CAD Tech News (#99)

5 Dec, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: A Case Study in Virtual Workstations for CAD

The experience of architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt presents a compelling proof point for a new CAD computing paradigm.

By Alex Herrera

The virtual workstation has arrived, offering an alternative solution to traditional client-focused environments that are beginning to creak under the strain of today's CAD IT challenges. There's no doubt that on paper, the centralized topology in which servers host a virtual representation of a user's workstation — i.e., the virtual workstation — presents unique advantages to companies struggling to manage increasingly scattered staff working on huge datasets with a range of computing devices. Co-locating data, compute, and graphics in one central repository — be that in the cloud or in a private virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) datacenter — works to alleviate those pain points hampering productivity for firms in architecture, construction, design, and manufacturing.

For more background on the concept of virtual workstations, including an extensive look at the technologies and specific solutions available in the market today, check out my four-part series, "Harnessing the Cloud for CAD: The Case for Virtual Workstations."

A variety of end-user devices, including those with limited processing power, can be used with cloud-hosted virtual workstations.
A variety of end-user devices, including those with limited processing power, can be used with cloud-hosted virtual workstations.

It's Here — and Steadily Picking Up Momentum

Although I used the phrase "on paper" in the opening of this column, that isn't the slight it might sound like. Normally, it might be reserved to disparage technology that sounds nice in theory, but isn't mature, accessible, or compelling enough to deliver the real-world benefits the paper pitch promises. But in this case, "on paper" simply reflects the reality that the concept and technologies are still in the early stages of adoption, and examples of their effective deployment are relatively scarce. But given that virtual workstations should eventually lead to a significant shift of CAD computing infrastructure, I'm paying close attention to the few real-world examples that do exist — and I suggest all providers and consumers with a vested interest do the same.

One excellent example is Mead & Hunt. A global engineering and architecture firm, Mead & Hunt's fingers are spread both broad and deep across a wide range of industries and disciplines. Its workforce of 700 is distributed among 30 offices across the United States in all time zones, with staff out on construction or client sites nearly as often as they are in the office.

All those personnel need 24/7 access to the same project database, yet must avoid the perils of accidentally working from outdated copies of unsynchronized revisions. To compound the problem, those dataset copies aren't measured in megabytes anymore, or even tens or hundreds of megabytes: Project teams had to wrestle with Revit files up to 3 GB in size, incurring lengthy, productivity-crushing delays in copying from site to site. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ Frustum Furthers PTC's Plan to Embed New Technologies in Creo

The $70 million acquisition is the latest move in PTC's strategy to fold generative design, real-time simulation, and more cutting-edge capabilities into its CAD platform.

By Cyrena Respini-Irwin

PTC announced that it has paid approximately $70 million for Frustum, a young generative design software company. "This acquisition represents an important strategic move in our Creo business, which is our largest and most profitable," said PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann during a November 20 webcast.

The news came less than six months after PTC announced a partnership with ANSYS that would make ANSYS Discovery Live real-time simulation capabilities available within PTC's Creo 3D CAD software. Both actions are part of PTC's strategy to make new, workflow-changing technologies available to Creo users.

"When you combine the real-time generative design from Frustum, and real-time simulation of Ansys, you enable a single engineer to do the work of many," said Heppelmann. "Artificial intelligence, teamed up with simulation, has the potential to create the first major disruption in CAD in thirty years."

Heppelmann's enthusiasm comes after what is apparently a long period of disappointment with the CAD software industry's progress: "About 30 years ago, PTC unleashed a massive disruption when we launched Pro/ENGINEER, the first viable 3D CAD solid modeling product. We built a tremendous business around Pro/ENGINEER, but after a decade or so of being the only game in town, a handful of companies — today's well-known competitors — essentially copied the Pro/E concept, more or less verbatim, and the market quickly became very crowded and competitive. The combination of product parity and high switching costs caused a stalemate to ensue. In the two decades that followed, virtually all technology innovation across the entire CAD market has been of the incremental form. All major CAD systems today are just broader and prettier imitations of the original Pro/ENGINEER software that PTC released in 1987." Read more »

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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's editor in chief.

▶ Autodesk, Unity Plan for Virtual Visions of AEC Projects

The two companies are collaborating to help users turn design data into "virtual experiences that help you work better and do more," in the words of Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost.

By Cadalyst Staff

A little more than a year ago, Unity Technologies announced an effort to more closely integrate its development platform with Autodesk tools. The collaboration made Unity the first creation engine to have access to Autodesk FBX software development kit (SDK) source code. (The SDK helps developers transfer their content into FBX, which is a proprietary Autodesk format used for exchanging data among applications including Autodesk 3ds Max and Maya.)

Unity Technologies has expanded beyond its foundations as a game engine developer in recent years, and has been providing its technology to a broader range of applications. The Unity platform can be used to create interactive 2D, 3D, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences. Increasingly, it's being applied to AEC applications, such as creating visualizations for architects to give their clients a realistic preview of the appearance and functionality of completed designs. For clients and project teams alike, these interactive views "help them experience the project before it's real," said Jim Lynch, vice-president and general manager of Autodesk's construction business unit, during the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Keynote at Autodesk University (AU) 2018.

During the event, Autodesk and Unity announced the next step in their collaboration: Native export from Revit to Unity will be available for data visualization in the fall of 2019, said John Riccitiello, CEO of Unity Technologies. (Users can move a Revit model and its associated building information modeling [BIM] data into Unity currently, but it's reportedly a difficult and time-consuming process requiring multiple plug-ins, and some of the Revit data can be lost in the transition.) "All of you can start to experience a design space at human scale, as if it was already built and functioning, and you'll be able to do this as soon as next year," Andrew Anagnost, Autodesk president and CEO, told AU attendees. Read more »


Autodesk Advocates Automation at AU 2018
The design software developer is pushing generative design and other automation technologies for product development and AEC workflows, while seeking to allay concerns about the impact on jobs. Read more »

CAD Manager Column: Why Data Management Still Matters
In a modern CAD environment, procedures for organizing and preserving your company's data sets are more important than ever. Read more »

Sponsored: Going Digital in Transportation
From Bentley Systems: "Going digital" is not just about leveraging the latest technology, it's about enabling different outcomes for your projects. Read more »

AutoCAD Video Tips: Take Control of Your AutoCAD Options!
The AutoCAD Options command controls so many different important elements of AutoCAD — and it can be accessed in a variety of ways (with slightly varying results). Join AutoCAD tipster Lynn Allen as she shows you the many methods for accessing Options, as well as how to control the specific tab it opens to with the +Options command. Watch the video »

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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