We've seen a number of CAD programs break out of the mold set by the first and second generations of mobileCAD apps, which largely are viewers with maybe some redlining capabilities. The first generation consisted of those that ran on the PalmPilot and Windows CE devices; the second generation are the more powerful ones, like ARES Touch and TurboSite, that do more and run on Android and iOS.
In the last two years we have seen real progress. Now mobileCAD systems assist us through feature-recognition and automatic constraints. I call this the 3rd generation of mobilCAD. When we draw something roughly straight, today's 3rd gen apps turn it into a line; draw a loop, and it becomes a circle. These advanced functions became available first in ArcSite from Arctuition, followed by CatchBook from Siemens PLM -- albeit in 2D only.
But now there's a new kid on the block. Shapr3D is taking shape recognition and constraints to 3D. As founder Istvan Csanady told me he wants tablets to replace paper. But this is not his #1 goal; rather, he wants Shapr3D to be a 3D modeling app that does not get in the way of early design, perhaps eventually doing 50-70% of the design. Along the way, he wants to “democratize 3D modeling,” as 20-30% of paying customers already are hobbyists.
User interface of Shapr3D
I interviewed Mr Csanady over Skype from his office in Budapest.
Q: Shapr3D runs only on the iPad Pro. Why tie your app to this piece of hardware? A: The iPad Pro is 3x - 4x more powerful than regular iPads, and it supports Apple pencil. We plan to move the software to other platforms.
Q: By "other platforms," do you mean Android tablets? A: No, the hardware is crappy, and Android users are not willing to spend money on apps. Our next platform will be Microsoft Surface, because Windows is the primary platform for engineering.
Q: Surely you are not limiting it to the Surface; any Windows computer with touch would do? A: Oh yes, like the Lenovo Yoga -- as long as it has multiple-touch points and uses a stylus.
Q: Is a stylus required for Shapr3D? A: Yes, for precision. We tried touch-only, but it did not work out as the finger is not the greatest pointing device, and it covers content. The stylus gives us much more freedom for working and interaction. We move around 3D space with our fingers, but everything else with the stylus.
Shapr3D sketches and extrudes with the stylus. To create a chamfer or fillet, I drag an edge and the direction I drag determines fillet [drag away] or chamfer [drag towards me]. We can set exact dimensions through a floating keypad. It also does free-form surfaces.
Many design tasks can be done without using any commands. But once you get into Booleans, shelling, lofting -- these are done through commands. [The UI has the right hand working the sylus, while the left hand taps command icons.]
Some of the 3D functions available in Shapr3D
Q: Are buttons used on the stylus? A: No buttons are used, as the Apple stylus has none. But we use the pressure sensitivity. For example, Shapr3D knows I am drawing a spline when I press down the stylus hard every so often; this action indicates control points.
Q: Could it be that when you require expensive hardware to run your app [like iPad Pro and Surface], you get the kind of customer you are looking for? A: 10% - 20% of our new customers bought an iPad Pro just to run Shapr3D!
Q: How much RAM does an iPad Pro give you? A: It has 4GB RAM, which is plenty. Shapr3D runs entirely on the iPad pro, no cloud assist. We did really good designs with CAD a decade ago on desktop computers that had less RAM than this, so it should still be possible today.
Q: How did you arrive at Shapr3D? A: Our basic idea is to reinvent 3D modeling from the ground up for PC-substitute devices.
Q: What is your background? A: I am a software engineer who saw relatives struggling with 3D in their fields, such as architecture and medical device designs. I was with another startup that did 3D modeling, and so have been working on simplifying 3D modeling for ten years.
Q: Who else is on your team? A: We are super lean, we have just seven employees, four are programmers. With $180 thousand in funding, we put together the program in just five months. We started the company in October 2015, and then launched the software a year ago.
We try to avoid hiring anyone who has experience in 3D CAD, because we don't want Solidworks on an iPad. That's because you cannot put an existing UX [user experience] from an existing CAD program onto new form factors. These new kind of devices require completely new and different user interfaces.
Q: The UI is one thing; where does code come from? A: Shapr3D is based on Open Cascade, but I hope to switch to another kernel. We'd like to use ParaSolid, but I am waiting on the iOS version.
Q: How do constraints work? A: Tap on the sketch to enter constraints mode. Remove constraints by tapping the little x.
Q: Do you have 3D constraints? A: Not yet but we are working on that. We are also working on adding feature history. We release new features every 2-3 weeks.
Q: What about PDF exports, printing? Do you see a need for printing? A: We will add DXF in the next few weeks; PDF is on the road map. Right now we export in STL, STEP, and IGES.
As for printing, there are still users who need printing, but we think it is less important. Tablets will replace paper -- mostly, not entirely. We see users who use Shapr3D instead of sketching with paper. Everyone has their own preferences; those who love their paper, who will use paper forever, but there are others who hate paper.
Q: How many users does your software have? A: I won't say, but the number is growing 10% a month -- without much marketing. The user base is very diverse, such as jewelry designers, toy makers, medical engineers, and industrial designers. We had a user import a model designed by others from Solidworks into Shapr3d, because he finds it easier to use. Even graphics designers use it, who would otherwise not use CAD.
Q: Do you want a CAD company to buy you out? A: There is an opportunity to be acquired, but that is not our goal. We are focusing on building a great company, not on getting acquired, and so are looking for funding. Our demo video has been viewed 450 thousand times on YouTube! [See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmAjvfNL9mA] and shared 40 million times.
Shapr3D is available through Apple's online app store for iPad Pro tablets only. The basic version is free, with the full version costing US$99/year, or $20/month.
And One More Thing...
Dream T&S last month released PointShape Inspector, their latest 3D scan and CAD data inspection software, based on 12 years experience. This mechanical 3D scan data inspector imports most of the major CAD formats to inspect deviations and make measurements:
Best Fit scan to CAD
CAD to mesh
PDF report creation
The first version of PointShape was an add-on for MicroStation and then for AutoCAD. PointShape Tunnel Surveying compares CAD and tunnel scan data. PointShape Surveyor compares and verifies 3D CAD data with 3D scan data from civil surveying.
PointShape Inspector is now available for download and trial from http://www.pointshape.com, and then click on a quadrant to access the software.
Even More News
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Letters to the Editor
Re: What CIMdata Says About the Cloud
Once again, you remind me how relevant and important your newsletter is. The article on cloud services and BIM/AEC was spot on. Thank you! - David Stein
Re: Notable Quotable
I very much agree with your "Notable Quotable" quoting Bob Lutz about technology in cars.
Two consecutive items on TV the other night caught my eye. The first news item was about the police cracking down on distracted driving (cell phones, tweeting, setting the GPS, playing with the sound system, etc). This was followed immediately by a car ad touting the "bigger, better, more" features of their entertainment screen system.
Some safety statistics a few months back indicated that traffic fatalities by impaired drivers were down over 65% due to education and enforcement. The bad news was that total traffic fatalities were about the same; distracted driving is making up the difference.
I hate it when a car is smarter than me. Okay, some would say that's not hard to do. Anyway, my new car won't let me set the cruise control to a speed higher than the legal speed limit. The problem is that the cruise control gets its data from the built-in GPS map, but a local stretch of highway has gone through extensive revisions recently and the posted limit has been raised. - Bill Fane Canada
The editor replies: I know what you mean. A few years back, I had to rent cars, twice, both times ended up with a Ford. Even to just change the temperature I needed to first navigate through a menu on a touch screen, and then tap the + or - buttons repeatedly to make changes in 0.5-degree increments. This is legal to do while operating a motor vehicle, apparently.
Mr Fane responds: I had forgotten about temperature controls. The Hyundai we rented in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago was like that. On the other hand, our new Audi has a simple rotary knob, one for each seat. It's still digital, though; rotating the knob changes the digital display in half-degree increments.
Re: Speaking of Favorite CAD software
I'm pleased to know that VersaCAD is still around. I've always loved their UI and wish more developers would understand it's speed and elegance. - David William Edwards Dave Edwards Consulting, USA
The editor replies: In the first article I read on desktop CAD (PC World magazine, mid-1980s), VersaCAD was thought to be better than AutoCAD. Archway Systems now concentrates on providing sales and training of Bentley Systems software.
Mr Edwards responds: I did some fonts for them long ago. For pure speed of drafting, VersaCAD was always faster. But they just couldn't compete in a DWG-centric world.
Re: Autodesk Subscriptions
Well, it's here: Autodesk maintenance is going away. Greed has kicked in. Get ready to pay 40% more to rent your software. It's the price of monopoly. - Frank E (via WorldCAD Access)
I have no desire to get continually ripped off by Autodesk. Have to find an alternative as I run a small 3-man company. - David S
As a long-term AutoCAD LT 2008 user, I wanted to update and get two more seats. I had realized that Autodesk stopped the buying [buy a permanent] model but did not think it would be so definitive. Since I could not afford to buy the licenses, and am not willing to rent from now on, I started investigating alternatives. After trying some Intellicad derivatives, I found that Progecad opens my recent AutoCAD files almost perfectly, and [the UI] does not feel bad. Even if there is a little thing here and there, which I had in AutoCAD also. I think it will work. Greetings from almost-spring in Austria! - Martin H
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