I had the chance to talk with … Chris Randles and Blake Courter of SpaceClaim recently to better understand their role in the broader engineering software market. SpaceClaim hase certainly managed to shake things up, from their initial introduction to the market with direct modeling, their tongue in cheek Twitter plugin, and now their demonstration of the potential use of multitouch manipulation in 3D modeling. This is a company that is clearly set out to change the status quo, and has succeeded in doing so. Other than shaking things up, though, where is the unique value that SpaceClaim offers, and why do they believe there is room in a consolidating CAD market for a new entrant?
Some History and Perspective
Stop me if you have heard this one (or better yet, skip to the next section). SpaceClaim has definitely made an impact on the CAD market. The company splashed onto the scene with a very different message than the major CAD players. They bashed the limitations that parametric modeling brings with it, and offered “direct modeling” as the next generation of 3D CAD modeling. While most will agree that parametric modeling provides significant benefits, they will also agree that it requires training and knowledge about how to model parametrically, and that existing models require an understanding of how the part was modeled in order to change it. And, in some cases, what appears to be a small change to the design may in fact be fundamental change to the steps in which the CAD model was created (known as the “history tree”) and require fundamental model changes.
Suffice it to say, there was a weakness in the armor of the major CAD vendors, and the weakness was tightly embedded in the strength of their parametric modeling capabilities. That gave SpaceClaim a very strong competitive opening to target. Two other companies, CoCreate and Kubotec, also had direct or “history free” modeling capabilities. But SpaceClaim was the first to really exploit the chink in the armor, primarily because they have very strong roots and credentials in the CAD industry. Founder Michael Payne for example was also a founder of PTC, one of the most successful CAD (and now PLM) vendors in the world and SolidWorks, the disruptive technology that brought 3D CAD to the desktop. So these new entrants came with pedigree, experience, and a differentiated message. The results? Whether the incumbant players viewed it as a competitive necessity, were already developing something in parallel, or just reacted to the interest generated by SpaceClaim, the big vendors have responded:
- PTC acquired CoCreate to offer a parallel solution to their flagship CAD offering Pro/Engineer, and since has announced direct modeling capabilities in Pro/E
- Siemens PLM introduced feature-based, history-free modeling called “synchronous technology“
- Dassault Systemes developed CATIA Live Shape with direct modeling as a part of their V6 solution
- Autodesk announced “Fusion Technology” which aims to incorporate the best of both parametric and direct modeling
What do they Offer? A Different Approach to Design
So why is this important? Other than shaking up the market (which they are pretty good at), they are offering a design paradigm with much lower barriers to entry, and much lower barriers to change. Will this replace parametric modeling? It’s not likely in my opinion. There are inherent advantages to both parametric and direct modeling, with parametric modeling offering less flexibility but more power to develop families of similar parts or parts designed for mass customization. What impresses me, though, is that SpaceClaim does not seem intent on just fighting a battle between the two modeling paradigms. Instead, SpaceClaim is focusing on where each should be used, and how direct modeling can open up new business opportunities.
In particular, SpaceClaim is trying to promote earlier 3D modeling by non-CAD-jockeys. They are focusing on the advantages available from early digital, 3D models to help companies validate their designs early in the product development process. Today, this isn’t as easy because engineers frequently have modern-day draftsmen that translate their designs into 3D models. This is not the formula for rapid design and iteration. SpaceClaim, then, is targeting industrial design, conceptual design, and modeling for simulation and analysis. The designers and engineers involved in these functions are not as well trained on CAD, and require solutions that are more efficient and require less upfront investment (in time, training, etc.). The large CAD vendors recognize this, of course, and are working to increase ease of use in addition to offering direct modeling capabilities. But clearly SpaceClaim has a window of opportunity and some real value to offer.
Implications for Manufacturers?
There is a phrase that I like, “Love me, hate me, but don’t ignore me.” I believe SpaceClaim lives that mantra. They have a place in the market, they are not satisfied with the status quo, and they are innovating. Manufacturers should take a look at SpaceClaim, and consider using them either as a main modeling solution if they don’t have an incumbent tool and don’t require parametrics, or more likely as a complementary solution to address more free-flowing design by non-CAD-jockeys.
So that’s what I hear from SpaceClaim, I hope you found it useful. What do you think? What else should I have asked them?