Cadalyst MCAD Tech News #135

15 Dec, 2004 By: Sara Ferris

Cadalyst MCAD Tech NewsIn Memory: Joe Greco (1963-2004)
With sadness we report that Cadalyst contributing editor Joe Greco passed away on December 7 at age 41 after suffering cardiac arrest. A familiar name in CAD circles for many years, Joe joined Cadalyst after our merger with Cadence late last year. He was author of this newsletter since its inception in May 1999 and also wrote magazine reviews of mechancial design and analysis software. Joe was known for his hands-on expertise with an impressive range of design programs. We?ll miss the enthusiasm that infused his work and the many ideas he had for better serving our readers. Joe was also president of the CAD Society, a not-for-profit industry association. A scholarship fund is being established in his name at: The CAD Society, 8220 Stone Trail Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817-4556. For the full story, click here.

3D Format Frenzy

A rundown of what's happening in the world of 3D model publishing

3D publishing is one of the hotbeds of activity in design software development these days. As 3D solid modeling becomes the preferred mechanical design tool, vendors are looking to provide tools that solve one or more of the following problems:

Design collaboration. Outsourcing, tighter supply-chain integration, and corporate mergers and acquisitions that result in multiple, farflung locations create the need for different users, in different locations, to work together on the same design. The problem is that the typical 3D assembly model can grow to many megabytes, not the sort of thing you want crashing into your In box each morning. And in many cases, you may not want to provide access to the complete, editable model.

Design reuse downstream. The CAD slogan "Draw It Once" invokes happy visions of saved time and increased productivity as the original model of, say, a heat sink wends its way from the engineer who designed it to the manufacturing engineer who'll make it to the assembler who'll glue it in place to the technical writer who'll prepare the service manual to the marketing folks who want to feature it in the sales brochure, not to mention the online catalog of spare parts. Again, if you send the original model, you encounter the file size problem mentioned earlier, as well as the need to provide these downstream recipients with viewing software capable of converting the model to their desired formats.

What We Looked At
Cadalyst Labs recently surveyed a number of options for publishing 3D models; the results appear in "3D Format Frenzy: Options for publishing 3D Models," by Ron LaFon, in Cadalyst's December issue. Most of the applications we tested open or otherwise read a 3D model, then convert it into a compressed, secure format that you can then distribute as needed. Typically, these products comprise two parts: an application for generating the 3D content and another for viewing it. Some may provide additional tools for collaboration and visualization purposes.

To test the applications, we used a total of four test drawings — two AutoCAD DWG files and two SolidWorks assemblies. When the applications worked, they worked very, very well, quickly producing significantly smaller files. However, various factors prevented virtually all of the programs from successfully converting all four of our test files. Some applications had yet to incorporate support for SolidWorks 2005, and applications that support the ACIS modeling kernel ran into trouble with newer versions of AutoCAD files as Autodesk steers its ShapeManager kernel away from its ACIS roots. The lesson here is to test before you buy, using files generated by the CAD programs you currently use.

The products we cover are SpinFire Professional from Actify, Notes3D from Quadrispace, several products from Lattice3D, ModelPress from Informative Graphics, Raider3D from OKYZ, Deep Exploration from Right Hemisphere, and SolidWorks eDrawings. For more details, check out the December issue of Cadalyst, which is in the mail now, or read the review online at

What We Didn't Look At
Autodesk DWF Composer now offers 3D support, but only for Autodesk Inventor models. Adobe recenly announced Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional, which will support 3D graphics in U3D format. That will enable users to embed a 3D graphic in a PDF file that recipients can rotate, zoom, and pan. Bentley plans to implement support for U3D in forthcoming MicroStation and ProjectWise updates.

So Many Standards
The activity in the 3D publishing arena has also fostered a proliferation of "standards," those open formats published in hopes of gaining support from the many vendors at work here. U3D is a standard backed by the Intel-sponsored 3D Industry Forum. There's also X3D, the standard put forth by the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium), the Web standards group that also publishes specifications for HTML and XML. X3D, an upgrade of VRML 97, has been slow in catching on with CAD developers. Intel formed the 3D Industry Forum in 2004 with the goal of creating a common standard for sharing interactive 3D content. Other CAD and visualization software vendors in the 3D Industry Forum include SolidWorks, UGS, Dassault, PTC, and discreet.

Other open standards for 3D include OpenHSF, an open streaming format for sharing visual models, and JT Open, the UGS-backed lightweight format for viewing and sharing product data and interactive images. JT Open members, besides UGS, include PTC, Alias, Bentley, and Actify. UGS recently launched the free JT2Go viewer for the JT format as well as plug-ins for Microsoft Office applications that allow JT files to be embedded and viewed in Office documents. You can download the viewer at

Currently, JT Open is likely the most widely used of these 3D standards. It will be interesting to see whether Adobe's embrace of U3D sparks an increase in support for that format.

Sara Ferris is editor-in-chief of Cadalyst magazine. Reach her at

Note to Readers: Cadalyst MCAD Tech News will take a break for the holidays — we'll be back on Thursday, January 6, 2005. The staff of Cadalyst would like to thank our loyal readers and advertisers for your support in 2004 and wish each of you the most enjoyable of holiday seasons and a healthy and prosperous 2005.