Newcomer Tries to Carve Out Niche

4 Apr, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

A new kid on the block stakes a bold claim in the tough MCAD marketplace

Ten or twelve years ago a huge influx of solid mechanical modelers hit the MCAD market. Many applications came and went during this period as the market became educated and saturated. Some soared, but more than a few crashed and burned. The past couple of years have been relatively quiet, with few full-blown MCAD products being introduced. In March, however, newcomer SpaceClaim Corp. announced the launch of its flagship product, SpaceClaim Professional 2007.

Founded in September 2005, SpaceClaim is backed by Kodiak Venture Partners and North Bridge Venture Partners, a couple of significant players in the venture capital community. SpaceClaim is located in the building that housed SolidWorks in its formative years and is just a few hundred feet from SolidWorks' current headquarters in Concord, Massachusetts.

Although I have no personal experience so far with SpaceClaim Professional on which to base an opinion or user's perspective, a few weeks ago I participated in a conference call while a SpaceClaim representative demonstrated some of the highlights of the new product, and Mike Payne, the company's CEO commented on the demonstration and fielded questions with the assistance of other members of the development and marketing team. Payne is no stranger to the CAD industry. Prior to SpaceClaim he had been near or at the top of Spatial Corp., Dassault Systemes and PTC. He also was a cofounder of SolidWorks and served as the company's first vice-president of R&D from 1994 to 1999. Needless to say, this guy knows the MCAD industry.

As a matter of fact, SpaceClaim's upper management is heavily weighted with former PTC employees. Also on the board of directors is Steven C. Walske, former chair and CEO of PTC. So, the SpaceClaim executive suite is teeming with experience in the MCAD arena.

Its Place in the MCAD Space

Recognizing that 3D mechanical design 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 was previously possible with traditional MCAD products. Interestingly, SpaceClaim says it is not out to replace any 3D CAD system like SolidWorks or Inventor. Rather, SpaceClaim Professional is positioned in a supplemental/complementary role for conceptual use with other 3D MCAD products. In my mind, this could relegate or even pigeonhole SpaceClaim Professional to being a generic 3D geometry editor, translator and viewer, even though it certainly looks like it has the capability for initial design and conceptual work. I question, in an environment that already has other 3D MCAD applications running, how much it would be used for generating initial concepts that are then passed to another MCAD application.

From what I saw, SpaceClaim Professional is targeted at the manufacturing space, although the company continually stressed that it bridges the gap between designers and the extended product development team -- such as suppliers, manufacturing engineers, analysis engineers and engineering management -- who lack access or time to master the traditional designers' 3D CAD system. In other words, it's for the traditional CAD non-user. These are people who contribute to design conceptualization, review, analysis and manufacturing but must communicate with the design team through often insufficient view-only file formats or even paper. The company estimates that 80% of those involved with product development do not use an MCAD application, so hence the potential market.

Based on the demonstration, SpaceClaim Professional 2007 provides a number of 3D modeling capabilities, using what seems to be a unified part, assembly and associative drawing workspace. Payne said that one of the main focuses of the product was to make it as intuitive as possible for users new to CAD or those who had experienced difficulties with it in the past, meaning that it is designer oriented, and not necessarily operator oriented. It has an open ASCII-readable product structure and can be used in top-down or bottom-up design methods. Payne also said it could be used as a stand-alone design product or in a complementary role alongside another MCAD application such as SolidWorks or Inventor. With this in mind, SpaceClaim Professional 2007 fits into the existing workflow of product development by enabling users to import and work with models created in other CAD systems. Theoretically, SpaceClaim's open XML data format ensures that its customers, rather than the software vendor, retain ownership of and access to their product data.

So Far?

SpaceClaim Professional 2007 was released on March 30 and is available for license at a price of $125 per month, per user, based on a three-year term. A one-year term is also available, and both terms include full support and updates. The SpaceClaim product line includes SpaceClaim Professional 2007 with complementary Home Edition and a free SpaceClaim Viewer. In addition, SpaceClaim offers a data exchange product for translators beyond the industry standards and a product that supports CATIA V5 data exchange. SpaceClaim also offers a library of standard parts. SpaceClaim Professional is not available as a trial download, but the company says there may be a student edition available in the future.

Is SpaceClaim Professional as intuitive as the company insists? I'm not going to venture even a guess on that one until I have some hands-on experience with it myself; however, the demo showed some aspects and examples that made it look like that may be the case.

Will all of SpaceClaim's management and development teams' experience be enough to make this product succeed? That's hard to say because the landscape in the MCAD market is much different than it was just a few years ago; it has become much more saturated and competitive.

Is SpaceClaim Professional strong enough to stand on its own from the beginning and grow from there? For a number of reasons, that's a tough question. Even though the odds may be against it, based on a brief look at the flagship product and the collective track records of the key personnel, I'd bet money that it makes it. If I sound skeptical, it's only because I want to check out SpaceClaim Professional myself before committing to a stronger and more definitive stand, one way or the other.

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