the business of cad
Issue #782 | July 2, 2013
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In This Issue
1. Reporting from the Second Solid Edge User Conference
2. First Firefox phones launch on Dominion Day
- Should CAD Vendors Target Firefox OS?
3. Out of the Inbox, and the other other regular columns.
Reporting from the Second Solid Edge User Conference
Some refer to Solid Edge as the red-headed stepchild. I had never gone to one of the Siemens PLM Connection conferences, but I'm told that there was a distinct class structure: the NXers in black suits, the Solid Edgers in black t-shirts. With an attendance ratio of something like 100 to 1, it became clear an all-in-one conference just wasn't working on the Solid Edge side of things.
And so last year Solid Edgers got their own conference. This year was the second annual, and the attendance doubled to a little over 500. Siemens PLM marketing courted us in the CAD media to attend, and I went, because I wanted to hear first-hand about the next release of Solid Edge, ST6.
"ST6" is an abbreviation for the sixth release with Synchronous Technology, not the sixth release of the software since its 1995 founding. SynchTech is that technology developed by Siemens PLM that lets direct modeling and history modeling to coexist. (They call history "ordered" modeling.)
At last week's Solid Edge University 2013 (see figure 1), the company claimed the new release has 1,300 enhancements, although the full list was not offered to us. Nevertheless, there were two enhancements that alone would make the other 1,298 superfluous: surface modeling and integrated CAM. (See http://www.plm.automation.siemens.com/en_us/products/velocity/solidedge/st6/index.shtml.)
Figure 1: Inside the conference center in Covington, Kentucky
By adding ST-based surface modeling, Siemens PLM is targeting industrial designers as a new customer category, as it now handles G2 curves. ID types like the swoopy curves afforded by the subjective shaping of surfaces through push and pull editing.
With partner Geometric Software, Siemens PLM integrated CAMworks into Solid Edge. CAM users I spoke with at the conference were really excited after working with the beta, because switching between CAD model and CAM tool path is now just a click away: update the CAD model, and the tool path updates (but not the reverse). All CAM data is stored in the Solid Edge design file.
Name change: Solid Edge Insight XT vaulting and collaboration software is renamed "Solid Edge SP," where SP is short for SharePoint (as in Microsoft SharePoint). Other take-aways: no cloud version of Solid Edge, ever; SoldWorks files are now imported in bulk with intelligence; goal seeking is now in 3D; sheet metal can be placed on ordered parts; and the software will ship annually every July.
(Solid Edge was developed in the late 1990s by Intergraph as part of its new-technology Jupiter program, then sold to UGS, which subsequently was bought by a venture capital company, and then sold to Siemens PLM. While all employees of the mother Siemens AG corporation can use Solid Edge free, competitor CAD programs continue to be used inside Siemens due to project stickiness.)
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
How big is Solid Edge. How many Solid Edge users are there? Siemens PLM refuses to divulge numbers, other than a 25% growth on a blank Y axis. It states, repeatedly, it is a tiny division of a large unit of a huge corporation, and so they can't split out results. If they won't say, then we relegated to guessing. There are indicators that point to a market share smaller than Inventor, perhaps much smaller.
Throughout the keynotes, one competitor was targeted most frequently, even if obliquely: SolidWorks. SolidWorks used to boast that most of its new customers came from AutoCAD; now Siemens is returning the favor, capitalizing on Dassault's seriously bungled effort(s) at adding direct modeling to SolidWorks.
What all this means is that Siemens PLM is taking Solid Edge serious, finally, after several years of what some have called "near neglect." Proven technology is in-place; the users have their own conference; third-party developers have little competition among one another; and a new set of targets is locked: industrial designers, SolidWorks users, and CAM shops.
Siemens landed former SolidWorks author and independent-minded blogger Matt Lombard as a Solid Edge convert (and now as an employee), and hopes many will follow. Now all they need to do is get rid of their bland gray color scheme for something that looks as exciting as their future.
For another view of Solid Edge ST6, see "Solid Edge Wants to Be the Best MCAD Program, That's All" by Roopinder Tara at CADdigest.com: http://www.caddigest.com/exclusive/solid_edge/062813_solid_edge_wants_to_be_the_best_mcad_program.htm
[Disclosure: Siemens PLM provided me with flight, hotel, ground transportation, and most meals.]
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First Firefox phones launch on Dominion Day
Mozilla announced today that the first consumer phones were available (in Spain) running Firefox OS. It is (yet another) competitor to the Android-iOS duopoly in smartphone operating systems, following others like WebOS, Blackberry, MeeGo (Intel-promoted, Linux-based combo of Maemo and Moblin), and whatever Microsoft is currently calling its smartphone OS.
Mozilla intends for Firefox OS to be different, like this: (1) all apps are written in HTML5, with extensions available to access the phone's hardware and to link to more powerful code; and (2) the (largely) low-end phones are marketed at low income parts of the world.
A couple of weeks ago, after a month of trying, I snared one of the rare Geeksphone smartphones meant for Firefox OS developers. The developer-preview Peak phone (e149.00) has higher specs than the consumer models released today, it being much like a mid-range Android. I got one, because I like to try out new technology, and see for myself whether it has a future.
The phone's interface is very similar to that of Android, but it runs the Firefox browser full screen as the user interface, as well as making the Firefox browser available as an app. There are two types of "apps":
The phone has one iPhone-like hardware button: short press to get to home screen, long press to access all running apps, Home+power for screen grabs. I really miss a hardware Back button.
Should CAD Vendors Target Firefox OS?
If the chief technical officers at CAD companies are wondering if they should bother targeting Firefox OS, they don't need to; they probably already do. Just about any Web page "runs" on this phone. (There is, however, no support for Flash, and never will be.)
For instance, I accessed TeamPlatform's portal with my FireFox phone. (See figure 2.) I could review and update projects, view MCAD files, and so on. AutoCAD WS (aka 360 Web) does not work, because it requires Flash. Here are the ones I tested:
Figure 2: (left) TeamPlatform displaying 2D shaded drawings on Firefox OS smartphone; (right) JSON interactively displays 3D model on TFTWeb
Here, however, is the problem for CAD vendors: they might be ready for Firefox OS, but Firefox OS is not ready for consumers. I was surprised to hear of today's launch, because much of the OS and some its built-in apps are not ready for picky users. There are a lot of rough edges that need to be smoothed before the fox can emerge from its hole.
PS: Dominion Day is the old name for Canada Day, which is July 1.
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Out of the Inbox
At the end of first year engineering, I had to take two weeks of surveying. Apologies to the surveyor folks, but I found it dead boring, as it was all about getting triangles to triangulate. Later, as an engineer, I filled in as a surveyor's helper for an entire unpleasant day, holding the rod: "Move it a red **** hair left, move it a blond **** hair right," the surveyor yelled at me. At least, the sun shone.
Nevertheless, I find the surveyor's hardware fascinating, especially the old, pre-electronics gear with which all of North and South America were mapped. Today, however, we find Hexagon Metrology releasing Leica Absolute Tracker that does full-guided 3D measurements, with IR remote control, level to gravity, hot-swap 8-hour battery, and built-in WiFi. As for the "Tracker" part of the name, the AT402 finds and locks onto moving reflectors automatically, using a field of view of one square meter at 5m. Photo of the shockingly slim device here: https://www.hexagonmetrology.us/news-and-events/press-releases/803-hexagon-metrology-releases-leica-absolute-tracker-at402
The Web site has a truly dreadful design, but the KeyWild CAD Library offers a sets of 2,000 free blocks in DWG format, mostly of bolts, but also miscellany like rulers and cartridges of the rifle kind. http://www.keywild.com/cad_library/index.htm
Rakesh Rao writes that he has a promotion going on, in which is GeoTools-CADPower add-on for BricsCAD and AutoCAD is now $99. There's a lot of useful utilities packed in them.
TFTLabs supports Intergraph's .vue 3D visualization data in TFTWeb, TFTPad, and TFT4iT. This'll be of interest to those in the plant design, oil, gas, and energy sectors that use Intergraph's plant software. http://tftlabs.com
We weren't impressed by Haswell, so how does a desktop workstation maker market it? BOXX overclocks it at 4.3GHz in a compact chassis and a 3-year warranty for under $3000. See the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME at http://www.boxxtech.com/Products/3dboxx-4150-xtreme
GrabCAD is busy, the same week announcing partnerships with (a) Siemens PLM and (b) Autodesk. In the case of Autodesk, GrabCAD users can edit their public library models and private workbench models in 2D-only AutoCAD 360 and 3D-enabled Fusion 360; the later can also directly publish to GrabCAD, which says it now has 700,000 users. Solid Edge has the publish function, but not the edit one. http://grabcad.com/toolbox?utm_campaign=workbench&utm_content=toolbox_button
It is little known that Bricsys makes apps for CAD programs other than its own BricsCAD. RhinoWorks 3 ($595; upgrade $175) brings constraints-based parametric design software that is normally a freeform modeler, Rhino 5 from Robert McNeel & Associates. http://www.bricsys.com/common/applications/application.jsp?app=495&apploc=803
And finally, we learn from Randall Newton's Graphic Speak blog that Microsoft will add direct support for 3D printers in Windows 8.1 through an API available to developers. http://gfxspeak.com/2013/06/28/windows-8-update-will-add-3d-printing-support
On the Blog
Here are items that appeared recently on our WorldCAD Access blog at http://worldcadaccess.typepad.com:
Letters to the Editor
Re: Do CAD vendors contribute to PRISM?
"Hmmmm. Today when I navigated to the Autodesk website, my browser inquired 'Would you like to share your location with Autodesk?'."
- David Kozina, comment on WorldCAD Access blog
Re: What BIM Can't Do
"I read the same 'Der Spiegel' article and I am following these various stories in Germany, as well. Very interesting. Seems a holistic information lifecycle and integrated project management approach is missing. I was, however, about to throw the magazine in the corner, and refused to keep reading because the star architects seem so relaxed and avoided any blame of their own.
"I truly believe that good project planning, a clear governance model tied with BIM, can help mitigate a lot of the risk. Other elements, especially in Germany, can come as a surprise, but shouldn't result in these dramatic cost and schedule overruns -- or be an excuse for not finding the light switch!"
- Rolf Gibbels, global power generation solution leader
"I would leave the projects incomplete as monuments to man's lack of thought, even if weeds were to eventually overrun the sites. It seems to me that we haven't learned from the past. If I have this correct, there is an unfinished temple in Asia Minor spanning, I believe, six centuries of endeavor.
"The great value of the incomplete temple is that it does provide a record of styles and methods of construction of the times. I believe Denver airport had teething problems with regard to luggage distribution costing a few million per day for a year or so.
"Anyway what is new? The Titanic would have gone down even with an inner hull, and styrofoam is quite a lethal projectile hurled at speed. Forgiveness is divine, but money is not."
- Edward Hearn
The editor replies: "Leaving the projects as incomplete monuments is a thought, especially the new airport unloved by Berliners."
Re: What Marketing Gives, Engineering Takes
"I found your bit about the Haswell processors interesting. That 'Haswell shows that Intel no longer cares about desktop users' is even more true since Intel has announced that they are getting out of the non-server motherboard market."
- Dave Schaller
"Even with the highest performing Haswell graphics, Intel is more than a factor ten behind AMD's 7990 in floating-point performance. On mobile computers, it's a different story: it is much closer to state of the art and also energy efficient. "
- Henrik Vallgren
The editor replies: "I wonder if this is why software companies like Autodesk, after getting frustrated with Intel's failure to make ever faster CPUs (Moore's law broke down back in 2000), saw the cloud as the way to break the bottleneck and so run software faster."
Mr Vallgren responds: "While Moore's law broke down with regards to speed, it continues to be valid for transistor count. The question is: what should Intel do with them? Five years ago, there was a rumor about an Intel CPU with 70 cores; an absolute monster for parallel software, a disaster for single core software. Instead, Intel is moving towards heterogeneous cores: a few fast complex x86 cores and plenty of simpler cores in the form of graphic cores. As developers, we have to adjust but we have an unparalleled opportunity to write faster software. But how could AutoCAD run faster in the cloud? Water cooled and overclocked CPUs, quad channel memory using intels 2011 socket, RAM-cached SSDs?"
The editor replies: "I think they do it through massively parallel computing systems, such as nVidia's GRID. It is already handling some FEA software in the cloud. Portions of AutoCAD would be rewritten to run on the nVidia hardware, as is the case with Fusion 360."
"Apple has talked up HTML5, but it doesn't offer the hardware access developers need to actually build HTML5 apps."
- Christian Hellmann, developer evangelist, Mozilla
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Entire contents copyright 2013 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. 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.