Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 9

One reason for the current level of relative application complexity is the segmented, proprietary CAD market and the gated communities which form around a particular application. As we saw with SolidWorks some time ago, a productivity enhancing user interface combined with competitive pricing can breach insular walls and drive “volume” migration/adoption. The consequence of course being that competitors are forced to respond in kind.

However, as some people have already observed, there’s not much money in 3D software and the old business model for selling CAD applications is on life support. Why invest significant time and energy toward dramatically improving a product if there is no clear business solution to recoup that investment? Without a catalyst for change – which is what SolidWorks was at the time – there’s little incentive.

As a consequence, we’re currently seeing what I’d characterize as a plateau in CAD application development; a (dis)comfort zone of sorts. But an increasingly competitive global market and the pressure it brings to bear on software providers, as well as the ongoing shift in the entire digital marketplace, will almost certainly spur important new developments (some of which are already almost certainly gestating).

With that in mind, in general today’s CAD applications have several issues which are presently of particular interest to me and, I believe, relevant to any “next generation” discussion. They are:

  • Limited data portability
  • Proprietary, closed source formats
  • Insufficient support for extensible semantic information
  • Whoever truly solves the data portability problem for parametric feature-based history1 models will gain some marketshare (and there’s been some movement on this front, from what I’ve read; though I’m not sure I trust the reports so I’m asking some current users). Whoever frees up licensing and opens up their format will gain both marketshare and mindshare.2 But whoever provides these things in a feature-competitive, parametric 3D CAD application which utilizes a standardized open source, freely-available format enabling users to embed meaning into their 3D data, will change the world.3

    Note 1: By my own admission, I’m largely ignoring the trend toward “direct modeling”; parametric feature-based history is arguably a worst case.
    Note 2: Parametric data portability improvements assumed.
    Note 3: Until a major CAD vendor both adopts and promotes XML or X3D as their standard CAD format, it’s of little practical use to me. However, the OpenNURBS format might be a possible candidate based on some comments I’ve read.

    3 thoughts on “Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 9

    1. Pingback: reBang weblog

    2. Sven, again, hitting on the tough topics. This “Next Gen” series is great.

      “As a consequence, we’re currently seeing what I’d characterize as a plateau in CAD application development; a (dis)comfort zone of sorts.”

      As a long-time MCAD user I completely agree. I know a few people that work for a few different CAD/PDM/PLM companies and the trend is very clear. These software companies are making most of their money from their PDM/PLM systems and putting just enough effort into their CAD tools to make it look like they’re trying.

      I used to be a 100%-parametric-modeling-evangelist but after working with non-parametric models for past 2 years, I disagree with the notion that we NEED a portable parametric, feature-based file format. Really what we need is a standard 3D file format and software tools with robust direct-modeling tools. I’ve lived in both worlds and I think the future is going to be less comfortable and less parametric than most engineers would like.

    3. Glad you’re enjoying it, Joe.

      I thought this series would be easier to write. It’s taken much more digging and reading than I’d expected. And I’m still feeling like I know next to nothing.

      This particular post kinda forced me to go digging even deeper for some of the latest news and developments; partly to piece together a bunch of little components (e.g. SolidWorks users being able to import Pro/E files and retain feature history) and partly to get a handle on the “direct modeling” stuff that I kept coming across.

      That said, I think the plateau is near an end; largely as a result of the “direct modeling” solutions that have been nipping away for the last ten years.

      If you read the history of Parametric Technology, it was the guy working at a CAD developer who proposed they take a leap forward, but his bosses only wanted incremental improvements to their tools. He leaves, forms PTC and eventually buys his old employer. Then history sorta repeats with SolidWorks. If things are cyclic, we’re due for something significant.

      As to the rest, read my more recent posts (and the next one or two waiting in the wings). You’ll notice I’ve had a change of heart on some things as well. And more than anything that’s why I write this blog: to put myself out there a bit and try to learn something in the process.

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