Archive for August, 2013
Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Last week, Autodesk reported financial results for the second quarter of fiscal 2014. Yes, that’s right, 2014. Although I’ve had this funky financial calendar explained to me, I still don’t quite get it. It’s sort of like cars that are introduced in January 2013, but they are 2014 models.
Anyway, Autodesk had some pretty mixed financial results company-wide for the quarter.
Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO said, “Our second quarter was marked by strength in our Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) business segment and continued growth in suites”. “Growth in these vital areas was offset by mixed contributions from other parts of the business. On the product side, we strengthened and expanded our leading product portfolio with new desktop, cloud and mobile offerings.”
What we take that to mean is AEC is doing well, but other major market segments, such as mechanical is doing OK, while media/entertainment continues to go down, with no prospect for real improvement in these segments anytime soon.
For example, revenue from the AEC business segment increased 9 percent to $177 million compared to the second quarter last year. On the other hand, revenue from the Manufacturing business segment increased just 2 percent to $144 million compared to the second quarter last year. Finally, revenue from the Media and Entertainment business segment decreased 11 percent to $43 million compared to the second quarter last year. Ouch on the last one.
For flagship products (such as standalone AutoCAD), revenue decreased 11 percent to $289 million compared to the second quarter last year, while revenue from suites increased 18 percent to $193 million. Suites are sweet for Autodesk.
For something a little more inspiring, check out the following video that shows some interesting “Behind the scenes” 3D printing news from Autodesk’s perspective.
Now back to Autodesk financial results . . .
Looking ahead to the future, Mark Hawkins, Autodesk executive vice president and CFO said, “With the recent introduction of more flexible license and service offerings that have ratable revenue streams, such as cloud-based and rental license offerings, Autodesk’s business model is evolving. We are currently refining our plans around the pace and time frame for this business model transition”
Admittedly, with the way Autodesk has changed internally, what it offers, and the way it offers its products, these results are not all that bad. The company is into a lot of things for the long haul, such as low-priced, cloud-based apps and subscription software that do not now and may never contribute greatly to the bottom line. Of course, this can’t go on forever, but the company has shown a higher degree of patience than in the past – good for customers, not so good for investors.
For many reasons, and these financial results notwithstanding, Autodesk fully acknowledges that it cannot afford to slip into any state of complacency or stagnation. The company has gambled on a number of technologies for “creators” through in-house development, as well as acquisitions. Autodesk seems to be financially willing and able to continue down this path, realizing that there will be some winners and some losers. In the end, though, Autodesk will have to remain at the forefront of innovation if it wants to maintain the status and stature it has in the many market segments it serves.
Friday, August 23rd, 2013
Small Footprint, Big Performance
We evaluate several mobile and desktop engineering workstations every year. Some are unique; some not so much. Some are well designed and built; some are not. Some are inexpensive and you get what you pay for; others cost more, but are great values.
Experience has shown us that workstations from BOXX Technologies are unique, well-built, and while costing a bit more, have proven to have excellent price/performance ratios. The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME desktop workstation continues the positive experience we have had with other BOXX machines in the past.
BOXX Technologies builds a wide spectrum of high-end workstations geared for high-performance applications, such as CAD, CAE, advanced animation and rendering, game production, and other demanding design and engineering work.
Even though it’s a desktop workstation, it is relatively compact with a smaller footprint than previous BOXX desktop workstations we’ve evaluated in the past, measuring 6.85”W x 14.6”H x 16.6”D. As a matter of fact, the 4150 XTREME is BOXX’s first foray into smaller form factor desktop workstations – a plus for those with space-constrained work spaces, like me.
The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Engineering Desktop Workstation
This machine will appeal to those users who need higher levels of performance, reliability, and quality, and are willing and able to pay a bit more for these attributes. So, let’s see how the relatively compact 4150 XTREME performed and compared.
3DBOXX 4150 XTREME: Minimal Size. Maximum Performance
3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Workstation Specifications and Build Quality
The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME we received had the following specifications as supplied:
CPU: Overclocked fourth-generation Intel Core i7 – Haswell (4.3 GHz); quad core. Intel Express chipset.
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro K2000 with 2GB on-board memory
RAM: 16 GB DDR3-1600; 2 DIMMs
SSD: 240 GB SATA; 6GB/s
Power Supply: 550 W
Connectivity: 6 SATA ports; 1 IEEE 1394 port; 6 USB 2.0 ports (2 front, 4 rear); 6 USB 3.0 ports (2 front, 4 rear); HDMI; DVI; Ethernet
Other: 20X dual layer DVD-RW; Intel Smart Cache; liquid cooling
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition 64-bit
Dimensions: 6.9″(W) x 14.6″(H) x 16.6″(D)
Warranty: One-year limited
EDITOR’S NOTE: Many hardware component options and configurations are available for the 4150 XTREME workstation.
BOXX claims the 4150 XTREME to be the fastest single socket workstation available for engineering and product design applications, such as SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor, as well as all other frequency-driven, CPU-bound applications. We’ll check that out soon enough.
Another nice feature of the 4150 that we’re seeing more and more is the fact that no tools are required to access the workstation’s internals – just remove two thumb screws and you’re in.
When pushing the unit during demanding benchmark testing, it remained cool and relatively quiet, thanks to the liquid cooling. The 4150 XTREME has just about every connectivity option you could need, and many ports are easily accessible from the front of the unit.
Like BOXX computers we have evaluated in the past, the build quality of the 4150 XTREME is very solid. Overall, the 4150 XTREME is a well-executed, high-quality platform that is also well-priced for what you get.
When we received the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME, we had high expectations for performance, largely because of the high levels of performance we have experienced in the past with other machines from BOXX Technologies. The objective (formal documented generic benchmarks) and subjective (actual design and engineering software applications) tests we ran fulfilled our expectations.
The tests were performed with the 4150 XTREME “out of the box,” as we received it – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. I actually get more out of the subjective testing because it’s more “real world,” but the raw numbers from the benchmarks are also useful as a means of objective comparison with other machines in the class. Your evaluations will probably differ from mine, but they do, at least, provide a point for comparison.
For objective testing, as we do with all workstations, we ran two benchmarks NovaBench (geared more toward overall performance) and SPECviewperf 11 (geared more toward graphics performance).
NovaBench Benchmark Test
16,323 MB System RAM (Score: 249) – this was about on par with recent desktop workstations evaluations
• RAM Speed: 14,337 MB/s
CPU Tests (Score: 898) – this a little better than recent desktop workstations evaluations
• Floating Point Operations/Second: 207,121,760
• Integer Operations/Second: 10,97,476,568
• MD5 Hashes Generated/Second: 1,536,366
Graphics Tests (Score: 312 – this was lower than recent desktop evaluations, due to the graphics card
• 3D Frames Per Second: 890
Hardware Tests (Score: 40) – higher than other recent desktop evaluations
• Drive Write Speed: 243 MB/s
Total NovaBench Composite Score: 1499
The 1499 composite score was a about 8% higher than the score of recent and comparable desktop workstation evaluations.
SPECviewperf 11 Benchmark Test
The composite scores for the various demanding SPECviewperf 11 suite tests (CATIA, SolidWorks, Lightwave, Ensight, NX, and Pro/ENGINEER) run at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution (without multi-threading enabled) were the best I have ever seen on a mobile workstation (any workstation, for that matter) that I have benchmarked and reviewed.
As I usually do, for subjective testing, I ran Autodesk Alias Design, Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, and SolidWorks on the 4150. I used data sets of standard models that I have created over the years for this testing, including a model of an earth mover with 100,000+ parts, renderings of complex surfaces, and animations. The 4150 XTREME performed very well and had no problematic issues with any of these subjective tests.
In an engineering environment that increasingly demands mobility, there is still a case to be made for stationary desktop workstations for engineering purposes.
For a desktop workstation, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation is relatively compact, well-built, and well-priced. The level of performance that this small footprint machine exhibited is also quite good.
Whether mobile or desktop, workstations have come a long way in the past few years, and they often command a premium price. However, with the quality, performance, and configuration options, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME has a good price/performance ratio, offering high-end performance in a relatively compact package.
BOXX Technologies 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Workstation
Pros: Footprint; excellent price/performance ratio; build quality; connectivity options; configurability.
Cons: None significant, especially noteworthy since this is the first model out with this smaller form factor.
Price (As configured for review): $3,719. Prices start at $2800.
Final Grade: A
For More Information on the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation: BOXX Technologies; 512.835.0400; www.boxxtech.com
Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
MakerBot (now a Stratasys company), the company that brought us one of the first relatively low-cost, assembled 3D printer is at it again, this time with a 3D scanner called the MakerBot Digitizer.
In an effort to appeal to the low end of 3D digitizing (much like it did with the MakerBot Replicator), the MakerBot Digitizer takes physical objects, scans them using a camera and two lasers, and creates a 3D digital file – “without any need for design or 3D software experience.” Really? I’m skeptical of this statement because it has been tried before, with relatively little success — scans of complex objects can be difficult to process into something useful.
The MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner is optimized for and works seamlessly with MakerBot’s Replicator Desktop 3D Printers and MakerBot Thingiverse (no surprise there).
Just connect the MakerBot Digitizer to a laptop or computer and you are ready to digitize. Is it really that easy?
According to the company, the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner offers:
- Software to create clean, watertight 3D models with just two clicks
- A 3D digital design file in just minutes
- No design skills, 3D modeling, or CAD expertise required to get started
- Outputs standard 3D design file formats that can be modified and improved in third-party 3D modeling programs, like Autodesk’s free software MeshMixer
- Creates a 3D digital file that can be printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer and other 3D printers
- Upload scans directly to MakerBot’s Thingiverse.com, the community for sharing 3D printable objects.
- Ability to digitize physical objects up to 8” in diameter and 8” tall and up to 3 kg (6.6 lbs.)
The ease of use and “no skills required” claims are a bit of a stretch for me, because the MakerBot Replicator is not exactly foolproof and totally autonomous, so how can the MakerBot Digitizer be that much different?
The MakerBot Digitizer is for sale at makerbot.com/digitizer. Pre-orders are being taken now, with shipping expected mid-October. Price is $1,400, plus an optional $150 for MakerBot Digitizer MakerCare, a service and support program, plus $9 shipping insurance. A total cost of $1,559 might seem like a bargain at first, but expect to see several lower-cost 3D digitizers on the market in the next few months.
At that price point, is the MakerBot Digitizer overpriced? Sight unseen and with no hands-on experience with it, I would tend to say yes, as there are a few low-cost, low-end 3D digitizers/scanners already on the market, including Microsoft’s Kinect at a fraction of the cost. Another competitor, NextEngine, has been around for several years, and yes, it costs twice as much, but seems more robust and production-ready, as well as having superior accuracy and resolution. Both the MakerBot Digitzer and the NextEngine scanner employ turntables for rotating objects for capture, but the NextEngine is able to accommodate larger objects. It’s true with 3D digitizing as with most things — you get what you pay for.
Will the MakerBot Digitizer be a hit like the MakerBot Replicator was? I would peg the probability as low. Why? A lot of competition is coming soon, and how many objects does an average DIYer/hobbyist really need to print in 3D as output, much less digitize for input? As I said in a blog post a few weeks ago, why buy when you can rent, and I think this will ultimately ring true for 3D digitizers for the common man unless the price drops quite a bit.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I am in the process of writing an authoritative, comprehensive sourcebook on 3D object scanning/digitizing/capture that will detail methods, technologies, applications, vendors, and trends. Look for it in Q2 2014.
Thursday, August 8th, 2013
The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed. That is, until recently. According to the Wohlers Report, sales of 3D printers started to decline last year and have continued to accelerate downward this year.
But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.
It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.
That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local Staples or UPS store.
A few months ago, ago, office supply retail giant, Staples, announced that they had opened their first 3D printing “Experience Centre” in the Netherlands. Staples selected Mcor’s paper-based Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) 3D printing technology, exclusively for this service, citing Mcor’s relative low cost and color capability.
This announcement followed Staples’ announcement last November that they were launching “Easy 3D,” an online and in-store 3D printing service. Together, these two 3D printing endeavors will (hopefully) fulfill Staples’ goal to provide comprehensive 3D printing services for its customers.
3D Printing at Staples in the Netherlands
Last week, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service will enable UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.
The UPS Store is installing Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printers in six test locations, beginning in San Diego. The test is a collaborative effort by Stratasys and The UPS Store to make 3D printing more accessible as awareness of the technology and its capabilities grow. Following the test launch, retail customers will be able to bring CAD files to participating UPS Store locations and have their 3D design printed.
The UPS Store 3D Printing Experience
How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at Staples and UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, you’ve got to start somewhere . . .
So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at Staples and UPS stores.
Thursday, August 1st, 2013
There are a few events I look forward to year after year — birthdays, my wedding anniversary, opening day for baseball, and some holidays. Another event I really look forward to is the opportunity to attend a Maker Faire. Although I could only attend one day (of two) of this year’s Detroit Maker Faire, I made the most of it and covered as much ground as I possibly could.
Maker Faire is an event created by Make magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset”. Flagship Maker Faires are held in San Mateo, CA, Detroit, MI, and New York City, the latter is also known as “World Maker Faire”. The first Maker Faire was held April 22–23, 2006, at the San Mateo County Event Center. It included six exposition and workshop pavilions, an outdoor midway, over 100 exhibiting makers, hands-on workshops, demonstrations, and DIY competitions. It’s grown significantly since then, but remains true to its roots.
I met the founder of Make magazine, Dale Dougherty, several years ago when Maker Faires were just beginning, and from what I can tell, he still embodies the same excitement and exuberance for the events today.
The Detroit Maker Faire was actually held just west of Detroit in Dearborn, MI at The Henry Ford — (also known as the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, and more formally as the Edison Institute) — a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex. Named for its founder, automotive pioneer Henry Ford, and based on his desire to preserve items of historical significance and portray the Industrial Revolution, the property houses a vast collection of famous homes, machinery, exhibits, and Americana. I grew up in the area, went here many times in my youth, am still fascinated by the place, and visit every chance I get when I’m in the area.
Henry Ford said of his museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used . . . When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition . . .”
Maker Faire Detroit 2013 at The Henry Ford Fire Breathing Guard Dragon
With the industrial history of the area (current history not withstanding), The Henry Ford provides a natural venue for holding this event for “makers.”
Maker Faire Detroit 2013 Drone Flyover Before the Festivities Begin
It was great being around and talking to creative people of all ages who make things from many materials — wood, metal, wire, fiber, electronics, software code, and so on — many of them repurposed from previous lives. It’s rare that I see so many happy people enjoying an event as unique as this that also breaks stereotypes by learning new skills. For example, girls soldering, boys weaving, women repairing antique gas engines, and men making objects out of scrap fabric. But, that’s what the Maker Faire is all about — showing off what you’ve done and learning something new that interests you.
There are two more big flagship Maker Faires coming up this year – New York City in September and October in Rome, Italy.
If you have the interest and chance to go, definitely do it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed and will probably get you inspired to make something. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Makers Faire, in Detroit or elsewhere.
For more information, click on Maker Faire