Spatial is best known for ACIS, the oldest of all 3D geometric kernels still in common use. Many of Autodesk 3D products, for example, are based on an offshoot of ACIS. In 2000, Spatial was acquired by Dassault Systemes, and as a result acquired in recent years a new role: being the distributor of technology developed by Dassault Systemes.
Figure 1 Attendees at the annual 3D Insider's Forum, Munich (All photographs Ralph Grabowski)
When we speak of Dassault technology, we mean CGM, the geometric kernel used by its Catia modeling software and other products. (CGM is short for "convergence geometric modeler.") Spatial offers the following software to CAD and CAM vendors, in addition to ACIS:
CGM Core Modeler kernel
CDS constraint solver
CGM HLR hidden-line removal add-on
3D InterOp translator
CGM Polyhedra non-precise modeler (new)
HOOPS visualization (licensed from Techsoft 3D)
Plus other add-ons, like deformable modeling, advanced covering (n-sided surfaces), defeaturing, and 3D meshing of surfaces and volumes
Because ACIS and CGM are very different from each other, Spatial has a bit of a job to get CGM technology working with ACIS. So far, they have ported the following CGM modules to ACIS:
HLR (due to replace PHL by 2017)
CGM Polyhedra is only currently available for 3D ACIS Modeler, not CGM.
What's New from Spatial
3D Insider's Forum is Spatial's annual customer event, whose location alternates each year between USA and Europe. This year, it was held in Munich, Germany. Here we get to learn where Spatial is heading with it software components.
For this year, Spatial is improving ACIS by adding multi-threading to stitching, making it 10x faster. In model checking, ACIS now reports duplicated edges and overlapping faces; in both cases, a tolerance can be specified. Offset operations are made more powerful by completing their work, reporting on failed offsets.
While we learned about Spatial's plans for future releases of ACIS, I cannot report on them, because they are confidential.
The big news was Spatial's foray into non-precise modeling, following 17 years of precise modeling. Polyhedra is the name of the technology brought over from Dassault, and now made available as an add-on to ACIS and CGM. More about Polyhedra in the Q&A that follows.
The other item new at the 3D Insider Forum was the switch at the top of the company. Jean-Marc Guillard was leaving after 5 years, returning to his home country of France. Replacing him is the company's vp of marketing and business development, Linda Lokey. Her ambition for Spatial's customers is to "make building 3D applications as easy as building Legos."
While in Munich, I had the opportunity to interview Spatial vp of R&D Vivekan Iyengar and product manager of modeling Brian Rhodes. (See figure 2.)
Figure 2 Spatial Sr R&D Manager Sanjeev Padmanabhan presenting at 3D Insider's Forum
Ralph Grabowski: Tell me how you work with Dassault. How do you decide which technology to adopt from their 3DExperience suite?
Spatial: 3DExperience has a suite of technology inside. We look inside it, and see which ones are useful for our customers. We take the base technology from them, and then apply it to additive-separative technology. It is an a la carte approach: we take the pieces that have value to our customers.
We got from them the polyhedral component, and then bundled it to make it hybrid [non-precise and precise modeling offered in one kernel]. Others in the industry have polyhedral modeling, but we are the first to bundle it this way.
Our job is to provide both precise and non-precise modeling in the kernel so that our customers can use them.
Grabowski: Why is the new technology you announced today described as "polyhedral"? Spatial: We have been helping people creating precise models. Our software turns exact digital models into exact physical products. But there is another version, the existing model, which is physical. Our world does not live in exact models, as so our Polyhedral software takes non-exact physical products into digital format. [Polyhedral is a plural of polyhedron.]
If we want to be a 3D company, then we have to do everything that is 3D, including handling physical models. Usually the object is scanned, converted to a polyhedral triangulated mesh, and then worked on in a 3D CAD modeler as if it were a regular ACIS model.
For instance, you can slice the model in half, add conformal cooling channels, create the mold, and then slice the model to send it to a 3D printer, if need be. (See figure 3.) Or model a removed sternum, replacing it with a 3D printed one.
Figure 3 Left to right: Scanned polyhedral model split in two, conformal cooling channels added, mold created (Image source Spatial)
One of the pieces of input that is very important is healing. The scan and the resulting STL data are usually quite imperfect. We did a lot of work on making sure we could fill slivers and gaps.
I firmly believe that the world is moving towards combing additive and subtractive manufacturing. We have a very big subtractive manufacturing machine maker already adopting Polyhedral, and we only announced it in September . This week [at 3D Insider's Forum] was our first formal introduction to customers, we are seeing strong interest from the customers here.
We have two forms of Polyhedra: one, is for users who want a one-stop solution; the other is where everything is configurable by users, who are shown a list of all the instances.
I would like to add that historically we have done a very good job combining our 3D Interop [translator] with ACIS. We want to do the same with hybrid [precise + non-precise] modeling. We want to support all polyhedral formats.
Grabowski: How do you see hybrid modeling working with BIM? Spatial: All existing buildings are scanned with polyhedral output, and then brought into CAD systems. An important aspect with large structures is decimation. When we scan an existing building, we get a massive amount of data. So the decimation allows users to choose the level of data to work with. This decreases the file size, which makes it easier to share.
Grabowski: What about running ACIS and other products on tablets? I suspect their CPUs not optimized to do solid modeling operations onboard. Spatial: We are interested in it; we have proof of concepts going on. ACIS and CGM work very well on servers.
We are trying to determine what is the best blend of what operates on the tablet, and what operates on the server. Complex geometric operations might best be performed on the remote server, and so we are working on cloud-tablet integration. There is no point making the tablet work harder than it has to.
We are looking at allowing our customers to run our software on Windows or Linux servers, to look at displaying the model in an HTML5 browser. We will see what is practical in a couple of years on a smartphone.
Grabowski: What about the ECAD [electrical CAD] market? Spatial: We have not looked at ECAD formats, we are still primarily in the mechanical space.
Grabowski: 3D Interop is your second biggest selling software. Has the translation problem been solved? Spatial: No, not all. The biggest job of a translation is not translation; the goal has to be data reuse [which involves further translation]. Downstream engineering applications have to be able to reuse CAD data. Now we are discussing process automation: geometry along with all metadata, like PMI [product manufacturing information]. We want to be able to import all data in BOMs and in user-defined attributes.
Piping is one new example of metadata support. We now support all data from process and plant layout models.
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Q&A with boths CEOs of Dassault Spatial
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