On 1 May 1995 the very first issue of upFront.eZine was sent out to a small group of readers, and so this issue #857 marks its 20th anniversary.
Back then in the mid-nineties, I worried whether there would be sufficient content for a newsletter that came out each and every week -- 4x more often than other newsletters of the day. But I needn't have worried.
The Three Biggest Stories of the Last 20 Years
To celebrate this issue, I thought I would list the three most important and exciting articles that upFront.eZine carried over the last eight hundred issues, and then dedicate the rest of today's newsletter to letters from our readers.
A Russian contract programmer made of a copy of Alibre Design's source code, and then began giving it away free under the name of RaceCAD Design, albeit only in Russian. Using Google Translate, I tracked him down and then carried my interview with him in upFront.eZine #360 <www.upfrontezine.com/2003/upf-360.htm>. He denied he was doing anything illegal, because his software was "an independent product, developed in Russia since 1994, and we have a lot of customers." Alibre, he countered, was engaging in black marketing, "because they are afraid of competition."
But there were too many similarities in code from Alibre, ACIS, and ODA, none of which was licensed it to him. Subsequent to my series of articles, the FBI contacted me about the case, and then some time later the programmer was arrested crossing the border from Canada into the USA.
Leo Schlosberg wrote a guest editorial for upFront.eZine #256 in which he asked, "Does CAD Degrade Drawing Quality?" His core argument was this:
In the same period of time that CAD came to replace the pencil as the primary drawing tool, the coordination of construction drawings (which I informally measure as the coordination between the architectural drawings and the structural drawings) got worse. This is counter-intuitive. I have, however, never met anyone who argues the fact.
And so this newsletter received more letters on this topic than any other, with the consensus being, "Yes, CAD does degrade drawing quality." The problem was not with the software itself, readers said, but that new users were being trained to enter commands to run software -- instead of learning drafting conventions, as was taught in the days of hand drafting.
"Instead of teaching the language of technical graphics, many technical graphics courses have evolved into nothing more than glorified software-training sessions," wrote Eric Wiebe of North Carolina State University, one of many responses as the debate raged for weeks.
I suppose the most impactful event in the history of CAD might be the launch ofAutoCAD in 1983, but this newsletter was not around to cover that item. So instead I nominate the day Visio announced it would establish theOpenDWG Alliance as the most impactful article in upFront.eZine's history. The ODA's purpose was to further develop the documentation and use of DWG API [application programming interface].
Visio formed the ODA by spinning off its recently-acquiredMarComp AutoDirect2 DWG read/write API library so that any software program could access DWG files. MarComp wasn't the only library offered by independent programmers, but Autodesk did not. Fifteen founding ODA members paid $25,000 each to join, and non-commercial use of the API was free.
Visio's purpose was to help make its IntelliCAD software -- the world's first AutoCAD workalike -- more compatible with AutoCAD by harnessing the combined abilities of many more programmers than Visio itself could muster, or afford. The ODA fortuitously changed its name to Open Design Alliance when Bentley Systems joined to distribute documentation of its DGN ("design") file format.
Autodesk ceo Carl Bass countered by saying, "Our customers own their data -- via DXF." Later, however, Autodesk copied the ODA by releasing its own RealDWG API, and then sued the ODA over the use of the DWG file extension name, even though the US Patent and Trademark Office repeatedly ruled that Autodesk did not own "DWG." Today, ODA boasts 1,200 members.
(The unleashing was not the first time for Visio. Eighteen months later, Visio granted the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium a non-exclusive license for IntelliCAD; the code was never made freeware, as some thought erroneously. The reason for the hand-over: Visio was selling itself to Microsoft, and Microsoft did want to be seen selling a CAD system. Well, that and the fact IntelliCAD only ever sold 30,000 copies. To this day, Microsoft holds the license to code found in IntelliCAD 98 through IntelliCAD 6.)
Between birthing ODA and ITC, Visio became the absent mother to hundreds of programs that today directly read, view, edit, write, translate, and print DWG files. That's impactful!
And One More Thing...
PlanGrid is saying that they host the largest digital blueprint repository in the world: over 17,000,000 sheets are stored in their cloud. The online service has 400,000 users of which 10,000 are paying customers. The electronic blueprint service runs on Android, iOS, and in browsers.
Read me nearly every day on WorldCAD Access as I blog about the CAD industry, and give you tips on using hardware and software. You can also keep up with the blog through RSS feeds and email alerts. These are some of the articles that appeared during the last week:
Here's why 3D Systems sales fell so badly last quarter Video tutorial: Storing BricsCAD customizations with partial CUI files
I am on Twitter at @upfrontezine with late-breaking CAD news and wry commentary, throughout the day.
Letters to the Editor
Re: Yet Another Modeler (or Two) - part 2
John Callen is spot on. I too for years have wondered why. The very reason for the existence of CAD software to begin with was to expedite MAUFACACTURING, and yet this paradigm is not capably incorporated by CAD -- nothing more and nothing less.
Yet these CAD guys think they are the alpha and omega of software for industry. Far from it. They are just at the beginning, and unless there things are being made, there is no purpose for them to even be here.
I remember struggling with this idea, and trying to get Solid Edge's management to see this. Even though Autodesk gets this idea more than others, I still found myself wrestling with Inventor and the bolt-on HSM CAM package.
Suffice it to say, without going into details, I have yet to find any CAD company that recognizes the supremacy of built parts in the real world over fascination with the beauty of what they do in their cubicles. The obstacles to efficient CAM programing with CAD inefficiencies is a barrier yet to be surmounted. - Dave Ault
The editor replies: There are different kinds of real-world production generated from drawings. For instance, I (hand-) produced drawing as an engineer (in the early 1980s) for adding traffic signals to existing intersections. The drawing style is semi-schematic, and contains sufficient information for electricians to do the $50,000 installation.
So, I would say it depends on the purpose that the drawings serve. CAM? Clearly not, because the computers that drive the lathes need precise input; other production being interpreted by humans need not be as exact -- such as traffic signals or home construction..
Mr Ault responds: Well, that is true. I have never been involved in anything other than building parts and assemblies, so I guess I am guilty of tunnel vision too.
The editor replies: I agree with you that the darwing's output should be suitable for the intended manufacturing process. Big CAD systems -- like Catia, NX, and the CoCreate part of Creo -- all got their start at manufacturing companies, such as big aerospace and HP. I have no familiarity with them, so maybe they connect properly with CAM.
Mr Ault responds: I don't know about them, either, having never used them. It is not just the CAD-CAM connection though. For instance, with Solid Edgeit was not until ST7 that the correct hole manufacturing data was incorporated. I just cut gobs of holes this past week, and until now I would have had to fiddle with workarounds to get real data to my CAM program.
All I used for CAM since 2006 has worked off 3D solids. If the right data is not there, neither is the correct way to meld CAD and CAM. For instance, with Inventor Pro HSM, I found it was having trouble recognizing specific features; all I wanted were disconnected profiles, but it was trouble getting there.
While Solid Edge will open Mechanical Desktop (MDT) files, Inventor will not open Solid Edge .prt files or MDT files -- and this is Inventor 2016, by the way. This means I have to open MDT files in Solid Edge, save them as Parasolid files, which I can finally open in Inventor.
This is the kind of garbage that is so time consuming and so revealing where the importance of CAM is concerned. It is CAD first and, oh yeah, put something in there for the other junk. Don't plan for both as integral, coordinated, and part of a complete well-planned manufacturing system.
Don't get me started on feature recognition, unless you have some time. Isn't it kind of funny that Solid Edge -- the best software that you've never heard of -- is not recognized by Inventor. Look at the screen capture I made to see what is. (See Figure 1.) I believe that the lack of Solid Edge import capabilities may well be a deliberate play by Siemens PLM. I figure some degree of co-operation is required for CAD vendors to play together, and I wonder if Siemens PLM has refused to co-operate?