upFront.eZine #1,113: Readers Respond
Our readers write the best letters
Inside the Business of CAD | 15 November 2021
Re: The State of STEP
Man, that first paragraph was an eye-opener for me!
I worked in the field of MCAD for US Navy surface fleet (new construction and overhaul) starting around 1984. Most general design was still 2D on Mylar film mostly using E0 mechanical pencils. The Navy would not allow any contracts to be done on MCAD until 1985, which were relegated to very specific pilot projects. In 1986 they expanded that to CADAM, Autotrol, and about two others. By 1987, they added Intergraph, Computervision and a few UNIX workstation platforms ( before then, it was all mainframe).
Around the time AutoCAD Release 10 shipped in 1988, the folks in NAVSEA issued a letter to contractors that IBM PC-based systems were not considered accurate or reliable enough for modeling design. But they would allow its use for non-design work, such as title sheets, BOM lists, and notes. After a year of that stupidity, they relented, and by 1990-91 we couldn’t move to PC-based AutoCAD fast enough. As we routinely shared model data with other contracts (forcibly by the Navy, and for good reason), we were all in the same situation.
The period from 1996 to 2004 was a fun time. Writing custom apps to run on AutoCAD to automate things was one of the best times of my career. The old “wild west” of CAD is now a suburban subdivision with shopping centers. I left the field in 2004 to transition to Windows systems admin work and Web development.
Oh, and about IGES and STEP. I remember when all the buzz was around STEP support for each of the MCAD products. They would “support” it alright, but almost always made sure to have some feature or data that was so specific to their product that STEP would lose it when importing into competing products.
I was on a committee once for a government agency doing round-trip integrity testing. We would build a reference model in 2D and another in 3D, then export/import through everything they had at the time — IGES, STEP, DXF, and so on — and then score the results to rank products as being most compatible. That era seems like the 1800s now.
- David Stein
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Interesting about STEP. In the ’90s I worked for the Industrial Technology Institute in Ann Arbor MI. Its Center for Electronic Commerce did early STEP work and built early tools for conformance testing of CAD systems to STEP.
Famously, one of my colleagues authored a report citing a Detroit-based automotive supplier that had to manage 17 or 18 different CAD systems to deal with all of their customer relationships.
The number of solutions is fewer today, but the problems remain and it is a tough problem. It is hard to innovate within the bounds of standards, which often lag technology and business process.
- Stan Przybylinski, vice president
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In the construction industry, we have the same problem of data transfer, with possibly a wider range of conflicting needs (or maybe I am just more familiar with construction than mechanical).
While IFC has ruled the roost for the last decade, it is showing its limitations. It is optimized for transferring physical data and some metadata, especially architectural, but has proved hopeless for transferring engineering design data. Yes, it could be extended, but it has taken two decades of argument and compromise to get to its current state and we cannot afford to wait.
Any transfer of data is done so that it can be enriched, but also (invariably) some data must be left behind. The CNC machine, for example, has no interest in the wind pressure on the facade that led to the design of the bracing, only the resulting number and locations of bolt holes.
Similarly, each program has its specialties, which a neutral file can not be expected to handle. Neither IFC nor STEP can possibly handle all project data, ever, without bloating to an impractical size, and without decades of more committees. They will always be behind what the industry needs, and can only be expected to transfer most of the data, not all.
Due to the limitations of IFC and because most engineering design programs now have an API [application programming interface], data exchange systems are being used more and more, especially by the bigger consulting companies. At Arup, we helped to produce Speckle [for exchanging AEC data in real-time], which is open source so that it is free to grow as needed. There are other, similar offerings.
The BIM [building information modeling] ideal of a centralized database is becoming a reality, but is not centered on IFC, as that, by necessity, can never store everything. Instead we now have federated databases, where each product stores its specific data, and then products like Speckle transfer and coordinate what data is needed between the individual consultant models.
IFC might still be used for transferring data to models outside the system. What was BIM is now becoming digital workflows.
- Peter Debney, senior consultant
Arup Digital Technology
The editor replies: When Autodesk released AutoCAD Release 13, they added the ability to create custom (user-defined) objects. This made AutoCAD incompatible with itself, and so Autodesk provided two solutions:
Object enablers, which understand what custom objects are. This approach failed to catch on industry-wide, as every DWG editor would conceivably need every object enabler ever written.
IFC, which transmits data between incompatible AutoCAD drawings in the form of neutral format. Autodesk quickly handed responsibility for maintaining IFC to an industry group, and then in a reversal earlier this year joined the IFC part of the Open Design Alliance.
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I was gobsmacked by the upFront.eZine article on STEP files. I write a monthly column for The Fabricator that dances around CAD topics. Your article with Martin and Neil on STEP is a gold mine of interesting and possibly useful trivia regarding same.
I remain devoted to Solidworks. It’s been the tool I’ve know for a quarter-century. Scanning heresy of other brands of CADs is useful and keeps me humble.
- Gerald Davis, owner
The editor replies: My entry into the world of CAD was AutoCAD v1.4, and then writing about it in CADalyst magazine, starting in 1985. When Intergraph ran an ad with CADalyst headlined “Follow the Leader,” we were gobsmacked. Other CAD dare say that? As you note, it is important to peer above the ramparts from time to time.
Mr Davis responds: We punched paper tape with a PDP-8. My first CAM was OptiPlot running on a Textronix vectorscope. My first CAD was AutoCAD v2.5 running on a Tandy 2000. Color! Luxury. When I saw Solidworks 98 my love of wireframes vanished. My excellent keyboard shortcut skills gave way to yanking a 3D puck.
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Isicad has translated your recent posts about STEP and the ODA Summit into Russian:
Состояние дел и перспективы формата STEP (The State of STEP)
К полной CAD и BIM совместимости: ODA Summit 2021 (Towards Full CAD and BIM Compatibility)
- David Levin, ceo
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I have been dealing with CAD conversion for over 40 years and for many years was a member of the IGES/PDES Organization. I led the development of the IGES converter for CATIA V5 as a joint Boeing/Dassault project in 1986.
In those days we referred to IGES and other formats as “write-only formats,” because converters from CAD companies were good about writing proper IGES (or PDES) files but were horrible at reading other CAD systems IGES files.
The marketing groups of the various CAD companies liked to talk about how good their “round trip” conversions were — going from CAD system A to IGES and then back to the same CAD system A. What they were bad at was going from CAD system A to IGES to CAD system B.
That was infinitely more important, and they were usually pretty poor at that job. At times, it seemed intentional. When I formed Tailor Made Software in 1990, most of our business for the first several years was in IGES flavoring: taking the flavor of IGES produced by CAD system A and massaging it so CAD system B could read it properly.
- Scott Taylor, president
Tailor Made Software
Re: From Facets to Solids to Facets
The period of time that I was at Evans & Sutherland (’81-’91) really could be seen as the golden years of the computer graphics industry. So much technology was being developed that never really saw the light of day (at least not at E&S). I’m sure this is true with many other companies, but E&S barely gets a mention in most histories of computer graphics or modeling systems.
Dave Evans should really be considered the Father of the Digital Twin. His vision for E&S was to create digital models that would allow you to do things that you normally couldn’t do in real life cost-effectively, like pilot training, mechanical design and analysis, and molecular modeling.
E&S’s graphics systems were only developed because there were no systems capable of displaying the various models. There was a famous ‘Fireside Chat with Dave’ where he announced to the company that “E&S was not a computer graphics company,” totally confusing most employees. He later explained to me his vision of creating digital models, which totally jives with his statement.
- John Callen, Director of eTools Marketing
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Popular CAD data sources include SolidWorks, ProE/Creo, Inventor, AutoCAD, Revit, Navisworks, DGN, IGES, STEP, Parasolid, and JT. DCC data sources are Cinema-4D, 3ds Max, Maya, FBX/Collada, and many more.
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And in Other News
EngineeringPaper.xyz solves complex mathematical expressions through documentation cells and math cells, while keeping track of units conversion. To display results in different units, specify them in square brackets. Also, it plots.
You can share your sheets with others through shareable links. Try it out free at engineeringpaper.xyz.
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Agacad comes up with Panel Packer in Revit 2020-2021 for sorting, packing, and loading trucks with prefabricated wood and metal panels. Free demo at agacad.com/products/tools4bim/dock/download.
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IronCAD LLC ships IronCAD 2022 today, and here is some of what’s been added:
Place multiple ordinate dimension at once, and edit more than one dimension at a time
Specify snap increments on parts, and set limits to sizes
Generate structured bills of materials with collapse/expand sections
Make videos by recording the screen
IronCAD 2022 supports Windows 11 and and touch screens. Get the full list of what’s new from ironcad.com/blog/whats-new-in-2022.
This 3D design software pioneered concepts common today, such as drag and drop smart parts and 3D at-cursor interactions. IronCAD is most popular among metal fabricators and custom machinery manufacturers. A free trial version is available, following registration, from ironcad.com/free-online-trial.
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The Spatial division of Dassault Systems announced the general availability of Release 2022 1.0 of its geometric kernels. Just skimming the surface, here is one thing new for each module:
3D ACIS Modeler extracts sheet bodies at mid-surfaces between faces of solid bodies
CGM Polyhedra smoothly blends between boundaries of two meshes
CGM Modeler automatically detect cylindrical bends and then unbends them
3D InterOp imports large-scale models whose dimensions range from 1 to 100km
3D Precise Mesh’s Hybrid CFD mixes prismatic and hexahedral elements in boundary layers
Get the details from blog.spatial.com/news/2022-1-0.
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SimScale, the first engineering simulation cloud platform, lands an extra €25 million in Series C funding (now totaling US$60 million) so as to add rotating machinery, electronics, and automotive simulations. The press release says the firm has 300,000+ users. www.simscale.com
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Here are some of the posts that appeared recently on my WorldCAD Access blog:
Sandboxing: How to test unfamiliar software securely
You can subscribe to the WorldCAD Access blog’s RSS feed through Feed Burner at feeds.feedburner.com/WorldcadAccess.
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