Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 10

In my previous post I touched on the data portability issues which plague CAD applications, particularly those which employ parametric, feature-based history trees (a dynamic, rearrangeable record of the creation process). However, whether it’s within a corporation’s own firewall or between businesses and their vendors online, CAD applications must become increasingly “cooperative” if their developers expect them to survive.

The Future of CAD is Cooperative

In order to meet the increasing demands of globally connected industries, virtual parts will have to shuttle more information to a greater variety of people making time-critical decisions in all areas of the business. It won’t just be industrial designers, CAD jockeys and engineers launching these applications; it’ll be marketing, sales, finance, accounts payable, and a whole crowd of people who traditionally haven’t used a 3D application. There’s already a variety of CAD viewers popping up on the scene; even Adobe has jumped into the market.

Unfortunately, many primary users can’t move most of their data around intact without significant expenditure of time and/or effort… assuming it’s possible to begin with.

Design engineers continue to wrestle with the monster of computer-aided design file exchange. As global collaboration increases in importance, overcoming file sharing assures faster conversions… A lack of standard tools, such as software, also was cited as a major impediment to successful collaboration by 45 percent of the design engineers and 35 percent of the production professionals surveyed. – Fred White, “Solve the CAD File Exchange Problem” (Link)

Undoubtedly, the status quo is decidedly against the consumers in this market. It’s not just difficult, it’s risky. Brian Seitz, whom I’ve previously quoted, said it well in his recent comments (Link):

In today’s current model, data is locked up in proprietary formats in a vendor’s system with some minimal export capabilities. For an Engineering firm to place its faith that all the information will be accessible, given today’s experiences, may be a bit optimistic.

Under such circumstances one would think this situation represents an opportunity (and to some, like Alibre, it probably does). However, it seems to me as if there were a confluence of factors which contributed to the current situation; among them:

1) the relatively small CAD market
2) the complex needs of a market experiencing increased pressure to reduce development times. 1
3) the corporate, silo’d history of the developers serving the market 2
4) the complexity of both computational technology and collaborative approaches 3

The first contributes to relatively high prices, intense competition, and consolidation (which we’ve seen in spades over the past few years). The second contributes to erosion of customer loyalty, leading to the maintenance of “walled garden” applications. The third factor is the inherent resistance to data portability beyond that created by the first two factors. And the fourth factor is the seal that prevents pressure relief from the first three. If it were easy and inexpensive, the situation described by Mr. Seitz simply wouldn’t be tolerated by either the developers (who’d chase marketshare) or the customers (who’d gladly adopt an application that gave them more control and improved productivity). But it’s not easy, and so we don’t see the rash of upstarts which are increasingly common in other areas of the software industry. {And it’s not inexpensive, since an existing solution – licensed by some major players – appears to offer a solution about which I’d not heard until after posting this entry.}

Next up, after a brief review of some relevant items, I’ll take a look at some of the relatively recent developments which caused me to strike out the words “almost certainly” from my previous post. Change may be closer at hand than I was aware.

Note 1: “Complexities in the 3D Space”, David R. Butcher (Link)
Note 2: (History of) UGS NX, Wikipedia (Link), (History of) CATIA, Wikipedia (Link)
Note 3: Computational geometry, Wikipedia (Link), “CAD Collaboration”, David Harrison (Link)

3 thoughts on “Next Generation Product Development Tools, Part 10

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  2. I commented on parametric vs. direct modeling on your previous post, before reading this one. Maybe this a better place for the discussion.

    I’m not a software developer, but it seems to me that designing tools to work with JUST the 3D geometry would be simpler than designing tools to work with the 3D geometry AND the parametric feature definitions. If someone were to develop a direct-modeling toolset with seamless support for X3D, openNURBS, or whatever, I can see it easily gaining traction with users.

  3. I think it’s safe to say you’re correct, but fwiw I suspect you’re one of those who will be pleasantly surprised by recent developments. Wait for Part 14 or 15.

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