upFront.eZine Issue #853
by Ralph Grabowski with Vladimir Zakharov
There is a lot of action on the MCAD side of things these days. New products pop up on what seems to be a nearly monthly basis, particularly ones that take advantage of today's ever-more-capable Web browsers and mobile devices, new classes of APIs, and powerful back-end graphics facilities.
I suppose this is because mechanical CAD is an easier nut to crack, as it deals with models that typically are small and well-defined, as compared to projects designed by other disciplines of CAD, such as skyscrapers (AEC/MEP), oil refineries (P&ID/PPE), or freeways (Civil).
Thus is comes as a bit of a relief that the world's newest CAD package is for architectural design. Released last week, Renga Architecture is a bit of a surprise, coming as it does from a company usually we associate with MCAD, ASCON Group of St Petersburg. The software is new; it was not acquired, and was built entirely in-house.
Vladimir Zakharov is the director of the AEC Division at ASCON Group, and I interviewed him to learn about the software and his design philosophy.
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Ralph Grabowski: ASCON Group has always been known for its mechanical design software, such as KOMPAS-3D, DEXMA PLM software, and C3D geometric modeling kernel. Why did you decide now to branch out to the AEC market?
Vladimir Zakharov: We have way more solutions that those that are known internationally, ones that we for years and even decades distributed in the domestic market. You can easily find a variety of KOMPAS-based AEC applications that form our MinD (Model in Drawing) family. So, you shouldn't consider ASCON Group as an AEC newbie.
Our C3D geometric kernel is domain-independent. It only deals with geometry, and so it doesn't care where the geometry comes from. (Well, it almost doesn't matter, to be honest.) Above all, the AEC market is quite attractive, as you know -- especially the global one.
Ralph Grabowski: When did ASCON Group start working on Renga Architecture? How large a team of programmers has been working on the software?
Vladimir Zakharov: We first began investigating the possibility at the end of 2011. Back then, the project counted two programmers. Now we have 15 programmers, plus a whole lot of other people working on it, like analysts, QA [quality assurance] engineers, designers, tech writers, support personnel, and so on.
Ralph Grabowski: What were your guiding principles in developing this software?
Vladimir Zakharov: They were quite simple:
1. On-the-fly element creation, without any kind of programming
2. Designing and editing that takes place directly in the 3D scene, as the main work flow
3. Modern and neat UI [user interface]; see figure 1
4. Extremely smooth UX [user experience]
5. The price
Figure 1: Starting a new drawing in the English user interface of Renga Architect
Ralph Grabowski: As I played with the beta software, I noticed how the cursor snaps to parts logically and easily. There is no need to turn on a special "object snap" mode. How was this accomplished?
Vladimir Zakharov: Congrats! You are the first one to notice and I am not kidding. Imagine how complex it is to program these snaps in pure 3D mode. [Most CAD packages try to avoid snapping in the z direction, and require users to edit on 2D working planes aligned in 3D space.]
Let's look back at the principles listed above. This 3D snap behavior is covered by point #2 and #4, and so we had no choice. It took us about a half-year to implement all aspects of snapping. So thank you for mentioning this tiny, little thing that literally distinguishes great software from good software.
And you probably noticed our 3D navigation, which is another best-of-breed candidate, and took another half-year to program.
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Ralph Grabowski: Will there be add-ons to Renga from you or third-party developers? If so, what API will they use?
Vladimir Zakharov: No doubt, there will be add-ons from both sources. A very basic programming interface is coming soon that allows Renga to execute external apps, like rendering. And in a year or so, you'll see a more comprehensive API [application programming interface] for native plug-ins, such as an elevator design tool.
Ralph Grabowski: "Renga" is an unusual-sounding name. From where does it come?
Vladimir Zakharov: It is the Japanese word for "brick," but at the same time refers to a genre of Japanese collaborative poetry. Both terms are quite close to architecture, construction, and to the entire AEC domain, don't you think?
As always, there are a lot of hidden senses that will be unveiled later. Most of them we do not expect from the naming process itself. This probably should be a topic for a separate post, though.
Ralph Grabowski: In a world dominated by Revit, Vectorworks, and ArchiCAD, who do you see as your target market?
Vladimir Zakharov: You've tried all kinds of software and you are a CAD guru, so you tell me! We are aiming at designers who are unhappy with the tools they use today. We are providing software that knows and eliminates exactly what they hate about their existing AEC and CAD software: resource-greedy, outdated UI, lots of bugs, expensive pricing, and so on.
But Renga also gives them valuable perks, like sticky 3D snaps and true 3D navigation. (See Figure 2.) So, the answer is that we increase productivity through happiness. Admittedly, our kind of software is hard to make, but the user experience is hard to fake and easy to confirm. We will see if this is a viable strategy.
Figure 2: Multi-story building designed in Renga Architect's Russian user interface
Ralph Grabowski: What are your future plans for this software?
Vladimir Zakharov: We have a whole bunch of plans. We want to launch Renga Structure within a year, and then Renga MEP [mechanical, electrical, plumbing] after that. At the same time, we'll release updates to Renga quarterly, approximately. From the market expansion point of view, our plans are just as great.
Ralph Grabowski: How much will Renga cost?
Vladimir Zakharov: The price of Renga Architecture is e1,599 until the end of 2016. With the beta stage over, your readers can download the 60-days trial software from http://rengacad.com/en.
And One More Thing...
Customizing BricsCAD V15 (US$40) is the only reference and tutorial package available anywhere that teaches you how to make BricsCAD work the way you work. It covers these important topics:
- Modifying the user interface; changing the program's start up
- Customizing menus, buttons, ribbon, and every other aspect of BricsCAD
- Writing linetypes, hatch patterns, and shapes
- Programming with scripts, macros, Diesel, DCL, LISP, and VBA
- Hundreds of tips, and dozens of tutorials
Completely rewritten for V15, here's what's new in this updated edition:
- New: Coverage of BricsCAD for Mac OS X
- New: Customzing ribbon tabs and panels
- New: Changing V15's new user interface elements, like drawing tabs and LookFrom widget
- Expanded: Modifying workspaces
- Expanded: Additional user input devices like touch screens, touch pads, and 3D mice
Now bigger at 522 full-color pages, yet still the same $40 price. To purchase this new edition, visit the ebook's new Web page at www.worldcadaccess.com/ebooksonline/2015/04/cb15.html. Sent to you as a 10MB PDF file by email within 24 hours.
- - -
To purchase editions of this ebook for BricsCAD V8 through V14 (each for the same $40), please visit www.upfrontezine.com/cb8 and make your selection. Also available, Inside BricsCAD V15 ($20) -- step-by-step tutorials for new users -- from www.upfrontezine.com/lb8.
Even More News
WorldCAD Access is blogging nearly every day about the CAD industry and tips on using hardware. (The feed is available on RSS and through email alerts.) The following articles appeared during the last week:
- Video tutorial: How to customize double-click actions in BricsCAD
- Software review: TurboCAD Pro Platinum 2015
On Twitter, @upfrontezine offers CAD news, late-breaking updates, and wry commentary throughout the day.
To donate to this newsletter's operation through PayPal, click http://www.upfrontezine.com and then choose the Donate $25 (personal) or Donate $500 (corporate) button.
Letters to the Editor
Re: Seven flaws in Onshape today
I wanted to reach out with a couple considerations and possible clarifications regarding this post: http://www.worldcadaccess.com/blog/2015/03/seven-flaws-in-onshape.html.
- "Switching from paid mode to free mode can be tricky." It's a single button click, and from the many thousands of users using the product, it frankly hasn't come up as a tech support / friction point. Here's a bit about the mechanics: https://www.onshape.com/videos/plans
- "No third-party add-ons available yet. No FEA, no CAM, no advanced rendering." We do have a growing list of partners, including every category you mention, and users today are literally using third party apps to analyze, machine and render. Today, communication is via file exchange; and we're working closely to have a tighter integration.
- "App promised for Android not available; only for iPhone/iPad/" Frankly, sounds like we back-tracked on some commitment. In reality, Android development is progressing nicely (couple screenshots below) and people are signing up for early access: https://info.onshape.com/sign-up-for-onshape-mobile
- "Waiting list for getting an account. No immediate access.: This is not the case. Today, (and for weeks now) the wait has been somewhere between 10 seconds and 3 minutes. It's true that during the first few days, we limited access, in part because given that thousands of users were already using the system, we wanted to make sure once someone gets in, they have an awesome experience. We quickly became comfortable that they were, and many more thousands have signed up and gotten into Onshape.
- Ilya Mirman, vp of marketing
Your list is factual, but many of these "flaws" revolve around the fact that the product is in beta at this time. What I haven't gotten my head around is how these documents would move into PLM. Perhaps a third-party will contribute this?
- Michael Dekoning
The editor replies: The subhead on the blog posting reads, "Difficult Birthing of New MCAD Software." As for PLM, either Onshape will write their own extension or else encourage a third-party to write a pipe. They have not mentioned PLM in their marketing, so maybe they see it as a non-issue, or else as a bullet point best left unmentioned until they have a solution.
As a Certified Solidworks Enterprise PDM Administrator, I feel that Onshape has this important advantage regarding PDM/PLM. There is only one file (Onshape document) of a design: period. That simplifies the requirement that one has to demonstrate and prove that non-authorized changes can be made the document. Onshape requires that the owner of the document has to grant permissions for others to edit/revise the document and this is easily proven. Also Onshape automatically saves all changes/edits to the document as shown in the feature tree.
So, many of the important requirements for real PDM/PLM are already in place when using Onshape. I predict that a proper Onshape PDM/PLM workflow will be available soon.
- Devon Sowell
Internet will soon become as reliable and as available as electricity. Remember we (bloggers and readers) have come a long way since Matt Lombard / DesignStuff days when even a mention of the word cloud used to elicit 4-letter words from him :-) . Think about platform shifts like film Cameras to digital cameras. Tech progress is inevitable. To echo Dr. Michio Kaku's words: Don't bet against technology -- you will go bankrupt :-) . So in short don't bet against the internet availability getting better.
- Cad Guy
The editor replies: I am not betting against it. But there is reality. Only 10% of India's 1 billion+ people have access, and that is intermittent. A programmer tells me he pays for Internet access through two ISPs, to ensure at least one of them will be up most of the time.
Mr Guy responds: I agree with current reality. But tech curves are exponential (especially in early and middle stages). 10 years ago India had less than 10 million cell phones. Today there are a Billion cell phones - 100x increase in just 10 years. As Jon H said in Develop3D Live, "OnShape is for folks with reliable Internet." If you don't have reliable Internet then use desktop CAD and come to OnShape whenever you get reliable Internet. BTW I am from India :-).
Here in India, we do have fast internet. Turns out it's also unreliable Internet. We actually have two Internet providers in our office for backup sake. And we pay a premium for both of them. I can't afford that luxury at home.
- Deelip Menezes
Well, this subscription-ONLY model is very bad in the long run for the customer! At the end it leaves you with nothing. When there are bad times and You can't afford to pay the subscription You are left with nothing. So how you gonna keep up with the software, earn money to pay again? Imagine every business decides just to rent, not to sell?
Owning things ensures you can use them when times goes bad, but when you are in trouble and only rent You loose everything!
The editor replies: You are right: subscriptions are like renting a house. When times are bad, and you can't make your rent payments any longer, you get kicked out onto the street.
Tabacev: You can switch from paid to free and toggle which documents you want to work on in active vs inactive mode. I actually know of a user in Canada who lost every and is homeless and was using Onshape at Internet cafes. In Onshape you never loose your data.
Ralph: I think you are underestimating the impact of a frictionless browser/app system like Onshape. Google Docs has 120M users in 4 years and is growing faster than office and you still don't have a basic page numbers feature in their presentations app. Onshape is now in use in over 100 countries, most of which have average internet.
- Ric Fulop
North Bridge Venture Partners
The editor replies: When switching to free mode, only five documents can still be used in Onlive's shared environment.
The CAD market is orders of magnitude smaller than the office software market. If Onshape is using Google's Docs numbers for its business plan, then the company might have a problem. In my case, Google Docs is a bad analogy as no editorial staff I know employs it. Too slow and too flaky for serious writing.
Mr Tabacev responds: Please, let ME decide what's good for ME: perpetual or subscription-only. Removing a choice is always suspicious. Having only ONE choice is not a choice at all!
Regarding the cost of licensing: Consider a 10-year lifecycle for CAD software. For Solidworks, it would be minimum $4000 for the initial license fee, plus $1,295/year for maintenance. Total 10 year cost of $17,000. For Onshape, the 10-year cost of a subscription would be $12,000. Factor in the burdened cost of managing licenses and installing updates, and the perpetual license doesn't look so hot. Consider the time value of money, and cash flow factors, and a perpetual license looks downright unattractive. As for the "renting a house" analogy: rent and mortgage are not that different. Stop paying either, and you end up getting kicked out. (Even if you own your house, you can still get kicked out, if you don't pay your taxes.) In the case of software subscription, if you're in-between projects and want to reduce costs, you can roll back your subscriptions, then add them back when you need them, You lose nothing. On a perpetual license, dropping maintenance is something that can't usually be undone. CAD vendors generally try to make that option as unattractive as possible.
- Evan Yares
Spin Doctor of the Moment
"Our goal is to co-innovate solutions that enable greater business agility and lower cost to server for all our stakeholders with hybridcloud."
- Phuong Tram, chief information officer, DuPont