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Ralph Grabowski's Report on the Business of Computer-Aided Design


Issue #833  >  September 30, 2014


From the editor: I will be in Europe for the next four weeks, part of the time attending the Graebert Annual Meeting in Berlin and the Bricsys Internatioanl Conference in Barcelona. This trip puts upFront.eZine on haiatis until October 28. See you then!


During this time, you can keep track of the conferences and other CAD goings-on through my WorldCAD Access blog and @upfrontezine Twitter stream. To keep everyone tied over until the end of October, this issue offers you two feature articles.



The Final Stage of the Revolution: Commoditization of 3D

Guest editorial by Jess Davis


In issue #831, upFront.eZine quoted Dan Staples: "I think right now there is a lot of what I call 'CAD Fashion' going on. Shiny-new-objects kind of development, where the honest truth is that users just want to do their engineering tasks more effectively."Yup. He's right. What we want is effective tools for a low price. What the CAD world needs is a new business model.


The existing business model was created in a world in which the CAD industry had to be created from scratch. It took lots and lots of manpower to create the early generations of software; it was new and innovative, and revolutionized the way we did engineering and design.


But the revolution is over now. The difficult slog (to convince management that better engineering tools will create better products faster) was successful. Nobody questions that anymore. If you design stuff, you have to have 3D modeling software; today, just about any MCAD package does an adequate job. (Good designers and engineers to design products are still needed, naturally.) But there's no differentiation between the software packages. Whether I use Solidworks or Inventor or Creo, I'll make the same amount of money, whichever software I choose. This is the definition of commodity.


During the years we faught the battles to make progress from drafting tables to 2D computer-aided drafting and then to 3D modeling, it took a lot of troops. We spent a fortune. We won, and so it is time to retire the troops. Quit paying them, in other words, now that 3D modeling software is a mature thing. The problem is that software companies have built their business models on the old wartime mentality. Think about where the big defense contractors were at the end of WWII. They were glad the war was finally over to be sure, but still stressed to the gills about what to do with all the personnel, materials, supplies, all the buildings, the gigantic infrastructure that made the war effort a success. During the war, they evolved their business models for the wartime way of doing business; following the war, they went broke trying to adapt to the post-war world, because the post-war world suddenly cared about cost, and would not support the overhead costs of a wartime business model.


The revolution's over. Three-D modeling is close to being a commodity. Which is where we the users want it to be. We're tired of being guinea pigs, and would very much like to get back to the work of designing things.


I don't see any of the current CAD powerhouses making the transition to a commodity business. It may be the most difficult business transition that exists.


[Jess Davis is president of Davis Precision Design, Inc.]



ASD Global Does 3D Autorouting

by Ralph Grabowski, with Rob Glazier


Someone needs to warn people as inexperienced in plant design as I am about the wall of unfamiliar acronyms into which we slam as we attempt to report on this industry. I know " P&ID," but that's about where it ends; here is a sampling of abbreviations previously unknown to me...

AWP = advanced work packaging
CWA = construction work areas
EPC = engineering procurement construction
FEED = front-end engineering and design
FEL = front-end loading (aka PPP = pre-project planning)

...and that's before getting into the abbreviations of file formats. ASD Global is to me another previously unknown, a company that's been around for 20 years.


ASD Global invented the very first 3D autorouter [automatic routing] for piping. This is a difficult problem to solve, because it has to work out optimal paths and avoid collisions in three dimensions -- unlike 2D routing, which is relatively simple. The company's aim was to make 3D autorouting 100% error-free, which in the early days of slow computers took forever. But now, with faster computers and better algorithms, their OptiPlant software been expanded to also handle cable trays, wiring, racks, and hangers -- along with load balancing and flow analysis.


Rob Glazier is ASD Global's vp of global business development and corporate strategy, formerly having spent years at Unigraphics (now Siemens PLM) and helped launch SmartPlant at Intergraph. He explained to me that OptiPlant is now a suite of tools that starts with flow sheets and P&ID, initial 3D design, autorouting, bringing in point cloud data and 3D models from other CAD systems. Then on to detail design through other CAD packages, and exporting databases for construction, and then construction planning.


The key is getting the costs and schedules in place as early as possible (this is where the FEED acronym comes in), and through this OptiPlant saves as much as 10% of the construction cost. "Competitors have not yet focused on this aspect of plant construction," said Mr Galzier. He's puzzled about their reticence, telling me "Nobody else, firms like like Aveva and Intergraph, are focused on this area. It's a sweet spot for us to be in as the industry is evolving."


As well, operations and maintenance is the smart place to be, because that's where the long-term relationships are. Some of their customers are the National Oil Company of Brazil and Global Oil and Gas Company of USA.


OptiPlant does not work in isolation, because it doesn't do all stages of plant design. It takes input from a variety sources:

Optiplant works with the 3D equipment, 3D structural designs, and 3D piping to create an optimal plant design. To do detail work, the results are exported to

For more on this company and its Optiplant software, see


And One More Thing...

Chair of the AEC (UK) committee Nigel Davies tells us that the group will be expanding their BIM documents to keep up with the UK construction industry's adoption of the BS1192-1 and -4, and PAS1192-2 and -3 standards. Integration with PAS1192-2 includes the following items:

The goal is to implement British Standards into primary BIM authoring tools.


Sponsor: Okino Graphics.


== Professional 3D File Conversion/Viewing/Rendering Software ==


For over 2 decades Okino (Toronto) has provided mission-critical 3D conversion software used extensively by tens of thousands of professionals. We develop, support and convert between all major CAD, DCC & VisSim formats. Robert Lansdale (CTO, tailors each package to the specific conversion requirements of each customer.

Popular formats include 3ds Max, Maya, C4D, LW, ProE, SolidWorks, Inventor, SketchUp, DWF/DWG, DGN, CATIA, IGES/STEP/Parasolid, 3D PDF/U3D, JT, FBX, Collada & more. We know data translation, and provide immaculate developer-to-customer relations.


For More News

WorldCAD Access blogs nearly daily with articles about CAD and tips about computers; available on RSS and through email alerts. These are some of the recent articles:

Tenlinks Daily is the 5x weekly newsletter of press release headlines and article synopses delivered by email daily


@upfrontezine throughout the day offers news, updates, and commentry from the editor of upFront.eZine on Twitter



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Letter to the Editor

Re: Radica Software Runs on Visio

There is an abundance of very pricey electrical schematic programs. AutoCAD Electrical is actually on the cheaper end, and if you love Autodesk products, a good deal if you buy it as part of an Autodesk suite. We used to use Via Wiring Diagram (which become AutoCAD Electrical) until our NT-based license server died. It's much better than using straight AutoCAD, but I felt being an AutoCAD add-on made it clunky.


If I were to buy a new program, it'd most likely be Electrica, based on the pricing model (we only occasionally need to update schematics), positive comments, and that the fact that it's not based on AutoCAD or a clone.
       - TonyT (via WorldCAD Access)



Notable Quotable

"Transmitting the capacitor won't do anything, we need to hack the primary THX driver!"

     - Hollywood-grade tech jargon



upFront.eZine is published every Tuesday, except for during summer and Christmas vacations. Editor: Ralph Grabowski. This newsletter is read by 10,000 subscribers in 70 countries. Your comments are welcome at! Deadline for submissions is every Monday morning.


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Entire contents copyright 2014 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $840. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "WorldCAD Access" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.


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