July 20, 2009
Translation Consolidation: ITI Acquires Proficiency
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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International TechneGroup Incorporated (ITI) announced that the ITI TranscenData business has acquired Proficiency, a developer of feature-based CAD data translation software. “Proficiency is a strategic acquisition that extends our interoperability capabilities and strengthens ITI’s overall focus of product development productivity”, said ITI Chairman and CEO, Mike Lemon.

“This is an exciting milestone for our company,” said ITI TranscenData President, Don Hemmelgarn. “We now provide the most comprehensive suite of solutions in the Product Data Interoperability industry. This alignment is not only beneficial for existing ITI and Proficiency clients, but for companies still weighing and planning interoperability solutions. We are now the ideal partner, offering the highest quality CAD model data to manufacturing enterprises and their supply chain.”

ITI is a global company helping clients achieve world class product development productivity. ITI TranscenData provides interoperability solutions that enable companies to effectively exchange, reuse, integrate and share engineering product data among diverse software applications. ITI TranscenData solutions are aimed directly at reducing and eliminating non-value-added time and costs associated with reusing product data. ITI TranscenData offers PLM Integration services, PLM and CAD Data Migration solutions and software products such as CADfix, CADIQ, and DEXcenter.

Proficiency’s Collaboration Gateway technology will continue to be offered through the ITI TranscenData business, providing the automated re-mastering of parametric CAD data from one CAD system into another, including all of the 3D design intelligence, such as features, sketches, parameters and constraints, manufacturing info, metadata and assembly information. Proficiency supports interoperability between: Pro/Engineer, I-deas, UG-NX, Catia V4 and Catia V5. Alex Tsechansky, Vice President of Research and Development for Proficiency commented, “Over the past 10 years Proficiency has developed product knowledge migration capabilities between all high end CAD platforms. Combining this
technology with ITI TranscenData’s solutions will be a win-win for both the business and our customers.”

The acquisition of Proficiency by ITI TranscenData will offer strength and stability to the existing client bases of both companies. When news of the acquisition was shared with existing ITI TranscenData and Proficiency clients, it was well received. “ITI TranscenData looks forward to working with the Proficiency team to ensure a rapid and seamless transition”, said Don Hemmelgarn. “Our combination will create excellent growth opportunities for our customers and employees.”

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

Consolidation in the MCAD community is an ongoing phenomenon, and the interoperability/translation (I know they’re not exactly the same thing, but close enough) sector of the market is no exception. On another level, I also consider this acquisition part of the ongoing and continuing quest for neutral design data.

ITI TranscenData was sort of a pioneer in the area of translating feature-based models between CAD systems. The CAD data translation service industry grew to where it is today, supposedly worth billions of dollars. As a matter of fact, our friend and colleague, Longview Advisor President, David Prawel, said, that a study conducted by his organization showed the CAD migration market of software and services to be in excess of $5 billion in 2008.

According to ITI, in the upcoming fiscal year, Proficiency is expected to provide approximately 20% of ITI TranscenData’s anticipated revenue of $15 million. Not bad, but this $3 million in revenue is pretty small potatoes in a market that is touted to generate more than $5 billion – 0.06% of the total. Somehow the numbers just don’t seem to add up in my book, although they seem to in others’.

Billions of dollars are invested in CAD data, but that data is trapped within a myriad proprietary formats and specialized CAD systems which prevent it from being used within or outside of the engineering department. Theoretically, a neutral format would unlock this huge untapped resource while protecting proprietary design information and complementing existing design-oriented CAD formats.

As we all know too well, a truly neutral design data format has been the holy grail for the CAD community for quite some time now. Unfortunately, also as we all know too well, the quest for this holy grail continues and is still far from being realized. Instead of design data file formats consolidating and becoming more neutral, it seems like they continue to proliferate more and more over time. Over the years several types of organizations – software vendors, manufacturing companies, and standards bodies – have attempted to develop neutral design data formats with varying degrees of success and acceptance.

One of the more successful attempts has been JT Open, an initiative driven by a diverse group of organizations s that view PLM as a competitive advantage and have adopted the "JT" data format as a quasi standard. JT is a common data format that theoretically enables product visualization and information sharing between PLM software applications. The functionality and lightweight nature of JT technology is intended for viewing and sharing product data and interactive images worldwide, in real-time and throughout all phases of the product lifecycle.

According to the JT Open organization, today there tens of thousands of JT-enabled sites worldwide, representing only a fraction of the potential market. Current industry thinking is that for every 3D CAD seat deployed there are 20-30 end-users who can make use of the data for design visualization and interrogation using less expensive applications on less expensive hardware. A recent estimate of the global 3D CAD installed base of approximately 2.5 million (that is, legitimate, licensed seats) puts the opportunity for JT-enabled applications at well over 40-60 million seats. Sounds like pretty good potential. Whether these numbers will ever be achieved is debatable, but in any event,
the potential is huge.

As I said earlier, JT’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 those software packages.

So, do you think most, or at least some, of the problems associated with interoperability have been solved? Whatever your experience and opinion, the answer is probably, “No.” CAD interoperability is a universal problem that just won’t go away.

Based on my experience, the current state of CAD data interoperability (or lack thereof) probably won’t surprise anyone who regularly deals with multiple design data formats. Although interoperability progress has been made with standards such as IGES and STEP, new file formats continue to proliferate and create havoc. As the sheer number of file formats grows, so do problems associated with exchanging data between them. Also growing are the many companies that supply products or services that attempt to solve or assuage the interoperability problem.

Engineers who deal with models created by others need to efficiently share their files. CAD vendors often describe this sharing as “interoperability” and claim to support the process through industry standards such as STEP and IGES, or direct translators. However, converting a CAD file to a different format often does not capture all the information that an engineer needs to do a job. Also, to a large extent, the vendors themselves have compounded the very problem they have vowed to solve.

The real world demonstrates that, although many design and manufacturing companies focus on standardizing on a small number of tools, and vendors boastfully claim to have solved the interoperability problem through the use of industry-standard formats and direct translators, end users are still having difficulty sharing files.

So why is translation/interoperability still such a huge problem? Well, for starters

  • Most CAD users reuse data and model components from a previous model (either their own or someone else's) when constructing digital models.
  • Relatively few CAD users consistently receive CAD models from their coworkers in their preferred CAD tool's format.
  • Extremely few CAD users always receive models from other companies in their preferred CAD tool's format.

    Again, none of these points should be all that surprising, but they are strong reminders of the work that remains to be done to tackle a universal problem. Admittedly, CAD vendors are not in the business of enabling their products to readily import and export model data to competing CAD applications for editing or refinement. Conversely, virtually all vendors allow indirect data import via IGES and STEP, but this process often leaves a lot to be desired. Also, IGES and STEP are used relatively little because they are not without problems of their own.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.

    Review Article
    • Spin, Spin and Spin Away July 21, 2009
      Reviewed by 'Pundit Who Knows'
      I cant fault Rowe for picking up all the wrong messages from ITI's acquisition of Proficiency. Many others before him have done the same thing when it comes to interop. Contrary to his conclusions, here is my take on this:
      1. Proficiency failed and failed miserably. Their technology never worked even after spending close to $50M. It should have been shut down 3-4 years ago. I heard one CAD vendor, whose product Proficiency supported, refer to it as 'garbage'.
      2. ITI bought them for (my guess) peanuts. No details of the financial transaction was disclosed. Need I say more?
      3. ITI has to put a brave face on this ludicrous deal. They have bought useless technology that they cant make work either. Time will prove me right. The CAD ISVs will make sure they dont succeed.
      4. Interop market is $5B? Only if you are smoking some heady stuff from Afghanistan. Companies would rather turn off their CAD systems than pay for interop.
      5. JT is a visualization format and thats that. It cant do anything for interop and Siemens knows it. Jeff can attempt to put (interop) lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig.
      6. Jeff is right about one thing: CAD interop will never be solved, for the simple reason interop is an occupational (& mathematical) hazard in CAD.
      Read this article for what it is: a positive spin on a worthless story (Proficiency acquistion) and a thinly disguised boost for a advertiser (Siemens & JT). Calling interop the bright spot means the CAD industry in deeper trouble than we perceive it to be.

        7 of 8 found this review helpful.
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