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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

The Continuing Relevance of Spatial’s 3D Software Components

November 20th, 2014 by Jeff Rowe

Last month we attended the Spatial Insider’s Summit 2014 and got a good look at the company’s technologies, current position, and future direction.

From its inception, Spatial, a Dassault Systèmes company, has been a developer and provider of software components – modular software packages that perform a set of specific and related functions. This class of software is designed to work as a functional component of a larger application, such as CAD, CAM, or CAE. The goal of component software is to standardize the interfaces between software components so that they can work together efficiently

Although far from the only issue of concern, reusability also is a vital characteristic of software components. Ideally, software components should be designed and implemented in such a way that many different applications could reuse them. This is not an easy task because it takes significant effort to write software components that are effectively reusable. To succeed, components need to be:

  • Fully documented
  • Thoroughly tested
  • Designed knowing that they inevitably will be put to unforeseen uses.

In developing its software components, Spatial has always realized, too, that the best modeling components excel at modeling with imported data, and through data reuse, data import is more prevalent than data creation. With regard to the second part of the statement, Spatial understands that design data reuse is much more than just data exchange.

Spatial Software Components in Fabrication and Manufacturing

Since its beginning in 1986, Spatial has been a developer of 3D modeling software components. In 1986, Spatial had one main product: ACIS, the first commercially available 3D geometric modeling kernel. Over time, Spatial added other products to its portfolio that enabled ISVs, primarily in the CAD/CAM industries, for building applications. These components included extensions and updates to the ACIS modeler, visualization products, as well as acquisitions in translator technology. In 2000, Spatial was purchased by Dassault Systèmes and became a DS corporate brand.

Let’s take a look at some of Spatial’s 3D modeling software components.


The 3D ACIS Modeler (ACIS) is the software component that started it all and is Spatial’s modeling component used in over 300 CAD/CAM/CAE applications with millions of seats. ACIS features an open, object-oriented C++ architecture that enables 3D modeling capabilities. It is particularly well-suited for developing applications with hybrid modeling features, since it integrates wireframe, surface, and solid modeling functionality with both manifold and non-manifold topology, and a set of geometric operations. ACIS provides a basis 3D modeling functionality, plus the flexibility to meet individual application requirements. The 3D solid modeler also includes ACIS extensions for specific application needs including hidden line removal, deformable modeling, advanced covering and defeaturing.

Some of most prominent features in ACIS include:

  • Provides advanced modeling capabilities including wireframe, surface, solid modeling, topology and geometric operations
  • Easier development and maintenance of ACIS applications with APIs that preserve model integrity and provide information when problems occur
  • Enables model exploration through utilities for modification, annotation, and query
  • Promotes extensibility through a flexible 3D modeler building block
  • Supports the SAT file format and tolerant modeling for interoperability
  • Multiprocessor enhancements
  • Adept at processing point cloud and associated data from CMMs that also employ constraint solvers for alignment purposes.


First unveiled in 2011, Spatial’s Convergence Geometric Modeler (CGM) is a fully-functional modeler that can also be used as a modeling component. When first released on its own, Spatial claimed that CGM was the industry’s first commercial 3D geometry kernel in over ten years. CGM is the same technology used in Dassault Systèmes’ V5 and V6 products (including CATIA). The underlying modeling engine has been the foundation of V5 products for over twelve years and counting.

CGM provides the following capabilities:

  • Large model capacity and performance exceeding traditional system limitations
  • Advanced deformation and warping to address complex design and manufacturing workflows
  • Tight application data integration due to geometric data compatibility with V5 and V6
  • Improved multiprocessor enhancements
  • Ability to import new CAD formats and edit the geometry using CGM direct editing tools.

The geometry engine was developed with performance in mind. CGM’s memory optimization strategies give it unparalleled capacity for large data handling. Consequently, designing and manipulating large models is fast and reliable, especially when compared to other commercial modelers.

CGM provides the foundation for 3D modeling, supplying functions to create, modify and query objects as well as to support visualization, simulation and analysis. The B-rep modeler at the core of CGM supports both history-based and direct modeling, with multi-dimensional modeling that integrates wire, surface and solid modeling functionality. CGM provides high-quality geometry, large model capacity (32- and 64-bit), and a C++ object oriented API.

CGM has tolerant modeling as a principal element of the architecture. The result is a reliable modeler that maintains model validity for imported data and through subsequent modeling operations.

Although the company doesn’t come out and actually say it, with the resources and attention given to CGM, I’ve suspected for some time that it will ultimately replace ACIS sometime in the future.

I’d estimate that between ACIS and CGM, these components are part of at least 30-40% of all current CAD seats.

3D InterOp

Also introduced in 2011, Spatial’s 3D InterOp CGM provides data exchange between CAD formats, enabling superior CAD file translation. This is in keeping with Spatial’s feeling that data import id more prevalent than data creation. The comprehensive suite of translators provides import/export for all applications, including ACIS, CGM and Parasolid-based applications. 3D InterOp is embedded in many of today’s leading design, engineering, and manufacturing applications.

Spatial’s comprehensive suite of translators provide data exchange for ACIS, CGM, or Parasolid modelers and can be configured to meet the needs of any modeler.

3D InterOp CGM is a high-performance, high-quality set of B-rep translators, supporting parts, assemblies and non-geometrical metadata. 3D InterOp CGM R2012 Suite of translators delivers high-performance and high-quality translation of all popular CAD formats including CATIA V4, CATIA V5, CATIA V6, SolidWorks, Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, and NX and industry standard formats IGES, STEP, and Parasolid. Capabilities include:

  • For CATIA V5 and V6, 3D InterOp CGM directly extracts geometry avoiding the need for translation and resulting in performance up to ten times faster than other commercially available translators. 3D InterOp CGM also optimizes the performance of reading industry standard file formats, such as IGES and STEP.
  • A unified object oriented interface, making the task of integration straightforward and efficient. 3D InterOp CGM supports all 3D software applications, independent of the underlying modeling engine.
  • Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) attached to a 3D CAD model is essential for many of today’s manufacturing applications. 3D InterOp supports PMI and includes notes, dimensions, Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerances (GD&T), datums and datum targets, and surface roughness.
  • 3D InterOp Translators optionally translate non-geometric data attached to topology, including names, color, coordinate systems, work planes, and layers.
  • 3D InterOp translations support the translation of solid, wire, surface (B-rep), free surfaces, free curves and free points. Advanced modeling technology is used in each of the translators to address common data translation differences including geometry repair, topology repair, and tolerance resolution.
  • Continued emphasis on model-based engineering (MBE) practices.
  • They are developed, supported, and maintained by an expert source that focuses on improving specific aspects of the component.
  • They allow relatively small organizations to develop applications relatively economically and lets them focus on what they do best.
  • They are updated and released on a regular schedule so customers can time their application releases accordingly.

For quite a while now a lot of banter has been coursing through the MCAD industry about the significance, or rather, insignificance of one of the main software components – geometric modeling kernels. While it’s probably true that few users really care about the origin of the modeling kernel in their CAD tool, software component kernels are good for the following reasons:

  • They are developed, supported, and maintained by an expert source that focuses on improving specific aspects of the component.
  • They allow relatively small organizations to develop applications relatively economically and lets them focus on what they do best.
  • They are updated and released on a regular schedule so customers can time their application releases accordingly.

Of course, a counter argument could be made regarding software components, but most of the Spatial customers I have spoken with over the years have generally been pleased with the relationship and results.

3D software components are Spatial’s legacy and will continue to be its business for a long time to come. As they were in the past, software components will remain significant and relevant into the future for the MCAD industry. After all, 3D is Spatial’s business.

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One Response to “The Continuing Relevance of Spatial’s 3D Software Components”

  1. Kevin De Smet says:

    What happened during the formative years of ACIS? For example, Intergraph switching from ACIS to Parasolid during the early versions of SolidEdge? Is ACIS today a much more reliable (i.e. competitive) offering? As hinted at in the article I suppose CGM will be the spiritual successor to ACIS going forward.

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