Imagine a future when anyone can get access to state-of-the-art, easy-to-use 3D modeling tools that incorporate rich collaboration and publishing capabilities, and better it's all free and backed by profitable growing businesses.
That future is now. Granted there is much, much more to do, but the release of the Alibre 3D Publisher for Google SketchUp moves the industry a big step forward.
Markets evolve somewhat unpredictably based on a number of factors, including the appearance of innovative new market entrants with game-changing technology, new levels of price-performance, or different business models, or a combination of all of them. Major technology shifts like the PC with DOS and then Windows, the Internet, Search and PPC advertising, Open Source, etc. In the “CAD” world there have been a number of market shifts allowing new entrants to become established and grow to rival existing solutions. For instance, a 2D CAD system running on the newly announced IBM PC and priced at $1,000 in the early 80s. Or 3D parametric solid modeling coming on the scene in the late 80s, soon to be followed by a more affordable Windows-only parametric modeler with a modern UI in the mid 90s to now.
There have been a number of just such game-changing events in the CAD space in the last couple of years that will likely be looked back at as similar catalysts for major market shifts. Adobe’s entry into the manufacturing market with 3D PDF, Google’s acquisition of SketchUp, and dare I have the sheer effrontery to say, free 3D parametric modeling. Google also decided soon after the acquisition to begin offering SketchUp for free as well. At the same time, the plodding consolidation and entrenchment of a small number of vendors, gradually marching their prices higher as they lock in their hapless customers, has captured the imagination and passion of many.
I imagine most familiar with the CAD industry are aware of SketchUp. If you’re not, it’s a really cool 3D CAD application particularly useful in conceptual modeling of in the markets of architecture, interior design, landscape design, etc. The product’s claim to fame is it’s easy to learn and use interface, employing a revolutionary push-pull approach to direct editing. @Last Software, the company that developed it was cranking along nicely with a business model very similar to that of Alibre: making 3D accessible to anyone by providing affordable, easy to use 3D design software over the web.
The CAD world was somewhat surprised when Google acquired @Last Software the developers of SketchUp in March 2006. The rationale for the acquisition at the time was that SketchUp was acquired by Google to enable people around the globe to populate Google Earth with 3D buildings. You can see all sorts of 3D buildings, landmarks and so on in Google Earth now. You can visit the 3D Warehouse and check out the Alibre World Headquarters and view it on Google Earth. That is cool.
Since the acquisition downloads of SketchUp have exploded; on Download.com alone there are over 650,000 (counting the Mac version). In comparison, Alibre Design Xpress has close to 280,000 downloads on Download.com. These numbers were achieved in a little over a year and don’t include the downloads from other sources including the respective company web sites. The numbers are big, putting 3D in the hands of more people than any other single vendor by far, and bigger than the combined totals of many, albeit not bigger than the entire existing traditional market yet. The rate of expansion is staggering. This is part of a shift that is changing the market.
Not long after the acquisition the SketchUp division launched the Google 3D Warehouse, an online 3D "data store" for models created in SketchUp with a nice interface for moving them to Google Earth. The 3D Warehouse is an online place for user-generated 3D content; a rapidly expanding library of data with a free, easy to use CAD tool with which to use it and create more.
Enter the Alibre 3D Publisher, a tool with which you can take any 3D CAD model and publish it to the 3D Warehouse with tags to assist in finding it with Google’s search technology, and links to allow the publisher to direct interested users to another location like a company web site. When you consider Google’s core mission to organize the world’s data and make it universally accessible and useful, this starts to make the 3D Warehouse more interesting. It could be considered an initial element of a foundation for organizing design and engineering data.
Think “Innovator’s Solution” by Clayton Christensen: “Disruptive innovators don’t try to bring better products to established customers in existing markets. They introduce products/services that are “not as good” as currently available products, but they offer other benefits appealing to new or less-demanding customers; benefits such as being easier to use, more convenient, less expensive and so on. Once a foothold is established in new or low-end markets, the improvement cycle starts, and since the pace of technology advancement outstrips customers’ ability to use it, the previously “not-good-enough” technology improves to meet the needs of more demanding customers.”
The foothold is established. The improvement cycle begins. Things are changing.
The Alibre 3D Publisher is essentially an “Add-On” for Alibre Design, our 3D parametric CAD system, which can be had for free as Alibre Design Xpress. In Alibre parlance, Add-Ons are applications that are integrated with Alibre Design using our API. Some applications call this sort of application a plug-ins. A number of other Add-ons are provided with Alibre Design Professional and Expert such as Alibre PhotoRender for photorealistic rendering, Alibre Motion for motion simulation, ALGOR DesignCheck for FEA, and so on. You can see all Alibre Design product configurations and associated Add-Ons here.
The 3D Publisher allows one to efficiently and precisely convert any 3D model from any CAD system to the Google SketchUp format. In addition, the Add-On allows one to simultaneously publish their design to the Google 3D Warehouse. Designs can be modeled natively in Alibre Design or imported via popular industry standard formats like STEP, SAT or IGES. A native SolidWorks reader is also available. Consider the impact of Adobe Acrobat 3D 8.0 coming out soon including direct translators for every major CAD format. The impact of Adobe’s strategy on file interoperability, and it’s potential to break down the huge barriers to change put up by entrenched vendors, is another potentially major market disruption, but that is another story. If you are interested, you can read some about our Adobe announcement .
So in the interest of brevity -- cough, cough -- let me cut to the chase and try to summarize it all and then you can check it out for yourself.
SketchUp is great for some things, it is easy to use, has all sorts of cool visualization tools, and so on. It is ideally suited for conceptual design in architecture and related fields. Alibre Design is focused on mechanical applications, with the features the majority of users need to create precise mechanical designs for production, but light and easy enough for a hobbyist, woodworker or inventor. The application is fully parametric with integrated and associative 2D drawing creation. It’s the real thing, and an ideal compliment to the conceptual direct editing environment of SketchUp. The combination of these two free products creates an amazing combination of tools covering a wide range of design scenarios.
Due the geometric demands of the mechanical market Alibre Design can create geometry that cannot be created by SketchUp, but those models can now be converted to SketchUp for further conceptual design. Consider quickly roughing out fixturing for an imported mechanical design, like a painting stand for this motorcycle frame.
How about quick conceptual designs for packaging, shipping containers or crates, sales displays, storage shelves, enclosures, etc.? Also, due to Alibre’s unique conversion algorithm, models that cannot be natively created in SketchUp can actually be edited in SketchUp, or referenced to create new geometry, like extracting a face to be used in a conceptual model of a new mating part. Granted there are limitations to the editing, you can't edit things in SketchUp that would require modifications to the geometry in a way that SketchUp can't handle. But there are lots of cases where it works.
The beachhead is established. The improvement cycle begins.
Here is a nice example of the 3D Publisher in action. Check out these two images. One is of a model of an ATV submitted in an Alibre Design Xpress design contest. It is hard to believe but the ATV consists of less than 25 unique parts. The other image is of the same model after conversion to SketchUp and publishing to the 3D Warehouse.
You can get the Alibre 3D Publisher for Google SketchUp and Alibre Design Xpress here, or just learn more about them.