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Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »
A Better Way to Create 3D Assets With ONU’s Cloud-Based Platform
March 1st, 2018 by Jeff Rowe
In the cloud-based technical/engineering platform world, IoT may be getting the lion’s share of attention at the moment, but right up there competing for relevance and significance are VR/AR technologies. As cool as they are, VR/AR technologies have been hindered from wider use primarily because of the expensive high GPU requirements needed to make them work, and well, be realistic. That’s changing, however, as cloud-based platforms bring performance and fidelity to VR/AR at much lower entry and implementation price points.
Case in point, this week a Detroit-based startup, ONU, announced a unique offering called ONU 3DLite, a cloud-based 3D visual platform designed to convert and optimize CAD files for creating visual content for 3D Web, AR, VR, or mobile-based applications. ONU provides technology to streamline 3D asset creation pipelines, automating processes that have been manual. In other words, an end-to-end, 3D asset management platform.
“Manufacturers design products in CAD, but those files don’t easily translate to visuals that can be displayed on a mobile device, let alone in a web browser, virtual reality headset, or augmented reality glasses,” said Sam Sesti, President of ONU. “ONU 3DLite changes that. Our easy to use tools automate processes that were previously manual, and significantly streamlines 3D asset creation. Native CAD files can be turned into low polygon Filmbox (FBX) files in just minutes. In addition to making asset creation really easy, it’s also very affordable. We’re excited to share ONU 3DLite with the world.”
ONU 3DLite Features
I spoke with Mr. Sesti and asked him why Filmbox as the output file format. He said the company chose FBX because it is ubiquitous and is all inclusive, taking such characteristics as materials into account. Filmbox (FBX) is a proprietary file format developed by Kaydara and owned by Autodesk (through Alias) since 2006 and provides interoperability between digital content creation applications. FBX is also part of Autodesk Gameware, a series of video game middleware, although Sesti said that ONU has no formal relationship with Autodesk.
When content designers load native CAD data onto the cloud-based ONU 3DLite platform, it is automatically converted to a high quality polygonal mesh in minutes, with up to 100x density reduction. Users can work with most major CAD formats, and ONU’s proprietary algorithms tessellate CAD files as they convert them. In addition, identical parts are automatically instanced to further reduce geometry.
The platform’s level of detail adjustor and defeature detector tools allow content designers to precisely reduce additional density while instantly viewing the impact on asset quality. All part numbers and hierarchies are retained, so they can be referenced in the creators’ 3D experiences and integrated into other backend systems. The files can then be easily exported to FBX format for use in tools like Blender, Maya, 3DS Max, Modo, ZBrush, Keyshot, Unity, and Unreal.
Companies are using 3D experiences across their enterprises to increase their bottom line. 3D opportunities also exist in product marketing, sales, service and training.
But, where to start? I’d recommend reading ONU’s The Ultimate Guide to Your Products in 3D on the Web for more information on how to get your products online in 3D. The guide details a number of options for creating 3D visuals for your products. One of these options is using CAD data. The good news is that if you’re a manufacturer, you likely have CAD. The bad news is that CAD data is not easily translated for use in 3D Web, AR, or VR. CAD data is NURBS based, while these 3D experiences require polygonal 3D models. CAD is also very dense and cannot be rendered at the required 60-120 frames per second.
As a result, most companies rely on re-topology to manually create 3D visuals from their CAD data. This means creating a 3D model from scratch, using the CAD data as a guide. This method is inefficient, time consuming, and costly. What if there was a better way?
Enter ONU 3DLite that empowers digital content creators to build 3D assets in a fraction of the time. Then put those assets to use in 3D Web, AR, VR, and mobile experiences. You can automatically convert native CAD into low polygon FBX files literally in minutes. You can realize up to 100x density reduction without compromising visual accuracy, as well as adjust the level of detail to further reduce density or increase quality, and identify and remove unnecessary pieces.
Onu Presentation: No Matter the Reality, It’s All About The Assets
According to James Vandenabeele, Senior Application Developer at sleep technology company Reverie, ONU 3DLite has made it easier and more efficient to convert and optimize existing CAD models into forms ready for use in VR and AR. “With ONU we can crank the detail way up and pull out an FBX with a million polygons that we can really zoom in on and get great quality, or we can turn around and dial it back and get a 20,000 polygon model that I can throw into a VR experience and get 90 frames a second without a problem,” said Vandenabeele.
“The secret to creating 3D assets for real-time rendering is finding the right balance between visual quality, density and development cost,” said Sesti. “Finding the ideal balance is precisely where ONU 3DLite excels. Whether for AR, VR, web or mobile environments, digital content creators can build the perfect asset with an incredible 99% reduction in asset creation time.”
ONU has partnered with Onshape, which makes a lot of sense, since both are cloud-based platforms. Sesti said the relationship is strategic for both companies and a natural fit as together they continue to develop a cloud-based ecosystem.
As for the future, Sesti said plans call for further adding automation capabilities, such as rules-based de-featuring that retains fidelity while increasing performance, and requiring less user intervention. Based on user feedback, ONU also plans on supporting more CAD formats for input, as well as supporting more endpoints.
ONU is a great example, especially with Onshape, of what is possible and compelling for cloud-based platforms and feel their future is very bright. The company’s name, ONU, is a play on words, because it is uno (one) spelled backwards. As such, it is one platform and one comprehensive solution and a better way for creating 3D assets that can fulfill many purposes.
Editor’s Note: I will be evaluating ONU’s 3DLite and will detail my experience in the near future.