Prasad Mandava, Co-Founder and CEO
Why is 3D visualization and visual collaboration important for manufacturers?
Visual collaboration can make engineering teams more productive, resolve design and manufacturing issues early, and improve product innovation and quality. Visual collaboration becomes more important every day as product design, development, and manufacturing are globalized.
Manufacturers are always striving to improve the value of the organization, to improve products and the product development process, and to reduce costs. Companies invested in 3D digital design tools to help them achieve some of these goals, and visual collaboration has evolved naturally as a way to extend that investment. Certainly, 3D design tools play a major role in the hands of product designers and analysts. Now, through 3D visual collaboration, manufacturers can practice knowledge reuse by distributing the information resident in digital product models throughout the company and the supply chain
What are the biggest challenges in visual collaboration?
Manufacturing executives know that global teams have to communicate well to stay productive. But there are special obstacles to collaboration involving 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE data:
Too many formats.Most engineering organizations contend with multiple authoring formats for 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE product modeling. In large design projects with dozens of suppliers, the diversity of authoring formats can seriously hinder communication.
Large data size.Product design and simulation models result in very large files that must be efficiently compressed before team members can share them.
Uneven hardware performance.Product development teams typically collaborate withina heterogeneous hardware environment. Some team members may not have sufficient hardware capability to handle large graphics files easily.
Complexity.Nontechnical personnel do not have the skills required to access necessary product information where it resides in the native 3D CAD, CAM, or CAE format.
Another important challenge is finding a way to move beyond CAD visualization. Compared to just a few years ago, companies have become very practiced at sharing 3D CAD models across the product lifecycle, but visual collaboration in the 3D CAE and CAM areas is still evolving. This is our area of expertise. Our goal is to help engineering companies communicate any product information, no matter how complex, anywhere people need it.
The challenges of visual collaboration originate in the unmet needs of global product teams. They have been trying to solve their collaboration problems with the tools at hand, but it’s getting harder to do. To collaborate with globally dispersed teams, CAE managers often have to transfer huge analysis models electronically, a slow, painful process that chokes bandwidth and requires recipients to have the same kind of CAE software on the other end.
Consider the typical CAE design review. To prepare for the meeting, the CAEmanager asks an analyst to capture images that represent the simulation. The analyst captures some .jpeg files and some .avi files, and the manager puts them in a PowerPoint presentation. This is fine until somebody at the design review asks a question about an aspect of the model that isn’t depicted in the images. To cover this contingency, the manager also has to bring the analyst to the meeting, along with a UNIX box, since most CAE tools today still run on UNIX boxes. So the analyst sits there, and when a question comes up, they switch to the UNIX box to show the specific CAE result and answer the question.
These are challenges that occur every day in CAE visual collaboration. Managers are either transferring huge chunks of files back and forth or using .jpg and .avi files to communicate. The big native file transfers contain all the necessary information for decision making, but they waste time and network resources. The .jpg and .avi files are a lightweight vehicle for collaboration, but they don’t contain enough information.
What background does your company have in this market?
The company founders and the key technical team have a great deal of experience in implementing large engineering visualization projects. We have been deeply involved with high-end graphics and computing for many years. We were originally formed in 2000 under the name VirtualE3D. Our vision was to provide leading-edge engineering solutions in the form of services and software products for the science, engineering, and manufacturing industries. We quickly began offering services in CAD conversion, modeling, CAE analysis, design, customization, translation, 3D Web viewing, visualization, collaboration, e-manuals, e-catalogues, digital mockups, virtual prototyping, and product life cycle management.
With broad-based experience in providing all these services, it didn’t take us very long to recognize that the main bottleneck in CAD, CAM, and CAE effectiveness and cross-discipline collaboration was the lack of common communication format. Starting in 2001, we began our own in-house R&D project to develop a high-performance, common visual collaboration platform for 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE technology. We released the first version of the VCollab product suite in 2002. In late 2004, we changed our name to Visual Collaboration Technologies Inc.
Why does VCollab stand out in the market for viewing technology?
VCollab is the most multidisciplinary software for 3D product visualization available today. With VCollab as a common platform for 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE visual collaboration, global product development teams can share the most sophisticated information that engineers create.
This is very significant, both for users of the software and for corporate IT. Global product development teams can use VCollab to visualize and merge a wide variety of 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE data sets into one common VCollab visual file. The software then can integrate all of that complex CAX data with Microsoft Office tools and Internet Explorer for easy communication. This bridge between the complex CAX world and MS Office applications makes possible a whole range of new productive applications for our end customers. Imagine teams using MS Office to open a CAE simulation. A single PowerPoint slide, for example, can combine a view of 3D CAD product geometry with separate windows for viewing a manufacturing simulation and manipulating CAE analysis results. VCollab is the only technology that can do this with manageable file sizes.
The software is especially capable of handling large data sets. It delivers high-performance visualization on laptops and desktops.
VCollab appeals to corporate IT departments for two reasons. First, the software features a professional viewer, which we support. Many CAX authoring tools come with free viewers that the vendor does not support, so corporate IT spends a lot of time troubleshooting viewer problems for users. Second, we offer a common viewing platform for 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE data, which is a plus for IT departments that wish to consolidate technology. We are continually building and investing in VCollab as a neutral visual collaboration platform, working closely with CAX vendors , PLM vendors, and hardware vendors to deliver true value to our end customers.
VCollab addresses the pain points in visual collaboration in a way no other software does. CAD, CAM, and CAE files are very large. For long time, everyone thought that bigger computers with more RAM and better graphics cards would be the key to solving the problem of handling these large files. But the bigger the computers become, the bigger the engineering problems become. VCollab doesn’t challenge a company’s current hardware platform. The software provides a framework that can help users control file sizes and frame rates. For example, they can pick a portion of the geometry or analysis results from a large file and then apply compression and culling techniques. The final compressed file size might be anywhere from 5 percent to 30 percent of the original size, depending on the selections made. VCollab files can then be embedded in presentations and documentation, utilized for version control purposes, or simply stored for further use.
Perhaps most important, VCollab is unique in its intention to encourage interdisciplinary communication in product development. CAD engineers, CAM engineers, and CAE engineers all use complex authoring tools. They are not literate in each other’s software, but VCollab gives them and their managers a common platform for communication and for understanding 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE data in context as a product evolves. The more global teams and suppliers a company has, the more they appreciate the collaboration speed and ease of use that VCollab offers.
What are the different tools in the VCollab software suite?
VCollab Pro is a high-performance, scalable visualization tool that converts 3D digital product data into one viewing format. The software takes a CAD file output as VRML and converts it to a VCollab file. It also converts CAE and CAM files to VCollab format, using a special utility called VMove CAE.
These VCollab files from CAD, CAM, and CAE sources can then be combined in different ways for extensive digital mockup and virtual reality applications such as animations and walk-throughs, assembly sequences, view and markup, dynamic sectioning, and 3D immersive stereo viewing. VCollab Pro is a powerful tool in the hands of specialists who are called on to provide diverse product imagery for collaborative decision making.
VCollab Presenter is an easy-to-use viewer for exploring 3D files that have been created with VCollab Pro. The viewer displays VCollab files using Internet Explorer, and it opens VCollab files that have been embedded into Microsoft® Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Anyone can use VCollab Presenter to view and manipulate 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE simulations and product models.
Used together with Microsoft Office, the VCollab suite connects complex CAX tools with business applications that most people already know how to use. VCollab offers a remarkably easy way to distribute complex 3D CAD, CAM, and CAE product information throughout the enterprise for presentation, visualization, documentation, and collaboration. Dramatic improvement in the innovation and productivity of global product teams is a sure result.
What software or software category does VCollab compete with?
Like any new technology, VCollab crosses traditional software categories. It is similar to some tools that have been included in the digital mockup, visualization, and publishing (DMV) market, but most of these products are very CAD-centric. VCollab is not limited to CAD visualization. It bridges all the engineering disciplines. Thanks to the neutral flavor of its platform, VCollab can focus on all aspects of the product, including its performance. No other visualization software is able to do so much
What is the difference between post-processing software and VCollab?
VCollab comes after CAE post-processing and complements post-processing. Post-processing is for expert analysts, whereas visualization is for everyone. VCollab gives companies a way to maximize the utilization of post-processed results beyond the specialists. It adds a great deal of value to the virtual product models that specialists create. For example, engineering teams can combine CAE data with CAD and CAM data for a view of the digital product model that is richer and far more integrated than what a post-processor can offer. And they can do this in very small files for distribution beyond engineering.
Describe some VCollab implementations.
Our customers communicate 3D product data within their organizations and with upstream OEMs and downstream suppliers. Some are using VCollab to bring submodels from different CAM packages together. Others are comparing styling data with CAD geometry, or viewing CAE meshes together with CAD geometry. One customer is exploring the benefits of VCollab for combining, into a single view, results from transient aerodynamics simulations and structural dynamics of an aircraft. Another is using the software to visualize large engine and transmission simulation results. We had one customer use VCollab to archive automobile crash simulation results and then share those results with overseas colleagues and outside contractors. A number of customers are using VCollab to integrate all modeling and simulation data into a virtual prototype, which they then visualize in stereo in large VR centers for product demonstrations, design reviews, decision making, and global training. VCollab has also been used to publish an e-document of a user manual and for real-time review of engineering data.
In small companies, VCollab users can simply download the software, install it, and begin to create 3D visualizations. In larger companies, VCollab is typically implemented alongside a PDM or PLM system or a web archiving/accessing system.
How is VCollab being sold?
The VCollab suite of software is available according to various licensing mechanisms, depending on customer needs: annual, perpetual with maintenance, node lock, floating, and so on. For large corporations, we provide customized volume licensing schemes.