The relatively short story of CAD visualization is paved with big ambitions and small results. No company has been able to escape this spell. Looking at the target market the opportunities for a CAD visualization system seem huge, with potential users by the millions including entire departments outside the design and manufacturing areas. Here's the problem: when it comes to convincing real users to embrace the technology and open their wallets, even the best companies have trouble selling more than a few thousand licenses. I suspect that nobody really knows the reason for such disappointing results, and I certainly don't. But there is one thing I can say for sure -- in the last 10-15 years we have seen very few innovative approaches to this problem. In fact, all CAD visualization products usually fall into one of two categories: 1) either programs created by CAD experts which are too often unfriendly for users without any CAD background or 2) programs created by people outside the design and manufacturing world which may be easy to use but don't address important problems, instead focusing on irrelevant details. When I saw QuadriSpace Pages3D for the first time something resonated with my experience. Finally, a CAD visualization tool that is easy to use (even by non CAD users) and that addresses real problems, not abstract idealizations of the design and manufacturing world. QuadriSpace software is still in its infancy, but it is already a great example of what a CAD visualization tool should be like. The person who managed to create an easy-to-use viewer that doesn't look like a pruned version of a CAD system is Brian Roberts, the President and founder of QuadriSpace.
Brian, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company?
First, let me say thank you for taking the time to discuss QuadriSpace today.
Believe it or not, the initial ideas that formed the foundation for QuadriSpace originated on the golf course. At the time, I worked for Raytheon developing cutting-edge 3D technologies and delivering vehicle simulations to the Army and National Guard for training.
We realized that a software technology could be developed that would allow him to create documentation for his products more quickly and more efficiently than ever before
Weekly, I would meet up with an engineer friend for a round of golf. He was an early user of 3D CAD software and used 3D to design products. We realized that a software technology could be developed that would allow him to create documentation for his products more quickly and more efficiently than ever before. We began to work with other companies who were experiencing the same problems and it became clear that that the solution was buried in the 3D models and we had developed a powerful and unique technology to leverage it for non-engineering tasks. QuadriSpace was founded in 2001 to solve this disconnect between engineering data and downstream deliverables, and we released out first product 6 months later. We were the first to market with a completely revolutionary method of using 3D to create page-by-page presentations. Ultimately, this was the first step in the development of a complete end-to-end 3D communication and documentation suite that is today known as the Document3D Suite.
As for me, I graduated from the University of Texas in 1994, and have been involved in 3D software marketing and development since then. Currently, I am a founder and President of QuadriSpace. And now that QuadriSpace is running full steam ahead, the golf days seem to be behind me, at least for now.
QuadriSpace is approaching 3D communication emphasizing the "document" metaphor. What are the benefits in adopting a document based solution instead of viewing the original CAD file?
There is a huge difference between using 3D to create documents and simply viewing a 3D model. 3D viewers do just that: they allow you to view the 3D model, nothing more, nothing less. What we mean by “document” focus is that you use the 3D to actually create something. In some cases, this is a quick email; in others it is a high-quality document such as a user guide or instruction set. In all cases, QuadriSpace allows users to quickly use the existing 3D models.
I would say that the primary benefit of our “document” focus is the user experience. Many competitive products work more like 3D CAD software. This doesn’t make a lot of sense because very often the end user is not an experienced CAD user and we all know the learning curve for 3D CAD software is months even on good systems. What QuadriSpace does is very different. Our products present the user with a familiar user interface that can be compared to Microsoft Office.
With QuadriSpace, you can simply import your 3D models and publish a final document in minutes.
Another very important benefit is derived from the integration of 3D with authoring tools. Other products that attempt to get the same results have users jumping through 4 or 5 different programs before a final document is created. Not only is this multi-step process costly but it is extremely difficult and time-consuming. With QuadriSpace, you can simply import your 3D models and publish a final document in minutes.
Adobe Acrobat 3D seems to be in the same market segment as QuadriSpace. How do you compare your product with Acrobat?
First of all, I’d like to point out that 3D PDF is only one example of the many formats that can be published with QuadriSpace products.
That being said, everyone is looking for a way to create 3D PDF documents from their 3D models. As a platform for 3D, the PDF file is ideal because you can embed your 3D model in a standard document format and then share this document with others who are now able to rotate, pan and zoom the 3D model interactively. It’s a great communication platform for people who work in 3D.
Given this complex process, it is no wonder that very few people master the ability to share 3D PDF documents.
Now, on the other hand, the same 3D PDF document is simple to create with QuadriSpace. The process is simple: import your 3D model, add text, tables and buttons around it, now publish it. No programming is necessary, no other software is needed. Just one integrated program.
Ease of creation is not the only benefit. With our solution, you can easily update entire documents when 3D changes occur, you are able to publish to other standard formats and we make it a simple task to add parts lists and step-by-step procedures to your document. These critical features are incredibly difficult, if not impossible with Acrobat 3D alone.
I’ll send you a few example documents if you’d like.
How can customers manage the dynamic nature of an ever changing CAD model with a static document-based solution such as QuadriSpace?
No doubt about it, 3D CAD has created a new world where products are in a continuous cycle of revision and improvements. Keeping documents up-to-date and in sync with the current engineering design is a challenge that cannot be overstated.
With this fundamental problem in mind, QuadriSpace has implemented a straight forward solution that builds on the unique “document” focus that we offer. Let’s say that a customer’s product requires a 50 page installation guide. The first benefit of using QuadriSpace for this project is that the creation time of the initial document is typically 80% less than the current manual process that many still use today.
Keeping documents up-to-date and in sync with the current engineering design is a challenge that cannot be overstated.
Now consider the scenario where a 3D CAD design has changed requiring an update to the manual. If you are still creating all manuals manually then you will be spending days updating and reapplying callouts to each illustration. In contrast, QuadriSpace offers an Update command that allows users to simply import the new 3D CAD design, which automatically updates all of the illustrations and parts lists throughout the 50 pages. You can easily see the time savings realized with a single manual.
I've been reading about the huge potential market for CAD visualization for many years, but so far nobody has been able to exploit it. What is missing here -- products and awareness, or is the market simply smaller than expected?
Simple CAD viewers suffer from the “that’s cool, now what” syndrome. In other words, by itself, the simple ability to open a 3D model and view it does not solve many problems outside of engineering. With a CAD viewer, the overall value is just not there for the non-engineer. These guys are creating work instructions, parts catalogs, technical illustrations or marketing brochures. The 3D model is a just a small piece of the puzzle. QuadriSpace addresses this with a fundamentally different approach that packages the power of 3D in a familiar and affordable software suite that is easily used by non-engineers.
CAD visualization is a feature, not a product
Another way to say this is: CAD visualization is a feature, not a product. When products are offered that leverage 3D visualization for a specific purpose, the market responds with acceptance because they are able to solve a real world problem. For example, 3D CAD software includes 3D visualization features which are used to accomplish the creation of a 3D design. This provides extensive benefits. In the case of QuadriSpace, we allow customers to leverage 3D visualization features to accomplish the creation of documents, illustrations and animations. This also provides extensive benefits.
Some visualization solutions include export functionalities for 3D geometry. What are the benefits and the risks of letting users extract the original 3D geometry from a 3D document?
When a customer delivers a document created with QuadriSpace, we want them to have confidence that the document that they share is secure and does not provide any information that could be used for reverse engineering. One part of this is to keep the data locked up inside the document.
we want them to have confidence that the document [...] is secure and does not provide any information that could be used for reverse engineering
The recipient is still able to rotate, pan and zoom the 3D model that is embedded on the document page, but extracting the information and using it for other purposes is something that we intentionally do not support.
There are formats on the market that are used for exchanging data between 3D CAD programs. QuadriSpace has a number of 3D importers that will read this information into our products for 3D communication and documentation uses.
Your 3D communication solution is desktop based. Have you ever considered integrating some server-based services into your products?
When you consider the list of companies that provide 3D communication and documentation products, you will find that QuadriSpace is the only company dedicated to a desktop-based solution. In other words, we offer the only solution that will get you all the way from a 3D model to a final document for less than $1000. Competitive products offer an enterprise solution, but we all know that quickly results in a long term integration effort and a price tag that can easily cost $100,000 or more. To answer your question about server-based services, we have been researching easy ways to tie a desktop solution to the enormous amounts of product data available. This is something we have considered for the future and I think you will find our approach to be in line with our current products: easy, affordable and complete.
I would like to thank Brian Roberts for taking the time to answer all my questions. If you have any questions for Brian or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer. All QuadriSpace products are available through the Novedge website.