February 21, 2005
UGS And Autodesk Form Interoperability Alliance
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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UGS And Autodesk Form Interoperability Alliance

Addressing the growing need for manufacturers to build products faster, more efficiently and with higher quality, UGS and Autodesk announced a strategic alliance to enable complex product and process information to be widely and quickly shared, without the obstacle of format incompatibility.

Designed to initially benefit nearly 10 million users worldwide, the new alliance calls for the companies to jointly build on the success of UGS' JT and Autodesk's Design Web Format (DWF) -- two open, widely-used and highly-complementary formats for sharing digital product design, engineering and manufacturing data -- to facilitate interoperability between applications utilizing the two file formats.

As part of the alliance, Autodesk, the design software company with the world's largest engineering user base, will become a member of UGS' JT Open Program, a global initiative to support JT, while UGS, a leading global provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) software and services, will join the Autodesk Developer Network and become a DWF Developer partner.

"This alliance between UGS and Autodesk puts our customers first by ensuring seamless data interoperability between our products and efficient data flow up and down the value chain and between organizations," said Tony Affuso, chairman, CEO and president of UGS. "By combining technology strengths and leveraging the widespread adoption of our data formats, UGS and Autodesk will help customers -- and the PLM industry at large -- advance to a higher level of manufacturing productivity. "Customers are rightfully demanding open technologies and systems, and this alliance is a direct response to those demands, pushing the closed and proprietary systems of yesterday one step closer to

UGS and Autodesk are committed to ensuring that interoperability efforts, which will tap UGS' PLM XML schema, will not disrupt existing users' investment in design data. To that end, UGS will support the exchange of DWF format in all its PLM applications by expanding upon JT and PLM XML. In a like manner, Autodesk will support the exchange of JT in its applications with a complementary expansion of DWF-based tools.

"This alliance is in direct response to market demand. Together Autodesk and UGS will empower customers to create, manage and share compact, high-fidelity versions of complex designs in industry-leading, open file formats," said Carl Bass, chief operating officer of Autodesk.

"Customers can be certain that this digital information can be easily shared, that data accuracy and integrity are maintained and that the value of their present and future technology investments is maximized."

More than five million users depend on Autodesk DWF for viewing 2D and 3D digital product data, and it is used throughout the globe for sharing complex, computer-aided design (CAD), engineering and mapping information. The DWF specification and the Autodesk DWF Toolkit are published and available to any developer free of charge to build applications with DWF.

The JT format from UGS, the world's most widely used format for sharing lightweight 3D product images and manufacturing information, is used by nearly four million users and has been adopted by virtually all of the world's leading CAD applications.

Autodesk, Design Web Format and DWF are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Autodesk, Inc., in the USA and/or other countries.

I'm not entirely sure, but I think the purpose of this alliance is to ensure interoperability between Autodesk's DWF and UGS' JT file formats and associated viewers. How and when this will happen is a mystery, and will probably remain so for quite some time. This announcement actually raises more questions than it answers. This announcement also is interesting because until now, Autodesk historically has guarded its file format secrets as closely as the formula for Coca-Cola. What it all boils down to is two fierce competitors mutually joining each other's open viewer initiatives - UGS' JT Open Program and Autodesk's DWF Developer Program. This announcement, however, says little about
the degree to which each company will integrate and interact with the other's data format and viewer.

For those of you who may not be familiar with it, JT Open is becoming what appears to be an increasingly influential community of software vendors, users, universities, and other parties spanning the PLM chain. These various entities, through an "open distribution" of technology and business model on a relatively level playing field, are able to share 3D data through the medium of the JT file format for the following purposes:

Visualization - JT data seems well suited to visualization applications and the JT Open Toolkit provides API access to the JT information in a manner that lets a visualization application configure or render the data most consistently with their paradigm

Collaboration - The JT Open Toolkit and JT data support collaboration applications. Most collaboration capability revolves around product structure integration, design-in-context, or design reviews - all of which are supported by the JT data representation and toolkit access

Data Sharing - The JT Open Toolkit and JT data provide an enhanced capability within a multi-CAD design environment. Lightweight representations can be used for design-in-context, with the ability to handle precise representations if actual model information is needed for design operations.

Any individual or organization interested in JT can join JT Open. This includes software vendors who want to develop JT-enabled applications for sale to other member companies, as well as companies that want to make JT a standard part of their business processes. JT is becoming a mature, lightweight data format that already enjoys relatively widespread use in the automobile and aerospace industries, but seems equally suitable for virtually all manufacturing industry applications. The success of JT and applications that exploit it is such that JT is becoming the preferred common data format for many large end-users. The JT data representation is:
  • A rich data model with robust entity support
  • A high-performance, compact persistence archive format for graphics data
  • Supportive of large assembly/model interactive capabilities
  • CAD-neutral supporting just about all major MCAD applications
  • Software product developers have created translators from many popular MCAD systems into JT. It is almost always the only format common to the major applications that might be used in an enterprise. JT data can be very lightweight, holding little more than facet data or it can be richer and hold associations to the original CAD information, assemblies, product structure, geometry, attributes, and meta data. It supports multiple tessellations and level-of-detail generation.

    It will be interesting to see how a competing technology, 3DXML, and its proponents, Dassault Systemes and Microsoft, respond to this latest development announced by UGS and Autodesk. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered surrounding this announcement, and hopefully, both companies, although still competing on the MCAD applications side of things, will be forthcoming with that information as time goes by. It's all in the details.

    Jeffrey Rowe is the editor and publisher of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached here or 408.850.9230.

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