Seemage 4 (Cadalyst Labs Review)30 Apr, 2007 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
Product documentation—and x-ray vision!
Information is solid gold for today's manufacturers. But sometimes disseminating it can cause headaches. You have one 3D system, and your tooling vendor has another. Your artwork department doesn't use 3D but still needs your data. You can write out your assembly or operating instructions, but pictures are worth more words, and you don't have space for them anyway. How do you cope? You can buy something like Seemage 4 (it's French, so it's pronounced Sem-AHzh).
The folks at Seemage have a seemingly simple mantra: product info everywhere. It's an ambitious goal, but they seem to have a pretty good handle on it. They treat engineering data as a corporate resource. The company was founded in France in 2002, and it has a lot of big European customers such as Peugeot and Renault. They've only been in the U.S. market since last year but have already signed up clients such as John Deere and Volvo Trucks.
Seemage 4 deals with product documentation in which main and service procedures most often are separate documents. Built for speed and accuracy, Seemage 4 files are relatively small because they can be associated to engineering files. They aren't just bit-maps. Seemage 4 can import all kinds of popular 3D formats (figure 1). It's based on XML and can output many file formats, including 3D PDF, HTML, JT, AVI and QuickTime animations. Seemage 4 integrates well within PDM and PLM systems, too. Free plug-ins are available for distribution.
Figure 1. Seemage 4 can read and use many popular 3D modeling formats. If you don't see something you can use on this list, what are you using?
Seemage 4 comes in three varieties with prices ranging from $3,000 to $15,000. The Viz package allows you to integrate data from wherever you have it and document whatever you want. The next step up is Mockup, which adds the ability to create animations and advanced visualizations. Finally, the Publish package lets users output their data in useful ways. With Seemage 4, you can change your written procedures and process specifications from confusing text-based documents to informative and clear graphics-based presentations. In short, you can better explain your designs.
Nuts and Bolts
The main viewing area in Seemage 4 is called the stage. The parts and other data you introduce are the actors. Actors can be anything from geometry and reference text to measurements and BOMs (bills of materials). Like Cecil B. DeMille, you can have literally thousands of actors on stage at one time or throw them off for later use. Seemage 4 uses configurations to do this. Configurations are like interactive snapshots of what's on the stage at the moment it's saved. Say, for instance, you have a bicycle on stage and you're interested only in how to fix the brake system. You can turn off the rest of the bike and show only the brakes. The rest is still there, and you can use it for any other operation you need. Consecutive configurations can be used to outline assembly/disassembly steps. Drag the parts you want to see to a place that's convenient and then save a configuration (figure 2). You can save the display settings in a configuration. If you want fully shaded objects, you can have them. If you want a technical illustration line drawing, you can have that, too. It's up to you.
Figure 2. You can save from different assembly steps as configurations. These configurations aren't just static images; they're fully rotatable models that you can manipulate.
Seemage 4 has some pretty powerful capabilities. If you want to see or make changes to a part, you just click on it and its properties show in the Properties Manager window, where you can change just about anything. An interactive BOM function (figure 3) tracks the parts you add and even autogenerates the callout bubbles. You can attach metadata at any time to anything—and search the document for it. You can add links to outside sources such as Web sites and other files (for example, Word documents and Excel files). You even can link to other configurations to establish an order to the steps. And if you want to select something that's hidden behind something else, you can hit the Tab key and the part under the cursor is temporarily blanked. You can pull your assemblies apart to make exploded views by clicking and dragging. What could be more intuitive? Seemage 4 even will generate the explode paths for you based on how you move the parts (figure 4).
Figure 3. Finding things in an assembly has never been simpler. Just click on the item in the BOM, and it will highlight on the screen–er–stage.
After you've put your assemblies together, you or someone in your organization inevitably will want to do something with them. Seemage 4 has you covered. If all you need is a pretty picture, you can export a bit-map or vector image that you can import into whichever program you'd like. Seemage 4 also lets you create keyframe animation—that's where you establish a timeline and create snapshots of what you want at given moments. The system will interpolate as needed to fill in the gaps between your key-frames. You might only have a handful of keyframes to define an animation of any given length. You even can animate between configurations. You can animate cutting planes to move through your parts.
Figure 4. Seemage 4 can add explode paths for you as you drag parts to where you want them. It's amazingly easy. This path was pulled out and then down.
One thing I liked about the software was its ability to drag away what I didn't want to see and have it fade out. The neatest thing I saw was the Digger. Digger can be used like a magnifying glass (figure 5). It's a visualization aid that can be animated to provide an x-ray image. It's like Superman's x-ray vision sweeping around your parts. It's really cool!
Figure 5. The Digger allows you to delve into your parts and examine them in incredible detail. You even can add its functionality to your animations.
Output is always important. Seemage 4 can output technical illustrations that'll knock your socks off and those of the people to whom you send them. Seemage 4 supports Adobe U3D, so you can create documents that still have the ability to rotate the models. That's a big plus! Other software, such as SolidWorks' eDrawings, has that same sort of functionality, but they generally create stand-alone documents that are more difficult to display in a PowerPoint presentation. Seemage 4 can embed images into PDFs, Web pages and presentations as live, rotatable views. You can still create those stand-alone files if you want—just download and use the free Seemage Player. You don't have to worry if someone doesn't have Seemage Player, because you can send it bundled in the Seemage file as an executable file. People need only to double-click and it opens up.
Security isn't a big problem either. You've no doubt heard of digital-rights management; it's not just for Hollywood. It's important to manufacturers as well. Seemage 4 has its Right Manager function, which controls access to your data by letting Seemage Player users add notations and cross-sections, change properties, update configurations and save for others. You use it to decide who does what with and to your data.
There you have it—voila, as the French say. Seemage 4 is a good tool with a wide array of capabilities that will help you with your designs and keep the data straight. For more information about Seemage 4, you can visit www.seemage.com or the blog site www.3dmojo.com. Highly Recommended.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.