ISTVAN CSANADY IS SPINNING A 3D model of a complex engine around on his iPad Pro using his Shapr3D application. And get this: it’s moving at 123 frames per second. But here is the real ticker—Shapr3D is powered by the industrial giant Siemens Parasolid modeling kernel, the same one used by MCAD giants like SolidWorks.
Savvy manufacturing and product design teams are painfully aware of the high overhead in traditional MCAD systems. They are powerful, but they are not easy or fast to learn. “We are focusing mostly on the MCAD styling modeling market,” says Istvan Csanady, CEO and founder of Shapr3D. “We are not trying to directly compete with Fusion, or NX, or SolidWorks; we consider Shapr3D a new market segment and a new paradigm for design thinking in 3D.”
We are not trying to directly compete with Fusion, or NX, or SolidWorks; we consider Shapr3D a new market segment and a new paradigm for design thinking in 3D.
While many CAD users may not have heard of Shapr3D, nearly all CAD users have heard of Apple’s iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil. Like most designers, the thought of using a multi-touch device with an intelligent stylus initially intrigues them but a common assumption is that the iPad Pro lacks both the power and the software to handle the types of MCAD product design models they need to create. Both of those assumptions are now false.
Siemens and Tech Soft 3D Change the Game
The manufacturing CAD industry’s most important geometry kernel, Siemens Parasolid, is now fully written for Apple’s mobile platform. “The Apple iOS platform has been important to Siemens Parasolid,” says Evan Knuttila, vice president of global sales, PLM Components, Siemens. “We have some really strong users, and we began to see demand for iOS back when we started working with Istvan back in 2015.”
At that time Shapr3D was using the Open Cascade kernel, but Istvan knew they needed to work with the absolute best underlying 3D technology available. His young software company—based in Budapest, Hungary—established a working relationship with both Siemens and Tech Soft 3D.
“Before Parasolid was available on the device, one of the great challenges in building these types of mobile apps was that the computation needed to be done on the server which requires a highly complex cloud infrastructure,” says Gavin Bridgeman, CTO of TechSoft 3D, “but devices like the iPad Pro have significant local power, so we are starting to see more developers like Shapr3D who want to sell an app in a more traditional way without the server backend.”
Before Parasolid was available on the device, one of the great challenges in building these types of mobile apps was that the computation needed to be done on the server which requires a highly complex cloud infrastructure.
Tech Soft 3D’s HOOPS Exchange technology was utilized in Shapr3D to allow data compatibility with the standard industry CAD formats. “I just want to add this one thing,” says Knuttila, of Siemens, “and that is that HOOPS Exchange for iOS is very critical to this whole project to bring Shapr3D to market.”
Siemens and Tech Soft 3D have been partners for nearly two decades now, and they worked closely with each other on Shapr3D. “There is a piece of technology that connects HOOPS Exchange to Parasolid so that the data gets messaged on the way in so you can use the full breadth of the Parasolid API once you bring that model in,” adds Bridgeman.
Industrial Strength MCAD Modeling on the iPad Pro
Looking at Istvan’s 3D model he tells me that there are over 10,000 faces and over 100,000 edges. “The engine model was designed in SolidWorks and imported directly into Shapr3D,” says Csanady. The file size of the model is about 50 MBs, and he is spinning and navigating around the model at speeds of up to 123 frames per second. It’s important to understand that over 60 frames per second the human eye can’t possibly see any difference, but super high frames per second means that with a file this large that there is plenty of headroom on the iPad Pro to take in even larger files before the iPad Pro’s GPU would be forced to slow down a spinning model.
I asked Csanady if there was anything that Shapr3D could not do because of limits in iOS or the iPad Pro’s hardware. “No, iOS is not the limiting factor. And actually, the hardware is not a limiting factor; we designed Shapr3D completely to integrate with iOS and to use it fully.” I learned in the demo that Shapr3D can detect if a user is using the Apple Pencil with a left hand versus a right hand and switch the user-interface for their left-handedness.
What’s really interesting for the engineers, is they discover that just with the Apple Pencil they can handle 80-90 percent of all their modeling, without touching any other buttons. That’s pretty impressive.
Shapr3D taps around 20-25 percent of the underlying Parasolid geometry model’s kernel in a seamless, and powerful direct-modeling user experience. “So everything you do you do with the Apple Pencil, except basic gestures for zoom, pan, et cetera,” says Csanady. That means all modeling interaction is happening with the Apple Pencil as the main interface element.
“What’s really interesting for the engineers,” he adds, “is they discover that just with the Apple Pencil they can handle 80-90 percent of all their modeling, without touching any other buttons. That’s pretty impressive.”
A Compliment to Incumbents
Shapr3D isn’t trying to take on the incumbents in the MCAD industry. They see Shapr3D as a new kind of tool addressing a new market segment. “We are seeing a lot of companies that have a single CAD guy and ten other designers or product guys who are not even touching the CAD system,” says Csanady, “because it is too complex, too expensive; it takes too much time to learn and use.”
This means that Shapr3D could be the app sold to everyone in the company and at multiples of 10x for every SolidWorks or NX seat out there. It also democratizes the CAD space by allowing a low-overhead, mobile-based user experience and user-interface (UX/UI).
This mobility adds to agility in companies allowing product managers and engineers to work on and demonstrate product designs wherever they happen to be, from the factory floor to the funder boardroom, to the end-users’ customer sites. Is the iPad Pro with Pencil and Shapr3d going to take down a CAD giant like Solidworks? Likely not. But are new entrants on devices first deemed toys actually weapons to incumbents trying to dismiss them to maintain hegemony over an industry? Well, you decide…what does history tell you?