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20 Oct 2011

How Direct Modeling Transforms Cinderella into the Princess

Dmitry Ushakov

Russian translation of this article is available here.

An International Conference of Bricsys customers and partners, that took place in Brussels on October, 4-5, had a broad coverage in the blogosphere: Twitter alone had 250 messages with #bricsys2011 hashtag. Looking though these tweets (as well as reading blogs by Ralph Grabowski, Deelip Menezes, Rakesh Rao and David Levin) anyone can get an idea about the Conference, so my report is mainly for those who could not take part in the Conference and for some reasons does not now how to use Twitter or does not want to use it but is interested in Bricsys and its products. It must be said that even who those were not interested in Bricsys, would see it in a different light after the Conference. “This will made Bricsys another company and Bricscad – another product”, said Erik de Keyser, Bricsys CEO, at the Conference, and both users and other CAD vendors should give ear to his words. Below I try to explain what “This” means and for those who are too busy to finish reading the whole article, I would like to show a demo, where “This” is exhibited at work:

In January 2011 published an interview with Bricsys CEO. In the introduction I wrote: “Bricscad is well-known rather as a powerful platform for development of vertical applications than yet another clone of AutoCAD software for less money”. One of the commentators on another website was very surprised as he never heard the name before. Still, Bricscad is quite known in Russia due to the efforts of Sabit that has been Bricsys partner since 2003 and is the official Bricsys representative and exclusive distributor in Russia and Ukraine. On Sabit website you can find an impressive list of Russian Bricscad users. Importantly, Russia is the key market for Bricsys: one of the company’s three major sales markets — along with Germany and Japan.

Nevertheless, the problem of awareness and image of Bricscad brand does exist, which served as an excuse for many outside observers not to take seriously enough the Conference of a developer of one of numerous AutoCAD clones — what interesting they can reveal: that they’ve manage to repeat yet another AutoCAD command? Or achieve compatibility with yet another DWG version?

The beginning of the Conference did not indicate any surprises — after demonstrating a short film with a humorous story about the history of Bricsys (the company was founded in February 2002 and will soon celebrate its 10th anniversary), Erik de Keyser took the microphone and told that initially Bricsys had had only 7 members of staff who every Friday had met in the nearest pizzeria to support the team spirit and strengthen their faith that they’d be working together in the future. Now the company employs 60 experts and its offices are spread out across the globe (the largest ones are in Russia and Romania), but the team in Ghent (where Bricsys Headquarters is located) continues going to the same pizzeria to demonstrate adherence to the company traditions and determination to succeed.

Erik de Keyser (a photo by Rakesh Rao)

Success came to Bricsys when the company realized that AutoCAD is not so much an application but rather a platform to develop applications. Every country has several vendors that develop vertical applications to help users complete specific design tasks — in mechanics, electrical engineering, AEC, landscaping, etc. — in a customary AutoCAD environment and in line with the national standards and requirements. Russia also has quite a few such developers. However, to reach their users they face a serious barrier – the cost of a standard AutoCAD license, which one cannot buy in Russia for less than 100,000 RUB (an LT-license does not count, because it does not cover vertical applications). And what if one can find a platform that costs six times less and is fully compatible with the existing applications? This is where Bricsys places its bets. It is not a coincidence that the lion’s share of presentations at the Conference was given by developers of such applications.

At the time of writing this report, the catalog on contained 213 third-party applications. Most of them were ported from AutoCAD to Bricscad through a simple recompilation of the source code, when Bricscad (BRX) software interface fully repeats ObjectARX, used by developers of AutoCAD-applications. Obviously Bricscad user interface runs level with AutoCAD, using the same set of commands and enabling adequate work with DWG-files, created in the latest AutoCAD versions. Developers of applications are able to use the original Bricscad user support system.

The road to success was not easy for Bricsys. Initially, Bricscad versions were based on IntelliCAD code, but very soon customers and developers found them unsatisfactory. Beset with differences, IntelliCAD Technology Consortium was unable to make prompt decisions regarding new developments and refused to integrate changes, proposed by Bricsys developers. As a result, in 2006 Bricsys opened a new page in the company’s history by starting to re-write Bricscad source code from scratch and officially presented a new version, free of IntelliCAD source code in 2010. In 2009 the first commercial application, created with BRX, was offered to customers. Today Bricscad resellers operate in 70 countries around the world, and the company gives the most serious consideration to the quality of the platform: the number of automated tests reaches 100 thousands (it is interesting that Mikhail Belilovskiy quoted the same figure talking about quality control in AutoCAD).

Coming up to AutoCAD by the number of tests and user commands and API functions, Bricscad tried to keep ahead. How many times did Linux users ask developers of Windows-applications to port them to this platform with an open code? And how many did developers listen to those requests? Well, Bricscad for Linux was created over a year ago. BTW, the most downloads of Linux-versions took place in Russia, which reflects either an eternal desire of our people to get the free stuff, or an attempt of Russian government to create a national operational system based on Linux code. In any case, users have got the first fully-featured CAD for this platform (I explain what I mean by “fully-featured” closer to the end of the article), and now it’s the turn of application developers. Some of them clearly are not in a hurry. For instance, Robert McNeel & Associates that developed DOSlib for access to the AutoCAD file system and ported it to Bricscad, are in no hurry to announce a Linux-version of this popular library. Although Bricsys developers confessed at the Conference that some of 8000 BRX functions can be performed much faster (up to 20 times) on Linux in comparison with Windows.

Bricsys managed to engage even those who Autodesk turned against. For example a German programmer Torsten Moses, who created the famous LT Extender (the add-in that launches LISP-application in AutoCAD LT environment), was forced to stop his work due to a court action by Autodesk and brought all his projects to Bricscad. Now Bricscad users can work with LISP-interface created by the best expert in the world. Torsten personally presented it at the Conference together with Luc de Batselier, Bricsys CTO. It is quite symbolic that presentation of software interfaces to Bricscad took place immediately after the Conference opening and welcoming address by Erik de Keyser, which once again emphasizes the company’s attention to application developers.

Corporate clients of Bricsys

The list of companies that implements 100 and more Bricscad licenses is an eloquent testimony of how successful is this strategy in the corporate software sector. Such companies include Audi, BASF, Bosch, Tyco, Metso Automation and other giants in various industries. Another Bricsys development — Vondle, a cloud system developed by Bricsys to facilitate data exchange and organize collaborative work, is also very helpful for penetrating the corporate sector. At the Conference the company announced its democratization along with simultaneous re-branding. Now a Vondle version for individual users (who want to separate their own projects from others) will be called Chapoo, and the corporate version — Chapoo Bizz. It goes without saying that Vondle (Chapoo) is fully integrated with Bricscad, and has its own web-interface enabling to use is independently, displaying over 50 formats of graphic files. Noticeably, Vondle was used in 200-million euro project for building a highway bridge in Holland, about which we learned from a presentation made by a representative of the designing-company.

The announcement about Chapoo was made on the second day of the Conference, while the first one ended with a sort of a “night in the museum”— a dinner in a real museum of comics and cartoons with Tintin, Asterix and Obelix, and other numerous (although not so much known in Russia) heroes of European cartoons. Everyone had a chance to get one’s own comic image.

Another milestone of the first day was the speech of a known blogger and expert Ralph Grabowski, who our readers remember from his visit to Moscow, St Petersburg and Novosibirsk in 2009, when he had meetings with representatives of practically all significant CAD venders in Russia and took part in the Round Table about the future of CAD. The most interesting moment in Ralph’s presentation for the audience was the demonstration of some 7- inch Android-device that he personally bought last summer for $79. According to Mr. Grabowski, this year can be described by a simple formula: desktop devices generate content and mobile devices consume it. A notable fact is transferring CAD-files to mobile devices. BTW, I personally benefit from this trend: I have started fully employing iPad-applications as TurboViewer (its Pro-version is perfect for realistic display of 3D models in DWG-format), iRhino (perfect for displaying 3D data in 3DM-files), 3DVIA Mobile and some others. It is essential that all these applications are either free or cost peanuts (less than $10). Ralph also mentioned this price trend in his presentation.

Ralph Grabowski (a photo by Rakesh Rao)

The second day of Bricsys Conference started with an announcement that I had been long awaiting: supporting 2D constraints in Bricscad V12 Classic, expected to be released this week (along with V12 Pro and V12 Platinum). Long-awaited because my personal and - through me – LEDAS relationship with Bricscad started with this theme and eventually led to certain important events (of which I’ll remind later). Three years ago an idea - that seems so obvious - crossed our minds: to implement a plug-in for parametric drawing in AutoCAD. It’s not that it was the first time that we though about it— we have been considering this since the outset of our work on LGS 2D solver for 2D constrains (2002). In 2008 we simply had a chance to do it. There could hardly be a “luckier” coincidence: as soon as we designed the first working version and were preparing to give it to AutoCAD users for beta-testing, Autodesk announced support of 2D parametric version in AutoCAD 2010. We immediately scaled down, and so our efforts were not in vain we transferred the code to DWGdirect environment (currently Teigha for .DWG files), developed by Open Design Alliance (ODA). Then at the end of April 2009 ODA organized its first conference n Leyden (Holland) and taking advantage of a kind invitation from ODA President Arnold van der Weide, I decided to show our plug-in to the members of the Alliance (Arnold attended the Bricsys Conference and congratulated the company on behalf of the Alliance with releasing Bricscad V12, that is the first CAD based on the newest Teigha 3.5 version). Back in 2009 there was a question, in which application it is possible to demonstrate our plug-in. The answer was found easily because the only such application was Bricscad. My demonstration of 2D parameterization in Bricscad environment left a lasting impression on Erik de Keyser and Luc de Batselier who were present at ODA conference. We agreed on a contract for licensing LGS 2D right away in the hall of Holiday Inn in Leyden. Later Bricsys’ priorities changed and we worked with them on a completely different project, while parametric drawing was put aside. Fortunately, it was not forgotten and the fucntionality was implemented by joint efforts of the experts of LEDAS and 3dbrains (Singapore). Needless to say that it is fully compatible with .DWG as well as ObjectARX API.

2D parametric drawing in Bricscad (a photo by Rakesh Rao)

LEDAS and Bricsys did not keep the major outcome of their cooperation behind the scenes for long. Luc de Batselier and Alexey Kazakov (LEDAS Director for Application Development) came to the stage and demonstrated capabilities of direct modeling in Bricscad V12 Pro and its parametric modification (using 3D constraints and automatic intent recognition) in Bricscad V12 Platinum to the amazed audience. The conference participants were especially impressed by the demo made by Ilya Tatarnikov of LEDAS who is excellent in SolidWorks, SpaceClaim and other modern tools for 3D machine-building design. Ilya showed how in three minutes one can crate a non-trivial parametric part in Bricscad V12 Platinum. With this demo I started my report about the Bricsys Conference.

Alexey Kazakov and Luc de Batselier

When the presentation was over, Erik de Keyser came to the audience, which was very silent after what they had just seen, and said a phrase that immediately became historic: “This will make Bricsys another company and Bricscad another product!” He added that users can enjoy all capabilities of direct modeling and 3D parameterization without leaving a well-know DWG (read: AutoCAD-compatible) environment — with customary commands, references and data format fully convertible into anything.

Bricsys is not going to stop with variational direct modeling and currently developers are working on a new user interface, which can revolutionize DWG environment and will be available not only on desktop systems by also on iPad. Hans de Backer told participants about other novelties in 12 version including new capabilities for creating cross-sections, working with section lining, and a new version of the library for integrating data from PDF-files (following Autodesk, Adobe became the victim of its own pricing policy for licensing components for third-party developers, therefore the new Bricscad version uses FlySdk). According to Hans, productivity of some functions for redrawing halftone images increased by 1000 times (and this is not a misprint!). To bring the audience to senses after such an astonishing information flow, Lieven Scheire, a popular Belgian comic, appeared on the stage to entertain participants with humorous description of the paradoxes of a special relativity theory.

Lieven Scheire

This “gimmick” helped the audience to relax a little bit after “consuming” so much information and listen to a couple of technical presentations, one of which was made by a representative of Finnish Metso, a long-term customer of Bricsys and a global leader in paper-production technology.

And then the climax time: Erik de Keyser invited David Levin, the principal LEDAS shareholder, to come to the stage and announced signing the contract for buying intellectual property over LEDAS products and technologies. More details about the reasons and the nature of the deal you can learn from the press-release and comments on the blog of David Levin.

Erik de Keyser and David Levin

At the very end of the Conference the organizers made me act as “the Stig” character in the British Top Gear show, and review the history, present state and the prospects of direct modeling. I made a similar presentation at the Autodesk Forum in Moscow; so rather soon, hopefully, I’ll be able to publish a brief summary of this material on

According to the rules, the Conference wrapped up with a grandiose party starring a famous (in close circles) rock-and-jazz group Bricsys. You can see an example of their performance here:

In video above, you also can see the present office of Bricsys in Ghent and the famous pizzeria where everything started. Having decided to become a different company, Bricsys is not going to lose its roots. I am very excited to be part of this company and make my contribution to shaping its new face.

Some information and pictures in this report are taken from the blogs of Ralph Grabowski, David Levin, Deelip Menezes, Randall Newton, and Rakesh Rao, to whom the author would like to express his sincere gratitude.

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