Web3D Consortium Announces CAD Distillation Format For Visualization
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Web3D Consortium Announces CAD Distillation Format For Visualization

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 www.web3d.org.

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.

Solid Edge Version 16 continues to deliver on its Design with Insight vision by providing a new focus on helping customers to ease the design of complex products with increased insight into design intent and the industries Solid Edge serves, all under the control of the built-in Insight for design management.

Capturing and maintaining design intent throughout the process is one of the most effective ways to battle design complexity and Solid Edge has continuously enhanced its system design capabilities to take advantage of this intelligence. New system design features for Version 16 include adjustable parts, fastener systems and dynamic families of assemblies, all of which deliver more flexibility during the design process.

Version 16 also enhances Solid Edge's capability for hybrid 2D/3D design with increased familiarity for AutoCAD users, a new capability to create 3D parts from 2D assembly layouts and new tools for hybrid 2D/3D design, including a new and unique "Zero D" capability that allows the definition of product structure before any geometry is committed to paper.

Battling design complexity means using applications that work the way designers want to work and fulfill the specific requirements of their industry. Solid Edge provides designers with increased insight to solve design challenges unique to their industry by delivering tools and workflows for industry-specific challenges to accelerate the design process.

Version 16 rounds out its suite of consumer products applications with Virtual Studio+, an advanced photorealistic-rendering solution that includes a new artistic, sketch-based rendering capability for early stage representations and concept reviews.

For machine design, Solid Edge adds new frame design and piping capability to complement systems design and hybrid 2D/3D enhancements, which allow for an expanded focus on the process equipment industry.

Earlier this year, Version 15 introduced Solid Edge into the mold design market with a new add-on application for mold tooling to complement existing core and cavity capabilities. With V16, Solid Edge Mold Tooling is enhanced to now automate the design of additional features such as runner bars, slides, inserts, stripper plates and water channels. In addition, Mold Tooling now comes with standard libraries for other popular component suppliers and a new capability to define custom mold bases.

"Solid Edge's commitment to research and development yet again delivers significant value to designers and engineers," said Monica Schnitger, Senior Vice President of Market Analysis at Daratech, a market research firm. "In addition to a compelling number of customer-requested enhancements in Version 16, Solid Edge delivers new functionality that advances the design process for engineers typified by Zero D and the 'Evolve to 3D' migration program," said Schnitger. "Zero D's ability to allow designers to conceptualize an assembly structure from the top down using virtual components is a true productivity gain, much like Solid Edge's 'Evolve to 3D' program, which allows users to move to 3D at their own pace, establishing their own 2D/3D workflows without experiencing the disruption of design process realignment."

Preliminary indications are that Solid Edge Version 16 shows that the company (now called simply, UGS) is again committed to its core modeling capabilities. While Version 15 was a good progression from the previous version, I felt that the company emphasized the incorporation of and integration with Microsoft's Sharepoint Server for PDM purposes at the expense of the nuts and bolts mechanical design capabilities that Solid Edge had achieved. Version 16, however, points to the fact that design is again indeed the crux of Solid Edge. Since I have backgrounds in both mechanical engineering and industrial design, Solid Edge Version 16 appeals to me on a couple of different levels. On the industrial design side, Solid Edge's Rapid Blue shape creation technology provides styling flexibility without having to be concerned with history, and its process-specific "super features" can be used to create complex and difficult model features with one command. With V16, I'll be interested to see how the new Virtual Studio+ add-on application works for creating accurate and photorealistic design iterations. On the mechanical engineering side, V16 expands on the adjustable parts and assemblies that were introduced in V15 that emphasizes how an assembly functions and how the component parts interact with each other. For concept to design purposes, I'm also intrigued with V16's top-down design approach where you begin with so-called "Zero D" (0D) for developing a partial or complete assembly structure without having to create any physical files. New or existing 2D or 3D deign elements can be associated with the 0D structure to create 2D parts and subassemblies. When you're ready to move from concept to design, a Publish command populates the structure with part and subassembly files, and then you can move on to more detailed 3D design development. Sight unseen to this point, on paper Solid Edge V16 seems like it will be a good release for UGS. When we obtain a review copy of the software, we will be including it in our upcoming comparative review of MCAD software packages.

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



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