June 07, 2004
Web3D Consortium Announces CAD Distillation Format For Visualization
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Web3D Consortium Announces CAD Distillation Format For Visualization

The Web3D Consortium last week announced that it has completed the first working draft of the CAD Distillation Format (CDF) specification -- an open, royalty-free file format that distills the essential elements of complex CAD and architectural data for use throughout an enterprise -- enabling translation of CAD data to an open format for publishing and interactive media. CDF enables CAD Data to be used in documentation, training, sales, and marketing departments to increase productivity, cut costs and generate new revenue streams -- without exposing sensitive design information (such as dimensions and physical properties). The process includes an open framework pipeline that incorporates
tools for decimation of surfaces to constructs that are more common in non-CAD environments.

The CDF specification is based on X3D, the open standard for communication of real-time 3D data, which is now in the final stages of ratification by the International Standards Organization (ISO) and has been adopted by MPEG. A second working draft of the CDF specification will be available this summer as part of Amendment 1 (AMD-1) to X3D -- which will enable CDF with high-fidelity, hardware-accelerated programmable shaders and a compressed binary format to support rapid delivery and content protection. Following Web3D Consortium member approval X3D AMD-1, with CDF, will be submitted to ISO for standardization later this year.

"Billions of dollars are invested in CAD data, but that data is trapped within proprietary formats and specialized CAD systems which prevent it from enabling an entire organization. CDF unlocks this huge untapped resource while protecting proprietary design information and complementing existing design-oriented CAD formats," said Neil Trevett, president of the Web3D Consortium and senior vice president of 3Dlabs. "Web3D's open membership and proven ISO liaison creates an ideal forum for building this important standard. CDF is leveraging the evolving power of X3D to deliver a state-of-the-art solution that is highly synergistic with established initiatives at the W3C, ISO and MPEG."

The CDF specification is being created by the CAD Working Group of the Web3D Consortium. Working Group members are generating a set of software tools and documentation to enable the CDF file format to be rapidly and easily adopted. This CDF Software Development Kit will include a precise definition of the data transfer process for applications importing and exporting CDF data, together with fully functional open source code examples and a best-practices guide.

CDF enables selected portions of CAD designs to be integrated into common desktop applications, enabling non-CAD experts to easily re-purpose design data. For example, the CAD data from a large engineering project, such as a new aircraft, can be transferred via CDF into PowerPoint for interactive presentations. The CDF data can also be used by the marketing department to add visual realism and cinematic effects with Programmable Shaders, or to create high quality print pieces for pre-sales brochures. Operations could, in turn, take the marketing data for creation of a safety video. In addition, customers are able to interact with an online walkthrough of the aircraft over the Web, all
before the actual aircraft is released.

"The CAD Distillation Format will create a significant opportunity for any organization that uses CAD data to be more efficient and productive," said Paul Keller, program manager at NASA Ames. "Leveraging X3D is key to CDF's success -- by providing a cutting-edge foundation that is highly synergistic with Web3D's larger vision of enabling 3D to be communicated across diverse platforms, applications and networks."

Led by Dr. Julian Gomez of NASA RIACCS, the Web3D Consortium CAD Working Group includes end customers, CAD product vendors, X3D product vendors and technology experts in CAD data formats, XML, data compression and streaming. Members include 3Dlabs, Actify, Autodesk, Dassault Systems, HP, LatticeXVL, Media Machines, Naval Postgraduate School, NASA, ParallelGraphics, PTC, Right Hemisphere, SGDL, SolidWorks, Sun Microsystems, TGS, Techsoft, UGS, and Yumetech.

X3D forms the extensible technology foundation for the Consortium's market-focused standardization activities. X3D is a powerful open file format standard for 3D visual effects, behavioral modeling and interaction. X3D's XML-encoded scene graph enables 3D to be incorporated into web services architectures and distributed environments and facilitates moving 3D data between applications. X3D's language-neutral Scene Authoring Interface (SAI) enables real time 3D content and controls to be easily integrated into a broad range of web and non-web applications. Standalone X3D browsers are shipping today from 3D browser companies such as CRC, Media Machines, and Yumetech.

X3D is an Open Standards XML-enabled 3D file format to enable real-time communication of 3D data across all applications and network applications. It can be integrated with:
  • Web Services
  • Distributed Networks
  • Cross-platform, inter-application file and data transfer
  • X3D Supports:
    • 3D graphics - Polygonal geometry, parametric geometry, hierarchical transformations, lighting, materials and multi-pass/multi-stage texture mapping
    • 2D graphics - Spatialized text; 2D vector graphics; 2D/3D compositing
    • Animation - Timers and interpolators to drive continuous animations; humanoid animation and morphing
    • Spatialized audio and video - Audiovisual sources mapped onto geometry in the scene
    • User interaction - Mouse-based picking and dragging; keyboard input
    • Navigation - Cameras; user movement within the 3D scene; collision, proximity and visibility detection
    • User-defined objects - Ability to extend built-in browser functionality by creating user-defined data types
    • Scripting - Ability to dynamically change the scene via programming and scripting languages
    • Networking - Ability to compose a single X3D scene out of assets located on a network; hyperlinking of objects to other scenes or assets located on the World Wide Web
    • Physical simulation - Humanoid animation; geospatial datasets; integration with Distributed Interactive Simulation (DIS) protocols
    • More information on the Consortium is available at

      Well, here's another (actually a continuing) attempt at a truly neutral CAD data format for viewing and other purposes that don't require a product or technology from the company from which the data originated. For the MCAD world it's interesting to see that so many of the major CAD vendors are members of the organization - especially those that currently develop and market products with proprietary data formats for use with their respective software packages and/or for communicating that data across the Web to those who may or may not have the respective software packages. I spoke briefly with Neil Trevett, president of the Web3D Consortium, and he emphasized that CDF is in no way duplicating technologies like STEP or IGES. The sole purpose of CDF is distilling the visual aspects of CAD model into what he termed, a "subtle format," that retains some assembly/subassembly information, but not so much that the design data could be imported into an MCAD package and used as-is. CDF also totally contrasts with the monolithic nature of VRML97, that requires adopting an entire feature set for compliance. X3D, on the other hand, lets developers support subsets of the specification ("Profiles"), composed of modular blocks of functionality ("Components"). A component-based architecture supports the creation of different "profiles" which can be individually supported.
      Components can be individually extended or modified through adding new "levels", or new components can be added to introduce new features, such as streaming. Through this mechanism, advancements of the specification can move quickly because development in one area doesn't slow the specification as a whole. Importantly, the conformance requirements for a particular piece of content are unambiguously defined by indicating the profiles, components and levels required by that content. The Consortium is currently making forays into CAD and medical markets, and GIS may be on the horizon.

      UGS Introduces Solid Edge Version 16; Due To Ship In September

      Last week at the Solid Edge User Summit, UGS, launched Version 16 of Solid Edge, its 3D CAD system for the mainstream product lifecycle management (PLM) market. UGS expects the new release to begin shipping in September.

      "Solid Edge has performed admirably over the past two years during some of the most difficult economic conditions in recent history," said Tony Affuso, chairman, CEO and president of UGS. "With the establishment of UGS as an independent company, Solid Edge will play a key role in our expansion and growth as we enhance our business in the PLM industry."

      Product complexity has dramatically increased over the years. A new paper from information and communications research firm Cambashi Ltd. in the United Kingdom reports that engineering departments are under constantly increasing pressure to:
    • Meet market demand for broader product lines with increased options
    • Apply new technologies before your competition can
    • Fit more and more features into less and less space
    • Satisfy customer demand for products that look good as well as work
    • Those pressures occur as engineering also is required to turn over product lines faster than ever before, the paper says.

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      -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

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