Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 5 (May 2001)

Disruptive Technologies

The kindest comment one could make about technological developments in the CAD industry over the past couple of years is that they have been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. But that may be about to change. Indeed, recent announcements from vendors both new and old at the recent Daratech CAD/CAM/CAE summit threaten to completely upset the status quo of the CAD world as we know it. The new “disruptive” technologies, as Daratech CEO Charles Foundyller dubbed them, are storming the market on a number of fronts, including the following:

Interoperability: The most disruptive technology would be one that allows total CAD software interoperability, so that any system would be able to work freely and completely with data from any other system. A new company called Proficiency promises to make this a reality by enabling the exchange of model intelligence-not just model geometry-between disparate CAD systems. Proficiency's software interprets a model in one system and then recreates it with all corresponding parametric feature intelligence in the native format of the target system. The program could have a huge impact by cracking the lock that vendors now have on data created with their systems, saving users the enormous costs of converting drawings and models, which in the automotive industry alone can total $100 million for a single new car program.

Collaboration: Also debuting was ImpactXoft, which introduced a pair of technologies that could redefine Internet-based collaboration. The first is a novel approach to solid modeling that simplifies the process of making modifications. Whereas most solid modelers use history-based parametrics, which PTC pioneered with Pro/Engineer, ImpactXoft's "functional" modeling provides the power of parametrics without tying the design to a history tree. That way, a designer can modify features without worrying about the order in which they were created. The second technique enables near-instantaneous sharing of CAD models among many users over the Internet. Unlike most file-transfer methods, which use geometry streaming, ImpactXoft sends only the recipe for creating the model to the target systems. Because this data file is much smaller than a full-featured model, it can be sent quickly. And it doesn't degrade or "defeature" the model the way other lightweight streaming viewers tend to do.

Behavioral modeling: The great advantage of defining a product in terms of behaviors-rather than relationships between geometry, as in parametric design-is that when changes are made, the original design intent is preserved. Like ImpactXoft's functional modeling, behavioral modeling aids collaboration, especially when team members are unfamiliar with the underlying design objectives. PTC led the charge by offering behavioral modeling features in Pro/Engineer 2000i. Now, newcomer Vistagy is weighing in with a kind of "Post-It Note" technology that enables designers to attach non-geometric engineering data to a geometric model. Because behavioral modelers could operate on such data, says Daratech vice president Bruce Jenkins, this technology could serve as the infrastructure for behavioral-based design systems.

These new technologies are only now being put to the test. But for anyone beginning to think that there is nothing new in CAD, they prove that the industry is on the move again.

Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief