McNeel Reacts to Synchronous Technology

I asked Bob McNeel, founder of Robert McNeel and Associates, best known for his CAD software named after animals (Rhinoceros, Flamingo, Penguin and Bongo), what he thought about the recent announcement by Siemens about their “breakthrough” Synchronous Technology. At the outset, Bob admitted that he does not really play in the traditional MCAD market space, but went on to share some really interesting views.

If ‘Direct Modeling’ is the next huge productivity booster for MCAD, why didn’t products like Trispectives/IronCAD, CoCreate, etc. ‘win the day’ ten years ago?”, he asked me. I think that, among other things, marketing has a lot to do with the success or failure of a new technology. I wonder, if ten years ago, Autodesk had come up with a direct modeler, would the MCAD market space look any different from what it is now.

Or, is this technology just ‘training wheels’ for the new or casual user? If it is, SpaceClaim seems to have the right strategy,” Bob opined. It certainly looks as if SpaceClaim has finally come around to getting itself a good strategy. A strategy that may very well relieve Autodesk of some of its AutoCAD customers. Wait and watch out for SpaceClaim Professional 2008.

I was quite surprised to listen to Bob McNeel sing Autodesk’s Digital Prototyping tune. This is what he had to say:

Maybe Autodesk’s different MCAD story could be much more compelling for the mechanical design professionals… that is behavioral digital prototyping. Isn’t it really much more important to quickly explore how a mechanical device works than it is to explore the shape of the geometry? Of course, making minor changes to the geometry late in the design process is important in any design discipline, but should that be the key to how a modeling tool works? I’m not sure…

It seems to me that the direction most MCAD products have taken is to support the “second class” user that is primarily focused on modeling, detailing, and documenting designs handed to them by the “elite class” designer.

I think many people have not noticed how focused Autodesk is on “behavioral” or “functional” digital prototyping… not so much 2-D vs. 3-D.

I guess the most interesting thing is how the MCAD industry can change focus so quickly just based on a handful of press releases. My guess is that the most debilitating bottleneck in product design/engineering/development process is still high-fidelity model data transfer. Until the MCAD industry standardizes on one product like 2-D drafting did on AutoCAD, companies will waste billions on mistakes and remodeling.

Bob seems to suggest that the ability to transfer design data across different CAD systems without losing information is vital, far more important than giving the user faster and easier tools to accomplish the task of modeling. I agree with him and admire him for opening the 3DM file format, the native format of Rhinoceros. However, I also believe that advances like Synchronous Technology may be a step forward in solving that very problem.

Months ago I wrote a white paper titled “CAD 2.0 – Finally a Solution to the CAD Interoperability Problem“, wherein I suggested that direct modeling techniques have a good shot at eliminating the data exchange problem once and for all. Synchronous Technology may very well be another piece of the puzzle.

  • Anonymous

    Based on the observation for the past week, Many feel that Direct Editing Technology can play only second fiddle in Parametric CAD World, until now. Design Intent cannot be thrown just like that for the sake of convenience and flexibility.

  • Anonymous

    Based on the observation for the past week, Many feel that Direct Editing Technology can play only second fiddle in Parametric CAD World, until now. Design Intent cannot be thrown just like that for the sake of convenience and flexibility.

  • Kevin Quigley

    These are all interesting times but I read a lot from software vendors about “design intent” when in fact that should mean “modelling intent”.

    The problem with any modelling system, be it parametric/rules driven or freeform direct face editing is that the user needs to begin the modelling process after they have decided what they want to achieve.

    All the marketing BS in the world does not disguise the fact that after 25 years of 3D CAD (I’m basing that on it being about that since I first started using 3D CAD on a mainframe!) that no vendor has properly and fundamentally addressed shape creation and editing.

    The problem with any current modelling system is that it requires the user to work in a linear manner. Even this new stuff from Siemens I suspect will work very well on prismatic forms but can it let you, say, take a sculpt tool and push and pull surfaces to the desired look?

    Most of the systems around at the mid range upwards have direct editing features but they all have limitations to the way they are used or require that the driving curves are edited.

    What a lot of users need are tools that are as immediate as a pencil and marker – rub that bit out there, soften that line, fade that edge out, move this face in a bit, apply a grip texture to this face. This is design intent.

    We are a long way from that. With or with synchronous technology.

    Ashlar-Vellum asked me to comment recently on organic workflow. If you can get over the marketing message and listen to the actual comments from some of the users this is what most users need.

    I have access to some great tools. SolidWorks, VX and Ashlar-Vellum Cobalt. All have parametrics and all have direct editing. Yet I need to remodel – from scratch – on most project stages as my design intent changes in way that my original modelling intent cannot handle.

  • Kevin Quigley

    These are all interesting times but I read a lot from software vendors about “design intent” when in fact that should mean “modelling intent”.The problem with any modelling system, be it parametric/rules driven or freeform direct face editing is that the user needs to begin the modelling process after they have decided what they want to achieve.All the marketing BS in the world does not disguise the fact that after 25 years of 3D CAD (I’m basing that on it being about that since I first started using 3D CAD on a mainframe!) that no vendor has properly and fundamentally addressed shape creation and editing.The problem with any current modelling system is that it requires the user to work in a linear manner. Even this new stuff from Siemens I suspect will work very well on prismatic forms but can it let you, say, take a sculpt tool and push and pull surfaces to the desired look?Most of the systems around at the mid range upwards have direct editing features but they all have limitations to the way they are used or require that the driving curves are edited.What a lot of users need are tools that are as immediate as a pencil and marker – rub that bit out there, soften that line, fade that edge out, move this face in a bit, apply a grip texture to this face. This is design intent.We are a long way from that. With or with synchronous technology.Ashlar-Vellum asked me to comment recently on organic workflow. If you can get over the marketing message and listen to the actual comments from some of the users this is what most users need.I have access to some great tools. SolidWorks, VX and Ashlar-Vellum Cobalt. All have parametrics and all have direct editing. Yet I need to remodel – from scratch – on most project stages as my design intent changes in way that my original modelling intent cannot handle.