Exclusive interview: David Pinchefsky of NexGen Ergonomics
Ralph Grabowski: When you contacted me some weeks ago, I suddenly remembered the copy of Mannequin software on my bookshelf. What's happened to it?
David Pinchefsky: It shipped in 1990 as the very first software running on PCs for positioning humans. In 1997, there was Mannequin Pro, still running on DOS, but in 2000 the HumanCAD software company went into bankruptcy, and so in 2001 we acquired the assets.
We rewrote the interface to make i look like Windows, even though it still ran on DOS; Mannequin 10.2 was the last release to run on DOS. We did a rewrite for Windows with HumanCAD 1.x series in 2007, and then rewrote it all over again for the current release, HumanCAD 2.x.
Grabowski: Now, you are not just a software company?
Pinchefsky: We have the largest product line in the world for testing ergonomics, such as analyzing the pressure on seat design, the vibration of vehicle parts. We are both a manufacturer and a distributor.
Grabowski: Tell me about some of the functions the software does.
Pinchefsky: Our software simulate mannequins in positions through a range of motions. It is to see if designs fit people, and to see what percentage of the population can accommodate the product being designed. (See figure 1.)
Clearly, some populations tend to be smaller and others larger, and so wee can easily change the anthropology of the mannequins, such as "1988 US Army," or "NASA STD 3000" or "British." A slider bar change the percentile, such as 95% of the population. We have posture libraries to preset finger positions and other body parts, such as seated or standing -- and can define your own.
The software offers instant views of vision cones, first person views, reach cones, and kick cones. Cones are the ranges of sight or motion possible by the mannequins. We have IK and FK, and we employ SimTK in our environment, similar to openSIM.
Grabowski: What are "IK" and "FK"?
Pinchefsky: Sorry for the jaron! IK and FK are inverse and forward kinematics.
Grabowski: How man mannequins can your software have in a 3D scene?
Pinchefsky: It can have multiple mannequins. The number is limited by the PC's memory. In most cases, though, only a couple of people is normal, such as in a car or in a factory area. Up to a dozen is normal.
Grabowski: From which CAD systems does the software import models?
Pinchefsky: We support file formats, not CAD systems. We can import 3D models in 3ds, STEP, IGES, DXF, OBJ, STL, and other formats. And then our software can export the mannequins back to the programs that read these formats.
Grabowski: Who are some of your customers?
Pinchefsky: We have customers in almost every country of the world. Customers include occupational physicians, universities involved in ergonomics research, those who do forensic analysis, and to see if people fit inside medical scanners.
We have customers who design, control rooms, such as at nuclear power plants, and factory layouts. In distribution centers, owners are looking for risks, such as palette heights. Most customers figure out the software on their own, or need no more than one or two hours of training.
Grabowski: Who might be some of your competitors?
Pinchefsky: There are none in our space, other than static mannequins for placing in scenes. All our competitors were acquired by CAD vendors, such as Dassault Systemes and Siemens PLM.
Grabowski: What is the price?
Pinchefsky: It is $7,000, plus extra for the CAD exchange and ergonomics modules. We have discounts for government agencies and educational institutions.
We have lots of plans to add functions, such as more detailed skeletons and more tools.
Running CAD on Small Screens
Part 3: How to Benefit from CAD on Mobile Devices
Last time in upFront.eZine, part 2 described the challenges faced by CAD in mobile operating systems This series is based on the talk I gave in October at Bricsys International Developer Conference 2012 in Amsterdam.
One of the problems I found in writing this research paper is that the technology is progressing so quickly. I have to update this paper each time I present it, and I first wrote it in only August! Last month, for instance, Samsung announced that it will ship next year eight-core CPUs for Android tablets and smartphones: one set of four cores runs fast for maximum execution speed, the other set of four cores runs slower for prolonging battery power, yet provides speedy execution of everyday activities.
With many drawbacks to running CAD on portable devices, why would users want to? They are willing to give up functionality for portability, says Nemetschek Vectorworks ceo Sean Flaherty. Smartphones and tablets lets users view and show drawings on devices they have with them at all times. Former Apple ceo Steve Jobs explained that it's like the small Swiss Army knife carried on key chains: the most useful tool is the one we have with us always, he said.
Ease of Access. In my home town, a new mall is being built, and I happened to meet the project manager at a breakfast event. Pulling out his iPhone, he showed the small crowd around him AutoCAD WS. He expressed his excitement how easily he could pull up detail drawings of anywhere on the site to resolve construction issues.
He's able to do this, because high speed cellular data transmission, like 3G and LTE, allow him to access files, like drawings, "anywhere" he can pick up a cell signal (or through free WiFi at the nearest Tim Hortons and Safeway stores).
CAD apps tend to be integrated with cloud storage, like DropBox, GMail, and Autodesk 360. Provided he keeps project files (or symbolic links to project files using "mklink") in his desktop computer's DropBox folder, he can bring up the most recent versions of files, without having to carry all multi-gigabytes of them on his phone, or even bother with remembering to refresh old copies with new versions.
Free or Low Pricing. The way that Apple structured pricing for its app store caused a freefall in app pricing. It used to be normal to pay $10 to $25 for PalmOS apps; now, it's normal to pay 99 cents. The low prices benefit users, because then they can try out lots of software to find the apps that work best for them; but it's hard on CAD vendors who have programmers to pay.
To overcome the pricing problem, some CAD vendors tie the mobile app to their desktop software. Some, like Nemetschek Vectorworks, allow only access only to their subscription customers. Others are trying tiered pricing; Autodesk, for instance, hints it might charge for an AutoCAD WS with more features than the free one.
The notable exception is IMSI/Design, who charges $500 for its TurboSite on iTunes store, which includes advanced functions like cloud-based translation from some 20 file formats. In showing me a confidential preview of his new app, a CAD vendor he plans to charge $300 or $400 when he releases it later this month.
I encourage CAD vendors to charge more, at least $10 for apps. If your software provides value to users, then users will pay.
Next in part 4: Hard to Predict is the Future
Out of the Inbox
2013 begins with acquisitions sprees:
- VERO Software acquires Sescio International, and in doing so calls itself the #1 CAM specialists in the world
- 3D Systems can't stop growing larger, swallows up Geomagic. In the process, Ping Fu gets to be demoted from ceo to vp and chief strategy officer. Wagging tongues want to know if the acquisition news made into her Bend Not Break autobiography released just one week earlier.
- Geometric acquires 3Cap Technologies GmbH (automotive electronics engineering). giving the Indian company a reverse-off-shore presence in Germany.
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Siemens PLM Systems synchronous technology is now a standalone 3D CAD editing program named 3DSync. It's free (after you fill out an application form) until May 15, and then it's $1995. http://www.siemens.com/plm/3dsync
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A bunch of independent programmers are coming up with their own mobile CAD apps. We saw lots last year from Big CAD, but here are two from one- and two-man operations -- and I'm not even upset that they don't run on Android!
- cadTouch of Italy is getting more 2D tools (better cut options, chamfer, fillet, coordinate insertion), math toolbox, FEM toolbox, architectural module with basic AEC objects. http://cadtouch.com/
- cado from Orange Juice Studios in England aims to be a true CAD tablet app, and not just a viewer. Primary advantage is its OMouse interface that wants to solve with my-fat-finger-is-blocking-my-view-of-exactly-what-I'm-trying-to-draw-and-edit problem. http://www.orangejuicestudios.com/
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ITC ships IntelliCAD v7.2a to its members with 700 fixes and support for DWG 2013. http://www.intellicad.org
On our Blogs
Here are some of the items that appeared recently on our WorldCAD Access blog at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
- Fewer data, less statistic
- Touching AutoCAD on the desktop
- Your beta invitation to Russia's only AutoCAD clone
- David Stein's new book: "Why Your Next IT Project Will Fail"
- CAD vendors will be tempted into biasing their cloud pricing
- It could be that CAD vendors will suffer from avoiding granularity
And on our Gizmos Grabowski blog at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/gizmos:
- - The AZS600 touch screen all-in-one computer from Acer
- Fixing a screwed-up memory card
Spin Doctor of the Moment
"Thank you, and we're listening."
- Kevin Systrom, co-founder, Instagram