t h e b u s i n e s s o f c a d
Issue #738 | June 5, 2012
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In This Issue
- Workspace Now, Apps Later
- Geometry Editing
3. Out of the Inbox, and the other regular columns.
This issue sponsored by:
Revit Technology Conference, North America 2012
June 30-28, 2012
The pr firm introduced Sunglass with a startling headline: "$10B CAD industry disrupted for the 1st time in 30 years by Sunglass.io". Whatever it takes to get noticed, skeptical old-timers among us would say.
I didn't care about the disruption claim; heck, Occupiers claim to be disruptive. I was more interested in how Sunglass differed from TeamPlatform (see article that follows), To3D.com, or even AutoCAD WS. I had watched their video from TechCrunch, which made further extravagant claims <http://techcrunch.com/2012/05/22/cad-users-rejoice-sunglass-brings-slick-3d-modeling-to-the-browser/> , and so I asked co-founder Kaustuv DeBiswas about his software, and he began with the company's elevator pitch:
"Our mission to democratize design tools. We find them expensive and broken. The average CAD tool costs up to $5,000, and rendering is another $1,000+ in licenses. Tools have their own file formats, silo-ing the data in drawing projects. These are big barriers for access by the general audience."
I asked about his company's experience: "Does any one on the team have a CAD background?" Mr DeBiswas worked for several years on generative components while at Bentley Systems, and has a computing Ph.D. degree in Architecture from MIT. He said he got frustrated with how CAD systems didn't work, for there seemed to be no way to get a quick check if things are going in the right direction. Sunglass began at MIT a year ago when he and his partners began to figure out how to put CAD software onto network architecture.
The result was putting some of it in a Web browser, and the rest on a server to handle the heavy computations: "We are minimizing the computation on the browser side, by breaking the applications in modules. What you see on the screen a real-time rendering of the backend operations."
Workspace Now, Apps Later
Currently, Sunglass consists of the workspace. It is a proof-of-concept in which several people can work together assembling 3D parts in a 3D environment. Yellow dots show the viewpoints of participants as they move around the workspace they view in their Web browser.
The workspace has the expected features, such as a 3D interface, a chat window, and the ability to make screen grabs and then annotate them (like redlining). See figure 1.
Figure 1: Sunglass workspace shown at TechCrunch Disrupt conference.
Of greater interest to CAD users is the company's claim that files of 45 formats can be dragged into the workspace, and then manipulated. These include all major MCAD formats, such as SolidWorks, Catia, and Inventor; non-CAD formats, like 3DS and OBJ; as well as interchange formats, like STEP, IGES, and STL. They are licensed through a third-party vendor (he wouldn't say who), and all translation is done on their servers.
Now, translation licenses for formats from Catia and NX are pretty expensive. "How do you keep down the cost?" I asked. Yes, he agreed that they are expensive, but he is firm on "any format, any device." He mentioned a Web service model for keeping down the cost; perhaps he also gets the translations done on a pay-per-use model.
Anytime anyone says any format any device, I immediately apply two tests to the statement: does it work in Opera on the desktop; does it work on an Android smarthphone? In both cases, Sunglass failed. It turns out that that whole "universalism" thing of HTML5/WebGL is still a myth. So far, Sunglass has been made to work on Chrome and Firefox, because they have 58% market share (globally). Opera has minuscule market share; IE needs a hack to get WebGL to work; Safari turns off WebGL by default, and so users need to turn it on. Sunglass is not yet optimized for mobile devices; wait to the end of summer for it to run on Android tablets and iPad.
"What format are the workspace components stored in?" I wondered. At this point, they are stored as OBJ (or STL, if you plan to 3D print). If a SolidWorks file is brought in and if there no major edits to its geometry, then there is no change to the format.
The workspace you see at www.sunglass.io is just the first product being realized. The company has an application layer to go on top of it, for tasks like rendering, structural analysis, and mesh editing -- without moving to other software. The TechCrunch demo showed an early version of the rendering module.
They plan to release an SDK [software development kit] in the future for third-party apps. They expect some will be open-source, some pay-per-use, some ported from other CAD programs. The non-free ones will be on a month-to-month subscription, roughly $25-$100/month, with revenue sharing for Sunglass. The schedule is to first focus on product design (MCAD), and then on architecture (BIM).
I finally got to ask my key question: "This to me sounds similar to the V6 work being done by Dassault; also To3D, which uses HTML5/WebGL to display 3D MCAD models in Web browsers -- or even AutoCAD WS. How are you different?"
AutoCAD WS is not format-agnostic; with Autodesk, you pay $5,000 upfront, and then get the cloud, he explained: "We are not about WebGL viewing on the Web; we do far more, with our shared model space; you can invite clients to work on the same model; anyone can drag'n-drop models. We want to get rid of email with attachments."
At first, Mr DeBiswas told me that Sunglass doesn't want to be a modeling tool. "We are respectful of the 3-4 decades of work on creating fantastic modeling tools. We want to fit inside workflows, and are interested in other areas peripheral to CAD, such bringing in content from 3D scanning."
But clearly Sunglass is not just a viewer, and so I asked, "When you have several people working on an early-stage model, and they want to show their ideas by modifying the model, aren't you going to need commands for creating and editing geometry?" Mr DeBiswas agreed that Sunglass will need a small modeling module to give access to basic editing, but they don't want to build a large modeling suite -- at least not immediately.
I sensed he was mimicking the SpaceClaim strategy: launch into the market by claiming to be a non-threatening adjacent seat, but over time moving itself from the edges into the center, and then finally declaring itself the only CAD package needed by engineers.
And so, yes, there might be more geometry creation and editing commands to come in the future. "Creative ways of creating content," he called it. For instance, he is very interested in adding procedural geometry, where shapes are controlled by formulae -- the field he specialized in while at Bentley. "Are you doing solid, surface modeling?" I asked. Right now it is mesh modeling with polygonal geometry; the company is starting to support b-rep. Next is solid modeling."
"Where does the Sunglass name come from?" It represents each designer looking at the world from their own perspective.
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Whereas Sunglass is a tentative startup (you can't into their site today without an invitation), TeamPlatform seems fully formed and is running. The difference is that TeamPlatform has been under development for two years, Sunglass for one.
The two Web platforms share the same reason for coming into being. VisPowerTech created TeamPlatform "due to a lack of similar product that connects all these things together, with high performance," as company spokesman Scott Anderson told me.
The backgrounds of the staff is, however, different from Sunglass. The VisPowerTech people come from RapidForm, which specializes in 3D scanning and reverse engineering software, and developing 3D parametric models from where no drawings exist. No surprise, then, that RapidForm is an enthusiastic customer of TeamPlatform.
"TeamPlatform is not meant for people in the same building who could use PDM or Post-It notes," explained Mr Anderson. "It is meant for people working in different buildings." The speed comes from using a compressed, lossless image format that even allows deep zooms into hi-res images, replacing the need to load 100MB vector files.
The company emphasizes three aspects of their browser-based service:
You can drop files from all major CAD formats into TeamPlatform. It then uncovers assembly relationships between parts, the version history, lets you navigate through the assembly, displays custom properties, lets you add notes, and tracks all references (so that you can access referenced files). Because of the RapidForm heritage, it also handles high-density scans and meshes.
There is a comment system that looks like Facebook, provides a common calendar, and comes with templates with custom fields for custom forms. This last item leads to the service portal, where you can create public Web pages to offer your services, such as printing 3D models, requesting quotes, planning trade shows, and setting meeting agendas. In short, TeamPlatform becomes your front-end for generating business, and even provides SEO (search engine optimization) and analytics of who is visiting, who is editing, from which ip address, number of visits, and so on.
Cost: Free for a subset of the services; $25/user/month for everything -- four time cheaper than Autodesk's 360 PLM, he notes -- and then drops in price for larger accounts; guests are free. Mr Anderson said this pricing appeals to companies without a full time Web and/or marketing person. Cheaper than hiring a contractor, and an easy way to set up content for the Web. I liked the Tip area at the side of each screen, which explains how to do basic operations with the mouse or keyboard.
One catch: SugarSync, DropBox, and PDM synching between clients and servers are not supported. It has its own sync service to mirrors files between local platforms and the team.
A sister site at www.3dfile.io provides drag and drop viewing of CAD files (in supported browsers, such as Chrome but not Opera), and generates a link for others to view. You can rotate the view, zoom, and measure distances -- but no more that: no assembly trees or relationships.
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Popular formats include 3ds Max, Maya, C4D, LW, ProE, SolidWorks, Inventor, SketchUp, DWF/DWG, DGN, CATIA, IGES/STEP/Parasolid, 3D PDF/U3D, JT, FBX, Collada & more. We know data translation, and provide immaculate developer-to-customer relations.
Out of the Inbox
June 6 is two days from now, and is the day major ISPs and Web sites around the world add IPv6 to the existing IPv4 protocol. No need to panic; just know it's now available, initially to 1% of conectees, should you want to experiment with connecting to the Internet in this way.
A number of CAD startups are using .io as their TLD (top level domain). I asked one of them why, and he said that .com was pretty much filled up. Turns out .io is for Indian Ocean. http://www.nic.io
SolidACE's BuiltWorks is up to v3.1 for designing structural steel inside SolidWorks. New is CIS/2, which lets the add-on exchange data with Aveva PDMS, Intergraph PDS and others. 30-day demo from here: http://www.solidace.com/register
Earlier, ASCON of St Petersburg had announced it was making public its proprietary kernel, and now they've signed up LEDAS to handle international sales of C3D. The kernel is the full-meal-deal: 2D and 3D geometric modeling, constraints and parameters, and data translation. http://www.ascon.net
Every new workstation is a high performance one, and this morning's release by HP of Z220 workstations and EliteBook mobile workstations is no different. The Z220 is their tiny desktop, with up to 32GB RAM, and all kinds of options in the areas of graphics boards, and even the DVD drive is optional. $699 and up.
If the Z220 is still too large to lug around, then HP offers its new EliteBook 8770w laptop with 17.3" screen with optional DreamColor Technology inside a magnesium aluminum case. $1,329 and up. http://www.hp.com/zworkstations
Bricsys had a couple of new things: one is their new educational program, which lets instructors and students get Bricscad at no charge for12 months at a time from http://www.bricsys.com/en_INTL/home/academic.jsp. The other is that Bricscad now works with Lightworks Artisan rendering. http://www.lightworkdesign.com
If you run a limited-port computer, like a MacBook or Ultrabook, and if it has a Thunderbolt connector, then you might want Matrox's new DS1 docking station that adds 1Gbit ethernet, a USB 3 port, two of the USB2 kind, mic, speaker connector, DVI display, mouse and keyboard. $250 from http://www.matrox.com/docking_station/en/ds1
PTC ceo Jim Heppelmann figures we're on the cusp of the third industrial revolution, in which businesses "focus on the product and service advantage, moving away from focusing on just operational efficiency." No surprise, but PTC hopes businesses will purchase more of its software to reach IRv3.
IronCAD is getting its own configuration software. IronCAD Compose lets you drag and drop parts to generate configurations specific to customer needs. It also works as a multi-CAD viewer (with optional translation module), photorealisitic rendering, and best of all, it costs nothing but your time to register and then download. http://www.ironcad.com/index.php/products/ironcad-compose
And finally... Deelip Menezes wrote a lot of the code for the Cube.com Web site, and so he was eager to be the very first customer of the consumer-friendly 3D printer. I fail to be convince that there is a consumer market; nevertheless, read about his experience at http://www.deelip.com/?p=7572
On our blogs
These were some of the news items that were posted during the last week at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com>:
...and on Gizmos Grabowski blog <http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/gizmos/>
Letters to the Editor
Re: Enjoying RTC and Loving Wollongong
"Thanks for the plug on Wollongong in this week's ezine. A lovely city, in fact, it was so good I moved here 40 years ago from the bush and stayed. Some pioneering development work was done down this way back in the 80s when CAD was first finding it's feet, sadly not seen since!"
- Tony Purdon, Illawarra CADD Professionals
The editor replies: "Outside of Canada, where I live, Australia is my favorite country."
"Nice beach pics. Hope you brought your wife w/you!"
The editor replies: "The planning for the trip was so last-minute that she was not able to accompany my. She is, however, sick of hearing me tell about the sun, the sand, the surf..."
"In figure 2 of your report on RTC 2012, the caption notes that the highway is 'along the eastern shore of the Pacific Ocean.' Is the road not in fact along the western shore of the Pacific Ocean? We always say that we live on the west coast but it's actually the eastern side of the Pacific Ocean. As always, I really enjoy your ezine! Keep up the great work!"
- John Bisschop
The editor replies: "I was bound to be confused being in a country where the sun at high noon shine from due North!"
"Great to see that you are focusing more on Revit, though after four years of full-time use of the MEP [mechanical, electrical, plumbing] flavor I have already reached my own conclusions. Have you had occasion to use the product in a work environment? I understand you have some civil engineering roots; do you hear of any Revit offering for that area?"
- Peter Lawton
The editor replies: "I saw this trip as an opportunity to do just that: expand AEC coverage in upFront.eZine. As for using Revit, never. I have opened it and gazed at its UI, and that's about it."
Mr Lawton responds: "Revit reality check: There is a large-ish block of dark matter in the Revit room that you may not know about, a small group of historical facts that influence the nature of Revit, and that result in an asymmetrical truth: Revit is not monolithic.
"I'm not talking about BIM [building information modeling]; I am specifically referring to Revit, which has multiple sub-varieties (Architectural, MEP, and Structural), each of which is in a different stage of development. The architecture module being about six years ahead of the MEP module.
"I know that for 2013 Autodesk sells it as an integrated suite, but the modules are NOT all equivalent in development, maturity, or perfection. When I hear architects assert that a certain level of Revit-knowledge maturity is required for their sub-consultants, I respond that the software itself should be held to the same standard, but it is not.
"When I hear architects sniff that 'It's very easy to make adjustments to rooms, floors, walls and windows. So if you can't adjust your conduit, ductwork, and piping as easily, you must not be very proficient,' well, I would like to keep my job, but I have also thought that it would be fun to 'enlighten' such architects.
"More importantly, however, despite what the marketing department tells you, Revit's development is not aimed at some ideal of perfect interdisciplinary coordination and utopian collaboration; it is a cash-cow for a publicly traded company run by flawed humans who deliberately withhold present capabilities for the sake of future sales. For proof, I direct your attention to AUGI's wishlists, the top ten things that users really want. I invite you to investigate how often Autodesk responds to those wishes. Percentage-wise, I think it's in the low single digits.
"When implemented, Revit is a process; when sold, Revit is a vision: never to be reached, always to be striven for. And when 500,000 paying users strive for it at $1,000 per seat per year, it's a really good money-maker.
"Thanks as well for the view of Australia, we all hope to get there someday."
Re: @ralphg no longer on Twitter
"Another reason for avoiding the social media is the data mining they do. A friend recently expressed concern over the rumor that the government was going to start reading all our emails. My response: I fear Google more than I fear government.
"For example, I recently browsed for flights to Las Vegas to attend the Siemens PLM event. Now, every web page I go to has Las Vegas flight and hotel ads, and I've begun receiving 4 or 5 spam emails a day trying to sell me Las Vegas flights and accommodation. All that, and I don't even go near Facebook or Twitter!
"At lunch during the Siemens event, I was the last to join the table. After five minutes, not a word had been spoken, and so I commented, "Everyone is so busy with their social media that they don't have time to be social." Everyone shut down their iWhatevers, and then we actually had a very pleasant lunchtime conversation."
- Bill Fane, who "likes" old Rolls-Royce and Bentley automobiles
"Not sure if you've done this but you can maintain an almost zero overhead presence on Twitter and Facebook by linking your TypePad blog to them. I like Twitter, especially around events like conferences and sports, but mostly contribute to Facebook (which I tolerate at most) via linked blog posts."
- Robin Capper, who "likes" lunar eclipses
The editor replies: "As your suggestion, I've linked WorldCAD Access and Gizmos Grabowski blogs to @CADdigest, the Twitter feed for articles appearing on CADdigest.com."
"The rate of decline is rising."
- Tony Smith, The Register
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Entire contents copyright 2012 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 "WorldCAD Access" 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.