April 09, 2007
SolidWorks and Rhino Plug-In Connection
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Lowell Walmsley, data exchange manager at McNeel, worked with Laurent Eraud, Datakit’s Rhino V3 plug-in specialist. Walmsley explained, “I don’t often travel for projects like this, but the time frame for the release of the final version was tight. Working side by side with Datakit to find solutions to the problems as they occurred helped us to progress very quickly.”

Datakit has been offering Rhinoceros V3 plug-ins for most CAD software for several years and has gained recognition within the Rhino community. Its products, which have capabilities for reading native formats, are distributed through a worldwide dealer network.

McNeel’s decision to integrate a SolidWorks converter based on the Datakit platform addressed a number of strategic and technical requirements.

Walmsley explains, “We entered into a partnership with SolidWorks to facilitate data exchange and interoperability between the two software products. We wanted to develop a solution that would read Rhino surfaces in SolidWorks, which we did, but then in order to provide more complete interoperability, we wanted to offer a solution that would read native SolidWorks files into Rhino V4. We knew about Datakit’s experience, and that’s why we contacted them to develop a Rhino V4 plug-in that would read SolidWorks geometry. Rhino has a great reputation for data exchange. We were looking for a tool that would be both fast and precise, would work like the other conversion
solutions we have in Rhino, and would deliver the seamless usability that matters a lot to our customers.”

Laurent Eraud, Datakit’s Rhino specialist, adds, “To be able to deliver 100% efficiency we found solutions for all the cases we encountered, including some that occur rarely but that could be a real obstacle for users; for example, when the SolidWorks model was originally imported and is flawed. Sharing an office enabled us to think things through together and look for solutions that would really address the way Rhino users work together in the real world.”

Lowell Walmsley looks back on the work accomplished at Datakit, “This was a satisfying experience on a technical level. The interface is up and running, it meets our expectations, and we have rolled it out on schedule. I have also learned about the way Datakit does things. The teamwork is great; everyone contributes his individual skills to the whole group.”

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

When you think of data translation/conversion products and services, Datakit has quite a bit of competition that makes it clear that what it and its competition provide are obviously in high demand. And, that demand shows absolutely no signs of abating anytime soon. As a matter of fact, data translation/conversion might even be considered a “growth industry” for the next several years as CAD data formats and related problems associated with them continue to proliferate.

Anyway, while this particular converter from McNeel’s Rhino to SolidWorks might be new, Datakit has worked extensively with McNeel in the past, and it already had plenty of ongoing partnerships with other CAD vendors, including Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, UGS, and the Open Design Alliance (the latter of which was involved with Autodesk’s trademark infringement lawsuit against it, but was ended last week as a federal judge approved a negotiated settlement between the two parties).

Datakit provides CAD data converters as either native and standard translators or plug-ins. Its technology allows 2D, 3D, wireframe, solid and surface data exchanges, as well as attributes, features, and history trees. All in all, Datakit has almost 130 data standalone and plug-in converters available.

As CAD products go, Rhino has been around a relatively long time and has quite a loyal following. I’ve evaluated and used it on and off for several years. In my mind, it’s always had five basic strengths going for it:

  • The right price – the current MSRP is under $1,000
  • Its surfacing capabilities and versatility
  • Its relatively modest hardware requirements
  • Its relatively short learning curve
  • Its ability to import and export data relatively cleanly

    Rhino can create, edit, analyze, and translate NURBS curves, surfaces, and solids. There are no limits on complexity, degree, or size. Rhino also supports polygon meshes and point clouds. This all points to its capabilities and versatility.

    The new Rhino V4 plug-in that reads SolidWorks geometry is an additional step up for Rhino, an application that has had a well-deserved positive reputation for data exchange by itself.

    To me, what this points to (beyond the Rhino/Datakit/SolidWorks aspect of the announcement) is the increasing attention and importance that traditional MCAD vendors are placing on industrial design and the ability to handle complex, stylized surfaces. Software vendors’ customers are demanding these increasingly complex surface handling capabilities because their customers are demanding more organic and geometrically complex products.

    Many software developers are finally realizing that ID (industrial design) matters because it is increasingly becoming a product differentiator, especially for new technologies or those in crowded markets. The profession itself and the tools it uses continue to evolve right along with consumer product demand.

    CAD packages are not the same as CAID (computer-aided industrial design) packages, and vice versa: Each product type addresses a specific need and serves a definite purpose. Historically, CAID has occupied the conceptual front-end of the product-development process (primarily surfaces), while CAD has been best suited for the design refinement portion of the process (primarily solids).

    Traditionally, CAID packages were developed specifically with industrial designers in mind. In more of a graphical environment, they strive to stimulate creativity by providing a variety of design options. In essence, these tools are used to quickly create and alter the shape, form and surface qualities of 3D models. CAID tools also excel at presenting design concepts with photorealistic rendering and lighting effects. What they often lack is the degree of design precision found in most CAD tools, although this is changing fairly rapidly.

    Probably the biggest recent move in the industrial design tool market was Autodesk’s acquisition of Alias a couple of years ago. With the acquisition, Autodesk obtained new opportunities -- namely, a strong inroad to automotive styling and design and computer-aided industrial design through Alias' Studio Tools line. This broadened Autodesk's appeal on the conceptual side of the product-development cycle, where previously it was lacking. Studio Tools had long been known for its ability to create outstanding surfaces, and this capability is starting to come in handy when used in tandem with Autodesk's Inventor, an application that had never had a great reputation for complex
    surface creation. Over time, Alias and its products have been integrated into Autodesk's manufacturing suite (the product is now called Autodesk AliasStudio).

    For its part, SolidWorks for the past couple of years has eluded to the fact that it is also very interested in the industrial design market, and this new Rhino plug-in will help further that cause. Much like analysis, simulation, and visualization, ID is a part of the new MCAD frontier.

    The Week’s Top 5

    At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

    Dassault Systemes held a world premiere unveiling the scientifically proven Great Pyramid construction theory with its creator, architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, to model and explore the pyramid in 3D and run simulations confirming his theory that the pyramid was built from the inside. Dassault allowed Houdin to establish the first theory ever explaining the construction of the Great Pyramid from start to finish. The theory is founded on three foundations:

  • The use of an outside ramp to build the first 43 meters of the pyramid
  • The use of an internal spiral ramp running behind the faces of the pyramid to complete the construction
  • The use of the Great Gallery to accommodate an ingenious system of counterweights to lift the heavy granite ceiling rafters (up to 63 tons) in the King's Funeral Chamber.

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    You can find the full MCADCafe event calendar here.

    To read more news, click here.

    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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