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Interactive 3D Visualization Heats Up: Part 2

The format that would be a standard—DWF—and other viewpoints

By Louise Elliot

Unlike the U3D technology licensed to Adobe by Right Hemisphere, which aims only to be the mechanism of choice for publishing applications, Autodesk wants its DWF format to be the 3D visualization standard for all the applications served by Autodesk. That ambition covers a lot of ground—mechanical and AEC design, GIS, and PDM. Other players in the visualization arena, however, do not intend to concede their markets in either those applications or publishing. Instead, they are building market share in their favored applications as the visualization market itself grows

Autodesk DWF in 3D from Haskel International, a manufacturer of hydraulically and pneumatically driven high-pressure systems and accessories. Click on image to enlarge.



They do agree, however, that the market is saturated with viewers, and that potential users, especially nonengineers, do not want to download multiple viewers. Users new to visualization may also fear multiple Internet-based downloads from companies they don’t know well—because of potential viruses and spyware.

Autodesk: Building Universality on a Large User Base

DWF, an XML-based visualization format, “is driven by customer workflow needs,” says Amar Hanspal, vice president, Autodesk Collaboration Services. “Communicating design information has always been a problem. We wanted a way to do that worldwide—and we think we can be a standard for such applications.”

Autodesk DWF in 3D from David Laurent-Mud Treatment facility in France. David Laurent implemented a project data management process that allows people to work on the same project simultaneously and collaboratively. Click on image to enlarge.



Hanspal says that DWF provides a way to stitch workflow needs together with the depth necessary for multiple back and forth communication and workflow, and believes that the DWF viewer offers a universal client for that purpose.

“Autodesk wanted the information shared to be complete, and for that reason DWF carries design intent and history of changes for the multiple industries we serve, along with the geometry,” he says. “DWF is open and published. People can download the toolkit and library. That makes it universally accessible—perhaps even beyond the life span of Autodesk itself.”

In addition to viewing and marking up design visualizations, users can release the design to manufacturing or construction via DWF. “DWF-enabled Productstream creates a BOM that goes to manufacturing with the design and related documents. It builds-in management and engineering change orders, and provides this information to manufacturing,” Hanspal says. (Editor’s note: Productstream is an Autodesk software offering.)

Although most adept at handling Autodesk applications, DWF can handle other design formats to some degree. Hanspal says that the product installs itself, and it will eventually handle other applications via plug-ins.

Autodesk does not plan to license the format. Rather, says Hanspal, the company intends to build on its six million user base. The format is free, he points out, and the company will keep it that way. “Users can download and customize the libraries and toolkit—regardless of the CAD system they use. We want DWF to be regarded in the same way as HTML.”

About its recently announced cooperation agreement with UGS and JT Open, Hanspal doesn’t see any competitive problems, saying that JT aims for large manufacturing industries, and DWF aims for middle tiers.

Cimmetry: Engineering Data for Multiple Markets

Cimmetry, the largest player in the overall visualization, markup, and digital mockup market, was recently acquired by Agile, a large PLM company. Derek Gold, product marketing manager for Cimmetry, anticipates very little change. “We’re a profitable company, and Agile doesn’t intend to change that. We will continue to serve many markets, including PLM, and will remain an independent business within Agile, with which we’ve partnered for ten years.”

Cimmetry’s AutoVue is not locked into a proprietary visualization format, but rather offers viewing for 450 native formats. Gold says, “That means the majority of CAD programs and such other applications as Microsoft Office.”

Interference checking being performed with Cimmetry’s AutoVue. Click on image to enlarge.
AutoVue is used to align parts relative to each other. click on image to enlarge.
AutoVue is used to align parts relative to each other. Click on image to enlarge.


AutoVue does have what Gold calls an “intermediate” format for 3D streaming, called CMF, and also handles JT and VRML. “Our product development is driven by customer requests. We view all native formats without requiring conversion, and work with intelligent data that’s up to date,” he says.

AutoVue’s digital mockup allows users to combine multiple mcad formats. click on image to enlarge.
AutoVue’s Digital Mockup allows users to combine multiple MCAD formats. Click on image to enlarge.

AutoVue comes in two versions—a standard desktop version for opening native files, and a client-server version. “This has a thin client meant to enable viewing via a web browser. CMF is basically a lightweight format for web viewing.”


Gold reports that AutoVue will support such tools as U3D in PDF files, and will be embedded in Microsoft Office tools “when our customers demand those capabilities. We aren’t terribly interested in those areas because they strip out the intelligence of the design. While they’re good for marketing and sales, they don’t do much for engineering and the supply chain.”

Although not a player in the standard format jostle, Cimmetry wants to provide the viewer for anything an engineering customer wants. “How many viewers does anyone want to download?”

Immersive Design: Visualization for Interactive Procedures

Immersive Design takes the opposite tack from Cimmetry. Gregory Smith, Immersive’s president, says, “Until recently, we offered lightweight files, streaming, and a free viewer. Then we realized that people don’t want yet another viewer. If it’s not Microsoft, Adobe, or Macromedia, people outside of engineering departments are reluctant to download it.”

Click on image to enlarge.

This image is part of an interactive 3D PDF file that was generated using IPA from Immersive Design. The originating PDF file can be viewed by clickinghere


Instead of focusing on engineering departments where most of the developers of visualization tools compete, Immersive uses data created in engineering to produce interactive documents for use by nonengineers.

“We focus on software that generates interactive procedures—in service manuals, 3D web pages, manufacturing, and so on,” he says. “Outside of engineering, people demand a document with which they feel comfortable—and that basically means PDF, Flash, and Explorer.”

Already enabled for the Internet, Immersive Design now also has taken the PDF route. The U3D engine from Right Hemisphere, Smith says, “is just a rendering/graphics engine for which someone else creates content and text.” Immersive has built upon that engine by creating a wizard approach that can generate a PDF file with text, images, 3D model, and links that drive the interactive use of the model automatically.

The product, called IPA, creates interactive animations directly from 3D CAD. The data can be published either as an interactive Web page or PDF file for use by people in manufacturing, maintenance, marketing, sales, and customers.

Informative Graphics: Free Viewing That Protects Intellectual Property

Informative Graphics supports visualizations from a number of different 3D formats with a free viewer called ModelPress. “Having a standard format would reduce the amount of work needed,” says Gary Heath, president. The company, however, makes its money from selling value-added formats for both 2D (Brava) and 3D (Myriad), along with browser-based collaboration tools and content publishing software.


Informative Graphics’ free ModelPress system provides a secure way to share and view 3D files both inside and outside company walls. It can be used to perform cut-aways, cross-sections, and 3D measurements; explode the assembly/subassemblies; and identify and view parts.

Heath says that ModelPress is meant for content makers who want to protect part or all of their proprietary technology and intellectual property yet use that data in applications downstream from engineering. “It enables sharing 3D design models that can be broken into parts of assemblies, and can be marked up—but only with the permission of the originator. Users can hide part of the design, as well as limit measurement and viewing capabilities.”

Nothing can be copied or edited without permission, and a banner on the viewer says that the product shown is copyrighted by its owner. “The owner of the design can choose whether to share fully or not. It isn’t full collaboration, but rather a way to share design content with control. It uses compression technology to make the files small enough [to share easily],” he says.

Informative Graphics introduced ModelPress about two and half years ago, and apart from collecting input from users about what more they want in the viewer, the company does not track who downloads it. Heath says, “We know we have many users, but as we don’t even ask them for their e-mail addresses, we don’t know where the most interest comes from.”

Heath sums up today’s visualization market and trends, saying that we all need to recognize that while 3D is cool, we still need to determine what problems it solves. “We have lots of formats with different objectives. JT simulates engineering. XVL is used mostly for downstream applications. .3D is popular for sharing packets of information, and DWF works well for Autodesk products. It’s hard to arrive at a single standard for all users—because people have different needs, and it’s hard to imagine any one format that covers them all.”

Contributing Editor Louise Elliott is a freelance writer based in California. Offer Louise your feedback on this article through de-feedback@helmers.com.

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This article was contributed to Digital Engineering by a guest author.