When I first learned of Vention and visited the Web site, you might forgive me for thinking it is a new CAD software company. (See figure 1.) Turns out it's not; Vention are an industrial parts distributor, adding a software front-end to make the design of industrial equipment easier. That's the niche: providing the parts that make the machines that make parts.
Figure 1 Vention's CAD program was not ready at time of writing, and so this is a marketing image
Vention ceo Etienne Lacroix comes from consulting firm McKinsey, with management experience gained while at GE, and before that getting design experience with a contractor working with AirBus and Boeing designing landing gear fixtures for the A380 and 787 aircraft.
In speaking with designers of industrial equipment, he found that their pain points are in these areas:
Finding the industrial parts needed
Assessing the compatibility between parts
Importing 3D models into the desktop CAD
Managing multiple purchase orders from multiple suppliers, and then coordinating arrival times that need to be roughly simultaneous
So he decided to fix the problems by taking these steps:
Warehousing modular parts needed by the machine design niche
Validating compatibility between all parts
Providing a Web-based CAD program that embeds his parts library (see figure 1)
Storing all models in a single format, while allowing import and export
Packaging the parts ordered by designers into a single shipment
Vention (an abbreviation of "invention") began as a company last July, was in alpha at the time I interviewed Mr Lacroix in January, and launched as a public beta last week. Here is my transcript of our talk over Google Hangouts:
Q: Tell me what Vention is. A: Vention allows engineers to be hyperfast at designing and building custom industrial equipment. It’s a single environment where manufacturing engineers can design and then order their custom industrial equipment -- the machines that build machines. These machine do not exist off-the-shelf; they are always custom designed and built. It is a $36-billion market with 400,000 users.
Q: How does Vention work that's different from other CAD parts sites? A: The way things work now is that engineers go to an industrial distributor's website to find the parts they needed for a design. Then they try to figure out compatibly between those parts, and import them in their desktop-based CAD. Lastly, they have to design custom parts to be made by local machine shops. All these steps are time-intensive and costly.
Vention is providing a single environment to do all of that: start new product design session, plug parts into Web-based CAD -- I call it my "industrial grade LEGO kit." All the products we list are compatible with each other. Once the design is finished, engineers submit their order, and we send them their machine in a box the next day, ready for assembly with assembly instructions -- it's like assembling something you get from IKEA. I have to say that the most fun part for the engineers is assembling what they designed!
Q: You plan to have an online CAD system. Tell me how it is different from other Web-based CAD programs out there. A: Let me start by saying that we aren't a CAD company. We have a powerful CAD configurator, but we don’t intent to compete in the CAD space. Our Web-based CAD configurator operates at a high-level of abstraction. Other CAD systems -- like Solidworks, Creo, or Catia - are low-level CAD program designed to be very good at handling any kind of geometry, whether surfaces or solids.
Our program is higher level CAD, so lots of uncommon intelligent features can be incorporated. The software tells you the ways in which two parts can connect, it suggests the next best parts for your assembly, and it provides the cost in real time.
Q: How did you build your CAD system? A: It has just two parts. There is the Web-based rendering engine that shows the image, which was developed by one of our strategic partners. The other part is the constraint solver, which we built ourselves
Q: There are several constraint servers on the market, so why build your own? A: This is true, and they are amazing at handling any use case. But for our high-level CAD, a custom solution was needed. It enables the intelligent features I described earlier.
Q: I am guessing that someone has go through to find the connection points on all the parts you sell? A: The parts we use are metadata-rich, and we embed all the interface points in the model. In Creo it might take a dozen mouse clicks to bring two parts together, in Solidworks four or five clicks; we like to say that in Vention it’s “one part -- one click.” (See figure 2.)
Figure 2 Part being selected on the Vention Web site
Q: Do you have your own file format to define parts? A: Since we are a Web-based solution, the concept of file format does not really apply, but we are compatible with 20 import file formats and support export formats like STEP. This number will expand over time
Q: Can users bring in their own parts? A: Yes, but then they have to position them manually, using conventional part-mating functions.
Q: Can users convert their parts into your one-click parts? A: We are considering this as part of future release.
Q: Signing up to the site and using it is free, so how do you make money? A: We make no money from the software we provide. We make money from the parts sold to customers. We are an industrial distributor with a “sexy front-end.”
We also plan to compensate design authors through a crowd-sourced marketplace. Users will be able to start their designs from someone else's designs -- which can be shared privately or publicly -- and then earn royalties when another user buys the design
Q: Where you do you get your start-up funding? A: Our idea was funded in just three months, I'm proud to say. We are funded by Real Ventures venture capitalists in Canada, and Bolt from Boston. Prominent angel investors include Jon Stevenson (formerly with PTC and GrabCAD), and Rob Stevens, a former executive at GrabCAD.
Q: This is sounding to me that you are more like an Amazon than an Onshape. A: We are a hardware company. Our industry is never going to be able to compress machine designers’ pain points unless the hardware is integrated with software. All the problems I listed are external to the CAD system, and so design-to-build is 1.8x to 6.6x faster with cost savings between 7% and 80%, depending on how complex the assembly is.
We have our own warehouse operations where we package the boxes with the parts spec'd by users. A box might contain high-precision aluminum extrusions, assembly plates, caster wheels, other parts, all the nuts and bolts needed. We provide assembly instructions grouped by sub assemblies.
Q: How international is your operation? A: Our team is based in Montreal, Toronto, and Boston. We have warehouses in Canada and plan to open US warehouses in 2017.
Q: The Internet is global, and so could someone use your Web site to place an order from, say, Burundi? A: They could, but there would be custom fees payable, and shipping costs might become prohibitive. That's why warehouses need to be within 1-2 days of shipping time
Q: A lot of parts are made in China these days. A: We use a mix of parts made in US, Canada, Mexico, and China. Some firms have software architects; we have hardware architects who make sure that the "lego kit" is consistent, even when the parts come from different vendors.
Q: A lot of online stores offer free shipping for orders over $25 or $50. How do you handle for shipping? A: The customer pays for shipping, it is a line item on the invoice. We use UPS for our next-day delivery. Based on the biggest parts, 1.5m long, everything can fit into their ground trucks. We do not use big things like 40' containers.
Q: How do you keep the warehouses stocked for next-day delivery? A: Most distributors look at the history of sales to determine which parts sell faster and so need more stocked. Because I have a CAD platform, I can use the future to predict the future, and so not run out of parts. Our main value proposition is speed. Admittedly, not every use case makes sense with Vention. But we will be flawless in speed, because our system lets us better predict what will be needed. https://www.vention.io/
And One More Thing...
Onshape adds sheet metal design to its browserCAD, with a unique capability: designers see and work on sheet metal parts in folded and flat views at the same time, along with the the tabular view, like BOM. (See figure 3.)
Figure 3 Three views of sheet metal design (image source Onshape)
We're on Twitter at @upfrontezine with late-breaking CAD news and wry commentary throughout the day, such as....
upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine) Feb 18: Predicting the future is a lot like throwing dice: IDC: global IoT revenue by 2020= $7.065 trillion AT Kearney: IoT revenue by 2020 = $344B
upFront.eZine (@upFronteZine) Feb 18: Of the two IoT-by-2020 revenue numbers, which one do you think IoT providers will promote -- $7.065 trillion (yes) or $344 billion (no)?
Letters to the Editor
Re: Readers Respond to 'BIM Angst'
Large construction projects that are the poster children for successful BIM implementations always have a second feature that is rarely touted, especially by vendors, consultants, and techno-cheerleaders of all stripes.
That it is IPD, Integrated Project Delivery in which many subcontractors are required to regularly attend large design meetings, and frequently in which key subs are brought on much earlier in the project than in typical design-bid-build, well before the design is fully finalized. Often there are also risk-sharing agreements (more or less a sharing of efficiencies and of cost-of-errors).
No question that BIM can be a very powerful and useful tool, but typically architects cannot possibly have the broad and deep knowledge necessary to fully model the structure. Hence the participation of subs-with-knowledge is a component. - Leo Schlosberg, ceo Cary Concrete Products, USA
- - -
If a government or an investor prescribes BIM in its projects, then it is legitimate. However, it is not a direct constraint for entrepreneurs to have to use BIM. Every entrepreneur can and must decide for himself.
An active design of BIM requires that companies redesign their work processes. Previously, the builder stood in the center of a project. Then it was the architect, and today it is the BIM model. The architect, whether he wants it or not, now has to redesign his new role as "guardian of the BIM model".
BIM is not the tossing of IFC files. BIM is then a little more. It is always easier for people to complain about the absurdity of progress than to accept the new challenges. - Ulf-Günter Krause, business consultant AVACAD CONSULT, Germany
The editor replies: I don't think it is a matter of progress vs, challenges. There are significant problems with BIM, which we will not hear about from vendors, and so users end up discussing them.
Mr Krause responds: Actually, BIM is not the problem. The construction industry is the last major industry to implement the three-dimensional component-oriented design. Digitization is progressing and will not stop even before construction.
In the beginning unfortunately, often the sellers of the software made full-bodied promises. This is a pity, but it is so. It is not just the seller who is responsible but also the buyers. I can still remember how the architects have caressed about AutoCAD and about the manufacturers and sellers. Actually, it is nevertheless after 30 years the time, the active active the next digital revolution positively. In most cases, the problem always ended up in front of the computer.
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