as saving, backing up, forking and revising models.
In short, OnShape wants something that functioned like SolidWorks but works like Google Docs. After nearly three years of development, the new software is ready to be unveiled.
In January, the folks at OnShape gave me access to the beta program so I could experienced the software for myself. The MCAD program is both a history-based parametric modeler and a direct modeler/editor. It runs in any modern web browser, which means the operating system is immaterial — Linux, OS X, Windows. However, due to the small screen sizes of Android and iOS devices, the company is writing native OnShape apps for these two platforms (see figure 1).
Figure 2: Version tracking is shown graphically in OnShape.
Model files are not stored locally, but on servers. At this point, OnShape operates server farms located on the West and East coasts of the United States, Ireland and Asia. To keep everything together, the model and all of its support files are stored in a single container file. There is no Save command so that we don’t need to think about saving or backing up drawings. Instead, there is a Save Version command that archives the current state of the model.
At this early stage in development, the number and variety of OnShape commands is basic. The reason is that, when writing a brand-new Google Docs-like CAD system, there is a great deal of work at the beginning to write the file and collaboration portions that underpin the web-based program.
As a result, collaborating on a model involves emailing a URL; anyone receiving it gets full access to the program and the model. Parts can be edited simultaneously, down to the feature level. The program supports forking to create variations of models, as well as merging to bring multiple versions together again. To keep track of things, versions, forks and merges are displayed graphically (see Figure 2).
Most of the commands are located in a single line of icons, a few having flyouts. The icons displayed depend on the modeling mode — parts, assemblies or sketches. Figure 3 shows the commands available for creating and editing parts next to the word “Sketch.”
Pause the cursor over an icon to get a paragraph of help text. Clicking the icon displays a docked dialog box with the command’s options. More than one user can work in this dialog box at the same time — whoever clicks the green checkmark last, wins. In fact, I could sign in twice into my own account on two different computers and work on the same model that way.
As an alternative to icons, users can enter shortcuts on the keyboard, such as Shift+E to extrude or D to apply dimensions. Right-clicking a part displays a shortcut menu with display commands, such as Hide Other Parts.
Figure 3: History tree in OnShape (at left), editing a fillet (dialog box next door), help tip (at center) and view cube (at right). Tabs along the bottom hold parts, assemblies and support files.
The pancake button (three horizontal lines) lets me select units, specify properties, rename the model and print. Printing is rudimentary at this early stage, and in fact did not work for me. I got a print preview in a separate browser tab, but then my laser printer spat out a blank sheet.
I really liked the tabs along the bottom of the OnShape window. They segregate the open drawing into different aspects. In separate tabs, I can open parts (this is known as the “Part Studio”), assemblies and support files like PDFs, scans and photographs. Indeed, there can be more than one Assembly tab, each with a different collection of parts. The 2D drafting portion of the program was not, unfortunately, ready for me to test.
Price and Availability
The base price of OnShape is free. This includes all the functions and is not limited by time. The catch is, however, that all our models are available to everyone else. I suppose this is one way to quickly build up a parts warehouse. To make models private, you need to pony up $100 per month per user.
OnShape Beta is available now at cad.onshape.com. At some point in the future, the application will achieve Release 1.0 status. In the meantime, the company plans to keep adding functions, while they look for partners to provide ancillary operations like FEA and CAM.
OnShape is another attempt to create a CAD system that runs well over the Internet. This has its advantages, such as having no program to install, accessing the program and models from anywhere by one or many users, and working with most operating systems. But because it relies on the Internet, we cannot use it off-line, so it could suffer from latency (delays between our browsers and their servers), and the software is always updated, whether we want it or not.
The company designed their new program to be attractive to existing SolidWorks users, yet not be unfamiliar to users of similar programs, like Inventor or Solid Edge. Now it’s up to those users to figure out if working on the web is preferable to the desktop.
The team behind this software is smart, and has spent much time thinking about how an MCAD system should operate in 2015 and beyond. They are taking as much a gamble with the web as they did twenty years ago with Windows 95.
[Reprinted with permission of Design Engineering magazine]
by Ralph Grabowski, reprinted from CADdigest.com
Apple’s 1984 introduction of the Macintosh computer spurred on researchers to take advantage of Apple’s unique, interactive, graphically-oriented interface. One of them was Dr. Chris Yessios, who at the time was the director of the Computer-Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) Graduate Program at Ohio State University. He could see that computers like the new Macintosh could become the future of 3D modeling, software that longed for interactivity. The result of his musings was formZ, one of the first 3D modelers designed with the user in mind.
In this interview, Ralph Grabowski spoke with AutoDesSys CEO Chris Yessios about his company and its software, along with input from Senior Vice President of Development, David Kropp, an ex-student of Yessios’ and co-founder of the company.
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Q: You were first with a university, and then this company came out of your research. Tell me about how formZ came about.
A: In 1968, I came to the United States to study city planning, after studying architecture in Europe. While in a master’s program, I picked up a couple of computer classes that I hadn’t done before, and l fell in love with the computer, as its potential became pretty obvious to me right from the beginning, I ended up transferring to a doctorate program in computer-aided design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh that Chuck Eastman, then an assistant professor, was starting. After my graduation in 1973, I was hired by Ohio State University, which wanted to expand its research activities into potential applications of the computer in architectural design.
When I joined the Department of Architecture, it had no computer equipment and right from the beginning we had to establish a collaboration with the Computer Science department, which flourished more and more as our research work progressed. In a few years we established a special graduate program in CAAD. Its aim was to explore and develop computer tools that enhanced architectural design. Among others, this work was strongly supported by IBM, DEC and the National Science Foundation and led to the development of a number of prototypical modeling systems that were used in design studios by students not enrolled in the CAAD program. It’s needless to underline how valuable the feedback of those students was and how much they contributed to the evolution of the 3D modeling tools.
With the arrival of the Mac, we finally had an interactive machine supportive of a graphic user interface, such as the one we had been dreaming of, for implementing 3D modeling tools in the image of human designers. All this presented us with the challenge of re-implementing the most advanced of our prototypes to run on the Mac. Because our expectations to raise research funds for redoing work that had already been funded in the past were rather slim, we decided to do it privately. To make a long story short, we started work in 1989. AutoDesSys, which stands for Automated Design Systems, was incorporated in 1990, and on Valentine’s Day — February 14, 1991 — we had the first release of formZ, 24 years ago.
Q: What does the name formZ mean?
A: We were initially inclined to use an architectural name and Vitruvius, the name of the Roman architect, was a strong candidate. But then, as work progressed and we started receiving feedback from some alpha testers, we realized that our software was also applicable to a variety of other design fields, beyond architecture. We kicked around a few names, and decided on formZ: "Z" for the third dimension, and "form" for what we are dealing with. For a while we also carried the subtitle, 3D form synthesizer.
Q: The original formZ ran on Mac?
A: Yes, it ran on the Mac exclusively for a couple of years, and then we brought it to Windows 95.
FormZ model by Giorgio Borusso
Q: Who tend to be your customers?
A: Since the beginning, formZ has been a general purpose 3D modeler, but it has been accused of having — and applauded for — a heavy architectural bias. As already mentioned, at the beginning, it was intended to be an architectural application, but then we realized that 3D modeling is also useful to many other fields. As a result, we have a multi-faceted user base, with the majority of them being in architecture. formZ is also used in Hollywood for set design and special effects in movies, for product design, jewelry design, exhibit and retail design, forensic animations, and so on. We have users that design and build inflatables, others that do furniture, design ships, etc. In general, we have seen formZ being used in areas that we had never thought it would.
Q: How many people use your software?
A: An exact number is always hard to calculate as it is hard to know who of the people that acquired the software continue to use it, in spite of the fact that we remain in contact with the majority of our active users. Excluding academic licenses, we estimate around a couple of hundred thousand active users. This does not include the free and student versions. Neither does it count formZ free, a relative new addition to our product line, the free downloads of which sometimes surpass one hundred a day.
Q: You are located in the United States, but do you see a benefit to sales in Europe due to your European connection?
A: Not really. The U.S. remains our main market, while we also make significant sales overseas. Most of our European sales are in Germany, the United Kingdom and Italy. From the overseas sales, Japan has always been the strongest market. We haven’t figured out China yet, even though the program circulates a lot there, mostly as a bootleg.
Q: How does formZ fit into the architect’s workflow?
A: As a conceptual program, it sketches stuff very quickly and interactively. Then architects can take those preliminary models to full detail. Our models are solid models, in contrast to some other so-called modeling applications. Being solid models, they are ready to be 3D printed. We have rendering, of course, and animation, and drafting for construction drawings with dimensions, annotations and sectioning. We call these "layouts," and they can be extracted directly from 3D models.
Our idea for formZ has always been a design tool: very easy to use with a good data representation. It allows exploration for cyclic design, where architects quickly evaluate and change things.
Q: What about generating 2D drawings from 3D models?
A: formZ tries to be full range, and so we also make 2D drawings from 3D models; we call it "layouts." The drawings have dimensions, notes, and sectioning.
We say that our program has multiple personalities. By this, we mean that you can design with polygon modeling or smooth (ACIS) solids, NURBS modeling or sub-division modeling (sub-d). Sub-d is part of the workflow, and not an add-on. You can switch from one to the other, for example, from sub-d to NURBS surfaces or solids. formZ is the only program we know of that does this, letting you work in any personality: start in one modeling mode, like sub-d, and then switch to solid modeling. Given today’s architectural trends towards organic and curvy forms, frequently mixed with rectangular shapes, formZ’s multiple personalities are proving conveniently efficient in accommodating these contemporary trends.
Q: Is there an API?
A: Yes, it is C or C++ based and allows one to develop plug-ins that can then be run under formZ. A lot of our newer functions are written as plug-ins. Also, some of our power users are writing their own plug-ins, some of which are becoming available on our web site. Also, rendering applications such as the Maxwell and Lightwork renderers are currently running as plug-ins.
Q: It is interesting that rendering was invented in the U.S., but now it seems that European companies are making the renders.
A: Yes, this is true. Popular renderers are today coming mostly from Europe. However, we have noticed that there are also developers in China and Japan writing rendering software, quite independently.
Q: Who are some of your competitors?
A: There are quite a few modelers on the market, but they all have different strengths and most apply to specific fields, such as architecture, different types of engineering, product design, etc. While not completely comparable, we would say that the most similar to formZ are Rhino and SketchUp. Each of these has its own strengths, but neither offers the multiple personalities that formZ does nor are they as complete in their range of capabilities.
Q: What are your future plans?
A: Keep on doing what we have been doing: making the software still more powerful, yet easier to use as technology evolves. For example, Boolean operations were very slow in 1991: to union two relatively large spheres it could have taken two to three minutes. Today, it is instantaneous. Our Reshape function, which resembles the push-pull operation of other applications, behind the scenes, executes continuous Boolean operations in real time, something we couldn’t even imagine a couple of decades ago.
We want to make our scripting easier. The API formZ is offering currently is very powerful, but it is programmer-oriented; for example, it uses naming conventions following computer science standards, which makes it unfriendly for the casual user and programmer. We are also working on visual scripting, but we are not ready to announce specifics at this time.
Real time dynamic and parametric modeling is another area that we want to further enhance by developing generative algorithms that can be driven through touch sensitive screens and voice commands. We expect these techniques to have a dramatic impact on the ways designers brainstorm and conceptualize. Sorry, but we have to put off discussing more specifics for a later time.
We want to produce field specific plug-ins that, when attached to formZ, will transform the application into a specialized version. We intend to do this especially for architectural design, where the planned plug-ins will implement architecturally intelligent procedures and elements, such as walls, doors/windows, floors/ceilings, etc., that know how to behave according to what they are, when operations are applied to them. These will offer the starting points for our entrance into our version of BIM. While this is all work in progress, we have no timetable yet.
We take a special pride in our support of 3D printing. Our models go through [the 3D printing process] very smoothly. 3D printing is successful with watertight models, which is something we have always made. We can even fix incomplete models produced by other applications, using tools specific to 3D printing. We intend to continue our attention to this area as 3D printing technology further evolves.
Q: Describe your software lineup to our reader.
A: We recently restructured our product line to three levels:
In addition to the above, we have always had and still have a student/faculty license that we offer for free. As a matter of fact, we were the first to introduce free programs for students at a time when other companies charged schools dearly. Now most have followed our lead.
Q: Do you have any other products planned?
A: There will be a formZ Layout application, where the layout procedures will be sold separately from the modeling. There will also be a formZ Viewer, which will allow users to view models from formZ and other applications on smart phones and tablets. There will be more renderers and other plug-ins. Expect more specific announcements in the not too distant future.
From ASCON Group
Saint Petersburg's ASCON Group is best known for its MCAD software KOMPAS-3D. As the largest Russian CAD vendor, it has concentrated on the MCAD market for more than 20 years, along with more recent projects like its C3D geometric kernel and DEXMA cloud-based PLM system.
When I visited them in 2009, they hinted at wanting to enter the AEC sector, which in Russia currently is dominated by foreign Autodesk programs. Under the radar, they've been working hard on AEC software, which entered beta in December. And within the next four weeks, ASCON plans to release it officially.
Here is what the user interface looks like:
The name given to the software is Renga Architecture, based on the Japanese word for bricks (as in construction) and for collaborative poetry. ASCON ceo Maxim Bogdanov this week released the first public glimpse of Renga through a 13-minute video that goes through the program's user interface and some of its commands.
Launched this morning at 8am Pacific
1. It's free. No limited functions; no time-out bomb; no limit to online storage.
2. It is a history-based feature modeler that is also a direct modeler-editor; it employs features, extrusions, parts, and assemblies -- just like Solidworks users are used to using.
3. It is a pure cloud play that runs in desktop browsers and on apps specific to Android and iOS. There is no local version; there is no local install; there is no local saving of files.
The OnShape user interface, when the program first starts up in a Web browser
4. It uses Parasolid for the kernel; it uses D-cubed for constraints and other MCAD functions, like Solidworks.
5. Users can co-edit models down to the feature level, both editing the same feature.
6. If a server crashes, Parasolid moves your modeling session to another server automatically.
7. The free version makes your files public after the first five; to keep all your proprietary data private, you pay OnShape $100 a month.
8. To keep more than five files private on free account, you deactivate the other files (can't be viewed or edited, but are still sharable).
9. The $100/month includes unlimited file storage on the cloud, unlike any competitor. The free version gives you 5GB.
10. As of today, you can try it at www.onshape.com in any modern Web browser on all operating systems; there are separate apps for Android and iOS users.
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Link to OnShape presentation (PDF): https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/28941239/Onshape%20Press%20Kit%2003092015.pdf
Nanosoft has this krazy idea that it can give away its CAD software and then make money on... Well, it sounded crazy back in the day (they've around quite a while), but now it's normal. It's just that today we call it making "in-app purchases."
This week they announced a beta test program for nanoCAD Mechanica, a standalone 2D CAD program that comes with tools and a library of parts for creating mechanical designs. It uses "an industry accepted parametric engine" running on their nanoCAD CAD software. It has tools for pneumatics and hydraulics, piping design, gears, shafts, and so on. The user guide is 900 pages.
To join the beta, go to https://nanocad.com/page/Betatester. (The page loaded slowly for me, so be patient.) There is a lot of info about the capabilities of this new software.
To 2015 and beyond!
During last week's conference call with financial analysts, Dassault Systemes ceo Bernard Charles talked about his plans for the future.
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To reach our ambitious mission on strategy objectives, over the last three years we have completely reshaped our applications portfolio and adapted all facets of our organization.
Research and development's significant efforts were quite visible in the first quarter of 2014, where we delivered our 3Dexperience platform and introduced an expanded portfolio of Industry Solution Experiences, including our first cloud-plus mobile solutions.
And this effort followed a massive simplification of our product portfolio. 2014 was a significant year, too, of progress in terms of advancing on our purpose and expanding our addressable market.
Photosphere, biosphere, geosphere, these are not simply words to us. We are advancing on our purpose with our new brand Biovia focused on biology, chemical and material sciences.
With the introduction of our new part of Geovia, which is called 3Dexperience City, it is possible to now represent the behaviors and experiences of different systems to run a smart city such as water, electrical grid, transportation and people.
And we are advancing on building a comprehensive offering for businesses and people on upstream experience thinking to save on marketing.
This year, we added design of molecules with the creation of Biovia Global Business operation planning, with the acquisition of Quintiq, on digital marketing with the creation of 3Dxcite.
The 3Dexperience platform is a critical enabler of our strategy, gathering altogether all our applications for the best product on Industry Solution Experience. Client engagements show the comprehensive nature and range of our offer:
The 3Dexperience platform is also a critical enabler to our cloud-plus mobile strategy. We launched our first cloud offering during 2014. It is clear that the value of connecting people quickly, easily to work and collaborate altogether is a game changer in areas such as project management, productivity, closer connectivity between design and manufacturing, among many other benefits in terms of simplicity and cost.
The last three years in total have been about creating a new Dassault Systemes to well orient ourselves to our next decade long vision with 3Dexperience , and our expanded purpose, sustainable innovation for product nature and life, and our Social Industry Experience strategy. We are now positioned to begin to accelerate our execution. With the many assets we now are in place, Dassault Systemes is ready to move to the next stage ahead.
From St Petersburg
Most of us are familiar with ACIS (from Dassault Systemes) and Parasolid (from Siemens PLM Software), the two solid modeling kernels that battle it out for market supremacy. But there are a lot of others, such as SOLIDS++ from IntegrityWare, CGM (from Dassault), Granite (from PTC), the open source Open CASCADE, and so on.
C3D from ASCON Group is less familiar, and so I thought I'd parrot their press release on the latest updates. The kernel has three parts, a modeler of geometry, a solver of constraints, and a converter formats.
New to the Modeler
In kinematic operations, the elements of solids are cloned for a variety of positions relative to the guide path. Threads can be adjusted according to the initial position and length of the hole in which it is rendered.
Building shell rings by individual sketches with irregular faces is performed using a constant bend radius. Building conical polygons through sheet metal bends is performed through segmentation of the support arches. When building sheet metal bodies, the closure of angles is rendered through the rotary processing of the target area. Users can set different lengths to the left and to the right of the bending extension.
Edge fillets are created more efficiently, with dramatically fewer inaccuracies and with no building limitations. The thickness of surfaces can be based on singular (polar) points. The tangent line junctions of surfaces built from a web of curves are rendered more smoothly.
New to the 2D and 3D Solver
Clusters are a new type of solid body with their own constraint system, and so arranges geometric models against a hierarchy of nested sub-assemblies. This allows designers to employ the same solver instance for an entire assembly.
Reflection symmetry is the new geometric constraint for 3D shapes, and is applied to any geometric object, such as curves on pairs of bodies or external facets.
All API calls for the 2D solver are implemented. All details regarding interactions of the C3D Solver are recorded automatically to file, which allows remote debugging.
Also new: a dragging function; interpolated spline function with any type of constraint; function for recognizing the types of conic sections defined as NURBS curves; and constraint for defining spline configurations through its points with fixed coordinates, through vectors of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd derivatives.
New to the Converter
C3D converter adjusts the accuracy of exported STL models by three triangulation parameters: maximum deflection, maximum pivot angle of a normal curve (or surface), and maximum length of a triangle side.
Polygon models are imported in STL and VRML formats.
Attributes are now imported, such as name, designation, and owner.
Improved multi-threading converts data faster, such as 1.7x faster for Parasolid files (x_t, x_b) and 2.2x faster for STEP files.
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To request a C3D V16 evaluation version, register at c3dlabs.com/en/evaluation.
Breaking down barriers to collaboration, they say
Aras does PLM, something that we don't usually cover, but here we are. It's Release 11 that's being announced today, which is interesting in that the cloud promises to eliminate release numbers -- a bad thing in my mind. Anyhow, we are just waiting for everyone to show up and'll get started in a few minutes.
Doug MacDonald is hosting the event as product marketing director, along with John Sperling, vp of product management. Today's agenda. Remember to press F5 to refresh this page.
Who is Aras?
500 customers of their PLM (product lifecycle management) software in areas like automotive, industrial machinery, and consumer goods. Here is what their software consists of:
Their unique take on PLM is model-based SOA and SaaS business model. What does this mean? I trust we will find out soon from this Webinar!
Aras software has been proven to handle 250,000 concurrent users.
Trends in the industry:
Also, mechanical design is taking on more electrical components, like the hybrid transmission we are being shown. It is a traditional vehicle transmission that also contains an electric motor, which provides a power boost, but also recharges the battery.
Sounding like Autodesk, Aras says that traditional PLM is failing. It suffers from
Instead, Aras has model-based SOA [service oriented architecture] and SaaS [software as a service] subscription model to adapt to businesses more readily and cost less. Aras says its architecture is unique, and looks like this:
The exclusive from Aras is how they handle upgrades: even customer-written add-ons are upgraded by Aras, to ensure that the entire system works with the latest release. No other PLM does this. US Army has been using it for 14 years now, and all their add-ons work today, no matter how old. [Here's looking at you, Dassault - Ed.]
All data is stored in one location, even models and ECOs [engineering change orders]. No upfront software license cost means everyone can access Ares as a full user.
Aras Innovator V11
New in V11 is visual collaboration, a standards-based view and markup service, with social discussions. It does not require native apps to access data files. It works with tablets.
Other PLM systems are focused on 3D primarily, and lock in customers with proprietary formats. Access is limited because extra fees are charged.
Oh, and here is screen grab of what the Aras Innovator software looks like:
The new "social media" element is seen on the right of the top dialog box. And here is a screen grab of the tablet version, called Flow. It looks to us like it is running on a Windows 8 tablet:
Q: What is the viewer you are using?
A: PDF is the universal file format used by Aras Innovator. It uses Mozilla.js viewer for standard PDFs. For 3D PDFs, they are using the HOOPS viewer from TechSoft3D. A third one is for direct image file viewing, just as TIFF and JPEG. Everything is HTML5, and so works in browsers without plug-ins.
[None of my questions were answered:
- Q: What happens to customer's data files, like CAD drawings. Are they kept in a proprietary database, or can the customer easily keep them, should they decide to discard Aras?
- Q: How much does Aras cost?
- Q: Is Flow for Android, iOS, or both?]
Command equality for all OSes
When some years ago software companies like Bricsys and Graebert re-launched their CAD software, they did so with multiple operating systems in mind. The old mindset of writing programs using Microsoft's convenient programming and user interface toolsets (as well as DirectX)... well, all that has gone out the door now.
Being locked to Microsoft is seen as restricting the size of one's market. OS X, Linux, Android, and iOS each have their desirability factor:
As of BricsCAD V8 and ARES, Bricsys and Graebert used cross-OS programming tools like wxWidgets and OpenDWG API, as well as developing their own cross-platform APIs. So the question becomes: how well did they pull it off?
AutoCAD Compatibility Score = 53%
First, let's look at the standard bearer, AutoCAD. We see Autodesk struggling for several years now to get the Mac version to catch up to the Windows version, which is, unfortunately, locked to Microsoft. It's been hard work to create a Mac version, and a comparison list provided by the company shows that the gap remains still huge in 2015: https://www.autodesk.com/products/autocad/compare/compare-platforms.
Counting the checkmarks, we see that of 125 features, 57 are unique to Windows and four to OS X. AutoCAD's compatibility score is 53%. This is calculated from ((125 - 4) - 57) / 121 = 0.528.
Autodesk charges as much for the half-featured Mac version as it does for the Windows version, and is missing a version of AutoCAD for Linux.
BricsCAD Compatibility Score = 98%
BricsCAD runs on Windows, Linux, and OS X. Its help file is helpful to today's exercise, because it applies Windows, OS X, and Linux icons to indicate which commands work with which operating system. See https://www.bricsys.com/bricscad/help/en_US/V15/CmdRef/index.html
Out of 705 commands reported by the Commands command in BricsCAD V15 Platinum edition, 14 are listed by the Help file as specific to Windows. All of the other commands are also found in the OS X and Linux versions of the program. BricsCAD V15's compatibility score is 98%. This is calculated from (705 - 14) / 705 = 0.980.
BricsCAD has the same price for its Windows, OS X, and Linux versions.
I didn't perform a rigorous count for ARES, but from an informal perusal of its help file, this CAD system has a compatibility score similar to BricsCAD. Graebert applies the same price for the Windows, OS X, and Linux versions of ARES.
Open Design Alliance's Teigha Cloud 4.0.1 beta
Press releases from Open Design Alliance are important, because they tell us today what AutoCAD workalikes like IntelliCAD, BricsCAD, and ARES (DraftSight, CorelCAD) are going to be doing tomorrow.
ODA's API is called Teigha, and it gives them and a thousand other CAD developers access to file formats like DWG from Autodesk and DGN from Bentley Systems. In addition, ODA makes it easier for the companies to implement complex CAD functions, such as ACIS-based solids modeling.
This week, ODA announced v4.0.1 of Teigha with these added functions:
ODA members can now implement these functions -- or not. The point is that it is easier for them to do things like implementing arrays that automatically update themselves. ODA does the heavy lifting.
by Ralph Grabowski
It was a scant two years ago that a flurry of start-ups launched 3D MCAD software that runs in Web browsers. The catalyst was HTML5 and other browser technology that allowed users to interact with 3D models in their Web browsers on any hardware. No more installs to desktops; no more being limited to Windows. Wanna run 3D CAD on an Android ultrabook or a FirefoxOS phone -- no problemo.
(Well, almost no problemo. There were a few caveats. The hardware had to be powerful enough; the Web connection speed had to be fast enough; the Internet latency had to be low enough; the Web browser had to be HTML5-compatible enough; and so on. See figure below of Sunglass running on an iPad, kind of.)
Never mind. Even CAD-unaware publications like TechCrunch heralded this New Era in 3D design. Lanuched with the financial assistance of VC firms, firms erupted with funky software names like TinkerCAD, To3D, and sunglass.io .
And then it was like 2001 all over again. The answer to step 2 of the old joke...
Step 1: Idea!
Step 2: ????
Step 3: Profits!
... is Paying Customers!
The Web sites for Sunglass.io and To3D aren't even zombies; they're gone entirely now. TinkerCAD was in the process of shutting down when Autodesk snapped it up. And as I write this, Lagoa was bought by Autodesk for $60 million. Earlier, GrabCAD was bought by Statasys, and TeamPlatform by 3D Systems.
Web-based CAD is just too funky to be useful in an efficient way to end-users.
by Ralph Grabowski
[This article first appeared in Design Engineering magazine, and is reprinted with permission.]
Four years after Dassault Systems badly announced the successor to Solidworks (which led to a frenzy of speculation as its dedicated users debated the future of the company's mid-level CAD package), its future is secure. At the September launch of Solidworks 2015, Dassault executives reassured the assembled media that the world's #1 MCAD program would be updated and supported for another 15 years, at least.
The uncertainly affected primarily only the chattering classes, because at 2.3 million users Solidworks continues to sell briskly, keeping its position as the #1 MCAD program. Now, the bulk of these sales are to educational institutions; subtract them out and there appears to be around 650,000 commercial seats. Dassault trumpets the number as often as it can, because arch competitor Siemens PLM only occasionally provides vague guidelines for second-place Solid Edge, such as "over 500,000" commercial seats, while Autodesk stopped reporting licenses of apparent third-place Inventor years ago.
What's New in SolidWorks 2015
And so in this light, Dassault imbued Solidworks 2015 with bevy after bevy of new and enhanced functions. After all, nothing says "We're there for you" like lots and lots of enhancements from a software company. Let me highlight a few that caught my eye.
Treehouse is not so much new as reintroduced after being previewed years ago. It has a flowchart-like interface for building assemblies graphically. We build assembly structures by dragging and dropping parts and assemblies into the interface -- or by opening an existing assembly into Treehouse. After this, we can edit the parts to specify things like configurations, quantities and custom properties. The data can be linked to Solidworks Enterprise PDM.
Chain patterns are a new type of assembly. Here we pattern (array) parts along a path that can be open or closed -- think tank treads or even gantry cable guides -- in three modes: by distance, by distance linkage, or by connected linkage. Once the assembly is complete, Solidworks simulates the motion of the chains so that we can be sure it'll operate correctly.
Assemblies can be exploded radially with a single click; think of bolts exploding out of a pressure vessel.
Something we saw introduced to Solid Edge ST7 this year, Solidworks also automatically flattens 3D models to see how much material is needed. With an eye on the fashion industry into which Dassault sells specialty software, the company states specifically that this flattening can be used towards clothing, footwear, and upholstery design.
Over in the area of surfacing, surface curvature combs let us see how well surfaces connect. This is important for ensuring smooth transitions from one surface to the next.
Asymmetrical fillets means that we can specify two radii (instead of just one, as for traditional fillets), like two distances for chamfers. In this case, the resulting fillet looks like a quarter ellipse.
Patterns (arrays) no longer need to be regularly spaces: they can have variable distances defined by formulae. (I first saw this in the Russian KOMPAS MCAD program earlier this year, and so it's interesting how quickly the function appeared elsewhere.) To make variable patterns, we first create a pattern table that defines the distances, which can be pasted into Solidworks from a spreadsheet. The table defines distances between features (extrudes, revolves, fillets, domes, drafts, and so on), as well which instances to skip for non-continuous patterns. The values can be static, or calculated using mathematical functions, like sum, sine, log, pi, and square root. I can see this one function needing an entire course to learn!
To make it easier to find references in 2D drawings, sheets can be divided into zones. As a result, annotation notes, balloons, and revisions tables refer to zone numbers, which are updated automatically should parts be moved to another zone.
Other new items that caught my eye are touch-ups that probably should have been added to Solidworks years ago. These include drawing lines symmetrical to the midpoint, saving selection sets by name for reuse, customizing toolbars, drawing spline-shaped leaders, and setting word wrapping, paragraph spacing, and line spacing in paragraph text.
For more on what's new and changed in Solidworks 2015, look at https://help.solidworks.com/2015/English/WhatsNew/c_top_enhancements.htm.
Solidworks Links to MBD
Along with adding functions to Solidworks, Dassault continues on a parallel path slowly writing modules that are independent of the MCAD program, yet help out designers using Solidworks. The modules are independent because they are written with Dassault's proprietary CAD platform -- Enovia database (for the "file" system) and CGM kernel (for the modeling) -- and it is inherently incompatible with the Parasolid kernel employed by Solidworks. Being external modules allows Dassault to charge extra for each, typically $2,000 apiece with a $500/yr subscription.
The newest module is Solidworks MBD. "Model-based definition" is the idea is that 3D models should contain all the information needed to build the design, forsaking 2D entirely. Now, MBD is the hot new term that isn't as sexy like "social" or "cloud," but is much more important; well, it has the potential to be that, but only now is getting attention along with slowly getting needed traction among design firms. MBD is driven by government agencies, such as the US Military's MS-31000A specification that requires that 3D models for stuff manufactured for military use.
(Traditional 3D models contain only information that is inherent, such as the lengths of edges and volumes. Design details are left for the stacks of 2D drawings, which document 3D models through flattened views, hosts of dimensions and geometric tolerances, welding instructions and other notes, embedded bills of material and their accompanying balloons, all topped off with index sheets. This is why marketing departments make big fusses over how well their MCAD programs generate linked 2D drawings from 3D models, automatically. Because that's the way it's done, currently.)
MBD promises the jettison all the 2D generation, automation, and linking for a purely 3D deliverable that is loaded up with all the information that today is relegated to drawing sheets. But this means updating MCAD systems to embed 3D PMI (product and manufacturing information) and metadata into 3D models, information like design intent, GD&T, BOMs, material definitions, and configurations -- all this stuff that used to be external to the pure 3D model. You can see that generating self-contained 3D models requires a big switch in thinking, and a big programming job by MCAD software developers.
This is not simple transition, and so Solidworks doesn't do it. Instead, the new, separate module does it. Solidworks MBD attaches all that PMI data directly onto 3D models. Output templates generate models and data suitable for different departments, such as procurement, request for quotations, and manufacturing. And, in a tip of the hat the current practice, MBD also outputs drawings in 2D.
With Solidworks 2015, users are relieved to see their favorite MCAD system imbued with new life through an impressive set of new functions. For those firms who need it, MBD will allow them to use a mid-level MCAD system for high-end aircraft and military contracts.
Building information modeling
BricsCAD V15 is shipping today, and it includes the first edition of the return by Bricsys to architectural design. Recall that the company created the AEC software that was purchased in the 1990s by Bentley Systems for its architectural needs, TriForma.
Here is the excerpt from the V15 release notes that talks about the new BIM functions:
Instead of creating a set of dedicated BIM primitives like walls, slabs, columns, etc..., each with their own restricted behavior and properties, we opted for offering maximum flexibility. Any 3D solid can be used in a BIM model, whether it is created and edited by using existing BricsCAD modeling tools, new powerful BIM commands, or even imported from 3rd party software or edited by 3rd party tools.
At any stage one can decide to classify 3D solid or other entities, as Building Elements of type Wall, Slab, Column, etc... Classification can be done automatically and manually.
The automatic classification tool analyzes and classifies entire buildings in a few seconds.
IFC import/export ensures optimal cooperation with other disciplines and applications.
BIMDRAG: Main editing tool for 3D solids which resemble walls and slabs. Geometry of 3D solids is analyzed on the fly. Depending on this analysis and on which face is selected, BIMDRAG allows you to easily perform following operations, which can be toggled on the fly by pressing the CTRL key:
BIMCONNECT: accepts a selection set of 2 solids, and will try to create an L-connection between the two solids. Press Enter to accept the suggested connection or tap the CTRL key to switch to alternative connection types. This command works for walls and roof slabs, or any other set of 3D solids for which a connection can be found.
BIMINSERT: inserts a window or door (see section below on windows and doors).
About Windows and Doors. Windows and doors are native .dwg files which can be inserted in walls or slabs by the command BIMINSERT. Using dynamic UCS, a window will automatically align with the 3D solid face it is inserted on. A 3D solid in the window drawing on a layer named "BIM_SUBTRACT" will be used to automatically create an opening in the wall, keep the window in its position in the wall, and keep the opening associative with the window.
Optionally, the window drawing can contain 2D symbols. These 2D symbols will either replace the actual 3D solid section of the window, or be added with the 3D solid section, depending on their layer: symbols on a layer with prefix 'BRX_2D_' will be used to replace the geometry resulting from the actual section, symbols on a layer with prefix 'BRX_2D+_' will be added to the section result. Only those 2D entities in a plane parallel to the section plane are considered.
BIMWINDOWUPDATE: updates the opening made by a window or door in a solid, in case the definition changed in such way that the opening was not correctly updated automatically.
BIMCLASSIFY: this command allows to classify an entity to any of the elements listed below. Each type is separately available in the Quad when an applicable entity is highlighted.
About BIM Classification: At any time, any .dwg entity can be classified as a Building Element and get a name and an internal guid (a globally unique identifier). Specialized types of Building Element are:
BIMEXPORT exports the model to a .ifc file containing all 3D geometrical and BIM related data. Entities which were not classified, or were classified as Building Element, are exported as Building Element Proxy. Others are exported to the corresponding IFC element.
Clearly, it will take a while for BricsCAD BIM to catch up with the Graphisofts and Vectorworks of the world. Bricsys tells me that they plan to rapidly add BIM functions over the next several months.
The interesting aspects to this, however, is that (a) any commands found in the Windows vesion will also be available in the Linux and Mac versions when they ship; and (b) all the data is stored in DWG files, and not in proprietary formats, like RVT. This makes it the first BIM system for Linux users, and the first .dwg-based BIM system for Mac users.
You can download a 30-day demo of the V15 Windows version from https://www.bricsys.com/common/open.jsp?m=%2Fcommon%2Fdownload.jsp%3Fpl%3Dwin
by Ralph Grabowski, presented by Vivekan Iyengar, vp of R&D at Spatial
Spatial is the exclusive provider of Dassault Systems technology, no surprise, given that the 25-year-old company is owned by Dassault. Currently, its V5 and V6 translators are built using Dassault technology, along with the CGM modeling kernel; other specialized components from Dassault include hidden line removal and the constraint solver, which Spatial makes available to 3D application developers. Their two primary products, however, are 3D InterOp for translation and 3D ACIS Modeler, a geometric kernel for solids and surfaces.
The 3D InterOp software natively translates CATIA V4-V6, SolidWorks, and ACIS (hey, Solidworks could license it so that it can finally read CATIA files), as well as IGES, STEP, Pro/E, Parasolid, and more. It fixes translation problems using healing. "Geometric quality is a never ending task," said Mr Iyengar.
For new functions in 3D InterOp, Spatial concentrates on data reuse. Developers who add 3D InterOp to their programs can limit how it works. It can read independently any and all of these sections of a CAD file:
It works with imported models as if they had been created in the native software, as 3D Interop recognizes features, like fillets and holes.
New in 3D InterOp R25 are readers for JT (from Siemens PLM) and 2D/3D DXF/DWG (from Autodesk). Both read the product structure, graphical data, and exact geometry. After importing a model, 3D InterOp can...
R25 imports data about 2x faster than R24 (such as 7 seconds instead of 14 seconds), although the exact improvement depends on the format of the source file.
In summary, 3D InterOp captures all the design insight from the original model.
3D ACIS R25
3D Acis is deployed by 350 commercial applications and so used by two million designers. It handles defeaturing, advanced meshing, constraint management, and more.
New in R25 is feature matching (or face matching). This is useful for matching faces in the same process over and over, such as in link chains or crankshafts; it reduces the time needed to make designs with repetitive elements.
Also new is shadow projection, which is useful for CAM applications to calculate the direction of the cut. It's like shining a flashlight onto an object and seeing the shadow on the wall: the "shadow" determines the cut, such as from water cutters.
Also new or improved are sheet wrapping, more robust Booleans, improved wire projection, and improved entity-entity distance.
by Vladimir Talapov
Adapting BIM in Russia is a subject that for a long time has got hyped up the most forward-minded people in our design-building industry. Obviously, the emerging issues often have a purely Russian flavor, but there is a lot in common with the practice of adapting BIM in other countries, so it seems that the paper will be of interest to our foreign colleagues. Good ideas put forward by smart people nourish national pride in any country and are global assets, while stupidity is the same everywhere.
Two years ago I already published a review of the issue on isicad.ru where I shared some predictions about developing BIM in Russia. It caused a keen interest of the readers. Time passed and it is now possible to total the results again. Especially as we do have results and they are largely satisfying, although in the recent months new concerns have emerged.
The paper originally was intended for Russian readers so it has links to other publications in Russian. Those links could not be replaced with the English ones in a translated version, so we decided to leave them as it is. An English reader should be able to get a grasp of those links through the illustrations. Or just use Google Translator which will not only give you an idea about the content of the publications but also put you in a cheerful frame of mind.
BIM is Bound to be Adapted in Russia
Every Russian remembers a famous phrase of an immortal character Ostap Bender from a famous novel of Ilya Ilf and Evgeny Petrov: “Things are moving, gentlemen of the jury”. It is also a perfect characterization of the core of the things: the BIM-mass accumulated during these years is finally reaching its critical level and generates results.
First of all, it concerns the decision of the Presidential Expert Council on devising a plan to adapt BIM in industrial and civil construction of March, 4, 2014. In a nutshell, it marks the beginning of government–controlled BIM implementation in Russia. It is precisely the beginning: the main work is ahead and it must be done.
To a considerable extent, such clear success was fostered by establishing and robust efforts of “BIM/IPD Group” certified at the International Academy of Architecture Moscow brunch (a special thank-you to IAAM from us for this), later transformed into "buildingSMART Rus". Among “spiritual sources” of sprouting and promoting the BIM idea in Russia www.isicad.ru undoubtedly is at the forefront.
BIM in Design
I am pleased to observe that BIM has been increasingly adapted in design. Now hardly any design organization asks a question: “Do we really need BIM?” Mostly they ask how to implement the technology. Obviously, adapting BIM requires efforts and understanding from both the management and executors at all levels but then with proper performance informational modeling gives good results.
Unfortunately Russia lacks BIM-statistics (in general there are no serious statistical surveys of design – building industry), so the number of design organizations that start adapting BGIM can only be evaluated by feel. And everyone feels differently. For instance, I mainly deal with those who adopt BIM, while my opponents – with the followers of “manual” drawing, which we still have plenty. Nevertheless, nobody challenges the trend of an increasing interest towards adapting BIM in Russia.
We are especially pleased that expert examination bodies started getting engaged in BIM use, and I know of some projects that Siberian designers submitted to ”Mosgosexpertiza” and successfully passed all necessary procedures. Currently, ”Mosgosexpertiza” is getting ready to accept models from designers without a considerable part of drawing documentation typically required in such cases.
The noted problems of adapting BIM in building engineering equipment become clearer and narrower, practically coming to naught. On the one hand, increasingly more engineering firms see direct financial benefits from adapting BIM to MEP since it cuts down project errors on a construction site, and they endeavor to use the technology. On the other, during this period BIM programs in MEP advanced soundly to the user side, although their electric parts in Russia still need refining.
BIM in Construction and Asset Management
It is correct to state that “things are moving” although there is still a long haul ahead to a mass movement. But there is some success. First, builders and developers show interest in BIM. Second, information modeling is increasingly used even in such complex building projects as new industrial enterprises. I put “even”, but perhaps “primarily” would be more accurate because BIM advantages are especially effective in technologically complex facilities.
I am especially pleased to point out that Russia has done well in such very complex operations as decommissioning nuclear plants, which is recognized internationally.
A unique case – decommissioning Kursk nuclear plant will extend for nearly 70 years. During this period everything will be changed beyond recognition: computers, programs, files, work technology, not to mention that hardly anyone who today is responsible for process modeling will survive until it is completed. I suspect that project results will be summed up at the 100th anniversary of “NEOLANT”, the main project consultant. But the ball starts rolling: it is simply impossible to work with nuclear power facilities without information modeling.
Designing and building such facilities in Russia, with its huge distances, is a task of paramount importance. Here introduction of information modeling also ramps up, since in this sector pay-offs in speed and accuracy of design as well as model susceptibility to changes do make a significant difference.
Sochi Olympics showed BIM advantages in work with linear objects pretty convincingly. It also revealed another interesting phenomenon to the world: after the Games were over several major Olympic developers went into bankruptcy. Obviously, in every particular case the reasons for large companies’ crashing are different and very specific, but it is possible to outline a general trend: low design quality, numerous errors exposed already at the stage of construction, poor economic estimates of a project.
All this is based on the decades-backed trust that the state would cover any shortage of money. And the state stopped paying for ineffective, money-losing works out of its pocket (sometimes it cannot event be called “works” but simply stealing due to poor accountability). Interestingly, I have had numerous but totally confused contacts with some of those bankrupt developers in the past two years: “Why on Earth do we need BIM when there is such an inflow of money!” Thus, they got some kind of an object-lesson. Draw the moral – adapt BIM!
The Role of the State in Adapting BIM
As already mentioned, the state in Russia is making the first attempts to manage the process of adapting BIM or at least to stimulate it. I believe this was facilitated not only by the efforts of BIM-enthusiasts but also by some “appropriate” economic conditions: shortening of funds in the treasury, big blunders in estimating the construction costs of the major flagship facilities, a sharp increase in construction costs in general as well as external conditions that in the recent months turned out to be purely aggressive against Russia.
It is too early, however, to talk about a radical changing of the game in the state approach in favor of BIM in design-building industry: not much is done, and there is always a danger that even the most cutting-edge ideas can be buried in the bureaucrats’ offices.
Estimated Leaders in BIM Software
It is pretty obvious that today Autodesk Revit is the leader among the main BIM-programs in Russia and this leadership is gained in a persistent competition. The reason is that Revit offers a simple and effective end-to-end solution for creating building information models. As they say “the program meets the people”.
Nobody can be surprised nowadays with good work in Autodesk Revit. Still: my student Ilya Belen’ky, a graduate of Novosibirsk State Academy of Architecture and Civil Engineering (SIBSTRIN) in BIM (MA in construction) created a Revit family (I would call it a “superfamily”), which after inputting all necessary parameters generates a project of a single-storey shop-floor building. All work (except imputing more than a hundred parameters) takes ten minutes on an average-performance computer. Ten minutes – and the project is done!
I am not going to describe his work in detail because Ilya Belen’ky is presenting it at AURussia in Moscow on 1-2 October and we will publish an article on isicad. I just want to say that, first, one needs to be an excellent specialist and a devotee of one’s profession to magic up such a thing, and, second, it is a serious step already to automated information modeling – what is now a matter for enthusiasts, in a few years will become a large-scale practice. What’s more, the work became possible thanks to Autodesk Revit, since it does not require any knowledge of programming, just an interface available to ordinary users. But to solve this task one needs a wise head!
Among specialized BIM-programs intended for structural engineering, I would like to emphasize, first of all, a new round in advancing Tekla Structures, as this well-proven program now has new partners in Russia.
Another important event in this field is launching AVEVA bocad on Russian market. The program is a comparable analog and a direct competitor of Tekla Structures, so designers and manufacturers of load-bearing structures, primarily, metal ones, finally have a real choice of software for their work.
One more news is that Autodesk now owns Advance Steel and Advance Concrete and as expected they appeared in a bundle with Revit.
And finally, “crème de la crème”: this year an integrated BIM-package in Russian, adapted to our standards entered Russian market: Bentley AECOsim Building Designer. Bentley Systems is not a novice in Russia; it works closely with oil and gas companies and other infrastructure firms. It suffices to say that this year Russia demonstrates 14 projects at Be Inspired, which again takes place in London. However, in our design-and-building industry the company’s achievements have not been well represented.
And now a breakthrough: a Russian version of Bentley AECOsim Building Designer, and a plug-in enabling to combine models created in this program with Autodesk Revit models. Add here accessibility of Autodesk Revit libraries for Bentley AECOsim Building Designer, and it becomes clear that competition on BIM-program market in Russia is getting serious. Bentley Systems has a little left to do: form an infrastructure of training centers and a far-reaching user support system across Russia.
In the near future other developers, including some Russian ones, are expected to release their BIM-programs, but we’ll talk about it later: let them do it first.
Two years ago I wrote that 30% of successful BIM adaptation depend on the right choice of software and its capabilities, and 70% - on the right in-house structuring of this process. Today I can make the figures more specific: 20% and 80%. Adapting BIM is a complex matter associated with changing plenty of habitual business-processes. The phrase “BIM is not CAD!” renders the essence pretty accurately.
As expected, efforts of many vendors and their partners to promote BIM-programs now focus on implementation; the word “consulting” has become ingrained in our life, the time of simple sales is over. Those who failed to grasp the new reality are rapidly giving grounds and even withdraw from the market, sometime quite dramatically. It’s nice to point out that the marketing line “2D is better than 3D” is also gradually fading, although the latest talks about import substitution have slightly revived it. Another phenomenon is mushrooming: now all programs become BIM. The twist was quite predictable and I think that our design-building industry will also sort it out.
BIM Training in Universities
Do universities train BIM specialists? No, nothing has changed so far – there are no pointed efforts in this field. The worst is that the Ministry of Education is not interested in the issue.
There are exceptions, however, and the number of them is increasing. For instance, a BIM-laboratory is formed in Naberezhnie Chelny under the frame of Kazan Federal University; it is led by Oleg Pakidov. I guess, with the start of the academic year other good news will be coming from universities.
Vladimir Talapov holds a doctorate degree in physics and mathematics, is a professor of the International Academy of Architecture (Moscow branch), and a member of buildingSMART Rus Non-Profit Partnership. He is lead expert of Integral Consulting, and has been involved in design automation and college lecturing for over 30 years. He is the author of nearly a hundred publications on BIM and has translated three textbooks on Revit. He wrote the first (and so far only) book on BIM in Russian, “Basic BIM: Introduction to Building Information Modeling.”
[Reprinted with permission of isicad.net]
I was heavily into model railroading in my teens, which I credit for keeping me sane through those insane years, and even today enjoy being delayed by freight trains thundering through our road crossings.
Which is why when a train-related CAD-oriented press release arrives in my Inbox (not very often) -- with photos! --, I take notice. Here a British firm mounted a brand-new point cloud scanner on what must have been the oldest gondola car they could locate on the rail system:
by Roopinder Tara, Tenlinks.com
Autodesk’s acquisition of NEi Nastran gives the CAD company instant credibility in the CAE (computer aided engineering) community. No longer can CAE users dismiss Autodesk as that pretentious CAD company that did little more than assemble a rag-tag collection of little-known analysis applications.
Nastran is serious CAE. It's what the big boys use. It puts planes in the sky and cars on race tracks. I'm not sure I would have boarded the Boeing 737 on which I am writing this had I know Algor had been used in its analysis. (Algor was a midrange analysis program purchased by Autodesk in 2009. Although a general purpose solver, it never achieved the status of Nastran or ANSYS. It is currently named Autodesk Simulation.)
But now the acquisition of NEi Nastran changes the game. Your PhD friends will not laugh at you for using Autodesk software. You can just tell them "It's Nastran, darn it!"
CAE applications garner loyalty beyond that of CAD users, owing to the fact that CAE applications take much longer to learn, are harder to use, require higher educational qualifications, and cost a lot more money. These factors combine to create an atmosphere of exclusivity and clubby camaraderie. No serious CAE user is going to switch CAE programs without a fight just to save a few bucks.
Autodesk admits it will not be able to pry current CAE users, except from "cold dead hands," but it shows no panic at the prospect. Autodesk can afford to be patient and wait, because CAE is not a core business. They can sell their CAE products all around the entrenched CAE users and to CAD users. But the lower price, when coupled a deep and protracted commitment to the market, can't help but over time erode the hold of CAE companies of even their most stalwart supporters.
CAE = Credibility + Commitment
Commitment is really is the key; that low initial cost of the software is secondary. Autodesk has not yet shown it can support CAE users in the manner to which they (hard core analysts) are accustomed. Will users be able to pick up the phone and get a reseller who has a PhD in mechanics and so can tell users when to use Von Mises failure theory -- from years of experience? Both ANSYS and MSC provide this level of support.
Should you have been paying attention in your Mechanics of Material classes, you may not need support for basic questions, but how many would you build the next Boeing aircraft without an advanced level of backup?
CAE companies instilled and maintained a culture that worships theory, academics with advanced degrees, deep knowledge, years of experience, cultivation of engineering judgment... -- qualities that narrow the field of prospective support personnel. CAD companies, on the other hand, set the opposite tone: ease of use, democratization ... --everything that CAE is not.
As the products of CAD companies and CAE companies converge (c.f. ANSYS acquires SpaceClaim), note that eventual success depends not only on product portfolios or the pricing (no matter how low they go), but on something that is much harder to establish: credibility, built on trust.
Market leaders establish trust after providing years of excellent service and great products. And so if indeed an analyst can nail that new composite tailfin panel analysis, if he or she really can do it in less time, or can run it from an iPad, if I can be cool and still hold my head up among my peers, or we can be sure the application has already kept planes in the air... yeah, then, maybe we will try it.
[Reprinted by permission of CAD Insider.]
Solid Edge University 2014
Siemens PLM Software announced this week that they have over 500,000 commercial licenses of Solid Edge out there, a number that places the mid-range mechanical CAD software in the #2 position behind Solidworks (who has an estimated 650,000 seats).
As for Inventor -- who might be in #2 or #3 position -- well, it is a pity that Autodesk vowed to no longer report license numbers for its MCAD software. And so lacking hard data, we have to declare Solid Edge #2.
In the slide above, the "Free 2D downloads" refers to Solid Edge 2D Drafting, which is accessed through https://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/velocity/solidedge/free2d.
Now that the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium is over the huge, multi-year hurdle of rewriting IntelliCAD 7 (so as to plug in ODA libraries remove all Microsoft-owned code found in IntellICAD 6 and earlier), its programmers have been pushing out updates several times a year like clockwork. No longer the "what ever happened to?" IntelliCAD, it's now the "what's new in?" IntelliCAD.
IntelliCAD 8 is now in beta, and if you ask extra nicely the folks at ITC might, might, might let you in on the beta. But remember: ITC does not sell the software directly; it licenses the code to its members, who pimp up the package with their own special treatments, and then sell it to end users. Here is what to expect when the software ships later this year:
An in-depth look at Autodesk’s cloud-enabled, hybrid MCAD modeling software
Reprinted with permission of Design Engineering, October 16, 2013
by Ralph Grabowski
In response to the CAD industry’s direct modeling mania, Autodesk first announced Inventor Fusion—a desktop installed 3D modeler that combined freeform and solid modeling in a history-free environment—as tech demo on June 24, 2009. Four years later, Autodesk similarly picked June 25 of this year to publicly announce Fusion 360, a cloud-enabled version of the original, thereby adding a modeling component its line of 360 products (including Simulation, PLM and BIM).
Fusion 360 is hybrid software in two ways. For one, it’s not a pure cloud-only app running in a Web browser. Rather, the bulk of the software is still installed on a desktop computer. Some functions, however, are available only through the cloud, such as translation of foreign formats. In another sense, Fusion always operates for free, at a basic level; however, all options are available only as long as we keep paying for them.
When Autodesk introduced Fusion 360 to the media, the company said it felt in the middle of a perfect storm, created by the triad of new types of technology, new ways to access it and new demands for ways of working. And so, on the MCAD side of things, Autodesk’s answer is Fusion 360. Based on the response from beta users, Autodesk is convinced that everyone will want this next generation of Fusion, because it allows us to “design faster, work anywhere and share with anyone.”
What Fusion Does and Doesn’t Do
To start, Fusion 360 requires logging in to the software with a user name and password; no just launching the software with a single double-click. The advantage, Autodesk says, is that the software license is not tied to a single machine or a specific serial number. In this new world, user names are tied to accounts at Autodesk, which determine whether we are allowed to log in and which functions we can access.
Once inside Fusion 360, we can use direct modeling to make and edit 3D shapes from polygons, surfaces, features, assemblies and sketched prismatics. It does not do parametrics or history trees; these will be added later.
While Fusion 360 runs locally through a thin-client executable, a few of its functions, including foreign file translation, require a paid Autodesk subscription.
The software uses T-Splines—technology Autodesk purchased in 2011—that’s unique in how it performs sub-division modeling. Specifically, it can handle T-shaped intersections between faces with curvature continuity. It can start with curves and can match to exact curves, surfaces and meshes. This is in contrast to other 3D modelers, such as AutoCAD, which start from primitives.
While execution of modeling commands relies on local resources, some Fusion 360 functions are available only with Internet access. For instance, it translates 3D file formats only through a cloud server. Other cloud-based functions include collaboration and named backups (a.k.a. automatic archives).
What the FAQ
To flesh out the details, representatives from Autodesk answered the following questions on the particulars of Fusion 360 at a recent company press event.
Q: What happens when a Fusion 360 subscription lapses?
Autodesk: You still can log into the site, access your data and get data out in any format. You cannot, however, author or edit designs. You’ll get a subset of the experience but you own the design data.
Q: How would one go about using Fusion 360 from any other computer: Would the desktop component have to first be installed each time I move to a different computer?
Autodesk: There is a thin client, which users can download as many times as they like, on as many machines as they need.
Q: How much will Fusion 360 cost?
Autodesk: It is free for students and certain groups of enthusiasts. On an annual plan, the cost $25 a month [$300 a year, actually]—less than the price of a cell phone bill. There are also monthly and quarterly plans, which we have not yet announced.
Q: Does every user need the $25/month account?
Autodesk: Not collaborators, who can use a free 360 account. They would log in through their Web browser.
Q: Is the $300/year for all services, or does Autodesk expect to charge more for extras in the future?
Autodesk: We will be introducing monthly, quarterly, and annual plans throughout the year. Prices will start at $25/user per month, based on an annual contract commitment. [No answer to my question on charging extra for extra functions.]
Q: Is there a limit to the amount of data?
Autodesk: There is no data size limit, currently.
Q: What data formats are supported?
Autodesk: Fusion 360 can import Inventor, DWG, STEP, IGES, JT, NX, CATIA V5, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, Parasolid and PTC’s Granite. [For exports, the list is similar though shorter.]
Q: What is the future of Fusion for Mac?
Autodesk: We’re embracing the Mac, alongside other platforms. With Fusion 360, users have the ability to work on both Windows and Mac. [The demo we showed had two users working together in Fusion 360: One was running Fusion 360 on a Mac, the other Windows.]
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
Direct MCAD modeling has been around for decades, and so Fusion is nothing new. After all, AutoCAD always has been a direct modeler, and still is.
But for 3D MCAD, history-based modeling was king until SpaceClaim’s 2007 launch made big vendors realize they could slap on direct editing to give their legacy software another bullet point on the spec sheet.
For example, PTC bolted CoCreate onto Creo; Dassault forked V5 into V6; Siemens PLM synchronized ST with Solid Edge and NX technology. Even little Bricsys purchased an entire direct modeling team from LEDAS. Only SolidWorks stumbled out of the gate, and badly. (It should be noted, all of these are still works-in-progress.)
I wonder if Autodesk got a little irked. They were still in the process of beefing up Inventor to take on Catia and Pro/E, when along came direct modeling. So, they created their own direct modeler, and named it “Inventor Fusion”, blending history and direct modeling. It was available free for two releases of Inventor and AutoCAD. Autodesk is always looking for ways to migrate users from slightly-cheaper AutoCAD to more-expensive Inventor and Revit.
My assumption was that Autodesk would merge Fusion into Inventor, seamlessly and eventually. This year’s release of independent Fusion 360, then, is a puzzle, because (a) it is not part of Inventor; (b) it doesn’t do history-based parametric modeling on its own; (c) it’s a separate pay-per-use product not included in a subscription plan. As best as I can tell, the original desktop Fusion will continue to be available free for Windows and Mac computers.
At this point, it appears that Autodesk is doing a sensible thing in providing customers with two options: Desktop Inventor and/or cloud-based Fusion 360. Large corporations will tend towards cloud-based pay-on-demand software, while SME’s (small and medium enterprises) will stick to desktop perpetual licenses.
A Russian reader asks,
I don't know how the political sutuation changes our business. What you think from your side? Not about Crimea, but about business opportunities for Russian companies in USA?
I think it is very tough for Russian companies to make an impact in Western markets. So far, the best way has been to work as sub-contractors to American and European CAD vendors.
The problem stems from a number of reasons, not all of which are rational:
To build up mindshare, marketing in another county takes a long time. Unfortunately, this costs a lot of money. I was impressed at what Alexander Tasev accomplished while he was the head of Autodesk CIS. Today, nanoCAD has a North American presence through Evan Yares. In its early days, Autodesk did it by having one of its German-speaking employees live and market AutoCAD in Germany.
Following my trip to Russia some years ago, I wrote a whitepaper that talks about the marketing problem. The Russian MCAD Market is in Russian and English, with translation by the fine folks at LEDAS.
In its 126 pages, I interview seven Russian MCAD software firms, and then travelogue my experiences travelling halfway across this immense country, from Saint Petersburg (shown above) to Moscow to Novosibirsk.
by David Levin, isicad.net
After a 2-year break, in July 2013 LEDAS, not interrupting work on its main specialization - software development services for complex CAD systems and applications - returned to creating its own products and technologies. These pilot projects are exercised by a special unit - LEDAS Labs.
As we approach LEDAS 15th anniversary in April 2014, we asked Alexey Ershov, LEDAS CEO, to tell us about these new projects and how the work of LEDAS Labs correlates with LEDAS efforts, and to describe company’s contacts with Russian partners.
How are things with geometry comparison technology, announced earlier by LEDAS Labs?
An announcement about our project LEDAS Geometry Comparison (this is a working title, in short - LGC) was met with a great interest, which was clearly manifested in requests and established contacts with a number of reputable companies and well-known specialists.
The project has several technological and business components, so at this stage we are moving forward in many directions at once.
First, we are improving the algorithmics and are continuously refining our technology. In particular, we received from a well-known American company a valuable set of industrial models which serves as a basis for algorithm improvements. Also we are expanding the list of supported data formats and increasing utility of the data output for the users.
Second, we are hard at work on implementing a parallel version of our technology. Geometric model comparison is a pretty non-trivial task in the field of geometric modeling, so to achieve the best results it is necessary to explore every avenue that the modern hardware opens.
Third, we agreed to integrate our comparison technology with a cloud PDM-system produced by DEXMA and are actively working together with DEXMA team. On the one hand we announced from the very beginning that LGC project is oriented to cloud use. On the other, PDM is one of the natural areas for applying our new solution. Therefore, cooperation with DEXMA enables us to elaborate side by side on industrial versions in two areas of project development.
Forth, we agreed with C3D Labs to integrate our technology with C3D kernel. LEDAS is a reseller of this kernel so we already have had a possibility to see that this is a high-quality product, well-tested by several generations of KOMPAS users. At the same time, integration with LGC will give an example of using C3D in the tasks of another class, not typical for KOMPAS, thus increasing the status of C3D as a general purpose geometric kernel.
Talking about C3D, one could not but remember an ambitious project on Russian RGK kernel, in development of which LEDAS took part. So why C3D rather than RGK?
We analyzed in depth possibilities of integrating our geometry comparison technology with RGK, and this integration was very efficient in terms of both the architecture and the algorithms. In fact, we completed this analysis and planned integration much earlier than we started moving towards C3D. This integration actually was one of the methods of testing the correctness of RGK architecture and completeness of its set of functions. As I already said, the results of this proof-of-concept stage were truly promising, but moving in this direction was hindered by absence of RGK licensing scheme, which is not yet framed out by the Russian government.
Also the C3D Labs policy with regard to developers of C3D-based products is very attractive, especially when a product is not yet commercialized. Foreign vendors of geometric kernels stick to more stiff schemes of cooperation.
DEXMA is one of the pioneers of cloud PDM systems. Did it affect your choice of the partner? Do you see any additional advantages from integrating two cloud services?
Certainly. For instance, the efforts on integrating DEXMA with Fidesys show that DEXMA ideology allows integrating this system with numerous web-services. You would agree that CAE/FEA is not the first that comes into one’s mind when thinking about expanding capabilities of a PDM system.
In my opinion, comparing geometric models is fundamental function for PDM systems; or, in any case it is an important market advantage. The basic concepts of product data management, such as revisions, are closely connected to the task of geometric data comparison.
A cloud trend in CAD and engineering software is moving slower than in other software areas but it is not disappearing. It seems to me that the speed of its expansion is reduced due to complexity of our industry and the volume of already written code.
Mentioning a mysterious American firm that showed an interest in LGC is intriguing. Can you share any detail?
This American company attracted an increased attention to itself, particularly, this year. The company held a series of consultations with us at the top level, involving some persons that forever made their names a part of CAD history. In spite of it, we looked into technological and algorithmic issues in detail; together we tested the technology and discussed its various applications, including some truly innovative ones.
Parallel computations are one of the global software trends. How far have you advanced in this area in the LGC project?
We advanced in both multithread execution on a single computer as well as in cluster work of a many units transmitting data between the main and additional processes.
Initially we developed a multithread version of our code and the results proved high efficiency of parallelization. For medium- and high-complexity models (with at least hundreds topological elements) experimentally calculated acceleration coefficient for the standard quad core systems was close to the theoretical maximum. The execution time for a code that requires sequential computation constitutes single percents and decreases to below one percent with increasing the model size.
Comparing productivity of our algorithms with the most popular analogues, such as comparison bodies in SolidWorks, we are ahead of our competitors by dozens of times and more, even without clusters, just using a single computer.
Now we are developing a distributed version of our technology, which will be workable on clusters and cloud capacities. In spite of additional overheads associated with transmitting data between computational nodes within a distributed system, the acceleration coefficient is only insignificantly lower than for multithread computations with common memory. Our algorithms are well-scaled: there is no effect of disappeared productivity growth when new nodes are added, which is typical for many algorithms in computational geometry.
It is known that the issue of parallelism in general is one of LEDAS strong points, and a “parallel modeling kernel” project of LEDAS Labs has already been mentioned by media.
Yes, we also research acceleration of the base algorithmic of geometric kernels, Nikolay Snytnikov recently wrote a paper about it. Nikolay, who leads the LEDAS part of RGK project and who is an expert on parallel computations with more than 10-year experience (and, in particular, defended a PhD thesis on this issue), is a key contributor to our research.
Very promising models and new approaches are being built in voxel modeling, which Nikolay characterizes in his paper as a revolutionary way of developing 3D kernels. What I would like to say is that we have made a couple of steps along the path leading from naïve voxel modeling of 3D data through more comprehensive octree to the future of voxel modeling.
Recently we got positive feedback on this paper from representatives of some reputable global brands, whose requirements to geometric kernels are not satisfied to a considerable extent by all existing kernels. Once again we were able to ascertain indirectly but conclusively that RGK performance is as good as the leaders of the global market and has higher performance growth on multi core systems.
How do you delineate LEDAS and LEDAS Labs projects? LEDAS Labs is probably addresses mostly those projects that involve a lot of research?
LEDAS Labs projects are always highly research-focused, but it does not mean that LEDAS is not involved in research. A recent press-release on joint development of geometry search technology with ASCON lifts the veil of this truly ambitious project, where the research part comprises no less than half of all works.
All our service projects are executed by LEDAS and fully meet the highest standards of managing industrial projects, established in our company as far back as during our large-scale cooperation with Dassault Systemes.
You mentioned already a third important example of working with ASCON Group. Does it mean that the companies are forming some special prospective relationships?
To make the picture complete, let’s also remember integrating direct modeling capabilities to KOMPAS 3D, earlier performed by LEDAS. We are happy to work on a broad basis together with ASCON – a leading Russian CAD company that over the last years has paid much attention to implementing state-of-the art solutions. We hope that our cooperation will continue expanding.
Overall, it is nice that recently capabilities of LEDAS as a service company specialized in high-tech development and consulting are sought-after not only by foreign but also domestic companies. Active LEDAS involvement in RGK projects strengthened our long-established contacts with Top Systems, the creator of one of the most technically advanced Russian CADs, is yet another example of not nearly exhausted cooperation. No doubts, such cooperation can be established with other Russian companies. At the moment, it seems to me that Russian companies heavily underestimate possibilities of accelerating their own development by using high-quality development services.
Discussing geometric comparison project, you use the term “Technology” more often that “Product”. Does it mean that LEDAS is not going to create its own products based on this technology?
We position LEDAS as a technology company, which focuses its efforts on innovations, sophisticated new algorithms and architectures. Although previously our main product - LGS was licensed by over than a dozen of engineering software vendors, including such market leaders as ASCON and Cimatron, in general LGS experience taught us that we know how to develop software better than how to sell it. That is why we sold LGS to Bricsys, which has a greater marketing potential.
Now we develop our new ideas such as LEDAS Geometry Comparison to the level of “off-the-shelf” technologies and then we can offer them on the market as end-user products or components. We will be happy to find a software vendor that can become our strategic partner to push technologies developed by LEDAS Labs on the market, as we see our mission precisely in developing smart technologies that can be easily embedded in new or existing products.
[This interview first appeared at https://isicad.net/articles.php?article_num=16648 under the title "Geometry Comparison Technology, Parallel Computations, Cloud Systems and Much More."]
by David Levin, isiscad.net
The news that came out last Friday about ASCON, BIM, C3D kernel, and Alexander Bausk altogether was a kind of a sensation for the Russian CAD market. This step by ASCON is not, however, a bombshell. The company's CEO Maxim Bogdanov presented last May the key directions of ASCON’s immediate developments, including BIM, CAM, and social PLM.
After his excellent simultaneous translation at isicad-COFES-Russia 2010, a series of analytical articles (such as "More or Less Optimistic Update on BIM"), participation in Arizona COFES 2012, moderating BIM-related round tables at AU Russia 2013 and COFES Russia 2013, Alexander Bausk became one of the most noticeable analysts on the Russian and CIS market. Also, he has a PhD in structural analysis, and is an expert in industrial AEC (specifically, nuclear power stations).
Now an impromptu interview with Alexander:
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Q: Is it true that you are now a full-time employee at ASCON?
A: Yes, it is true. It happened three days ago.
Q: What is your position and what is the main focus of your tasks?
A: I've got a position of a leading analyst in one of the new ambitious ASCON projects that uses ASCON’s modeler C3D. Joining ASCON, I have not changed the key point of my personal interests and work: it is still AEC engineering.
My plans to help advance BIM also have not changed, and I get an enthusiastic support from my employer. I believe that together we will present some new and remarkable AEC and BIM tools.
Q: As far as I know, until now, you have been living quite far away from St-Petersburg. Do you work with ASCON remotely, over the Internet?
A: No. Now I am living in St Petersburg, and my family will move here as soon as the school year is over.
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ASCON has sound competencies in MCAD, PLM, AEC, and supporting technologies. All of ASCON’s current solutions are very popular in the Russian market, and the company’s ecosystem is likely the most developed, in comparison with other vendors operating in Russia. ASCON has very close and efficient links with the Russian industry and is aware of its specifics everyday needs. Although developing and bringing a new BIM product to market is very risky, ASCON has a good chance.
Anyway, I believe that an attempt to use C3D for BIM is a promising project for the geometric kernel, because it might open some new (hopefully original or maybe innovative) directions of software development.
Finally, I am sure that actively entering the BIM market is, among other things, an effective marketing move to better promote the flagship ASCON solutions.
[This article was reprinted with permission of isicad.]
The trend among AutoCAD dealers to to go giant size: fewer dealers, larger dealers. Imaginit Technologies is the branch of Rand Worldwide that does sales for Autodesk in USA and Canada. And until recently, Australia. Here's the story:
The Australian division of IMAGINiT Technologies rebranded as Redstack today. Phillip Amato and Michael Lachs sold their technology and services business, Progroup, to the US-based RAND Worldwide in 2001, then repurchased it earlier this year.
Redstack sells software, services, training, and support in Australia -- and will act as the exclusive partner and reseller for IMAGINiT Technologies, including Scan to BIM, Clarity for Revit Server, Utilities for Revit and ProducitvityNOW eLearning.
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I love the artwork at their new Web site, https://redstack.com.au