u p F r o n t . e Z i n e

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Issue #680 |  March 1, 2011 

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In This Issue

1. solidThinking v8.5

    - Inspired


2. Carl Bass Talks About Autodesk



3. Letters to the Editor


solidThinking v8.5

It's been 15 months since Alex Mazzardo called me up to talk about solidThinking v8. He's the eponymous company's vice-president of product strategy and marketing, and now it was time for v8.5 and its 900 improvements. The software is meant for NURBS-based surface and solid modeling, includes photorealistic real-time rendering, and features a ConstructionTree. The software is targeted at product designers, styling centers, and marketing departments, as well as architects and engineers who might use it for rendering conceptual designs.


Perhaps the most interesting feature for this newsletter's readership is that importers are now included at no extra cost.

New importers:

- H3D
- Catia V4 and V5
- Parasolid x_t and x_b
- SolidWorks
- Siemens NX

New exporters:

- Parasolid x_t and x_b

There is a new user interface tactic that I found fascinating: you can double-click objects up to three times, with each one you access a deeper levels of editing modes: (1) select objects, (2) access parameters and properties, and then (3) edit contour points. The Construction Tree allows you to manipulate models.


The loading time of the software is cut in half, and shading visualization is 3x faster. With the new photorealistic real-time rendering option, rotate the rendered model, and as soon as you let go of the mouse button, the scene is re-rendered nearly immediately -- well, within 2-3 seconds -- no need to wait 30 seconds for each rendering update. A new reflection catcher adds reflections of objects to shiny surfaces, such as shoes on glossy floor tiles. And then you can just press S to save the rendering.


A new tool creates new surface objects by extracting existing objects, after which changes are propagated throughout the model. The round tool (fillet) now handles advanced shapes, such as overflowing and overlapping rounded surfaces.


I'm not going to get into all 900 new features, enhancements and updates, so you can see a summary at http://www.solidthinking.com/8.5_whatsnew.



The second product is called "Inspired," and its interface is very different from that of solidThinking. The company had introduced it last year, together with "morphogenesis," a Greek-based word that normally used in biology for the process by which organisms develop their shapes. In the case of CAD, it's the process by which CAD designs optimize their shapes -- or, as solidThinking calls it, "form generation technology."


When it was introduced with Inspired v8.0 (the first version got numbered "8"), it worked on only a single part. What's new in v8.5 is that the process now operates on multiple parts and materials. Here's how:


1. You first design the shape in solidThinking, such as a bridge. The bridge consists of two parts: (a) an upper desk and roadway that remain fixed; and (b) supports that can take on a variety of shapes.


2. The bridge design is sent over to Inspired, where the designer specifies a number of parameters. These include the distributed vehicle and pedestrian load on the deck (shown as red arrows), the location of supports under the bridge (shown as blue fixtures), up to three planes of symmetry (shown in pink), and a flow direction (shown in blue). See figure 1. The designer also specify which parts are fixed (the gray bridge deck), which can be subject to morphogenesis computation (the yellow support), and the minimum amount of material to retain, such as 20%. "Morphogenesis works best when given more freedom to operate," explained Mr Mazzardo.


Figure 1: Parameters applied to the bridge design.


3. With the parameters specified, the software analyzes the loads, and then displays the minimal support required to safely handle the bridge -- the portion in yellow. See figure 2. The process takes a few minutes, and depends on the number of loads and complexity of the structure.


Figure 2: The result of applying morphogenesis to the bridge design.


4. The result is the minimum amount of support structure needed to keep the bridge from falling. Working from this minimum, the design can then create a bridge made of interesting shapes. Mr Mazzardo emphasized that Inspired does not replace an engineer, but gives the designer an idea of what he can work with.


"How does the designer know what the load should be?" I wondered, since this software isn't meant for use by structural engineers, but industrial designers. Darren Chilton suggested that one solution is to go online and find test loading conditions. "The number itself is not so important," he said, "as is the order of magnitude between various values."


5. With the preliminary design done, the morphogenesis model can be sent back to solidThinking as a mesh.


Mr Mazzardo showed me a few other features added to solidThinking Inspired v8.5. It now has smart snaps to help mate parts easily. There is a push-pull tool to remove pockets and other parts of models not needed for morphogenesis. It can defeature the model of things like countersunk bolt holes, fillets, and so on. You can use Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V to add copies of objects to the model.


The software has been around for more than a year now, and so I was curious about its use. "What kind of projects has morphogenesis been used for?" I asked. Err... not a lot, it would seem.


"It is new technology, so there are not many case studies yet," came the answer. Pininfarina Extra has used it for the study of a truss arm for a snow cat (snowmobile). There is also a case study in development with the Institute of Architecture of the Aarhus School of Architecture in Denmark. Architects are interested in it now that some parts can be specified as non-design space, and universities are developing courses specific to this technology. A food packaging company has defined the top loads and crush loads, and so are making the structure of the packaging more visible, which drives the design. "Let the engineering be more visible."


"It is taking time to introduce this tool. A tool like this can shorten the distance between ID [industrial designers] and engineers. This way, ID can better understand the engineering requirements, without having to become an engineer. The iteration process is faster than the more demanding FEA."


solidThinking and solidThinking Inspired 8.5 are available now for download. http://www.solidthinking.com



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Carl Bass Talks About Autodesk

The following excerpts are from comments made by Autodesk CEO Carl Bass to financial analysts during last week's 11Q4 conference call:


On why sales are improving:

Carl Bass: What we're starting to see is hiring. We've seen hiring in AEC firms in the Americas; we started to see some in Western Europe. So that's probably the most surprising thing we've seen. They were really clearly hard hit at some point. There were numbers in certain cities in the U.S. in which the architects, the number of jobs have been reduced by 30%. And so we're starting to see both the architecture and engineering and construction firms begin hiring back.

On expanding the number of bundles:

Carl Bass: Remember, we launched a couple of suites during this year as kind of a trial run to make sure we could get everybody lined up in all the incentives and kind of run a drill, so everyone understood it. Early results were promising. We'll go broad as we launch this in March and April.

On sales to governments:

Carl Bass: What we've seen is a healthy rebound, we've seen lots of good government business. It's debatable how affective the stimulus money has been. Build out around the world is actually much more general and broad. And so when you look at the emerging economies, there's quite a lot. The other things to remember about these products is they're used across a wide variety of domains from designing parking lots around buildings to building bridges, tunnels, highways, dams, railroads.

On why platform solutions (AutoCAD, etc) were lower:

Carl Bass: One quarter doesn't make a data point or makes a data point doesn't make a trend. We predicted a strong move to [3D] model-based design and more vertical products for a long time. But our horizontal [AutoCAD] products continue to be very strong. Sometimes individual incentives, just the dynamics of the end of your business lead to one thing. It would be good for us if that was happening. I just wouldn't be too anxious to jump on that as a long-term trend yet.

On how Moldflow is doing:

Carl Bass: So I'm very happy with Moldflow. We had a very different selling model than we're accustomed to. I think we're long past that. I like two parts of it:

On selling analysis software to AEC customer and/or integrate them into Revit:

Carl Bass: We've done some around structural engineering analysis. When you look at things like the [Blue Ridge Numerics] CFD [computational fluid dynamics] software we just acquired, it is applicable to both [mech and AEC] markets. And as people in AEC are doing more model-based design, our ability to provide them with more simulation and analysis just grows.


On the SMB market:

Carl Bass: The majority of our business is to small and medium enterprises.

On subscription revenues:

Carl Bass: There's no doubt our subscription revenue has been growing. But still the majority of our revenue comes from non-subscription. And I'm not sure we will cross that line any time soon."

On fighting piracy:

Carl Bass: I don't think we've been particularly successful. And on the other hand, we've been more successful than many other software companies, and both of those things continue to remain true. A lot of the work we've done to combat piracy either involves direct enforcement or policy change with local governments. And as more [software] gets embedded in the cloud, obviously, there's less piracy there.

On competition with SolidWorks and Dassault Systems:

Carl Bass: We've been much more successful than Dassault as a whole. What we see is them trying to co-mingle [SolidWorks and Catia] ways that they've never done before, and we think that's to our advantage. Every quarter, I'm more and more amazed by the number of competitive swap outs and displacements that we have of Catia, as well as the number of replacements we have for SolidWorks. If you were to look, ...you would see very limited growth in their Catia product. So their flagship product really is not growing much at all. And we think that's in part a result of how well we're doing in offering a broad range of manufacturing solutions.


When it comes to AEC, we'll see what they do. But right now, I think they have their hands full competing in manufacturing.


On Vault:

Carl Bass: "Our strategy, which has been in kind of stark contrast to that of our competitors, we've stuck pretty close to data management for the engineering teams, and it has been very successful, considered high-value, widely deployed, easy to implement. It's very different than what many of our competitors are doing, and they're finding some success there, but we're happy with what we're doing in this space. When we disclose the numbers, I think everyone will be quite surprised by the amount of data and the number of users who are managing the life cycle of products through Vault and the associated products.






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Letters to the Editor
Wow! Some of the readers sound as if they haven't taken a BM before reading their BIM. I enjoyed the articles and respect the effort put into them.
     - Dave Stein



A big THANK YOU for your honest publishing of my response! I hope this helps a little bit in putting back the BIM hype with 2 feet on the ground, so that you don't need to rename you ezine's subtitle in "the business of BIM"!

     - Siem Eikelenboom

CAD never meant Computer Aided Design. It meant Computer Aided Drafting. CADD meant/means Computer Aided Drafting & Design. This coming from an old timer who started CAD(D) back in the mid eighties.

      - Robert J. Melusky



What I want to know is this: WHEN DOES AUODESK'T MYRIAD OF MARKET TAKE-OVERS BEGIN TO CONSTITUTE VIOLATIONS OF THE ANTI-TRUST ACT (i.e., formation of business monopoly)??

     - Chris



I think your eZine is a great communications tool for our industry.
      - David Gill


Notable Quotable

"Never use a big word when a diminutive one will do."
   - Stephen Dunning, sometime copy editor of my books.



upFront.eZine is published every Tuesday, except during summer and Christmas vacation. Editor: Ralph Grabowski. This newsletter is read by 12,000 subscribers in 70 countries. Your comments are welcome at editor@upfrontezine.com! Deadline for submissions is every Monday noon.


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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "On your desktop every Tuesday morning" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.

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