Boston-The ground shook under the Park Plaza Hotel from March 7-9 as companies at this year's Daratech conference stampeded in the Internet gold rush. One after another, the industry's biggest CAD/CAM, CAE, and PDM companies announced new releases and partnerships that would allow them to stake their claims in cyberspace.
The breathless buzzwords included: real-time virtual meetings, Internet markup sessions, Collaborative Product Commerce (CPC), online development environments, and web-enabled e-conferencing. But they all came down to one vision-creating virtual conference rooms on the Internet where engineers could gather to inspect and improve CAD diagrams in real-time, instantly collaborating on their designs with faraway suppliers, manufacturers, customers, and retailers.
The arguments are persuasive: this Internet engineering could trigger the long-heralded move from mass production to mass customization, as companies can use just-in-time manufacturing to tailor each product for its eventual user. It could mean the end of paying for expensive airline tickets, and shipping overnight rolls of blueprints. And it could open the design-cycle bottleneck from CAD-specialist "black belts" to larger numbers of engineers.
Despite these glittering descriptions, the challenges facing the movement are familiar: security, bandwidth, interoperability, ease-of-use, and affordability. Companies cite different strengths to overcome this variety of hurdles. Here's a sampling of the latest offerings:
Vuent™Inc. (Sunnyvale, CA) and Informative Graphics Corp. (IGC) (Phoenix, AZ) announced a partnership to create real-time web access to 3D models, 2D drawings, A/V files, and more, to be available by mid-year. Vuent's Envision-i platform streams 3D modeling data over the Internet, allowing multiple users to access, mark-up, and navigate through the models with a standard Web browser on any PC, says company president and CEO Michael Pliner. Vuent boasts of strong security in these "point and shoot collaboration" sessions, since it streams design coordinates and not the actual model data from its central server, thus lowering bandwidth demands, speeding transmission times, and providing security. And IGC makes 2D information viewing software, featuring Brava!, its Java-based drawing and document collaboration application.
Engineering Animation Inc. (EAI, Ames, IA) announced e-Vis.com™version 2.2, which provides visual 2D and 3D data collaboration across the whole supply chain. The new version allows users to lock, edit, and save these shared documents, and to securely share markup and annotation layers with project team members, says Adrian Sannier, EAI vice president and general manager of e-services. Routing the data through a "virtual vault" host server located in St. Louis, MO, achieves high security, allowing engineers to confidently send their plans over the Internet by renting this web space through a monthly subscription service (free trial available on the e-vis.com website). The company also offers VisView, a CAD- and PDM-independent viewing product, and a full suite of e-collaboration tools including VisConcept, VisMockup, and VisConference.
WebScope Inc. (Palo Alto, CA), a start-up company that announced itself at Dara-tech, bills its product as "the first 100% Java solution for real-time product collaboration," providing e-business services and archived real-time conferencing between manufacturers, suppliers, and customers. Because its Java language will run on all types of systems and networks, including laptop PCs and wireless networks, the company says it is highly secure and scalable. Its Java base also means that it does not install applications on users' desktops, and shared CAD files are never distributed over the Internet, says Randy Nickel, WebScope's vice president of marketing and business development.
Other Daratech announcements. Tecnomatix Technologies Ltd. (Herzeliya, Israel) launched eMPower, a computer-aided production engineering (CAPE) and digital factory environment. It allows users to exchange manufacturing process information by creating an electronic Bill of Process (e-BOP) which defines the relationship among operations, product parts, and factory resources.
CoCreate Software Inc. (Fort Collins, CO) revealed a partnership with Structural Dynamics Research Corp. (SDRC, Milford, OH) to integrate CoCreate's OneSpace-a CAD-independent real-time collaboration co-modeling solution-with SDRC's Metaphase®enterprise product data management software.
In turn, SDRC announced an agreement with IBM to deliver e-business solutions to the manufacturing market, by leveraging IBM's WebSphere™Application Server as a standard platform. SDRC also launched Accelis™, a line of e-business solutions for collaborative product commerce, which will integrate the global value chain to reduce the time delay and costs increases of design rework in new product lines.
And Paraform Inc. (Santa Clara, CA)-whose software enables digital form development-announced a technology agreement with Unigraphics Solutions Inc. (Huntsville, AL), whose software is aimed at improving product life cycles through process and productivity enhancements. Together, they plan to collaborate between Unigraphics CAD/CAM/CAE technology and Paraform's freeform and organic-shape design software.