Applying social media to product development?

Published 21 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, proengineer, collaborate, social media, non-linear conversations,, twitter

It started with a blog comment. A name pops up you know. Guy that used to be CEO of one of the most interesting 3D tech companies in a while. They sold to Dassault last year. He disappeared shortly there after. Then he pops up again. This should be interesting.

Chris Williams was CEO of Seemage for a stint as they sold to Dassault some time ago: that product got reassessed in the DS portfolio, and is now sold through both the SolidWorks and Catia channels as 3DVIA Composer. Job Done. So what’s he up to next?

The answer is What is it? I had no clue, so I did a little digging. It turns out that its a new organisation at the very embryonic stages of developing a service. What does that service do? Well, I’ll tell you.

Look at the Social Media landscape. Facebook, Twitter, Brightkite, all this stuff. It didn’t take long for someone to figure out that similar things can be used within the Product Development community (and I don’t just mean LinkedIn) - someone had to build a service that would take those core concepts and apply them to the 3D-based professional realm. Sort of.

What social media, particularly something like Twitter, is all about is: Communication. Informal communication (that’s my take on things anyway). If you get into it (I’m on there, as are a lot of other 3D alpha geeks) and use it for something other than simply uni-directional broadcasting (which is pretty common), then it quickly becomes clear that the simplicity of the service makes informal, non-linear conversation a very effective communication method. You have a conversation with someone, in small 140 character chunks, other people can see that and jump in. Sure, they could add a lot more, but the devil is in the details.. or lack thereof. So, WTF has that got to do with CAD.

Design is a team effort. Full stop. People work on a product, converse, communicate, adapt and refine. how is that communication done? In person, by phone, by email, by data management or PD… no. Wait. let’s stop there. At the very formative stages of design, PDM gets in the way.

What if there was something less rigid, less formal, less time consuming that would enable discussion around a dataset, a part, an assembly, that you could just… use?

This is what is trying to build. Integrated into your CAD app (current documentation shows a working Pro/E plugin) that give you tools to connect to the server, link to a part, add discussions, comments and such. Then, whenever anyone else works with that data, that same data is available, can be swapped between team members. Because its a web-service, non-CAD users can work on with it too. Essentially, it allows a conversation to happen, without too many barriers.

It’s super early days for both the company and service but they have the potential to do something interesting here. Let’s see where it goes. I’ve got a few ideas for things they need to build into this, to make it more community led as a means to reach more people, but these are smart guys. If you’re interested, they’re looking for testers. Go on, you know you want to.

Other things to read:

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ART-VPS Shaderlight demo

Published 19 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: rendering, visualisation, hypershot, luxology, shaderlight, renderdrive, art-vps, ray box, pure, progressive renderer

This is pretty cool. ARTVPS (which stands for Advanced Render Technology - Virtual Photography Solutions - snappy eh?) has been active in the rendering and visualization business for years with its RenderDrive, Pure cards and RayBox products. These worked with 3dsmax and Maya to use custom hardware (using an ART-VPS design ray tracing chipset) to accelerate the ray tracing calculation times to mere fractions of what they would be with a standard workstation. And with some tweaks that the company also added to the host applications (such as really usable depth of field), the images that could be produced were breathtaking.

Of course, today multi-core machines, and rapidly advancing graphics card tech means that those hardware acceleration solutions have become a little dedundant. ShaderLight is ART-VPS’ next core technology. As you’ll see its integrated into 3dsmax, but the company has plans elsewhere. Now, its video time:

Watch and learn. See how the scene doesn’t all recalc massively when you play with materials/textures and light sources - now that’s slick and appears to be an interesting step on from standard progressive rendering. With Bunkspeed, Luxology and now ARTVPS back in the game, perhaps 2009 is going to be year where rendering finally gets easy.

ALSO: This looked cool too - FryRender Swap for swapping out materials in real time.

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Autodesk to acquire Algor

Published 17 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: simulation, autodesk, cfd, fea, analysis, algor

News has just broken (the press release isn’t even on either parties’ web-site’s as yet), that Autodesk is to acquire simulation specialists Algor for approximately $34 million with a view to expanding the rapidly growing base of technology to fulfill the Digital Prototyping vision. What does this bring to the deal that previous acquisitions of Solid Dynamics (Motion simulation), Moldflow (Mold filling analysis) and Plassotech (Static FEA) in recent years? The answer is multiphysics, mechanical event simulation* and fluid flow.

According to the release postsed on the Yahoo Biz, “Upon completion of the acquisition, Autodesk’s current intent is to integrate Algor into its Manufacturing Solutions business unit and to continue developing and selling Algor‘s core product line. Autodesk plans to continue developing the Algor products with an open approach, allowing direct data exchange between Algor products and multiple computer aided design software offerings.” The deal is expected to close in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009. The worlds of FEA, CFD and other simulation technologies are rapidly merging and becoming, at least in the view of the vendors, much more integrated. While user adoption varies between industry sector, its clear that this is THE big thing for the next few years and expect to see other acquisitions from other vendors as work is done to bring simulation in closer contact with the design process. * I hadn’t come across this term before, but it seems it “combines large-scale motion and stress analysis and includes linear and nonlinear material models. The combination of motion and stress analysis considering full inertial effects enables engineers to see motion and its results, such as impact, buckling and permanent deformation.”

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Al Dean brings the noise to Novedge

Published 16 December 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: develop3d, al dean, scary, novedge

DEVELOP3D’s very own Al Dean makes a guest appearance on the informative Novedge blog today. If you look beyond the incredibly scary picture of Al (he’s not that terrifying in real life, honest), you’ll find an in-depth interview carried out by Franco Folini where Al explains the rationale behind DEVELOP3D (the magazine) how we integrate online and offline content and why you’ll never ever see him in a pair of white wellington boots and thermal underwear again.

Even though I’ve heard some of the stories before, it’s certainly a fascinating read. The boy’s got passion.

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Z Corp 650: Test build

Published 15 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, 3d printing, rapid prototyping, z corporation, z650, stl, vrml output

One of the best things about this job is that we get to test drive all of the latest bits of technology and for me, there’s nothing more satisfying than sending off some data to an rapid prototyping vendor and waiting for that FedEx box to arrive back in the mail. if you’re going to write about these machines, then surely you need to try them out, see what they can do - right?*

Anyway, today brought me a test assembly build from Z Corp, over in MA. The Z 650 is the company’s high-end machine, bigger build chamber (@254 x 381 x 203 mm), fastest printing (2 to 4 layers a minute - layer size being between 0.089–0.102 mm ) and it’ll build in full colour at 600 x 540 dpi. The machine also sees a new black binder introduced, so for those working with darker colours, less ink is used as it doesn’t have to make up that black from the others. It also introduces the integrated clean up station that debuted with the 410 last year, so mess is reduced greatly.

So, here’s what its like receiving a rapid prototype in the mail:

#1: Start in SolidWorks, create the model. you then output the data to either STL if you’re working with a colourless RP process (pretty much everything else other than Z Corp). With Z Corp, it supports colour, so use it, and to do that, you need a VRML (.wrl) file. Waiting a while and then you get excited, you get the email notification that your part is being dispatched..

#2: Box arrives with glee on your behalf, absolute horror on the behalf of your significant other (if you work at home - and do excuse the state of the kitchen).

#3: This thing looks sweet. Build is very stable, finished nicely (Z Corp have been working with us long enough to know not to mess with the results - unlike some other vendors).

#4: This thing maxes out the Z650’s build chamber in length, so shows what it’s capable of in terms of size - this is around 13.5-14” high.

#5: Details are nicely replicated, you’d have very little finishing to do with this model before a presentation with a client. With the colour Zprints, you have to be careful with too much aggressive finishing as the coloured binder is only printed on a few mms thick ‘into’ the material.

But what about the colours? I was pretty surprised. Look at the first image - Black, White, Red. Not this. I spent some time going through the assembly file to remove the colour that existed on the model (as have been built), using the Appearances funcitonality in SolidWorks (itself not an easy task). Go the model in a nice state and exported the VRML file and sendspace’d it off to Z Corp - who duly built the model and sent it back. I’m in touch with the SolidWorks guys to find out what’s going on with this and I’ll post an update here when I get some feedback.

But if it proves anything, it proves two things:

  • a) the Z Corp 640 Z printer is an incredible peice of kit and can generate stunning vivid coloured models at a scale that’s increasingly in demend in a very wide spread of industries (including architecture in a big way).
  • b) it proves that user error is inevitable. I thought I’d have know after all these years to double check the geometry I’m sending out, that it’s what’s needed at the other end and suits my purposes. You live and learn I guess. I thought I was going to get back a slick looking model in three colours. I got back a brightly coloured model that looks pretty cool on my desk, but doesn’t quite match up with expectations in terms of appearance. That said, they do match Greg’s shiny/horrid new trainers.

January’s Develop3D will feature an indepth of the Z650 - so stay tuned or register if you haven’t already.

*OK, so not all magazine’s do it - they should…

View comments (9 comments) SolidWorks Social Support Mechanism

Published 14 December 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, training, social media, support, informal support, learning,,

A couple of issues ago, I talked about how the death of the printed manual perhaps stifles the learning process for complex 3D modelling systems (yes, they are still complex). As part of that, we talked about how those informal learning methods, those that fit into the working day, give you the insider knowledge, the tips and tricks that take you from being an average user to expert in no time at all. Alongside manuals, the other big one is peer support. When you have a group of users working in the same system, knowledge gets shared, tips and hints shouted across the office, by email even.

Now, think about that in the context of today’s hyper-connected world, where people are connected together: whether it’s facebook, twitter, linkedin. Is there potential for the world of technical software and 3D CAD in particular, to take advantage of the social media revolution? You see it everywhere, people helping each other out with problems, with software issues and beyond, whether behind closed doors on vendor support forums, user groups. But can this be brought into the interface to keep you focussed on the group at hand, stop you from twitching for that alt-tab keycombo?

Ben Eadie, professional Canadian, world record holder, video star and creator of has just launched an interesting service, called It follows a very simple premise. Connect up SolidWorks users, provide a method for users to ask questions about issues they can’t figure out and other users answer them or give a few hints. The premise is simple and from what can be seen, pretty effective. What’s really interesting is that Ben’s just released an add-in for SolidWorks that gives access to this resource from with the navigation pane of SolidWorks. There are plans for a few extra tools, such as tools that will capture a screenshot and post it on the site, as well as pack and go your data for passing around problems. The whole thing is pretty nice and its interesting seeing how Ben’s developing it in very quick reaction to users requests and issues.

The work to integrate it into the SolidWorks UI is fascinating, but what really interests me is how this formalises a lot of the things that go on outside of a vendor’s control. Yes, many users have support contracts with resellers, but there are many that don’t; whether that’s students or professionals that simply can’t justify the support/maintenance costs. There’s also the fact that its often quicker to get a response in this way than going through a reseller. There are support forums run by SolidWorks, but again, this is a much more informal thing - quick questions, quick answers. Best way I’ve thought of describing it is a social support mechanism for SolidWorks, without the group therapy and 12 steps; and it’s fascinating.

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Lenovo W700DS - industrial design on the go

Published 12 December 2008

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: manufacturing, cam, delcam, cnc, powermill, featurecam, return on investment, g code

Mobile workstations are all the same. They’ve all got the same processors, same graphics, same memory and hard drives, right?

Wrong. This latest one from Lenovo is different. As you’ll see from the pic, it’s got a 10-inch colour display which pulls out from the main 17-inch screen; it also has a built in 128 x 80mm Wacom digitizer (and pen) and an integrated Pantone colour calibrator.

This is surely every industrial designer’s idea of mobile heaven - the ability to sketch out your designs on a colour accurate screen, and have all of your tool palettes set off to the side so you’ve got 17-inches of uninterrupted design space is pretty darn compelling. It’s also a powerful beast, so things don’t have to slow down when you start to formalise your design in 3D.

It looks like Santa will be bringing me one for Christmas (but unlike a puppy this will be just for Christmas as I have to give it back) so we’ll be taking a closer look at Lenovo’s W700 and a host of other mobile workstations in the January print/PDF edition of DEVELOP3D.

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