The Success of Spaceclaim: A Tale of Granularity for CAD?
Chad Jackson posted on October 15, 2012 |

Remember when Direct Modeling was rare. Seriously, more than five years ago, the modeling approach was pretty much relegated to being delivered to market by much smaller software providers. I'll never forget a conversation I had with a head of product management at one of the largest CAD software providers. "That war was fought, and feature-based modeling won a long time ago", he had said to me.

Fast forward and the modeling landscape in the industry has changed. And its changed dramatically. Its honestly now hard to find a CAD software application that doesn't have some form of Direct Modeling. It all started when some of those smaller software providers started to tout the modeling approach and position it as useful for less common users, like engineers, manufacturing specialists and simulation analysts. Lo and behold, the big software providers eventually followed suite. And now, you'd think with the big guys offering similar capabilities that the smaller software providers would get squeezed out.

Well… not so fast… 

It's Sunny for Spaceclaim

Last week, I caught up with Blake Courter from Spaceclaim. We talked about some of the new capabilities now available in Spaceclaim, but to be honest, we talked much more about other stuff. Their business seems to be doing quite well. They are growing and hiring people. The number of seats they are selling in each transaction is increasing. Furthermore, they have done some research recently that yielded some interesting results, which they will publish soon. Their customers are using their technology in a very similar fashion to which they prescribe: prep for simulation and manufacturing.

Now of course, you always have to take conversations with any software provider with a grain of salt, even though Blake is more upfront than most in this regard. The first rule in marketing today is never admit to negative news or a view. Always paint a sunny picture. Apologies for the cynicism, but its necessary today.

Regardless, my first takeaway is simple: Spaceclaim is getting squeezed. They aren't floundering. In fact, in my conversations with users, Spaceclaim seems to be providing a lot of value. All this despite the fact that all the other big software providers have something similar, although many would argue which is the best. But those are shades of gray.

My second takeaway? Why aren't they feeling the squeeze?

The Value of Granularity in Software Application Ecosystem?

A little over a month ago, Jim Brown from Tech-Clarity and I debated whether a more granular or integrated PLM ecosystem made sense. In that space, there's been some blowback against integrated PLM suites because of the time, money and effort required to get it up and going. Some organizations are now very seriously considering more granular point solutions with light integrations between them now as a result.

That thinking applies to software systems. But does the same thinking apply to software applications? Does it take significant time, effort and money to deploy an integrated CAD suite? Well, no. At least not in my experience. Maybe you could argue that from a training perspective. But not from a IT deployment and process re-engineering perspective.

OK. So what gives? Why would there be an appetite for granularity in software applications in the CAD space? Well, there are a few legitimate reasons.

Supply Chain Multi-CAD Interoperability Continues to be Painful

Before we continue, let's get a few 'realities' out of the way.

First, many different CAD applications are used in the supply chain. Try as you might, you are going to have to deal with design data in different formats.

Second, as sad as it might seem, interoperability of these formats isn't great. There's been progress on formats like IGES, STEP, JT, PRC, 3D PDF and far more. But it's not where it should be. And in my opinion, which I am sure is unpopular, interoperability simply isn't going to get better. It's simply not a high enough priority when it comes down to negotiations.

That means there will always be a need for some clean-up and fixing of design data when it is exchanged between organizations. 

OK. So that still doesn't explain why a granular solution would be more appealing than an integrated solution. That's where the context of this work comes into play.

The Fractured Landscape of Downstream 3D Model Use

What context? Well, creating a 3D model is not the endgame. Instead, the endgame is how and where the 3D model is used in downstream applications, whether that be documentation, manufacturing, simulation or service. It's about using the 3D model to create technical manuals, CNC code or simplified simulation geometry.

Why is that important? Because the landscape of software applications in each of those contexts is terribly fractured. Look at a shop floor and you'll not find a single CAM software application, you'll find a bunch of them, each specialized for different things. One for high speed machining. Another perhaps for turning. Yet another for 5-axis milling. Are these redundant capabilities? Yes. But these users have specialized tools for doing specialized things.

The same holds true for a simulation department. You'll find a myriad of software applications that do lots of specialized little things. There are pre and post processors as well as various solvers. That's multiplied when you consider the movement towards multi-physics.

Special Tools for Special Purposes

How is this relevant to a granular CAD software application? Because it looks and feels like a specialized tool. Those users don't want the swiss army knife that does everything. They want the cleaver from the butcher shop or the chef's knife to chop herbs. That kind of tool looks, feels and smells like the rest of things in their toolbox.

Therein lies the appeal. It does a few little things really well. It's not hard to use. They use it for one purpose and forget about it.

Summary and Questions

Alright, I'm off the soapbox. Lets' recap.

  • Spaceclaim is doing well from a business perspective. From my perspective, their customers are getting value from the software.
  • Blowback regarding the time, effort and cost of PLM systems has made more granular point solutions more appealing, but that logic doesn't apply to more granular CAD software applications.
  • But one line of thinking that does make more granular CAD software applications more appealing is interoperability issues, which are not likely to go away anytime soon.
  • Another reason that is driving such appeal is that the manufacturing and simulation organizations are used to specialized and granular solutions that do one thing very well and that is easy to use. The swiss army knife is scary. They want the cleaver or the chef's knife.

Those are my thoughts. I'm interested in hearing yours. Do you think granular software applications like Spaceclaim are viable long term? Do you think these downstream organizations will continue to want specialized and granular applications? Comment and let me know.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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