MCAD Tech News #97 (May 8, 2003)

7 May, 2003 By: Joe Greco

Last year, in Issue #75 of this newsletter, I wrote about a new product called KollabNet. Developed by the KollabNet Corp. out of Philadelphia, this software is used to capture and reuse the knowledge that goes into designing and manufacturing products. This could be anything from why a certain material was chosen to why a certain manufacturing process was decided upon.

While there are similar programs known as knowledge-based engineering applications, what makes KollabNet different is that it requires very little keyboard input from the user and absolutely no programming, as is the case with some products. It is also easy to use because it employs items called Design Blocks that are created by simply drawing rectangles. Once built, users simply load these blocks with information and then link them together.

In the first release of KollabNet, these Design Blocks could only get their information from programs such as Microsoft Word and Excel. The idea was that these applications were what most people used to hold important product-description information, such as specifications. Now in KollabNet 1.2, users can extract data directly from the CAD model. This means that anything the CAD system stores, such as dimension values, can now be used by the software to control a design.

Updated Software Support

In KollabNet's last release, only Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks were supported. However, the software now works with CATIA 5. It also has been updated to work with the latest versions of Inventor and SolidWorks. One of the most impressive features in the previous release was not implemented then, but it now works. This is the ability to have values from either one of the three supported CAD programs drive or constrain objects in another CAD package. This means, for example, a designer using SolidWorks to create the enclosure of a product, can use KollabNet to define the constraints to make sure this shell isn't violated by the engineers who are creating the internal components in CATIA and/or Inventor. By using KollabNet to control projects such as this, data is not translated and each component's history is maintained.

Upcoming Features

The developers of KollabNet are also looking forward to supporting additional CAD programs such as Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire. They are also planning to use their software to expand the capabilities of Microsoft Project, an application commonly used for project management. Currently, Microsoft Project can manage multiple projects, but doesn't show the effect that one project may have on another. For example, if one project is running late, it won't allow the user to see how this delay will affect his other projects, but by using its linking technology, KollabNet will be able to connect these projects.

However, there are still a number of features that are not yet implemented. Some are minor. For instance, there are icons that do not work, albeit the underlying functionality is supported. Another feature that has been promised for several years is the ability to use the Internet to monitor data. It enables users to track a design that was rejected due to the cost of a certain material, and then reconsider it if the price of that material decreases.

I spoke to Dr. Joel Orr, a founder and head of business development at KollabNet Corp., about these missing tools. He told me that most of the features that are unique to the product have already been implemented; however, he would still like to see development proceed faster. This is because his company is self-funded, so development does not always move along at a rapid pace. Currently, the program works as a desktop application, and KollabNet Corp. is working toward enterprise version based on customer scenarios. KollabNet is looking for volunteers for its pilot program, if you're interested, go to