Zalaco Featured in CAD Collaboration E-Book from Tech-Clarity

Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration?

Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration? That was the question Jim Brown addresses a brand new e-book over at Tech-Clarity. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jim on the phone to discuss how modern CAD collaboration tools are dramatically improving the work flow of small service firms like Zalaco, and providing better value to the clients we serve.

To read an overview of the e-book, head over to Tech-Clarity. If you’d like to download a copy of the book, you’ll need to head over to GrabCAD and fill out a registration form.

Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration?
Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration?

The CAD  Data Problem

If you’re trying to figure out how to manage CAD data you need to solve two problems:

  1. Data Backup: Needs to be (almost) real time and invisible to the user.
  2. CAD Specific Issues: Versioning, Revision Control, and Collaboration

Ok, so item #2 is more than one problem. Fortunately, any system designed for CAD data should handle those out of the box. Unfortunately, real time (or regular) data backup is not something that meshes well with a good CAD data system.

Product Data Management (PDM) systems built for CAD work on a “check in” basis. They typically save every single version a user ever checks in.  These officially checked in versions become the basis of collaboratively working on the same assembly in CAD.  If a bunch of users were just working out of the same network drive, you’d perpetually be stepping on each others toes and overwriting each others files.

However, in the real world, we do a lot of work we don’t want to check into the official system for a myriad of reasons. As a result, we need to know that all of that “in work” data is safe and backed up somewhere. For this purpose, a traditional data back up system works just fine.

My Solution

My two pronged solution is incredibly powerful yet exceedingly simple.

  1. DropBox provides real time backup of everything I do.
  2. GrabCAD Workbench gets the official “updates” that I need to maintain version control on, share with a client, or mark as an official revision.

As a single user, they play together nicely. DropBox and GrabCAD are syncing the same directories without significant issue. However, this is a single user environment and sure it would wreak havoc if two users were doing the same thing with the same file sets

So that’s that! I love consulting on CAD Data and PDM issues, and I love the challenge of getting data into the cloud, so please feel free to contact me if I can be of service!

Elon Musk’s Take on the Future of 3D Design Tools


New 3D Design Paradigm in Action?

Elon Musk and SpaceX released a video yesterday showing what might be the beginning of a revolution in how we interact with 3D space:

My Quick Thoughts

Using a spaceball type of controller is the only alternative modeling interface that I’ve seen used with any frequency. Even then, most designers I’ve worked with in industry have stuck with a keyboard and mouse most of the time (myself included). While a spaceball is nice, it’s only an incremental change in how you interact with 3D space on screen.

Is Elon Musk’s vision a disruptive shift in interaction? Will it make designing complex parts easier? Maybe not, but it will make being a mechanical designer or 3D artist alot more fun. I see this more useful for industrial design and character modeling than I do for designing rocket engines. The freeform nature of subdivision modeling makes this particularly appealing, especially when haptic feedback can be incorporated into your hands. At that point, an artist could literally sculpt in 3D space.

future-of-design-elon-musk-spacex 3d design
Elon Musk/SpaceX

I see tremendous value on the visualization side. We often refer to 3D models as “virtual prototypes.” Seeing a design through the eyes of an Occulus Rift adds a new level realism to that experience, and this has tremendous potential for gathering feedback and improving our virtual prototypes. And that’s exactly what SpaceX demonstrated in the video above. It has presented a fantastic tool for Elon Musk to review and dig into the 3D designs his engineers are working on. What we did not see were any examples of usable interaction in the design process. Nothing we saw was designed using this type of interface. That’s OK, but it’s important to realize that design utility will lag the visual utility for some time.

In my opinion, a tool that combined haptic feedback with a holographic display is when we will see the benefits during the design process. The idea of my desk surface becoming a usable volume where I can “feel” virtual parts is a game changer. Instead of double clicking a feature, I might double tap it’s surface, see dimensional information appear, and simply grab a triad and stretch a dimension. That type of demonstration will get me excited, as that has the ability to really disrupt how design is done on a day-to-day basis.

Exciting stuff, but I suspect usability is a long way away. It’s awesome to see a company like SpaceX leading the charge.