Siemens PLM offers CAD on the Cloud – Part 1

Recently I spoke to a number of top executives of CAD software companies to find out where they stand on the much talked about CAD on the Cloud issue.

I spoke to top executives in other CAD software companies as well. But they were not ready to go on record. One of the companies was Siemens PLM. What they did do was give me a demo on their CAD solution on the cloud, put a gag order on me and placed the information under embargo. I hate it when companies to that. What I hate even more is when employees of those same companies start spilling the beans before the embargo expires. I recently wrote about exactly how pissed I get when that happens (see “How to Piss on an Embargo“).

Last night I noticed a Siemens PLM employee tweet about his company’s CAD on the Cloud offering. He even created a hashtag for it called #CADVille, which happens to be the internal code name of the product. That did it for me. I am now going to officially piss on their embargo. So here is the big news. Siemens PLM has joined Autodesk and SolidWorks in the clouds, but by using a rather unique approach – online gaming. They have even trademarked the phrase “Social Product Games”, which reminds me of “Social Product Development” by PTC.

Here is a screen shot I managed to grab.

Click image for larger view

This is how the Siemens PLM executive explained it to me:

“CADVillle is a game that gives you the power to design with your friends. Each player is given a 12x12x12 volume of space in which to set up his or her design studio and create products to sell or trade. You begin with a fixed number of primitives such as cubes, spheres and cylinders. As you advance in the game, you can “unlock” new tools (e.g. “Boolean subtract”) and new primitives (e.g.  swept surfaces). Your friends can add their own studio’s next to you and you are able to use the arrow keys to walk over and see their work. You can even give them gifts like exotic rounds, champers and threaded holes. Or you can trade your products at the community market.”

All this happens in the cloud. All you need is a web browser and an internet connection. You do not even need to install a thin or thick client on the device that you wish to work (or rather play) on. One of the first things I asked was whether users (or players as the executive often referred to them) could download their designs for personal storage and backup or whether their data would be locked up in some server in the cloud. The executive evaded the question, said something to the effect that data was more safer in the cloud and then quickly changed the topic.

Regarding cost, Siemens PLM was as lost as SolidWorks appeared to be at SolidWorks World 2010. I am sure they have the numbers in place, but are not ready to disclose them yet. I wondered why they took the gaming route. Apparently, Siemen PLM wants to broaden the CAD market to include non-technical people (something similar to what Google did with their free Sketchup) as well as make engineering more of a fun experience. The idea here is that if kids were introduced to engineering concepts at an early stage, that too in a fun learning environment, they would be more open to taking engineering as a profession.

CADVille, or whatever is the official name, will also have interfaces to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other tools of social networking. I was shown a demo wherein a user sent a Twitter Direct Message to a special CADVille Twitter account containing a code of his model and two sets of X, Y, Z coordinates representing the opposite corners of a box. This message was processed by the CADVille application running in the cloud and a box was automatically added to the user’s model which was also in the cloud. I cannot remember the exact message but it was something like.

D CADVilleModeler Dc65g67 Box 0,0,0 20,10,5

where Dc65g67 is the code of the model in the cloud and (0, 0, 0) and (20, 10, 5) are the bottom left front and top right back coordinates of the box. So this effectively means that you can now actually model using Twitter. Of course typing cryptic messages like that is not going to be easy, even for hardcore engineers. So Siemens PLM is going to offer an API by which programmers would be able to develop applications that do  this automatically. This API will also have wrappers for the API’s of Twitter, Facebook, etc. so that developers of applications for these social networking platforms can easily enhance their existing applications to add support for CADVille.

Now some of you may think of this whole thing as one big crazy idea. But here is where it gets interesting. CADVille will not just have tools to create and edit geometry. It will also have tools to analyze it and do simulations. I was shown a demo of a flange modeled completely in Solid Edge ST2 and uploaded to the CADville server in the cloud. Then a Twitter message was sent to an account called CADVilleSolver (note that the message listed above was sent to CADVilleModeler) with a few parameters in the message body and the model was automatically meshed. Another message was used to apply loads and a third started a FEA simulation. The results could be seen in a web browser and the animation was automatically posted to YouTube as a video. So basically, you could start a simulation as you are waiting to pick up your bags at the airport and by the time you get home or office the results will already be published and distributed to everyone involved in the project.

There is so much more that I going to have to split this up into a series. In the next part I will talk about another CAD in the Cloud solution which is under development and whose code name is World of CADCraft. This takes things to the next level – the level of multi-player, realtime 3D modeling where simulation happens the instant a model is created. All this in the cloud.

Watch this space.

Update (3-Apr-2010)

Part 2 is here. You may want to pay special attention to FAQ No. 9 (at the very bottom).