Pintrest will teach CAD companies to search

April 29, 2014


Search is a difficult problem. Especially when it comes to enterprise and organization. According to researches, more than 2/3 of people searches are not returning satisfactory results. Enterprise is messy, complicated and contains lot of unstructured data these days. CAD and other 3D files are part of this messiness. For many years, we generally thoughts of web and enterprise search as a place where text begot text – you input some text, press search, and get a bunch of relevant results, also in text form. However, in many places, and 3D and CAD is one of them, search by keywords is not very efficient.

Company have been trying to innovate in 3D or Shape search for the last decade or so. Read my old blog – 3D Shape Search in CAD and PLM. Despite many available solutions in 3D search, I can see a low adoption rate. In connection to that, I saw the opportunity to rethink 3D search.

The following article caught my attention earlier this week – In Challenge To Google, Pinterest Launches Guided Search. Pinterest is a visual discovery tool that people use to collect ideas for their different projects and interests. People create and share collections (called “boards”) of visual bookmarks (called “Pins”) that they use to do things like plan trips and projects, organize events or save articles and recipes. According to the article

At an event at Pinterest headquarters Thursday evening, CEO Ben Silbermann announced Guided Search, a new visual way to explore Pinterest’s more than 30 billion pins—links or images chosen by users and assigned by them to topical collections. Unlike most search engines, where you must choose a precisely constructed string of keywords for what you want to find, Guided Search offers suggestions as you go, based on the associations Pinterest has learned to make between all the objects in its database.

You can learn more about how guided search works here and on the following video:

The idea of "discovery" is very compelling in the engineering discipline. In many situations it is very hard to formulate a specific keyword based query to find a result. Therefore the ability to classify, categorize, slice and dice data can be very powerful to search and navigate 3D data.

What is my conclusion? Guided search is not a completely new idea. You can see that in some old enterprise search systems. However, to combine together with visual data corpus provides some fresh experience in results. The combination of technology and experience is important. Web is slowly becoming a future platform for engineers. We are spending more time online and getting additional web experience. Some web tools are providing ideas, technologies and solutions that can be re-used in engineering and product development. I think Pinterest guided search is one of examples. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool

October 8, 2013


There are almost as many cloud storage services as clouds in the sky these days. Cloud opens a huge opportunity to simplify data sharing. The need to share data is clear. The demand for CAD data and files sharing is growing as a result of trends such as – globalization, design supply chain, outsourcing, and many others. CAD vendors put a significant focus on how to help engineers to share and collaborate. Just remind you hugely successful eDrawing tool from SolidWorks, DWF data format from Autodesk, JT from Siemens PLM and maybe few more.

The idea is simple and execution is getting simpler these days. However, the choice of file sharing maybe different if you do it for individual or business needs. eBIzMba published an October 2013 list of most popular file sharing website. Navigate here to take a look. Among many of available services, there are clear leaders. Another writeup by can give you a comparison of top 10 of the best services for sharing big files. Business needs clearly can make a difference, so some of file sharing services are focusing on specific versions that can provide value for small businesses. Small business computers publication provides a comparison of the best tools Small business file storage, sharing and syncing services.

However, engineers are different. Most of you would agree. Therefore, when discussion comes to the point of sharing and exchange of design data and CAD Files specifically, it is not unusual to hear about special needs and characteristics of these tools. Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD shared his perspective on that in his blog – Why using Dropbox, Github or Box for CAD sharing is a mistake. Read the article and draw your own conclusion. Here is my favorite passage from Hardi’s blog post:

[Instead of Box, Gmail, YouSnedIt]…SaaS cloud tools allow you to share your CAD design, even if your customers or manufacturers don’t have CAD software. A specialized CAD tool allows them to spin, section, measure, explode, and give you feedback where the CAD files are. They keep your design review process in one place, to save you time. It makes for a much better user experience for you and your clients.In the new SaaS world where there are better APIs, it’s easier than ever to connect applications. Target the right tool for the job and make sure your engineers have exactly what they need. Integrating multiple apps just requires more coordination and management, but it’s worth it.

GrabCAD blog as well as growing attention to specialized cloud tools for engineers made me think about what are potential advantages of using specialized CAD file sharing tools and services. I decided to summarize it below as my top 3 pros and cons to have special CAD file sharing service on the cloud:

Top 3 pros:

1. Viewer.

This is clearly one of the top reasons why company would decide to use special CAD service. CAD software is not cheap and to have it installed up and running cost licenses. Embedded viewer or viewer integration can be a significant driver to convince customers to share CAD files using specialized service.

2. File Dependencies

CAD design is rarely located in a single file. Usually, CAD files have dependencies – assemblies, sub-assemblies, parts, drawings. Depends on your working environment, it is hard to share everything you need.

3. Special publishing services

Depends on the purpose of CAD file sharing, you may need to eliminate some information from CAD files. It might be related to specific details, manufacturing specific or just to provide a subset of data to your design supplier. To have such service can be clear differentiation that provide a value vs. generic services like Dropbox, and others.

Top 3 cons:

1. Trust / Security

Individuals and especially businesses put a lot of focus on how trustful you cloud software providers. It is especially important when you share CAD data that usually represent your corporate IP. Large and well-known brands have established polices and in general can be considered as more trusted service providers.

2. Cost

Cloud storage cost is getting cheaper every day. Nevertheless it still cost money. When you run on scale, numbers can be significant. In cloud business, scale is clearly matters. You can easy run your own comparison of how much free storage you can get from mainstream companies like Google, Dropbox, and others as well as how much do you need to pay to growth and compare it to specialized data sharing services.

3. Scale (Performance, availability, etc.)

As I mentioned before scale does matter in cloud business. Mainstream brands such as Google, and others backed up by large finance has more power to provide reliable service. It doesn’t mean specialized services cannot scale, but I assume capability of global cloud companies is level up from specialized vertical service providers.

What is my conclusion? Vertical specialized service providers can put more focus and attention on details and functional needs. Nevertheless, scale and cost are also matter. At the same time, cloud business is tricky. Nobody is guaranteed from a failure and you can potentially get HTTP 404 from mainstream and specialized providers. The only question is what is a probability of this event. There is no silver bullet these days. Depends on your needs and priorities, you may decide to use different services for different purposes. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

GitHub PDM: Is It For Real?

September 19, 2013

GitHub is a well known social network for programmers. According to Wikipedia article, GitHub is a web-based hosting service for software development projects that use the Git revision control system. GitHub offers both paid plans for private repositories, and free accounts for open source projects. As of May 2011, GitHub was the most popular code repository site for open source projects. If you in a development space these days, it is hard to believe you are not aware about GitHub. The statistic of GitHub usage is amazing – On 16 January 2013, GitHub announced it had passed the 3 million users mark and was then hosting more than 5 million repositories.

GitHub made an initial 3D entrance earlier this year by providing support for 3D. You might notice my article – 3D printing, GitHub and PDM erosion. However, if you are mechanical engineer, GitHub is probably new territory for you. However, the question I want to task today – for how long? Navigate your browser to the following TechCrunch article – GitHub Adds 3D Modeling Features That Make It A Printer-Agnostic Choice For Object Sharing. In a nutshell, it means you can use GitHub to manage your STL files. The new feature allows you to compare geometry and by doing that, create sort of 3D revision management functionality on top of GitHub. Here is how this functionality explained by GitHub folks:

How does this work? We take both versions of the model, and using binary space partitioning, we compute the added, removed, and unchanged parts. This is done using csgtool, a C library paired with a Ruby gem via FFI. These pieces are cached and displayed by the 3D viewer we already have, though we color them differently and play with their transparency to help illustrate the changes.

The new functionality announced by GitHub made me think again about the potential opportunity GitHub can discover in manufacturing space. The first time, I shared it in my post exactly one year ago – What is behind GitHub for CAD marketing buzz? That story wasn’t specifically about GitHub. I mentioned few companies that actively using "GitHub" buzz to market their new approach in PDM/PLM space – GrabCAD, I can confirm that all companies made some progress towards delivery of new online work paradigm. It obviously includes new PDM paradigms as well. One of them is GrabCAD Workbench. The ideas how to convert close engineering CAD/PDM world into open and dynamic environment is widely discussed among vendors and industry pundits. The idea of viewing of 3D models on GitHub is getting traction too.

PDM + SCM = ?

Traditionally, Product Data Management (PDM) was focused on the world of mechanical engineers. EDM, TDM, PDM… these are systems that originally were born to manage mechanical CAD documents. Opposite to that, software configuration management (SCM) was established as a separate domain to provide source and revision control for software projects. Will these two worlds continue to be distinct and manage data in a separate way? When the number of software code is skyrocketing in every manufacturing product, I can easy see how PDM and SCM domains will converge in a new software discipline sooner than later.

What is my conclusion? The idea of innovation in PDM space is getting some traction. Even, an old fashion PDM systems are still "safe harbor" for most of manufacturing companies and engineers these days, I can clearly see new trends and interest from engineers how to manage data in a different way. CAD/PDM vendors need to take note before they will find mechanical engineers using GitHub repositories to manage CAD data. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

2D-3D CAD Transformations and Design Interaction

September 13, 2013

I want to continue the topic of design interaction started in my CAD and Design Interaction: 50 years in 3 videos post. CAD software started as a vision to replace drawing board and, eventually, it was 2D. 3D CAD and the vision of 3D design came later in the game. It wasn’t simple to create 3D objects in first 3D wireframe CAD packages. Solid feature parametric modeling was a huge innovation open a new page in 3D design and design interaction. However, I can see a new trend – we can re-create 3D objects from physical objects and / or photographs of physical objects. To have an easy way to recreate 3D objects can increase the level of adoption of 3D design software. Until now, my only experience in this field was Autodesk 123d Catch.

By itself, it is an amazing tool to create 3D objects. However, if you’ve been listening to startup pitches, you probably familiar with the phrase "there is a better way". From Huff post publication few days ago, I learned about Israeli company 3-sweep claiming they can create 3D objects from a single 2D photo by making only few selections. Watch the video. It is cool and impressive.

Here is how founders of the company defines their approach:

"Our approach combines the cognitive abilities of humans with the computational accuracy of the machine to solve this problem. Our technique provides the user the means to quickly create editable 3D parts– human assistance implicitly segments a complex object into its components, and positions them in space."

Read another article from Singularity Hub. Here is an interesting passage confirming the intent of 3-Sweep technologies:

Ariel Shamir, of the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya, and Daniel Cohen-Or and Tao Chen of Tel Aviv University hope to knock that barrier down with software they’ve developed that allows the user to extract the beginnings of a 3-D model of an object from a single photograph. “The key idea is that you could create 3D objects based only on single images,” Shamir told Singularity Hub. “We wanted a model that would be simple for almost anyone to use.”

What is my conclusion? The debates about moving from 2D into 3D are already couple of decades long and jury is still out. In last few years 3D scanning became an interesting trend. While price of 3D scanners is going down together with 3D printers, the opportunity of 3D object creation from existing physical objects becomes real. However, the size is still matter. Also, it is not always possible to scan a physical object. The ability to recreate 3D objects from simple 2D photos can revolutionize design process by bringing another way to interact and design objects. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

CAD and Design Interaction: 50 years in 3 videos

September 7, 2013

My father was engineer. As a child, I’ve been coming to my dad’s office to watch how engineers designed metallurgical plants and heavy industrial machines. Back that days, the design was all about drawing boards and paper. Fast forward in our days. Lots of things changed. Our design interaction is not with a paper anymore. Computers made a revolution by transforming design interaction completely. Since first graphical displays were introduces back in 1960s, the idea of how people can interact with design system evolved into completely different process.

First, it moved from paper to 2D CAD. Later it transformed from 2D into 3D. It started from graphic pen and digitizers, evolved into use of different styles of mouses, moved to multi-touch displays. Finally, modern devices introduced a completely new way to interact with design systems and computers. We started to think about how to design using some magic hands gestures.

Earlier this week, I watched a very interesting video by Elon Musk, founder of Tesla motors. Read this post – Elon Musk on the future of design: motion gestures, 3D viewing and 3D printing. Thanks SolidSmack for sharing this video.

Here is how this technology explained – SpaceX is exploring methods for engineers to accelerate their workflow by designing more directly in 3D. This device is integrating sensor and visualization technologies to view and modify designs more naturally and efficiently than we could using purely 2D tools. This is just a beginning, but eventually SpaceX hope to build the fastest route between the idea of a rocket and the reality of the factory floor.

This video made me think about distance CAD industry passed since first invention of graphic design interaction. It was always about simplicity and user experience. The very early appearance of graphic design interaction is dated by 1963 when Ivan Sutherland presented his Sketchpad.

Here is a description of the technology. This work was seminal in Human-Computer Interaction, Graphics and Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs), Computer Aided Design (CAD), and constraint/object-oriented programming. It is important to remember what type of the computer you see in this video. It was TX-2 computer (built circa 1958) on which the software ran was built from discrete transistors (not integrated circuits -it was room-sized) and contained just 64K of 36-bit words (~272k bytes).

Now, let’s move forward 30 years. Back in 1990s, Microsoft Windows became a mainstream platform. SolidWorks was pioneering in creation of design interaction using standard Windows technology. The idea was to make it easy to learn and use by engineers. Watch another remarkable video (thanks Rick Chin for making it available on Youtube). In this video John Hirschtick (SolidWorks founder) and Rick Chin are demonstrating SolidWorks on Windows together with Bill Gates.

I found Rick’s commentary to this video on Youtube interesting. In 1998, Microsoft had an event to show the world that Windows NT was ready for industrial strength enterprise work. Jon Hirschtick was invited to demonstrate SolidWorks to Bill Gates on stage as part of this event. I was incredibly fortunate to join them and be a part of the demo. As you will see in the demo, Jon Hirschtick is a master at making the complex simple, compelling, and very relevant to everyone watching.

What is my conclusion? It is amazing to see the speed of innovation in design interaction. These three videos demonstrated a huge distance computers and design technologies passed for the last 50 years. However, you cannot stop the innovation. Just look around. New computers, new interaction devices, cloud, mobile – all these elements can create a new generation of design interaction these days. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM opportunity for new CAD heroes

July 2, 2012

Pivoting. Are you familiar with this term? In a modern startup lingua franca, it means the management methods of making course correction when developing products. This term was pioneered by Eric Ries – Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the author of the book "The Lean Startup". Randall Newton of GraphicSpeak mentioned this book in his blog postearlier last week – GrabCAD, Sunglass, and ThinkerCAD are leading a CAD industry pivot. The following passage caught my attention:

Today’s start-ups in 3D CAD have the same vision of 3D becoming commonplace, but the strategy they follow has made a sharp pivot away from delivering a software product. The new kids on the block are skipping the deliverable and putting the experience of using and working in 3D inside the browser. WebGL and HTML5 are the two ingredients of the secret sauce making this pivot possible. HTML5 is the current generation Web programming language; WebGL is an application programming interface (API) for rendering interactive 3D graphics and requires HTML5.

Speaking about "pivots", they are not all the same. In the following Forbes article you can see a classification of 10 different pivoting options – Zoom-in, Zoom-out, Customer Segment, Customer need, Platform, Business architecture, Value capture, Engine of growth, Channel, Technology. At the first look, you may think solutions mentioned by GraphicSpeak all belong to the "technology pivot". Here is the definition:

Technology pivot. Sometimes a startup discovers a way to achieve the same solution by using a completely different technology. This is most relevant if the new technology can provide superior price and/or performance to improve competitive posture.

In my view, many CAD innovations were introduced as "technology pivot". If you remember the move from UNIX workstations to PC and from 2D to 3D enabled by the power of computers and graphic technologies.

PLM – Zoom out pivot?

When thinking about new 3D experience and browser technologies, I came to the point that new CAD technologies have an option to navigate what they do to so-called "Zoom-out" pivot. Here is the definition of that pivot:

Zoom-out pivot. In the reverse situation, sometimes a single feature is insufficient to support a customer set. In this type of pivot, what was considered the whole product becomes a single feature of a much larger product?

An efficient access of CAD and 3D data is an important function in every PLM solution. To simplify the process of changes, manipulation, annotation and collaboration is crucial to deliver a good solution these days. New 3D CAD in-browser capabilities can be well positioned to provide an effective and practically available tool for everybody in the company (and not only to designers, as today’s 3D CAD systems deliver). It also will take the focus from "CAD in browser / cloud" discussion to something having much wider scope of deployment – product development processes.

What is my conclusion? Companies are interested in how to improve their product development processes. People are looking how to improve their experience. It seems to me zoom-out pivoting of 3D in the browser can deliver both. It still requires some technology prove to be done, so it will be very interesting to watch how in-browser CAD solution will become ubiquitous to delivery what companies and people want. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

PLM and 3D printing revolution

March 15, 2012

3D printing is an important and cool trend these days. For those who are not in the business of 3D Printing, navigate to the following wikipedia article to close the educational gap.

3D printing is a phrase used to describe the process of creating three-dimensional objects from a digital file using a materials printer, in a manner similar to printing images on paper. The term is most closely associated with additive manufacturing technology, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material.[1] Recently the term is increasingly used to describe all types of additive manufacturing processes, or even other types of rapid prototyping technology.

It started almost 10 years ago, 3D printing became much stronger and considerably cheaper lately. I’ve been monitoring multiple publications and announcements related to 3D Printing. You can navigate to few of them – The silent revolution – 3D printing in the workplace and the home by Develop3D, 3D color printing as common as a wooded lot tick infestations. it’s coming by SolidSmack and few more.

The last one that caught my attention yesterday was Playing the 3-D printing revolution by By James Saft (Reuter). Have a read. The following passage was my favorite:

If it takes off, it could radically change global trade flows, delivering a huge boost to the indebted and aging developed world, while threatening the fundamentals which underpin manufacturing success in China and some other emerging markets. 3-D printing is a process under which highly customizable products are literally sprayed into existence using something not too dissimilar from an ink-jet printer. Originally used mostly to provide build prototypes, it is now being used for actual production, notably by a unit of EADS which is working on developing 3-D printing-produced aircraft parts. The advantages are huge: easier customization, lower labor costs and, potentially, a severing of the reliance on a supply chain, a feature of manufacturing since the days of Henry Ford.

You may ask me – what is the relationship to PLM? Here is my take. If EADS is working on how to develop 3-D printing produced aircraft parts, it is going beyond toys and exhibition souvenirs. If so, companies will have to apply some production flow and decision-making processes to make it efficient and cost-effective. It also opens an additional market for supply chain relationships for businesses to specialize in operating and maintaining 3D printing facilities.

What is my conclusion? 3D printing revolution can change lots of stable manufacturing relationships. Moving from one state to another will require some new processes in place to make it happen. Another wake-up call for PLM vendors and opportunity for new businesses. PLM perfect storm is coming. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

pic courtesy solidsmack / zcorp.


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