SolidWorks World 2011 Live: #1 Dassault Systèmes get its game face on with POST3D

Published 24 January 2011

Posted by Al Dean

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Here we are again. A new decade, a new January and another SolidWorks World. If you’re not aware, it’s the annual jamboree for all things SolidWorks and it’s happening this week in San Antonio, Texas. Home of the Alamo and a rather peculiar faux-river.

This morning, the Dassault Systèmes (DS) team unveiled a brand new service offering from the 3DVIA group within the company. 3DVIA is the home for some of DS’s more esoteric and ‘less-pigeon-hole-able’ products. Those in the design or engineering space will probably be most familiar with the technical illustration and documentation system, Composer, but there’s also a whole host of game development tools such as Virtools. Alongside the ‘products’ per se, the group has also been leading many of DS’s online efforts. An excellent example is the 3DVIA Shape initiative which provides a set of modelling tools for creating 3D content which can then be shared using the community-style web-site.

So what’s the deal with POST3D?

Announced this morning, POST3D combines DS’s experience with gaming technology, cloud-based services and, of course, 3D design and builds a 3D collaboration service. Upload a model (formats include IGES, STEP, DAE, 3DS, SolidWorks and, of course, Catia), any related documents and you invite the team working on a project to discuss, interact with the model and make decisions - but here’s the thing, it’s not like other 3D model hosting services.

Firstly, this one has high quality photorealism, which is a benefit of having as a cloud-based service. Secondly, you use an avatar to navigate the environment as you would in a computer game. Walk up to the object you’re working on and away you go, spin, zoom, walk in and around. There’s also talk of being able to use some of 3DVIA’s other tools to add interactivity. Thirdly, the service tracks the commentary from those involved in the project.  And the last point is that it’s looking to be pretty cost effective.

It’s going into a Technical Preview phase (expected to last most of the year) and will be free while it lasts. Once that’s over, the premium service will cost around the $49 a month mark (just shy of $600 a year). One thing worth noting is that it’s only the host or owner of the project that is charged. Other participants just log-in and work with it.

In terms of requirements, there will be support for all the major browsers such as IE, Firefox and Chrome, on both 32 and 64-bit machines. There’s also a Mac version (including Safari support) coming later in the year. All you’ll need is a lightweight plug-in installed in your browser of choice.

A few thoughts

There’s a lot of negativity around the use of the word cloud when it comes to professional applications. The move away from the combination of workstation+windows+local client software as a core platform is probably inevitable but one which will most likely require a generational shift before it happens. At the moment, negative change habit, skepticism and rightful concerns over connection speed, reliability, security and many other things mean it’s difficult to see the potential benefits or to even be excited about the prospects. By making services like this available, many vendors are starting to seed the idea that the cloud isn’t such a bad thing and if used in sensible ways, can give users benefits over ‘how things are done at the moment.’ When Windows NT was launched, many in the engineering space scoffed at it from behind their SGI 27” CRT monitors. Look at where we’re at 10 years later.

When you’re in the vortex of change, particularly when it comes to technology that’s so central to how you make your living, it’s very hard to see the upside of change. But things will change and they will do so quickly. 10 years from now, the IT landscape will be very different indeed.

What we’re also seeing is a time of experimentation, not only from a technology standpoint, but also from a business perspective. None of the vendors have fixed their cloud-offering pricing structures. Do users pay for access, do they pay for storage, for collaboration, computation?  If so, how much is tolerable? What bundling options are available? Can you have a staged offering that gives a company 100 CPU hours of computation, 2Tbs of data storage and 10 concurrent user licenses - or do users want to pay per item?

What we’re seeing from many vendors is experimentation with what’s possible. Autodesk have a large number of ‘cloud-based’ projects on it’s Labs web-site and DS is doing much the same with its 3DVIA projects - of which POST3D is the newest. But it certainly won’t be the last. As a service, this looks like it has huge potential for many different users. The whole walking with an avatar thing looks quite twee on the face of it, but it makes sense when you see it in action and think about the potential. Many users develop small products, so the ability to walk around is odd - but still useful. Then when you consider how many work on much larger items, have a requirement to show a product in situ and in context (think building products, think POS items) it makes huge sense. In fact, this would work rather nicely for the AEC market too.

I’m curious about what people think. How would a service like this benefit you, based on first impressions? Does the idea of being able to allow the stakeholders in a project to log-in, interact with a visually rich digital representation of your product excite you? Can you see $49 a month making it’s way into your budgets? Or do you dislike the idea completely? I’d love to know.


Al, nice job on this article. I agree that we will all be cloud-based in time. The challenge for now is that users don't want to access yet another new system, nor do they want to re-engineer their processes. If this toolkit can be made to seamlessly integrate with all of the other tools people are already using: (CAD, email, skype) then it will grow. Otherwise, we will see some very frustrated early adopters, usually project managers, wondering why they can't get everybody on board.

Posted by John Hayes on 24 January 2011 at 06:00 PM

Txs for this article Al. I knew something was coming but didn't know what. John makes a good point, but I think people will come if they need to see/experience/discuss the object/product with others but cannot do it in the same physical place. If people and companies get real value out of it, it could work. And I like the idea of it being used for AEC projects, especially human-complicated public commissions. Have a 'rita for me! k

Posted by Kate on 24 January 2011 at 07:01 PM

Thanks for the info.... How to get username and password for

Posted by Sachin on 24 January 2011 at 08:07 PM

Solidedge and Autodesk are probably licking their teeth now. This looks a lot like the doomed Playstation Home that SOny tried a couple years back, but aimed at the business community. It looks like a toy.

Posted by Craig Hildreth on 25 January 2011 at 12:59 AM

Hmmmm...not convinced. Why do i need to follow a bald headed bloke on a walk around to find the virtual product I want to explore/ talk about in some weird second life-like world?? Just give me the model and product tree-like Cadfaster does? I am not sure if Avatars have a place in business. It's the equivalent of having to communicate an engineering change order through glove puppets. Mental image: Sooty is explaining to Mr. Parlanchin that the fatigue on the tips of turbine blades at full throttle, will eventually cause a catastrophic vehicle malfunction and subsequent loss of life. Sweep wants permission and budget allocation from Mr.Punch to conducting a full x-ray dispersive spectroscropy analysis.

Posted by martyn Day on 25 January 2011 at 02:23 AM

Martyn: The avatars could be useful for human factors engineering. For example, Sooty could walk up to the turbine engine running at full throttle, and Mr. Parlanchin could watch to see how close he gets before he's sucked in, then look at the blades afterwards to determine how much damage there is. Then Sweep and Mr. Punch can weigh the parts of Sooty that came out of the engine... OK... maybe just the more traditional human factor/biometric stuff. (Like, can a normal human reach a bolt to tighten it.) Are the avatars actually capable of this?

Posted by Evan Yares on 25 January 2011 at 04:33 AM

Evan, that is what makes this superfluous as the avatars are there for there own sake. Glove puppets. I don't think avatars can damage virtual models, Just your business credibility!

Posted by Martyn day on 25 January 2011 at 12:28 PM

While I'm a bit to old to truly appreciate avatars, they do provide a sense of scale that could be useful when evaluating designs.

Posted by John on 25 January 2011 at 09:10 PM

Not for me I'm afraid - far too Disney. In terms of price, it depends entirely on how this thing works. I currently use Glance and other conferencing systems to do product reviews and meetings online. It works well and it costs $49 a month - in fact $49 a month seems to be the established market level for these products now - after years of fluctuation. I first used Glance about 10 years ago, and it works very well. But I am showing my screen, or looking at a customer screen, or both. We are not interacting with a server based application. So the server based app has the potential to be faster - backed by server farm power and fast downstream speeds that should work well anywhere (upstream for screen sharing needs a business level connection to work properly). But it all comes down to interface. Frankly, as I said, this is just pants. It is like one of those online exhibitions you attend where you walk around stands. Not for me. For product reviews and project work I want to go straight to the data, not have to play walkabout first. If they do eventually sort the interface out, and provide space for multiple projects within the $49 cost I'd use it. But if they retain the Avatar approach and make it an open one project system then it is useless to me. What Dassault might be better off doing is selling the 3D technology for handling the data to companies already in this game who can offer it as an add on. 3D PDF promised to do this but it has somewhat fizzled out in recent months.

Posted by Kevin Quigley on 26 January 2011 at 03:20 PM

Just had a try of this. I was wrong. It is TOTALLY pants! I know this is a beta etc etc but it was slow, took ages to load a simple file in Firefox, crashed Internet Explorer, seemed to let me upload all types of files but they never appeared in the file list (like PDFs). But as a 3D review product it is just nonsense. Bear in mind I am comparing this to screen sharing and other commercial 3D products I have used in the past. What is the point of the avatars? I mean really? The graphics are Playstation 2, when you drag a model file to the conference room there is no scale setting, so, for example, my hand held part I could make fill the room. Navigation is terrible. Frankly I would have loved to have been in on the meeting where they dreamt this one up. Does nobody actually stop and say, guys, really, are you serious? Al, you know I'm an enthusiastic 3D CAD user, not afraid to invest, but there is no way I'd use or recommend this at the moment.

Posted by Kevin Quigley on 26 January 2011 at 06:48 PM

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