"I aim to make BricsCAD #1 in 3D by 2020." That's the gist of the outrageous-sounding claim made by the ceo ofBricsys, a small CAD software company headquartered in Belgium.Erik de Keyser's claim might make you want to choke on your morning coffee, given the lead long-established corporate giants like Dassault Systemes and Autodesk have in the development of 3D and associated technology -- like PLM systems, point cloud manipulation, or database storage of model parts -- along with the necessarily incessant marketing.
But Bricsys is no new company. It was founded in 1986 asBricsworks, then developed and sold to Bentley Systemsa 3D architectural design package now known asMicroStation TriForma. Since 2002, Bricsys has been working on theAutoCAD-compatible BricsCAD, initially based onIntelliCAD, but now completely rewritten with its own code.
In this article, I analyze the technology Bricsys is developing in its attempt to make BricsCAD software significant in the 3D market. (See figure 1.) In part I of this industry analysis, I examine the foundations laid by Bricsys; in part II, the structure the company is building atop the foundation. The article first appeared inDesign Engineeringmagazine and is reprinted with permission.
Figure 1 BricsCAD V16 showing its user interface while doing sheet metal design
DWG As Foundation
Every CAD vendor determines a niche and then builds its strength within the confine.Dassaulthas itsEnoviadatabase; Autodesk is pivoting to subscription-based cloud; Bentley Systems is all about infrastructure; andIntergraphon plant design.
The niche that de Keyser decided on isDWG. Now, this may seem like no niche as most CAD software reads and maybe writes drawings in DWG, a format that's been called "universal" by an Autodesk CEO. The Bricsys niche is that it storesallmodel data only in the DWG file -- whether 2D CAD, BIM, 3D MCAD, or geospatial. There are external support files of course, but all 2D and 3D model data can be kept in that ubiquitous DWG format, thanks to internal extensions designed by Autodesk to store any kind of data (extended entity data).
It turns out to be a niche, because few other CAD vendors rely on just DWG for storing models from vertical applications. (PTC and Bentley Systems take a similar container approach, but use their own formats, not DWG.) Not even Autodesk does this, which has a different file format for each of its MCAD programs, Inventor and Fusion; another format for its Revit BIM software; and so on. The result is that Autodesk's vertical software is file-incompatible with DWG, forcing Autodesk to go through years of incrementally improving its translators just to allow users to exchange data among its rather sizeable stable of CAD programs.
By employing the universal DWG file format as its universal container format, BricsCAD is accessible to existing DWG users, and the company does not spend unnecessary energy writing translators between vertical apps.
Extension by Translation
Not that Bricsys doesn't have a translation problem. But the problem is external to it and is distributed among its competitors. To be #1 in 3D, de Keyser recognized his software needed to read models from other MCAD systems, and so Bricsys licenses translators, which allows BricsCAD to imports assemblies, models, and drawings from Catia, Solidworks, Inventor, and so on.
BricsCAD Platinum with the extra-cost Communicator translation add-on handles assemblies (product structures), stitches non-watertight models, repairs broken models, and optionally simplifies incoming models. (AutoCAD cannot work with assemblies, because it lacks 3D constraints; it, however includes the MCAD translators for free.) For AEC and BIM users, BricsCAD imports and export models in IFC format at no extra cost.
With the IFC translator for BIM (see figure 2), and the MCAD translators, BricsCAD becomes likeSpaceClaimin importing 3D models, and then using its direct editing functions to modify them.
Figure 2 BricsCAD doing 3D BIM design
In part II: Building on the Foundation
Understanding the AutoCAD Work-alike Universe
Ever since a tiny software company from Bellingham, Washington namedSoftsourcefirst launchedVDraftin 1996, a universe of software companies have latched onto "The Dream."http://www.softsource.com
The Dream is that amongAutoCAD's millions of users, surely there must be a few thousands -- or even hundreds of thousands -- who want software that works a lot like AutoCAD, but is much, much more cost-effective. I call them "work-alikes." Work-alike is a polite term forclone, although there are no actual clones of AutoCAD around, legally speaking. That's because wheneverAutodeskcomes across a suspected clone, it launches a legal armada to shut it down, as it did last year when it found thatZwCAD+contained copied code.
I estimate today there are roughly thirty AutoCAD work-alikes on the market. Autodesk has its own work-alike with its lower-priced, lower-featuredAutoCAD LTsoftware. Work-alikes are by now well-versed in the legal steps they need to take to avoid stepping on Autodesk's toes. As the companies I mention here are un-sued by Autodesk, their software is safe for you to use.
To be considered an AutoCAD work-alike, programs have to offer the following functions:
Read and write DWG files natively
Use the same command names as AutoCAD, either natively or through aliases
Perform many of AutoCAD's 2D drawing, editing, and plotting functions
Include some 3D functionality
Provide customization and programming similar to AutoCAD's
IntelliCAD-Based.The workalike market began its boom in the years following 1998 when diagramming leaderVisiolaunchedIntelliCAD: a big company offered an AutoCAD workalike at 10% of the price of AutoCAD. Visio made such a big marketing splash that Autodesk felt compelled to react, thereby legitimizing the new competitor. Visio executives, however, didn't understand the CAD market well enough, and so failed to make a dent. To get out of it, Visio licensed the IntelliCAD source code to an independent organization,IntelliCAD Technical Consortium. And then the universe exploded. Anyone could become an ITC member, license IntelliCAD code, customize it a bit, and then resell it. Dozens of companies did so, with names like4M(Greece),Autodesys(USA),CADian(Korea), andprogeCAD(Italy).http://www.intellicad.org
ITC Break-aways.A second group of software firms started out by making their AutoCAD workalike software based on ITC, but then ended up completely rewriting their programs to differentiate themselves from other ITC members, and to develop their software at a pace faster than what the ITC was capable of. Some of these firms includeBricsys(Belgium) andGStarsoft(China).
Fully Independent.The third group of work-alikes began right from the start to independently write AutoCAD-compatible code. The companies includeIMSI/Design(USA) andGraebert(Germany). In fact, Graebert has itself become a kind of ITC, customizing its ARES CAD system to run on any viable operating system for companies such asCorel(Canada),Dassault Systemes(France),SKA(Brazil), andOnshape(USA). See figure 3.
Figure 3 Graebert's server-based DWG editor running in a Web browser as an Onshape client
The foundation for all work-alikes is another organization,Open Design Alliance. It does the grunt work of each year decoding the latest changes made by Autodesk to the DWG format, and then providing its 1,200 members with programming libraries that read, write, and edit AutoCAD drawing files. The APIs are available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS. (Autodesk provides a similar service through its RealDWG API, but is limited to Windows.)http://www.opendesign.com
And One More Thing...
Just because I've never heard of them doesn't mean they are new.Convergent Sciencewas founded in 1997 for CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software,Converge. It takes a difference approach, they tell me, "The Converge software differs from legacy CFD programmes as it fully couples and automates the mesh at runtime, significantly reducing the time taken to calculate flow." How significant? 10x faster, they are saying.
The software is used in automotive, motor sport, and industry to optimize engine design and emissions or performance, specifically in areas of combustion and spray.https://convergecfd.com
Letters to the Editor
Re: TurboCAD 2016 Pro and Platinum Go Wild on 3D
"Hold lines" isn't the only place TurboCAD has adopted internal ACIS terminology: "law" is the term that the ACIS APIs use for a custom user-defined parametric expression. I wish I could give you a link to the relevant documentation, but it seems Spatial has now locked down access to their documentation wiki.
I remember thinking it was a funny name back when I was doing ACIS programming in university! - Ian Mackenzie
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