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October 24, 2011
Still Relevant After All These Years: Spatial 3D Software Components
Please note that contributed articles, blog entries, and comments posted on MCADcafe.com are the views and opinion of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the management and staff of Internet Business Systems and its subsidiary web-sites.
Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
Each MCAD Weekly Review delivers to its readers news concerning the latest developments in the MCAD industry, MCAD product and company news, featured downloads, customer wins, and coming events, along with a selection of other articles that we feel you might find interesting. Brought to you by MCADCafe.com. If we miss a story or subject that you feel deserves to be included, or you just want to suggest a future topic, please contact us! Questions? Feedback? Click here. Thank you!

We just attended the Spatial Insider's Summit and got a good look at the company's technologies, current position, and future direction. From its inception, Spatial, now a Dassault Systèmes company, has been a developer and provider of software components – modular software packages that perform a set of specific and related functions. This class of software is designed to work as a component of a larger application, such as CAD, CAM, or CAE. The goal of component software is to standardize the interfaces between software components so that they can work together seamlessly.

Although far from the only issue of concern, reusability also is a vital characteristic of software components. Ideally, software components should be designed and implemented in such a way that many different applications could reuse them. This is not an easy task because it takes significant effort to write software components that are effectively reusable. To succeed, components need to be:
  • Fully documented
  • Thoroughly tested

  • Robust - with comprehensive input-validity checking
  • Able to pass back appropriate error messages or return codes
  • Designed knowing that they inevitably will be put to unforeseen uses.

  • As mentioned earlier, from the its beginning in 1986, Spatial has been a developer of 3D modeling software components. In 1986, Spatial had one main product: ACIS, the first commercially available 3D geometric modeling kernel. Over time, Spatial added other products to its portfolio that enabled ISVs, primarily in the CAD/CAM industries, for building applications. These components included extensions and updates to the ACIS modeler, visualization products, as well as acquisitions in translator technology. In 2000, Spatial was purchased by Dassault Systèmes and became a subsidiary.

    Let's take a look at some of Spatial's 3D modeling software components.


    The 3D ACIS Modeler (ACIS) is the software component that started it all and is Spatial’s modeling component used in over 350 customer applications with more than 2 million seats worldwide. ACIS features an open, object-oriented C++ architecture that enables 3D modeling capabilities. It is particularly well-suited for developing applications with hybrid modeling features, since it integrates wireframe, surface, and solid modeling functionality with both manifold and non-manifold topology, and a set of geometric operations. ACIS provides a basis 3D modeling functionality, plus the flexibility to meet individual
    application requirements. The 3D solid modeler also includes ACIS extensions for specific application needs including hidden line removal, deformable modeling, advanced covering and defeaturing.

    Some of most prominent features in ACIS include:
  • Provides advanced modeling capabilities including wireframe, surface, solid modeling, topology and geometric operations
  • Enables model exploration through utilities for modification, annotation, and query
  • Promotes extensibility through a flexible 3D modeler building block
  • Supports the SAT file format and tolerant modeling for interoperability.

  • CGM

    Unveiled earlier this year, Spatial's Convergence Geometric Modeler (CGM) is a fully-functional modeler that can also be used as a modeling component. Spatial claims that CGM is the industry’s first commercial 3D geometry kernel in over ten years. The 3D modeling kernel is the same technology used in Dassault Systèmes’ V5 and V6 products (including CATIA). The underlying modeling engine has been the foundation of V5 products for over ten years.

    CGM provides the following capabilities:
  • Large model capacity and performance exceeding traditional system limitations
  • Advanced deformation and warping to address complex design and manufacturing workflows
  • Tight application data integration due to geometric data compatibility with V5 and V6

  • The geometry engine was developed with performance in mind. CGM’s memory optimization strategies give it unparalleled capacity for large data handling. Consequently, designing and manipulating large models is fast and reliable, especially when compared to other commercial modelers.

    CGM provides the foundation for 3D modeling, supplying functions to create, modify and query objects as well as to support visualization, simulation and analysis. The B-rep modeler at the core of CGM supports both history-based and direct modeling, with multi-dimensional modeling that integrates wire, surface and solid modeling functionality. CGM provides high-quality geometry, large model capacity (32- and 64-bit), and a C++ object oriented API.

    CGM has tolerant modeling as a principal element of the architecture. The result is a reliable modeler that maintains model validity for imported data and through subsequent modeling operations.

    Although the company doesn't come out and say it, with the resources and attention given to CGM, I suspect it will ultimately replace ACIS in the future.


    Also introduced earlier this year, Spatial’s 3D InterOp CGM provides data exchange between CAD formats, enabling superior CAD file translation. This is in keeping with Spatial's feeeling that data import id more prevalent than data creation. The comprehensive suite of translators provides import/export for all applications, including ACIS, CGM and Parasolid-based applications. 3D InterOp is embedded in many of today’s leading design, engineering, and manufacturing applications.

    Spatial's comprehensive suite of translators provide data exchange for ACIS, CGM, or Parasolid modelers and can be configured to meet the needs of any modeler.

    3D InterOp CGM is a high-performance, high-quality set of Brep translators, supporting parts, assemblies and non-geometrical metadata. 3D InterOp CGM R2012 Suite of translators delivers high-performance and high-quality translation of all popular CAD formats including CATIA V4, CATIA V5, SolidWorks, Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, and NX and industry standard formats IGES, STEP, and Parasolid. Capabilities include:
  • For CATIA V5, 3D InterOp CGM directly extracts geometry avoiding the need for translation and resulting in performance up to ten times faster than other commercially available translators. 3D InterOp CGM also optimizes the performance of reading industry standard file formats, such as IGES and STEP.
  • A unified object oriented interface, making the task of integration straightforward and efficient. 3D InterOp CGM supports all 3D software applications, independent of the underlying modeling engine.
  • Product Manufacturing Information (PMI) attached to a 3D CAD model is essential for many of today’s manufacturing applications. 3D InterOp supports PMI and includes notes, dimensions, Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerances (GD&T), datums and datum targets, and surface roughness.
  • 3D InterOp Translators optionally translate non-geometric data attached to topology, including names, color, coordinate systems, work planes, and layers.
  • 3D InterOp translations support the translation of solid, wire, surface (B-rep), free surfaces, free curves and free points. Advanced modeling technology is used in each of the translators to address common data translation differences including geometry repair, topology repair, and tolerance resolution.


    Lately, a lot of banter has been coursing through the MCAD industry about the significance, or rather, insignificance of one of the main software components – geometric modeling kernels. While it's probably true that few users really care about the origin of the modeling kernel in their CAD tool, software component kernels are good for the following reasons:
  • They are developed, supported, and maintained by an expert source that focuses on improving specific aspects of the component.
  • They allow relatively small organizations to develop applications relatively economically and lets them focus on what they do best.
  • They are updated and released on a regular schedule so customers can time their application releases accordingly.

  • Of course, a counter argument could be made regarding software components, but most of the Spatial customers I have spoken with over the years have generally been pleased with the arrangement and results.

    3D software components are Spatial's legacy and will continue to be its business for a long time to come. As they were in the past, software components will remain significant and relevant into the future for the MCAD industry.

    Response to a Letter to the Editor

    We recently received an interesting email from a reader on the subject of software piracy:

    As we all know, with pirated software, it is possible to get almost any commercial software on the Internet, and many dollars are spent trying to circumvent the pirating. We hear of how much money the software companies are losing to this action, but I would like to differ on that. Nearly all of the pirated software is obtained by non-commercial entities who use it for personal non-money making endeavors. These are people who aren't going to buy the software just for creating one or two personal products solely for their use. Software companies that cry that they are losing millions of dollars in lost sales due to software piracy are just crying wolf as they would never had made those sales anyway. On the other side, nearly all companies that design products for sale in an effort to make profits buy the software that they use and have proper licenses. If I owned an MCAD software development company I wouldn't build in any code to stop people from using the software and let anyone who wants to use it for personal use to do so so long as their work is not used to generate a profit for the user. Those who do use it to create products that are sold and generate profit will be required to buy a license. The fastest way to make your product the most used or popular in the world is to let everyone use
    it for free. MCAD software suppliers should focus their efforts on making money from the commercial users which is what they do now.

    Just imagine how quickly bugs and other issues would be caught if everyone was using your software. From society's side just think of how much creativity would be generated by allowing everyone to use the software.

    Maybe it is time for the industry to rethink their business model – no license, no direct support or training.

    While this is just my thought, maybe someone from MCADCafe to look more into the whole issue of piracy and actual real dollar loss versus potential lost sales.


    Mike LaCroix

    Mike brings up some good points that are valid, but the issues he raises are quite complicated. The CAD software business has gotten not just more competitive, but cut throat. As far as piracy goes, early on, the CAD companies quietly encouraged it “to get the word out” about their new technologies. Today, however, enforcement costs for piracy outweigh the probable return because most organizations who are doing it usually have relatively few pirated seats.

    As it turns out, there are several alternatives to full-cost, high-end CAD

    software, including:

    1. Free software, such as Blender, SketchUp, and AutoCAD WS.

    2. Student editions of CAD software. These account for a large percentage of vendors' installed seat count.

    3. Low-cost software, such as Alibre and ViaCAD (<$200) for hobbyists and DIYers.

    4. Most contemporary commercial CAD software can be installed on at least two computers owned by the original purchaser. However, this issue of software “ownership” brings end user licensing agreements (EULA) into the mix, and we're not going to get into that can of worms debacle here.

    The piracy issue is very complicated, may be serious, and should be addressed, even though the vendors (with the exception of Microsoft) do not seem that interested in it anymore – at least not outwardly.

    What are your thoughts on software piracy? Is it still an issue that should be vigorously pursued? We'd love to hear from end users and vendors on this topic.

    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.

    Trek Bicycles Uses Objet Connex 3D Printer with ABS-like Material to Test Bike Parts

    Any avid cyclist knows that to beat the pack on the road or mountain trail you've got to be fast; you've got to pay attention to every detail, and you've got to push every limit. And your bike has to keep up. Trek applies these same principles to designing new parts for its bicycles. It uses Objet Connex multi-material 3D printer for design iterations and confirming the fit and function of bike parts early on in the design process - reducing lead times from 28 days to just one day. Using the Objet Connex500 multi-material 3D printer, designers in Trek's Prototype Development Group can print a fully-functional 3D bike part
    they can use on their bikes in just one day, instead of waiting four weeks for a CNC part. With the prototype parts printed in Objet's new ABS-like material, engineers can test the fit and function. They can insert a 3D printed prototype into a working bicycle and take it out on the trail to test performance - early on in the design cycle, when it's easier and cheaper to adjust the part design.

    The following are some of the many improvements in functionality in Edgecam 2012 R1:

    Flow Surface Cycle: The new Flow Surface cycle follows the flow of the surfaces, offering improved surface finish, helical support to reduce link moves, and multiple face support, making it ideal for machining fillets and 3D surfaces.

    Waveform Roughing Strategy: Constant tool load path and smooth toolpath pattern, offering greater stability, more precise machining and faster metal removal. This gives improved tool life, constant engagement with material and constant chip load, superior material removal rates, and an improved surface finish which potentially eliminates secondary cutting cycles.

    Slot Cycle Support for Features: The updated Slot Cycle supports the recently introduced slot feature. Feature Finder has been enhanced to recognize areas that can be machined with the slot cycle. Along with having a new option to select 2D, 3D and Solids as a cycle input, and new options to specify clearance, level and depth associative to the solid model, allows for slots to be machined in a single pass, and the Ramp approach moves into a closed slot.

    Tailstocks: Edgecam 2012 R1 allows machines to be configured with tailstock devices. It means users can control tailstock movements with graphical feedback; and specify parametric or custom tailstock graphics in the Code Wizard. There is also full simulation of tailstock movements along with collision detection.

    Since the 1980s, engineers have been building, and racing solar cars. With software from Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp., the University of Michigan (U-M) Solar Car Team has designed a car to compete in the World Solar Challenge in Australia. A six-time winner of the American National Championships, the U-M team is competing in the World Solar Challenge—and the car design is lighter and more aerodynamic than ever before. Since 2006 U-M has used SolidWorks software to become the number 1 ranked collegiate solar car team in North America. Next, they will compete on the world stage driving 1800 miles across Australia thanks to the work of over 100 students in various disciplines at U-M. Quantum, the single-seat race vehicle, will travel as far as it can until 5pm each afternoon powered by the sun and 5kW hours of stored energy (the same amount of energy that it takes to power a hair-dryer) or on the recovered kinetic energy from the vehicle. When designing the solar car, the U-M team found systems integration to be the most difficult challenge. Mechanical parts need to be small and light, in order to fit into as small an automotive shell as possible. The U-M team relied upon Solidworks software to model all of the car components, and determined the amount of space needed for each component.
    The result is a car that is 30 percent more aerodynamic and 200 pounds lighter than the previous version. Battery thermal modeling was also a key challenge. Specifically, the team needed to control the temperature of the battery pack to prevent overheating. To solve this issue, the team used SolidWorks Simulation to determine the best thermal management solution. Unlike past years, when off-the-shelf batteries were used, this year’s battery was designed and created from scratch by the Solar Car team.

    Mahindra Satyam, a consulting and IT services provider, released its Mobile Client for Oracle's Agile Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). This newest solution manages product data via mobile devices, including iPhones and iPads, and improves the ROI of existing Agile PLM investments. The Mobile PLM solution is based on the web services functionality provided in Agile PLM. Mahindra Satyam is responsible for the distribution, implementation and customer-specific enhancement of this solution. Some highlights of the new solution include:
  • iOS App (works on iPhone and iPad)
  • Ability to view attachments
  • Highly interactive user interface design
  • Delta fetch of notifications and workflow routings
  • Single Sign-On capabilities; plugs into existing enterprise infrastructure
  • Bookmarking capabilities to personalize key information for revisiting at a later time
  • Content-based related text search for rapid content filtering.

  • OPEN MIND Technologies AG released hyperMILL 2011. New automated functions and innovative technologies in hyperMILL help reduce machining costs and times. The new features include intelligent macros, 64-bit support, Application Programming Interfaces (API) and Customised Process Features (CPF). New strategies such as 5-axis shape offset roughing and finishing are allowing an even more efficient programming.

    HyperMILL is a programming environment for 2D, 3D, HSC and 5axis simultaneous machining. Users can draw from a wide range of functions for optimized processes, time-saving, comfortable workflows and thus efficient machining. New strategies and optimisation functions are available in 2D machining as well as 5axis simultaneous milling and turning. General functions, such as enhanced stock definition and rest material display, or the job-list-based adaptation of tool paths, simplify daily work. Highlights like intelligent macros, new 5axis shape offset machining and the hyperMILL API offer several new ways to program and
    manufacture more efficiently. 64-bit support means that users have more memory at their disposal. This is especially useful when programming large parts, and on computers with multiple processing cores.

    Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of
    MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at
    Email Contact or 719.221.1867.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.