In the world of CAD, there is a funny little area of development termed ‘collaboration’ tools. With such a broad meaning, this can cover anything from a document distribution system to a complete virtual meeting room environment.
Sharing design information has never had so many solutions – users are spoilt for choice. Even with all these solutions, none have really made the process simple or provided a decent way to control the view of the model and talk someone through aspects of the design.
In effect, there’s no ‘meeting’ aspect to the collaboration file. This is where a new product called Cadfaster Collaborate really shines.
Based in Finland, Cadfaster develops software for the real-time annotation and co-viewing of 3D CAD models in the design process.
At the moment this is specifically for SolidWorks, STEP models (called QuickStep) and Autodesk Revit, with more to follow. Using Cadfaster Collaborate’s plug-ins for these packages, models and assemblies are exported to self-extracting files.
Due to the fact that the files are selfextracting, no other software needs to be installed. The compression of the original data means huge assemblies or building projects can be shrunk to a file size that
can be emailed or downloaded from a link.
Files are small enough to run on low powered laptops. Models can be distributed for individual (solo) or co-viewing sessions (for teams of up to ten users), allowing annotation and discussion over the cloud (hosted on the internet).
When mixed with another pervasive technology called a telephone, design reviews can be created! The great thing here is that when the master model view is adjusted (zoom, pan, section etc.), all session members’ views are updated in realtime to reflect the component or building element that is being discussed.
The rendering is not photorealistic but is pleasant on the eye and optimised for speed. It enables different parts of the model to be quickly identified.
Cadfaster Collaborate has an intuitive user interface that doesn’t take long to get used to. There is a main model view, taking up the majority of the viewing space, with a feature/component tree running down the left side of the screen. From here it’s easy to locate specific elements of a design.
Across the top, a menu bar gives access to a variety of shading, sectioning and 3D markup tools. Multiple users can add comments independently, even when sharing a model. All comments are stored and can be viewed and collated for a meeting report at anytime.
There are many, many tools that operate in this ‘collaboration’ space. Cadfaster Collaborate offers distribution of lightweight models without the need to download a viewer and, while this has been done before, the product excels in its ability to host design sessions with a shared, co-ordinated view.
For me, this is actually the true meaning of collaboration as it allows geographically challenged teams to actually see and hear the same things. The product is set to get even better with an iPad version in beta.
Cadfaster Collaborate is a great example of how cloud computing can benefit the design community.