Spaceclaim – Real or Marketing Strategy?

“I’ve never had the time to learn the CAD system my designer uses. Instead, I rely on him to make all the changes for me. A 3D system that I could use without much training saves both of us a lot of time.” – reads a box item in the Spaceclaim White Paper, titled “3D Rising: Engineers harnessing the full power of 3D”.

Spaceclaim seems to be targeting what they call the “extended development team”, who, according to the author, are “those responsible for downstream functions from manufacturing to field engineering, as well as upstream functions involved in conceptual design and engineering.” So that leaves out the “product designers” who, according to the author, are “highly-specialized CAD operators using a parametric modeling system like Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks, CATIA, NX or Inventor.”

I have not yet seen Spaceclaim Professional 2007 in action, so I cannot comment on it’s capabilities. But something tells me that there may be more to it than what is being presented. I find it hard to believe that company whose CEO co-founded SolidWorks and PTC, was as a CEO of Spatial Corp. and CTO of Dassault Systèmes would be interested in making software for the “extended development team”. Maybe what Spaceclaim is claiming is true, but maybe, just maybe, this is a way to get to the product designers.

I have seen this happen earlier. When McNeel launched Rhinceros they started out by marketing Rhino as a “companion” product – companion to a user’s existing CAD system, mainly AutoCAD. I guess they realised at the start that asking someone to dump their existing CAD system all of a sudden and adopt theirs was not an easy things to do. The “companion” tag allowed them to slowly push Rhino into the user’s workflow.

Over the years many users have dumped AutoCAD and moved over to Rhino. I know this because I have written plug-ins for them to do the things that AutoCAD could and Rhino couldn’t. McNeel’s user friendly upgrade policy and Rhino’s low cost have only added to this. Also, over the years, I have consistently seen a change in McNeel’s marketing strategy. They are gradually shedding the “companion” tag and are portraying Rhino as a full blown CAD system, which indeed, it is.

Maybe we will see the same thing happen with Spaceclaim as well. At this point in time, they are trying to woo the “extended development team”. But it would be naive to think that they do not have the designers in mind.

In the white paper the author describes a case wherein a company is introducing a new hand-held electric drill. The conceptual design group uses a 3D modeler (such as Spaceclaim, I presume) to create a sleek and trendy looking concept model. Then manufacturing uses the 3d modeler is used to “tweak” the designer’s model to accomodate existing tooling. The analysis engineer uses the 3d modeler to quickly remove the rounds before analyzing it. Marketing uses the 3d modeler to get input on the early design from focus groups and key retailers.

I guess you must have noticed in the above case that the designer and his CAD system are sandwiched between the 3d modeler used in the concept stage on the one hand and the same 3d modeler used downstream in manufacturing, analysis, marketing and whatever comes after designing. I feel that this is a perfect recipe for disaster as there will be different versions and variations of the same model edited by different people floating around at the same time, not only in the company but also among suppliers, contractors, etc. Probably something like the Airbus fiasco.

It will take just one such event for the top management in any company to have a meeting wherein someone yells, “I’m sick and tired of hearing this CAD software crap. If you are using Spaceclaim before and after designing then why can’t the freaking designers use Spaceclaim as well? What’s is so damn special in this other software that the designers can’t do without? … And don’t even think of asking me to purchase licenses of that designer’s expensive software for everone else. Thanks to this 3D-modeling-for-everyone crap we are already in the red. … Ok, now we have to decide how many workers we need to fire to keep this company in business.”