the business of cad
Issue #757 | December 4, 2012
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In This Issue
1. Exclusive interview: Geomagic Spark Encompasses That Other Cloud
- Sparking Bro' Love with SpaceClaim
- Demo Time
2. Exclusive interview: Graebert Grows CAD, Part 1
- Graebert's Competive Advantage
- About That DraftSight Bonanza
- Graebert Market for Draftsight
- New Features in ARES 2013
- SiteMaster 2013
- Porting to Portable Devices
Note from the editor: This week's feature articles are so extensive that Out of the Inbox and other regular columns are not in this issue. For my coverage of last week's Autodesk University, see WorldCAD Access beginning with http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com/blog/2012/11/live-blogging-autodesk-press-day-2012.html.
Exclusive interview: Geomagic Spark Encompasses That Other Cloud
Geomagic product manager Kevin Scofield called last week from his Frankfurt hotel room so that upFront.eZine readers would be the first in the world to read the details on Spark, "the latest in reality-capture and modeling from Geomagic." Readers of other publications won't get these details until after a press-only Webinar being held later today.
Spark is the first MCAD program to handle the entire range from 3D point clouds through to assemblies and 2D documentation, along with optional rendering and analyses. It manages to do this by integrating functions from Geomagic's Wrap and Studio in SpaceClaim, through a custom version of SpaceClaim's API.
Sparking Bro' Love with SpaceClaim
For the past year the company has been working with SpaceClaim on this project. Before then, Geomagic thought of licensing Parasolid or ACIS, and then writing their own 3D modeler -- as competitor Rapidform did. To this, they could've added plugins from major scan vendors and added point cloud editing. But then they realized they'd be replicating existing functionality. Why write a CAD system when plenty already exist; with this realization, it was then just a matter of picking the right partner.
Geomagic liked SpaceClaim, its 30,000 customers, its East Coast location, and its well-documented API. "We added a set of new tools to their application," Mr Scofield explains. "We were more than just an add-on, because we added our own graphics engine to drive point cloud rendering. SpaceClaim benefited, because we added to their API set. I made a lot of trips between here and there," he laughs.
In addition, SpaceClaim has 100 third-party add-ons, like Keyshot for rendering, and lots of native CAD importers (at additional cost). And so that is how SpaceClaim helps Spark to be the whole package: going from scan data to 3D parts and assemblies to 2D drawings for $9,900 or e8,500.
The slogan is "Design with Scan Data," where 3D point data from laser scanners becomes the reference around which the model can be designed. "We have parametric fitting commands that work on the point clouds, and use SpaceClaims's interactive CAD modeling toolset."
Mr Scofield beat me to one of my standard questions, "Why the name Spark?" All Geomagic product names are verbs, and this one comes from the idea of igniting creativity, taking scans of existing objects to kickstart new designs.
Figure 1: Scan data converted by Geomagic (blue) and 2D drawings generated from 3D parts by SpaceClaim (green).
Spark makes these changes to SpaceClaim: it adds a Capture tab to the ribbon, and a Capture window.
The Capture tab contains functions from Geomagic Wrap and Studio software, such as reducing the number of points, converting points to STL meshes, and then making surfaces, solids, and planes from the meshes. There are also functions for repairing and simplifying meshes. Naturally, there are connections to scanners, such as from Faro, Hexagon, and Creoform, plus a few more by the release date.
When working with point clouds, users switch between two windows. The Capture window is the "Geomagic playground" for doing scanning, point rendering, and conversion to polygons.
Then they switch to the regular SpaceClaim modeling window to work with surfaces and solids. The solid and surface extraction tools from Studio intelligently pick up faces. SmartSelection adds to the selection set just by moving the cursor over the areas users want to include; when they pause, the sketch curve is generated automatically; clicking SpaceClaim's green checkmark button generates the solid from the sketch.
With the solids generated, users use SpaceClaim's regular tools to manipulate them. There is an analysis tool that shows how much the solid model deviates from the mesh, showing areas that were missed or that are out of tolerance.
Mr Scofield was especially excited that SpaceClaim allows users to deal with incomplete data, because CAD can create data where there is no mesh through copying, arraying (patterning), and revolving. (Previously, they could only model in Studio what was there in captured points.) As well, Geomagic customers now benefit from SpaceClaim's ability to populate new 2D drawings with views automatically, making it easy for new users; they just need to create detail views and add dimensions.
I like talking with Mr Scofield, because he goes beyond the talking points to which most other product mangers limit themselves when speaking with the media. In the following Q&A, you'll see what I mean.
Q: I am wondering about accuracy. During the demo, you showed me how you recreated a plastic molded part in SpaceClaim from scan data. Say one of those plastic ribs is supposed to be 1mm wide. How do you know if it was correctly scanned, without using calibers?
A: Scanners have a stated accuracy, and so to check the accuracy you do have to use calipers every so often. So if something is about 0.996mm according to CAD, it must 1.0mm. The accuracy is not that important when you understand the design intent; engineers usually design to the nearest 0.125 inch or 0.1mm or 15 degrees or something like that. A good designer will be able to tell, for instance, when a part is designed in metric or imperial. You make up for the scanner's inaccuracy by using common sense.
Q: You mentioned that Spark supports some scanners. Which models are they?
A: It supports all arm-mount scanners from Hexagon, the Handi laser scanner and Goscan white light scanners from Creafrom, and any arm mounted laser scanner from Faro.
The Goscan is pretty interesting, because it doesn't use a traditional laser, but a white LED light that flashes. It's brand new from Creaform [which says their new technology provides "shortest 3D scanning experience available on the market, start to finish"].
Q: Last time we spoke, you talked about experimenting with Kinect. How is that coming along?
A: We found that Kinect creates reasonable scan data, such as of people's faces, but that it does not work for mechanical parts due to its lack of [sufficient] resolution. It simply doesn't generate enough points, and it rounds features so that faces are smoothed. This makes it no good for sharp edges on parts.
We did write a plug-in, but we have has not released it. Kinect just needs to get 2-3x better to be useable by engineers.
Q: Last time, you also described experimenting with digital cameras, such those as on iPhones, to get 3D data.
A: We found that programs that combine photographs, like 123D from Autodesk, are not good enough for high precision work. They are fine for getting 3D images of things like lion statues outside of museums, but I could never get a good result from it.
Q: What about scanning buildings?
A: We are not yet ready for BIM, but we are experimenting with scanning buildings.
Q: Now, earlier you said that Spark has a subset of tools from Studio and Wrap?
A: Yes, 80% of the tools in Spark come from Studio, and the other 20% from Wrap. We had to adapt some of the tools to be more interactive, to get away from dialog boxes and instead using gesture-based controls.
Q: When will Spark ship?
A: At the end of January.
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Exclusive Interview: Graebert Grows CAD
The timing of this mid-October meeting was fortuitous, because after a year or more of being quiet, Graebert GmbH was ready to start talking about to the media their plans for the upcoming releases of ARES, DraftSight, and CorelCAD. Editor Ralph Grabowski met in Berlin with ceo Wilfred Graebert and chief technical officer Robert Graebert. This article was embargoed until last Friday's release of ARES 2013.
We began the 3.5-hour-long meeting in their newly expanded offices by going over the company's immediate plans. The November release of ARES is the first paid update since the completely rewritten software was released three years ago. In this time, the company shifted its attention from the old PowerCAD to the new ARES. More importantly, Graebert found success OEMing its ARES software to Dassault Systemes, Corel, and a number of former ITC members.
Their other software package, SiteMaster, now runs on ARES, and is upgraded to handle 3D and IFCs. More about SiteMaster later.
The Graebert.com Web site relaunched in November with Graebert's new logo and a new "Custom CAD" tagline that emphasizes their role an OEM provider of CAD software -- like a commercial version of the IntelliCAD Technical Consortium.
Graebert's Competive Advantage
Mr Graebert was keen naturally to promote his company's competitive advantage. ARES has been branded for Solidworks (DraftSight), Corel, progecad, CADopia, MC4, and SKA, as well as a version that runs on industrial machines.
Graebert calls DraftSight the "largest DWG app outside of Autodesk"; with three million downloads, DraftSight lets Graebert boast in being one of the largest CAD vendors in the world. I have no idea what the financial arrangement is with Dassault, and Graebert won't tell me, but I could see that the revenues allowed the company to take over the entire office building, located near Berlin's famous KuDamm shopping district.
ARES is the only cross-platform CAD system, running on 32- and 64-bit Windows (XP through to 8), OS X (including retina displays), and half a dozen dialects of Linux. Plans are underfoot for an Android version, with iOS to follow.
The software is localized in 14 languages, and the company has experience in supporting large numbers of customers around the world. They have 65 employees working in three development centers, Berlin, Russia, and India, with new offices in the USA, China, and Japan -- these indicate their commitment to Asia. They are so strong in development that they employ just two sales people to find and close OEM deals. Sales and marketing are located in Berlin and USA.
"OEM software solutions" means that ARES is customized to meet the needs of software vendors, such as which commands are excluded or which export formats are supported. "We make CAD a platform again, under various OEM labels," Mr Graebert explained. Graebert also produces custom CAD systems; OEM'ing is different from the custom CAD business, in which a whole new CAD package is built using Graebert components.
A second area of OEM'ing is the branded online app store, in which third-party add-on applications are available to users. These add-ons will work with the Standard version of DraftSight (which has no API), and not just the Pro version (which does). So far, only CorelCAD has this online presence, but another store will be soft-launched for DraftSight soon, with the official launch at SolidWorks World in January.
The third OEM area is surveying, in which Graebert's software is embedded in surveyor's instruments.
And then there is its professional services division, in which Graebert is contracted to do survey and other work using its SiteMaster software -- "eating our own dogfood is good for us," laughs Mr Graebert. This work is not trivial, for it involves projects like measuring all public buildings in Berlin and Hamburg (eight million square meters each). The city of Munich wanted the data captured in BIM, which is why Graebert updated SiteMaster to handle full 3D and IFCs.
About That DraftSight Bonanza
But DraftSight is the key account, above all. Graebert is involved in the co-development of the DraftSight API with Dassault Systemes; promoting Convert2DraftSight for porting LISP, VBA, and other APIs to DraftSight; offering custom development for DraftSight; and launching that app store for DraftSight. When desktop software has three million possible customers, you pay attention!
Mr Graebert did reveal some details of his agreement with Dassault Systemes. Dassault does the licensing and keeps any revenues they make. They do some programming, such as mouse gestures, which they shared with Graebert. Dassault focuses on marketing and support, as well as integration with their other software; Graebert focusses on the programming.
As of September 2012, there were more than three million downloads of DraftSight; by adding on 120,000 downloads a month, you can do the growth math. Now, it is easy for me to scoff at download numbers, but users are required to renew the DraftSight license annually, and so far 1.2 million have done so.
The regional split of DraftSight users is 33.5% in the Americas, 43.1% in Europe, and 18.1% for Asia, other Middle Eastern countries, and Africa. While the largest number of customers use ARES for MCAD, more than 50% of user are in other areas, such as architecture and construction.
Graebert Market for Draftsight
Not all plans work as planned. It was 1.5 years ago that Graebert told me they were close to launching an online app market for DraftSight. Called "Graebert Market for DraftSight," it would be the only source of apps for the free version of DraftSight, software that does not come with an API. This Web site is a way to make third-party apps available without needing to set up a reseller network
There was some sort of hiccough, for I noticed the site was "launching soon" month after month. Officially, it is delayed due to technological and organizational pieces missing, and now a soft launch is promised for in next few weeks with the official launch at SolidWorks 2013.
New Features in ARES 2013
For ARES 2013 (yes, they've adopted year numbering), some of the new functions are the following ones:
For the official list of enhancements, check out the PDF at http://www.graebert.com/templates/haase/pdf/2013/NF_ARES_2013.pdf.
SiteMaster is the software you've never heard of, probably. It is used by niche that goes around measuring and surveying areas. Millions of square feet, like all the rooms in all the buildings owned by a city: city hall, schools, community centres. The measurements are taken with a laser measuring devices, whose data is transmitted to the portable Windows CE (and soon Android) device wirelessly via Bluetooth. SiteMaster's user interface is optimized for operator's fingers dancing over the touch screen, controlling the received measurements.
For the new 2013 edition, it adds full 3D, although a 2D version is still available separately. More significantly, both the 2D and 3D editions create smart ADT [architectural desktop] objects (instead of dumb objects, as before), and can output drawings as IFC [industry foundation classes] files for compatibility with other BIM [building information modeling] programs, like Revit.
Graebert sees their system as an alternative to laser scanning renovations to capture and convert 3D point clouds; instead, with SiteMaster measurements are made directly into the 3D CAD program.
Porting to Portable Devices
Nobody did CAD on portable devices more Graebert, although the company did focus only on Windows CE and Mobile. Today, they still have active users on these machines; the company buys up the any CE hardware when it becomes available to support customers. Windows Embedded still used in survey-taking devices.
Today, however, the mobile market is all about Android and iOS -- "and then there is the rest." Grabert's plan is to bring a whole CAD solution to Android and iOS, and not just a file viewer. Autodesk's free AutoCAD WS disincentives independent companies from writing DWG viewers, Mr Graebert explained.
While Graebert would prefer to write for iPhone and iPad, they are focussed so far on Android, but with no product released yet, nor did they want to show me any work in progress. The reason for working with Android is because the operating system is more open than iOS, and so provides full access to crucial hardware, such as the WiFi and Bluetooth radios, and all file folders. Because Graebert's other business is data collection, iOS is the loser, because it has no official access to Bluetooth. (The only way to transmit data from an iPad is to go thru the headphone jack, Robert Graebert told me.)
Next in part 2: Q&A with Graebert and Graebert
[Disclosure: I write ebooks for Graebert on the subjects of ARES and CorelCAD. Also, they bought me lunch at a great little Greek restaurant in the center of Berlin.]
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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.