Issue #412 : January 4, 2005
C o n t e n t s
The Need for XML Feature Models by John Burrill
Letters to the Editor - remembering Joe Greco
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Tsunami Disaster Aid
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World Vision has a list of ten DOs and DONTs: what aid works best and what doesn't help. www.worldvision.org/site/pp.asp?c=fvKVLbMVIwG&b=279575
Guest Editorial by John Burrill
There is a strong customer need for XML-based feature models. XML [extended markup language] has the virtue of abstracting the design and the language of the discipline from the application that generates it. It effectively makes any type of data a relational database that can integrate with other applications.
For vendors who think that proprietary file formats secure their market share, the rude shock is that supply lines don't standardize on software. Here are examples of what I mean:
The Problem of Dumb Files
All these companies provide their content in neutral formats -- stripped of their design intent, mating relations, and part instancing. The CAD operator, who downloads the part files, then has to repopulate them with attribute data. This data consists of things vendors want preserved in their offerings, like materials specifications, voltage requirements, part numbers, ordering information and -- oh yeah -- the manufacturer's name.
The problem of dumbing down files for portability even plagues Autodesk offering two products with similar functionality. Currently, there's no way to turn an Autodesk Inventor iPart factory into an Autodesk Building Systems HVAC catalog and preserve the critical dimensional and meta-data for fittings, air terminals, and diffusers. Inventor parts import to Building Systems as dumb solids devoid of any attribute data.
This despite the fact that both packages have parametric modelers, both support product metadata, and both are designed to be forwarded to engineering analysis and scheduling applications. Consequentially, few, if any, architectural firms consider putting seats of Inventor in their offices. Discovering a disconnect in design intent and muted metadata (requiring reworking models from scratch) doesn't foster loyalty to one company's software.
Clearly, Revit is a better architectural design solution than SolidWorks, but the cardinal frustration for Revit user's might be that having to completely redraw light fixtures that someone else modeled in SolidWorks. And then copied as IGES data for every part in the line from an HTML table or PDF so that they can do a photmetric lighting study in Revit or a walkthrough in 3DSMax.
The omnipresence of proprietary file formats contributes to wasted time in design development and introduces errors in rework. To the uninitiated CAD operator, it might seem like a boon that you can import into their software an IGES file that an OEM has published on their Web site. But IGES just describes models as surfaces. So, in the process of healing edges, sewing trimmed faces, and guessing whether a hole is chamfered or countersunk, the operator inadvertently changes critical information about surface topology, and then put in information like draft angles, screw threads, fits, and drill sizes.
The operator burns up the clock re-interpreting an anonymous blob and potentially turns it into something other than what the manufacturer intended.
Are you happy:
The Basis of an XML Standard
An XML standard for describing and attributing design data is the only real alternative to vendors writing massive numbers of file importers and exporters with varying levels of data integrity. And to users wasting hundreds of hours per project cycle filling out manufacturers' data. Customers opt for software based on its capacity to represent and preserve design intent. I haven't walked into a company yet that doesn't blanch at the idea of redrafting all of its existing work to migrate from one platform to another.
The obsession with model data ultimately being the property of the software vendor has eroded enthusiasm for customers to upgrade and crossgrade from one platform to another. So, I argue, vendors who want to keep customers on their product need to open access to the data inside, so that the data can transition from one shop to another, throughout the product's lifecycle.
XML Feature Benefits
Now, let's throw in a feature benefit for an XML-based file system, something that can't be matched by any one vendor's capability:
1. Because XML is an attributed database, it can be read by many applications outside the mech CAD genre. The same XML file that hosts your building model can contain roofs, walls, doors, windows, and finishes; mechanical assemblies for appliances, HVAC, breaker cabinets, and site layout for drainage, landscaping and irrigation plans. The data becomes portable not just to mech CAD apps, but to a plethora of interdisciplinary software.
2. From this one file, you can generate window and door schedules, hole tables, weld specifications, and bolt schedules for structural members, electrical and thermal load analysis, planting schedules, legal boundary definitions and cut/fill volumes for your site grading using XML style sheets, SQL-server, or even something as basic as Excel.
3. If manufacturing adopts an open standard for design definition, a company can have seats of Pro/E, Lightworks, Building Systems, Oracle, 3DSMax, and GeoPak running concurrently and can base their software decisions on the talent and knowledge of their engineers.
An open standard improves every vendor's capacity to focus and compete based on the software's functionality and performance. Those are the virtues that attracted me to using a computer to do design work.
Finally, in light of the agreement between Microsoft and Dassault to develop their own 3D XML standard:
1. A proprietary standard is a contradiction in terms. The definition of the XML schema for feature-based modeling needs to include insight and input from Autodesk, PTC, UGS, and the CAM market.
2. They should follow the example of LandXML <www.landxml.org> in the civil sector, and determine a common language for these types of software. LandXML and GbXML are breaking the barriers between civil applications and getting the state DOTs to take a serious look at allowing contractors to develop designs in packages other than Geopak and MicroStation.
3. The XML schema must be transparent so that software developers inside and outside CAD can query, analyze, and report on that data without hitting heaps of encrypted junk. We manufacturers are the owners of the data -- not the software vendor. It's not up to Dassault, Microsoft, Autodesk, or any other off-the-shelf title owner to determine what's exposed in a design and what's kept secret.
4. The standard should be audited by W3C or other neutral entity to insure it meets the benchmarks of an open standard.
(John Burrill's background is in design and visualization, programming, and document management. He started out on AutoCAD 12, worked for IMAGINiT Technologies as an Autodesk technician and trainer, and now principally designs in SolidWorks 2005.)
A summary of CAD industry news you may not have read elsewhere, or that we found interesting:
ALGOR v16.1 features all-new parametric structured meshing tools for 2D and 3D FEA [finite element analysis] models and CFD tools for fan effects, gravity loads in flow through porous media analyses, and particle tracking. www.ALGOR.com
RDV Systems announces Rapid Design Visualization 2005 for Autodesk's Civil 3D. The add-on creates drive-through simulations, flyovers, and interactive simulations. www.rdvsystems.com
Kubotek USA ships version 4 of KeyCreator. www.kubotekusa.com
UGS launches Open Manufacturing Backbone as a programming environment for third-party applications. www.ugs.com
VB2S releases Subdo Edition, a new real-time 3D authoring tool for virtual prototyping, design reviews, marketing, and so on. www.subdo.com
Altima Technologies creates its 65,000th computer/telecomm network shape for Visio, PowerPoint, iGrafx, AutoCAD, and netViz. www.AltimaTech.com.
Boothroyd Dewhurst has a new release of its Design for Manufacture and Assembly software -- software that identifies the major costs associated with manufacturing and finishing parts. www.dfma.com
Delcam adds triangle modeling to it's CopyCAD reverse engineering software. www.delcam.com
Code Zebra releases FlowTools 6 (US$249 and up), which adds general-purpose intelligent diagramming to AutoCAD. Download a demo from www.codezebra.com
And AutoXlsTable fully integrates Excel into AutoCAD. www.cadaddon.com/cgi-bin/products .
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Additional news items at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com/blog/>:
Seminars & Conferences
International Roofing Expo 2005 is Feb 15-18 in Orlando FL USA. www.TheRoofingExpo.com
Product Lifecycle Management Road Map 2005 is Sept 28-29 in Dearborn MI USA. www.cpd-associates.com
People/Companies on the Move
AVEVA appoints Matthew McKinley as executive vp for the Americas.
PR firm Strategic Reach lands Alias as a new client.
Ashlar-Vellum moves over a few doors to suite #308 at 12710 Research Blvd in Austin TX USA.
German software vendor CAD Schroer opens its France office at 261 Rue de Paris, Montreuil Cedex.
Brand New CAD Books/eBooks
"Product Lifecycle Management: Paradigm for 21st century
Letters to the Editor
Re: Remembering Joe Greco
"Joe was a friend as well as a dynamite columnist for DPN
magazine. My publisher and I would like to pass along our condolences."
"There are certain things in life that leave a deep scar on
your mind. Joe Greco's sudden death is really very, very sad. I did not
know him in person. But he had such a towering presence in the CAD
world! On any given day you open a CAD publication and chances were,
you would find at least one article by Joe. It's a great loss to CAD
world. And I feel as if I have lost a personal friend. May his soul
rest in peace!"
"I was shocked hear about Joe. I used to write regularly for
his 'CAD/CAM Journal for the Macintosh Professional', and I was also a
minor co-author on a book with him in the mid-80s. I had lost touch
with him since coming to work for Bentley."
"Thank you for sharing the sad news about Joe. I knew him only
by reputation, but I'm shocked to hear of the loss, both to his family
and to the CAD industry. His early death should be a warning to all of
us, despite the passion and energy we want to devote to our journalism,
to slow down once in a while and take care of our personal well being."
"Joe was a good guy and a straight shooter. We're poorer for
"Joe and I spoke extensively in the last days just before he left for Hawaii as he was doing a write-up on one of our products, which appeared in Cadalyst magazine. Now that will be the last one he would ever do for anybody else.
"I knew Joe for many years as an outspoken yet fair observer
of CAD industry trends, and my heart is heavy as I write this. We have
lost a friend and a great observer of what we do."
"I was sorry to hear of the passing of Joe Greco, and I can't
think of any other way I could have heard about the sad fact.
And, even though I did not know him, hearing it from you made me
feel like I heard it from a mutual friend."
"I'm very sad to hear of Joe's passing."
"That's terrible news about Joe Greco."
"Sorry to hear about Joe. I knew him from my days on CAD
SYSTEMS magazine, and he wrote for a few of the Canadian magazines."
"Sorry to hear about Joe. My condolences to his friends and
family. I have always enjoyed reading his articles. He will be missed."
Spin Doctor of the Moment
"Listen, friends, you have to face the truth. You are never
going to be rich."
"It's possible to sell 300-500 thousand of anything, if
you're willing to back it with the marketing dollars. It could be
argued, and in fact it has been argued, that its cheaper to just give
everyone $1,000 to use your product."
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