upFront.eZine #1,128: The Second Wave of BrowserCADs
Arcol, Infurnia, Snaptrude, Qonic
Inside the Business of CAD | 25 April 2022
Arcol is certain it will change the way AEC is done, advancing the discipline from “20-year-old Autodesk” to a modern architectural modeler: edit a sketch in a Web browser to change the 3D model. The software is not yet in alpha, but it hopes to ship by year’s end. More info at https://arcol.io.
The problem for Arcol is that other similar browser-based AEC design programs are already available, such as Infurnia and Snaptrude, which also are meant for collaborative BIM, interior design, and kitchen work. Pricing of them is in the range of $50-$120/user/month. A limited-function free version of each is available:
These three join Qonic (also in pre-alpha mode) being developed by former Bricsys employees like Erik de Keyser, Dmitry Ushakov, and Sander Scheiris. Qonic hopes to automate the conversion of design intent into construction models — to fill in missing parts and data using, I suspect, an intelligent search and replace system not too dissimilar from that found in BricsCAD BIM.
There Was A First Wave
This splurge in Web-based CAD is a second wave, coming a decade or so after an initial wave of independent browser-based CAD programs with names like sunglass.io, TinkerCAD, To3D, and Onshape. (In addition, desktop CAD vendors like Graebert and Autodesk developed their own browserCAD programs.)
The first wave was made possible by the then-new technology in Web browsers, which made it easier to run CAD on remote servers and interact with drawings and models locally.
While doing CAD on the cloud is fabulous in theory, it’s not so much in practice. We saw what it took for Onshape to produce a Web-based MCAD program: $100 million or so. Eventually, all four first wavers were acquired, some at the brink of death.
The second wave, for now, largely operates on funding to cover the cost of free plans.
Infurnia is looking to go public (getting funding through shareholders), while Arcol is running on $5 million from investors; one of the firm’s investors is former Autodesk co-ceo Amar Hanspal. Snaptrude has taken in at least $600 thousand. Qonic, I believe, is self-funded.
Catching Up, Frantically
AEC CAD is a much tougher problem to solve than MCAD. As Martyn Day points out, these new companies not only have to catch up function-wise with the ArchiCADs and Vectorworks of the world, but also attempt to displace existing seats. They have a tough moat to leap.
We see the dire need to catch-up feature-wise in Snaptude’s what’s-next list for 2022, most of which we take for granted in “20-year-old Autodesk”:
NURBSs and splines
Live link to Revit
Quick costing and quantity bills
Switch between massing and BIM
Sustainability analysis and climate studies
Onshape in its early years issued updates every six weeks to catch up with Solidworks, even as Solidworks continued to stride ahead. The pace for these four new firms needs to be just as frenetic.
Still, browserCAD has functions that for the most part escape desktop CAD, such as these ones offered by Infurnia, some of which was pioneered by Onshape:
Models and changes saved to the cloud; no files to store drawings and models
Access to design data through APIs; models shared through links
Browsable change history; reversion to earlier versions of models; branched designs
The thing these newcomers have easy is that the road forward has been surveyed and graded by the earlier firms. The end game is known: all of desktop CAD + all of browserCAD.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
Like the first wave of browserCAD companies, these four will, in the end, most likely survive through acquisitions. That, perhaps, is a game plan for them and their investors. One suitor, I expect, will be Autodesk; my pick for it is Snaptrude.
So, why the new flurry of browserCADs? The last several years have seen central banks flood too much money into the Western economies of the world, and so investors are floundering, looking for something, anything in which to invest and make moar $$$ (c.f. NFTs — non-fungible transactions).
Each founder of these new CAD systems speaks of his passion, which enabled him to land funding. In turn, investors have something in which to invest, and then hope to profit from later, after someone else pays big bucks to acquire the firms.
What Others Think
Two industry insiders have opinions contrary to mine.
Robert Graebert, chief technical officer, Graebert GmbH:
“I get the skepticism with respect to the viability of these new market entrants. I think Onshape is a great example when industry veterans + tons of cash were not enough to stay independent. In our market, a great product still needs a [dealer] channel to realize its full potential.
“But I have to say, I am excited about the new batch of market entrants. Even if that just means that some of the market leaders change their posture to meet this challenge. I think there is real frustration in AEC about the lack of evolution.”
The editor replies: We saw changes in MCAD posture in the past decade with new entrants like SpaceClaim (direct editing is possible) and Onshape (serious MCAD on remote servers is possible).
Architect (name withheld):
“I doubt that [these firms] will eat the dinosaurs in the AEC industry. But the one thing I do know, is that the leaders in AEC have grown content and are ripe for disruption. Some more than others.
“I see the TestFits of the world, and tools like Arcol, having great promise to address the redistribution of scarce resources so that architects can afford the new demands on them.”
The editor replies: Someone could become pretty rich figuring out how to disrupt legacy BIM packages. In the meantime, the second wave could find its place alongside bigCAD in Rhino-like fashion.
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And in Other News
ManneQuin/HumanCAD was the first software to simulate human bodies in CAD programs, going back to 1990. I still have a copy of the original software package. Now Nexgen Ergonomics updates the software to v6 with new body types, such as Japan, elderly, and more child options, as well as new clothing styles. The Task Analysis wizard handles hand strength and arm force.
HumanCAD-MQSW is the version that runs inside Solidworks. More info from nexgenergo.com.
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Navisworks was designed by Autodesk to display models from multiple sources simultaneously. Now “any” CAD program can export Navisworks-formatted files — all geometry, model hierarchy, object properties, and materials — without needing Navisworks.
Open Design Alliance’s BimNv SDK v23.1 works with C++ and .Net code on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. Get more details from opendesign.com/blog/2022/march/oda-releases-navisworks-export
Letters to the Editor
Re: Graphics Boards from the 1980s
I still have manuals for Matrox’s Space Machine/640 for the IBM XT/AT from April 1987 :=)). It was the “smartest” graphics card at the time, incorporated solid modeling and shading in hardware.
- Jure Spiler
Basic CAD/CAM, Slovenia
The editor replies: Desktop computers from that era were not powerful enough to handle solids modeling, so workarounds like this one were needed. The “640” refers to the horizontal resolution; it displayed CAD drawings at 640x480 — considered “high resolution” at the time.
From a real-world trial, it seems driverless cars will not address many of the problems their promoters claim they will solve. See Zombie Miles And Napa Weekends: How A Week With Chauffeurs Showed The Major Flaw In Our Self-Driving Car Future from alopnik.com/zombie-miles-and-napa-weekends-how-a-week-with-chauffe-1839648416.
- Robin Capper (via WorldCAD Access)
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I really enjoy your articles, by the way. Thank you, Ralph!
- Ben Beaumont
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I heard an interesting comment (I won’t say where) that “the complexity of Revit has been increasing with the purpose of driving small architectural firms out of business.”
- Dave Edwards
The editor replies: From what I hear, it is the large architectural firms that are most vocal about the inability of certain BIM programs to handle today’s challenges. This is why there are many competitors already on the stage, or at least putting on makeup.
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A friend of mine worked for a tech firm back in the ’80s. He said they couldn’t get a decision from corporate on which CAD software to implement, even though a team had been created for that and been working tirelessly for years. Every engineer in the place used AutoCAD and every single one was bootlegged.
Someone finally ratted them out to Autodesk. A rep came into their office with the sheriff and made them shut down. When the dust settled, and the lawyers and salesmen and management were finished talking, they paid Autodesk for every seat that they were using, and AutoCAD became their official CAD software. Management formally disbanded the CAD Selection Committee.
I think about that story every time I get in the “"How can a little company ever hope to compete with a big company?” conversation.
- Jess Davis
The editor replies: I can understand the CAD selection committee’s hesitation. There were so many CAD software upstarts in the mid-1980s, just as there were many PC hardware upstarts -- each one partially incompatible with the next. Not knowing how the market would shake out, picking the wrong software and hardware would be an expensive mistake.
My first PC, a Victor 9000 in 1983, would cost $16,000 in today’s dollars; a word processor and spreadsheet cost $1,300 each in today’s inflated bucks. We were so excited, dreaming of having the power of computers at our fingertips, but oh so frightened by the cost.
“Inflation so bad, PI is currently at 5.74.”
- Matt’s Idea Shop (on Twitter)
“PI Day is just a holiday invented by math companies to sell more irrationality.”
- Author unknown
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