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.