The Business of CAD
Issue #806 | February 11, 2014
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In This Issue
1. Autodesk Completely Acquires Delcam
...and so becomes the newest licensee of Siemens PLM's Parasolid kernel
2. Why is TinkerCAD So Slow?
Infinite computing on the wrong side of infinity
3. Letters to the Editor
Our readers write
Autodesk Completely Acquires Delcam
On the day that Autodesk's acquisition of Delcam was made legal, executives of both companies held an invitation-only press conference. The deal was first announced last November, finalized last Thursday, and cost Autodesk $286 million using non-U.S.-based cash.
(US corporations leave their profits made in other countries overseas to avoid paying US corporate tax rates, which are among the highest in the world. Buying a non-USA company is a good way to use up the accumulated savings.)
Delcam went public in 1997 and today has 45,000 customers served by 700 employees in 30 offices around the world. The company has $80 million in annual revenues.
The following Q&A is paraphrased:
Ralph Grabowski: Did Delcam have any other bidders?
Answer: Autodesk's was the only approach that we received.
Grabowski: Autodesk has already purchased a CAM vendor; why buy more?
Answer: HSMworks is an integrated CAM tool. Delcam brings classic CAM, milling, and turning, along with experience in niches like footwear and healthcare [and a version integrated into SolidWorks].
Grabowski: What advantage does Delcam get from being acquired by Autodesk?
Answer: We get access to Autodesk technology, its platforms, its awareness of the market, its large audience, and its delivery on the cloud. We are keeping it as a wholly-owned subsidiary and running it independently in Birmingham, England. We plan no disruptions to existing customers and staff.
Al Dean: Any plan to put Delcam technology into Autodesk software, like machining operations Inventor?
Answer: We are looking at putting parts of it into Inventor.
Dean: What about PowerShape, Delcam's existing CAD system?
Answer: PowerShape has direct modeling technology that is interesting to Autodesk. [PowerShape uses the Parasolid kernel from Siemens PLM Software - Ed.]
Allen Byrens: Will Autodesk dealer channel handle Delcam products?
Answer: Delcam has its own channel, with strong support in local languages. It will partner with Autodesk's sales team, but we will keep Delcam people in their own sales offices because they know local markets and customers.
Byrens: Will [Delcam ceo] Clive's machine shop be used to train customers?
Answer: Yes. It has all kinds of advanced machining tools, such as lasers.
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Why is TinkerCAD So Slow?
Jeremy Sambuca (@jsambuca - Feb 4): @tinkercad is still acting slow, especially when grouping shapes. Need to improve speed during school hours. #impatientyoungdesigners
TinkerCAD is a Web-based 3D CAM program. I call it "CAM," because it is a simple CAD program designed to create models for 3D printing.
It runs on a kernel named Core, which was described in last week's upFront.eZine. Core (nee Gen6) was written from scratch by some ex-Googlers, and uses scripts to execute the results of commands entered by users. The architecture of Core uses parallel processing, allowing it to distribute script processing on clusters of server computers employing thousands of CPU cores; GPUs are not mentioned. (This is why Autodesk renamed the kernel from Gen6 to Core.) Autodesk says,
In practice, this means that Gen6 can perform computations which would take minutes or hours using other geometry kernels in just a few hundred milliseconds.
In practice, this is not the case. Launching TinkerCAD's editor in takes 15-20 seconds in FireFox or Chrome on Windows or OS X, the four platforms supported officially.
The editor saves each change automatically, but I've timed saves ranging from 5 to 25 seconds. Even undos result in "saves" that last 10 to 20 seconds and longer.
The time to make a save seems unrelated to operation complexity. For instance, undoing a group (equivalent to undoing a Boolean Union) took 10 seconds, but undoing a simple move took 20. This slow speed puzzles, for Autodesk documents that Gen6-Core keeps a cache on the local machine.
The scene is not refreshed until the end of the save. In the case of an undo operation, users might be lead into thinking the operation did not work, causing them to click the Undo button again and again, backing up the system. In some cases, the editor reports on the backlog:
Fortunately, users can keep working on unaffected parts of the model during save operations. Perhaps this is due to the cache.
The documentation for Core states it was designed to return results many times faster than a desktop computer. But on its blog, staff counter-explain that "Tinkercad wasn't originally built to bear such an awesome spike in use." Its speed appears unable to compensate for problems in scaling.
Autodesk could add geographically dispersed servers in to overcome the speed problems from scaling and latency, but this enhancement would cost too much for software whose primary customers pay nothing. Those #impatientyoungdesigners will have to keep waiting.
Autodesk is fond of boasting that its pivot to the cloud gives its customers access to "infinite computing," but in TinkerCAD we see that in practice "infinity" remains a theoretical construct.
PS: For Nathan Stevens (@nathan_stevens) who says, "Trying to design a bridge using @tinkercad Have the basic design done. Wish I had a trim feature," the workaround is to shape an object appropriately, apply the 'Hole' color, and then group it with the objects that need trimming.
And One More Thing...
If you like history like I do, then you'll want to dive into Jon Peddie's "The History of Visual Magic in Computers" (Springer: 2013, 438 pages). Jon is one of our industry's pioneers, having been in the biz longer than even me. While my focus has wandered over the years, he kept as his speciality the graphics board industry.
He writes about the foundations of 3D graphics -- the mathematic behind it -- and then goes on to explain how digital graphics fool our analog brains into seeing 3D, right through to virtual reality. The book is available in paper and electrons from http://www.amazon.com/The-History-Visual-Magic-Computers/dp/1447149319/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391451793&sr=8-1&keywords=The+History+of+Visual+Magic+in+Computers
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Letters to the Editor
"You should read this, specially two articles dated February, 7th: http://solidedging.wordpress.com."
The editor replies: "Solid Edge does have a marketing problem. I know that some folks inside Siemens are trying hard, but their marketing efforts are not being noticed by the industry, and I don't know why."
"Did we miss an announcement with this product or did you get a scoop? http://www.upfrontezine.com/current.htm#a. I can't find it on any other source."
- R. T.
The editor replies: 'It's a scoop in that no one has ever written about it, even though Core is public knowledge. As I wrote in my article, Autodesk never trumpeted it."
"I remember almost all that solids history at Autodesk, reading about each one as they changed the object model. Only recently, within the past two years however, have I actually tried my hand at any solid modeling. Nice that I skipped most of the most frustrating earlier version issues. I can imagine how difficult editing solids was a few short years ago."
- R. P.
The editor replies: "I was at CADalyst magazine [in the late 1980s] when The Engineer Works came out, and our senior editor David Cohn volunteered to test it. I recall him installing SCO Xenix on a PC (I think a dual boot with DOS was possible), and then trying to figure out how to use the solid modeler. It had a very crude UI, probably another reason TEW and AutoSolid were never popular -- in addition to the high cost and odd OS requirement."
Mr R.P. replies: "I remember the names because I read those reviews! Man, that's getting to be a while ago. "
"Awesome edition! I really enjoyed this one. Thank you!"
- David Stein
"You mentioned that '3DExperience Customer Forum is the name of [Dassault's] primary conference'. Did you know that the COE Annual Conference and Technifair is in April this year? COE is the world's only independant, international, professional organization uniting the users of Dassault Systemes software solutions.
"We have been around for 30 years and hold at least one annual conference every year. We focus on the 3D Authoring tools such as CATIA and DELMIA, but we include content on ENOVIA, SIMULIA, and 3DVIA as well. We are a user-based organization, and as such we concentrate on how to actually use the tools. Our conference title this year is "Driving the Future." Find out more at www.coe.org."
- Jim Strawn, Engineer Specialist Sr.
COE Board of Directors
The editor replies: "I knew of COE, but thought it was only about Catia. Thanks for letting me and my readers know."
Mr Strawn responds: "I know it gets confusing since we used to be CATIA Operator's Exchange. We changed the name to COE several years ago when it became apparent that we couldn't do CATIA without the other tools. This year, our closing session is on Aeropuertos Argentina 2000, which was designed using the DS suite of tools."
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