SpaceClaim Professional 2007 – CAD 2.0

Today I finally got to lay my hands on SpaceClaim Professional 2007, a product that is out to revolutionize the way we do 3D design. If this is what CAD has become then we are in the right direction. I guess the days of CAD 2.0 have arrived.

The installation and activation process went well. I had to log into the SpaceClaim web site and download an installer. Actually I downloaded a downloader which downloaded the installer. I did not have an option to save the installer for further use. I hope they have a different arrangement for CAD managers who have to make multiple installations, otherwise I can see CAD managers tearing their hair over having to download over a 100 Mb for each computer. Using a trick, I was able to save the installer, and I guess any CAD Manager worth his salt should be able to do the same.

I get the impression that the guys at SpaceClaim are control freaks when it comes to their software. They do not offer a demo or trial download at their web site. Howie Markson of SpaceClaim explains, “The main reason we do not offer a trial download is that ‘free’ software is rarely used. We believe that potential users with a problem to solve are willing to make some kind of commitment.” I don’t subscribe to his view. I’m not the kind of person who will purchase a software by seeing flashy online demos or have a marketing rep come by my office, open some well prepared sample files and show me what his software can do with them. I would prefer to get my hands dirty.

Anyways, with the installation and activation done, I fired up the software. When I start using a software, one of the first things I do is to open a sample file that comes with the software. In this case I couldn’t find any. Later when playing around with the options I noticed a “Get Models” button. Clicking this button takes you to the SpaceClaim Library, I guess a place where you can download models. Unfortunately, at the moment, the library is empty. So without any existing models to play around with, I decided to design from scratch, which is probably what they wanted me to do in the first place.

I created a sketch, extruded it and went to play with the Pull command. This command rocks. If you need a fillet, select the edge and pull it. If you want to specify a radius, press the space bar while pulling and enter the radius. If you want to change the radius select the fillet (yes, I mean the curved surface) and pull it or specify the radius using the keyboard. The same goes for chamfer and blend. This really is SketchUp on steroids.

As the model gets complicated the pull operations take time. One can only imagine how much math is going on in the background. After about 5 minutes I had a solid which was so contorted that there could not be any possbile use for it in real life, but it showed me what this beast is capable of. Truly amazing. I have never seen anything like this before. SpaceClaim Professional 2007 may very well be CAD 2.0.

One of the many amazing things I noticed is that when pulling, if at that instant, the operation would split the solid into two shells, it is reflected in the left design structure tree. This means that SpaceClaim is actually modelling in real time.

SpaceClaim is being marketed as a CAD software for the extended development team, something which I have questioned before. If this is indeed the case then it must be able to talk fluently to a lot of CAD systems. To make this happen SpaceClaim has licensed software from Spatial, which allows it to read files from Inventor, Catia, Pro/E, SolidWorks, etc., besides neutral formats such as STEP, IGES and a few more.

What is most interesting is the way SpaceClaim handles AutoCAD DWG and DXF files. To read and write DWG/DXF files SpaceClaim has licensed Autodesk’s RealDWG toolkit as well as the OpenDesign Alliance’s DWGDirect libraries. Surprised? Me too. Upon digging further I found that the user could specify (in the Advanced section of SpaceClaim’s options) which technology he wants to use. One would think that SpaceClaim would be satisfied with the toolkit from Autodesk, after all it is the the “real” one. Apparently, it does not “trust” RealDWG completely.

But there’s more. To add insult to injury, Spaceclaim has set ODA’s toolkit as the default and not Autodesk’s RealDWG. A tight slap on the face of Autodesk, some might say, especially since the RealDWG logo features prominently in the SpaceClaim spash screen, whereas the ODA’s logo is nowhere to be seen. So is SpaceClaim “passing off” ODA technology as that of Autodesk? Just kidding. You know me. I like to add some spice.

But here is something quite disturbing. I opened 3D House.dwg from AutoCAD 2008’s Sample folder in SpaceClaim. Using the ODA’s toolkit SpaceClaim imported it without a problem. But when I set SpaceClaim to use Autodesk’s RealDWG it crashed with the message “SpaceClaim has encountered a user-defined breakpoint. A breakpoint in an application defines a program error. After this dialog is dismissed, the application will continue running, but it may be in an unstable state.” Hmm… familiar words. I tried this five times, just to be sure before mentioning this here. And this is not the only TrustedDWG file which crashes SpaceClaim when it uses RealDWG. I found the same thing to happen with four other sample DWG’s in the same Sample folder, the one’s whose names start with the word Visualization. It may well be that the bug lies in SpaceClaim and not with RealDWG. Either way, SpaceClaim may want to have this fixed to save Autodesk and themselves some embarassment.

Talking about file formats, SpaceClaims claims that the SpaceClaim native file format (.SCDOC) is an open XML format. Well, yes and no. A .SCDOC file is actually a ZIP file containing a number of other files organized into a specified directory structure. The geometry is stored as SAB files (the binary version of ACIS SAT), the graphics (such as thumbnails) are stored as PNG files and just about everything else is stored as XML files. The problem is that the only program that I have seen that reads SAB files is SpaceClaim itself. I have a bunch of CAD programs installed on my computer and none of them, not even SolidWorks, can read a SAB file. I could not even view the SAB files stored in the SCDOC file in the free HOOPS 3D Viewer for ACIS. I am sure there will be a way (preferably free) to convert a SAB file into a SAT file so that it can be read by other CAD systems. But atleast the SpaceClaim geometry is not stored in some proprietary format, which comes with its own share of problems for end users.

SpaceClaim Professional 2007 is a good thing that has happenned to the CAD industry. I am not a big fan of their business model, but judging by the resumes of the people running that company I better keep my mouth shut. I am huge fan of their technology though, technology which I believe is in it’s initial stages. A lot has been done and a lot will be done.

Now I am off to figure out how to make add-ins for SpaceClaim. I want to be a part of this revolution.