Checking in on SpaceClaim

17 Oct, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

The young software company is making its own way in the MCAD market.

About seven months ago I learned about a new MCAD company, called SpaceClaim, which had a new approach to the market. Founded in 2005, the business launched at a time when few others (read none) dared to enter the MCAD market fray. Last March the company announced the launch of its flagship product, SpaceClaim Professional 2007.

A few months into its formal public existence, I felt it was time for an update on where SpaceClaim has come, how it is faring, and where it is heading. I got together on a conference call with Mike Payne, SpaceClaim’s CEO, and Mike McGuinness, its COO, to discuss these issues as well as get a very brief preview of the company’s upgraded product, SpaceClaim Professional 2007+.

From our conversation it's obvious that the folks at SpaceClaim have been busy, and the company is gathering some momentum in the marketplace. This time around, the company seems to have a better grasp of what it is, where it’s going, and how it fits into the MCAD puzzle.

SpaceClaim likens itself to CAD 2.0, an analogy to Web 2.0 that refers to a so-called second generation of Web-based communities and hosted services -- such as social-networking sites (MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook) and wikis (Wikipedia and Wikispaces). Although the term implies a new version of the Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but to changes in the ways the Web is used. Like Web 2.0, Spaceclaim’s CAD 2.0 is intended to facilitate collaboration and sharing between users, where the company defines CAD 2.0 as a multi-CAD environment. McGuinness said, “The 2.0 version doesn’t eliminate the 1.0 version, but rather broadens the ability to create and distribute content to a larger circle of users.”

This philosophy is in keeping with Spaceclaim’s 1/5-4/5 marketing strategy as stated by McGuinness: “The four-fifths of people who interact with 3D product design data don’t have a 3D geometry tool they are comfortable working with. From the start, SpaceClaim Professional was designed to overcome this problem and let more people participate in the design process. This goes far beyond traditional visualization products to let more people really be involved with a design comprised of real geometry, far beyond just pretty pictures. SpaceClaim is intended to act as the ‘lubricant’ to smooth the historical problems involved with getting more people involved in the collaborative design process.” This statement is one of the things that distinguishes SpaceClaim -- attempting to appeal to both the traditional CAD user as well as the non-CAD user. However, SpaceClaim is not attempting to appeal to everyone, and it does not offer a free trial download.

Recognizing that 3D mechanical design still largely remains out of reach for most who contribute directly to product development, SpaceClaim is attempting to make 3D modeling accessible to a much broader audience than previously possible with other traditional MCAD products. SpaceClaim says it is not out to replace any 3D CAD system, such as SolidWorks or Inventor. Rather, SpaceClaim Professional is being positioned in a supplemental/complementary role with other 3D MCAD products.

As are all MCAD vendors, SpaceClaim is aware that interoperability and the ability to work in a multi-CAD environment (CAD 2.0) are huge challenges, as well as huge potential opportunities. According to McGuinness, SpaceClaim Professional solves the problems because it acts as a neutral CAD modification system. It is able to accept models in from virtually any source and provides the ability to work with them, including modifying them. He said that this modification capability is what really distinguishes SpaceClaim as more than a visualization and mark-up tool and is how SpaceClaim coexists with other MCAD tools, making customers more productive.

I’ll agree that SpaceClaim is not just another MCAD tool, but I don’t totally understand why it is being developed and positioned as a tool primarily for modifying existing models. Why not tout it as a stand-alone model creation tool as well as a modification tool? Surely it is capable of both. As a matter of fact, based on the demonstrations I’ve seen, SpaceClaim Professional 2007 and 2007+ provide a number of 3D modeling capabilities in what appears to be a unified part, assembly, and associative drawing workspace.

That’s what would pique my interest as a potential customer -- the ability to perform both creating and modification tasks. It is ironic that SpaceClaim told me that one use for SpaceClaim Professional was conceptual design. That is definitely a process for creating something, although it can be different from detailed, hard-core mechanical design. Oh well, I guess that’s why I’m not a marketing guy.

Also, while SpaceClaim Professional is obviously not a PLM system, its collaborative capabilities could make the software a good addition to a PLM system because of its communication tools and interaction with geometry.

Anyway, the company has obviously done a lot of things right during its relatively short life span. It has shipped more than 500 licenses to 100 or so customers since the initial product launched in March. It has raised a second round of funding and has attracted more than 20 resellers globally to sell SpaceClaim Professional. The company has also struck up relationships with what it calls “CAD-neutral” suppliers for eCAD integration, CAE, parts libraries, etc. Some of the big names include Rhino, ANSYS, and CircuitWorks

SpaceClaim Professional seems to have had a relatively strong start in a tough market. Whether it is strong enough to succeed in the long run is hard to say because it’s a much different landscape in the MCAD market than it was just a few years ago; it has become much more saturated and competitive. SpaceClaim seems to have an interesting target market that, for the most part, has been neglected by most other CAD companies -- attempting to appeal to both the CAD power user and the non-CAD user. That’s not an easy task.

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