SpaceClaim Engineer and Style

Last Friday, the CEO of SpaceClaim, Chris Randles, co-founder Blake Courter and I sat down together on opposite sides of the planet for a briefing on the new version of SpaceClaim. We had a very interesting discussion on SpaceClaim technology and its business model, or rather the change in it’s business model.

Chris wanted to clear the prevailing confusion about SpaceClaim in the market. He started out by explaining the SpaceClaim vision of expanding the market for 3D. According to him, SpaceClaim is not interested in replacing existing MCAD systems. Rather it is looking at putting 3D into the hands of new customers. Sounds familiar to me. When SpaceClaim appeared to the scene, that was precisely their plan. I remember they arrived at a number for non CAD users – 4 million. They claimed that there were approximately 5 million people involved in 3D product design and only 1/5th of them were exposed to existing CAD software.

This is what I wrote on 4th December 2007 (“SpaceClaim Changing Direction – Finally“):

“SpaceClaim has been trying to woo the 4 million non-CAD users by offering them a full featured CAD system for a price of a full featured CAD system when they do not need a full featured CAD system. And then they start by not offering a trial but rather by giving online demos to all 4 million of them. And finally they allow customers to only rent the software, not purchase it. I cannot think of anything more that could be done wrong.”

Those comments were based on SpaceClaim’s plan at that point in time of selling their software to people like marketing executives so that they could flash out their laptops and impress prospective customers by pushing and pulling faces of a 3D model.

Little wonder that I found a particular bunch of numbers on a particular slide of Chris’ presentation particularly interesting. SpaceClaim now claims that there are 15 to 25 million engineers in manufacturing worldwide and 3 to 5 million of them are in need of 3D tools in areas of industrial design, design engineering, simulation & analysis and manufacturing engineering.

So the 4 million non-CAD users that SpaceClaim was talking about two years ago sits nice between the 3 to 5 million engineers that it is trying to sell to today. But what has changed is the purpose for which these people are going to use SpaceClaim. The word used back then was “modify”. SpaceClaim was being touted as a fantastic tool by which any inexperienced user could modify geometry, not create it.

This is what I said on 25th October 2007 (“SpaceClaim Finally Gets It“):

“SpaceClaim Corp. considers itself as a ‘leading provider of CAD-neutral modification solutions to the extended product development team’. The keyword here is ‘modification’, which implies that the target company already has a CAD system that has ‘created’ their models.”

That just changed. SpaceClaim is now being marketed as a MCAD system to “create” geometry, not just “modify” it. And they have adjusted the product names to reflect this change. “SpaceClaim Professional” is now “SpaceClaim Engineer”. Priced at $1,995, it is being targeted at engineers, not just for design and manufacturing engineering applications, but also for conceptual engineering (creating geometry) and conceptual analysis (analyzing the created geometry at concept level).

“SpaceClaim LTX” is now “SpaceClaim Style”. Priced at $895, it is being targeted at people doing industrial design, product styling, furniture design, jewelry design and architectural detailing. Clearly almost all of this involves “creating” geometry, not just “modifying” it. So looks like SpaceClaim has finally come around to admitting that their software is good for creating geometry. After all they now have an entire product designed just for that.

To me it was quite obvious that SpaceClaim Style is a direct competition to Rhinoceros as it is being targeted to almost same people McNeel does and is priced almost the same (actually $100 lesser). Chris was quick to clarify, “We share an excellent partnership with McNeel and SpaceClaim Style is a great companion to Rhino. Rhino does some real nice surfacing stuff with curves. I don’t think Bob McNeel is losing sleep on SpaceClaim Style“. Yeah, right. However, it is important to note that SpaceClaim Style does not come with an API. So you cannot extend it using add-ins like how you can extend Rhino.

The new features in 2009 include

(1) A new ribbon tab called “Prepare” containing model preparation tools detect and repair problems with imported designs and simplify models prior to analysis.

(2) Increased surfacing power for highly-stylized designs that include swept multi-curve blends, n-sided patches, surface curves. So now you know why I think Rhino has competition.

(3) Enhanced analysis tools for industrial design visualization and manufacturing validation that include curvature, zebra stripes, dihedral angle and draft analysis.

(4) Improved translators. 3D PDF’s can now be opened and edited. You can even open tessellated (mesh) formats for visualization. The word to note here is “visualization”. You cannot edit the imported mesh formats since they are not imported as solids. SYCODE’s mesh file import add-ins for SpaceClaim create solids that can be edited using SpaceClaim’s fantastic direct editing tools.

SpaceClaim is available in English, German, French, Italian, Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

SpaceClaim is now offering a flexible platform for custom 3D solid modeling applications. Just so that you know, McNeel also offers Rhino as a platform for custom applications. They call it the Rhino Application Platform.

I asked Chris what he thought about Autodesk’s VP of CAD/CAE for Manufacturing Solutions Andrew Anagnost’s view that SpaceClaim’s direct-modeling-only approach is a dead end – unless SpaceClaim add parametrics. Chris reiterated that SpaceClaim is the only pure direct modeler was quite skeptical about Autodesk’s claim to “fuse” direct and parametric seamlessly into a single environment. “They have the liberty of making tall claims since they have do not yet have a released product”. When I asked Blake Courter whether SpaceClaim would consider adding parametrics to SpaceClaim in the future, he said, “SpaceClaim has excellent parametric capabilities that are a key part of our user interface and how we integrated with analysis tools. We think direct modeling and parametrics can work well together, but the marriage of history and direct modeling is not something that makes logical sense to us.”

Ever since SpaceClaim appeared on the scene, people (me including) have been talking about when they will be bought and by whom. I wanted to hear it directly from the horse’s mouth. So I asked Chris. “I have not heard anything to that effect“, he quipped. “SpaceClaim is on solid footing. In these bad times when money is not easily available, we are getting ready for another round of funding. This goes to show that our investors are strong and believe in what we are doing.

To see a screenshot of SpaceClaim Engineer click here.

Update: Blake Courter has in formed me that mesh import has been postponed to SP1.