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15 Apr 2013

Geometric Kernels and Irremovability of Presidents from Office

isicad Overview of the Russian CAD/PLM Market, January – March 2013

David Levin

Astérix et Obélix contre François Hollande For already several years the monthly reviews and editorials of a Russian-language portal, that has become rather popular, have been presented to our readers as virtual releases, with a pdf-digest of the best 15-20 articles of the past month (for instance, the March digest can be found here) and a cover reflecting one of the most interesting and dramatic events of the month. The covers, sometimes animated, have also gained popularity, so we have decided that this review will have an English analogue of No.104 (March 2013) cover focusing on how Gerard Depardieu showed his discontent with the offensive of socialism in France and how Mr. Bernard Charles, CEO of Dassault Systemes, threatened to move the company from France in his much talked-of interview to Le Monde.

In my, certainly subjective view, one of the most interesting intrigues on the Russian market in the past several months is a parallel development of events around two Russian geometric kernels (C3D and RGK).

ASCON kernel was developed about 15 years ago and formed the basis of a successful MCAD – KOMPAS-3D. However, it became available for licensing and entered an aggressive-marketing orbit only a few months ago. ASCON top management correctly decided that the question of kernels is increasingly pressing – at least, in the eyes of authoritative experts. So, along with selling its kernel, why not to inform the global market that the main ASCON product – KOMPAS-3D – deserves much more attention than it enjoys today, particularly because ASCON production engineers were able to build one of the most complex CAD-products - a normally working 3D modeler. Getting a second market life, the ASCON kernel also got its own name – C3D, and a separate start-up team called C3D Lab. In ASCON intelligent solutions in this field I also include engaging LEDAS as a value-added reseller for C3D. The partnership with LEDAS already benefited ASCON through integrating variational direct modeling in KOMPAS and it can provide a unique technological support in integrating C3D in applications or in a later life of the kernel, which surely allows for further advancement. And certainly inviting Ken Versprille as a consultant of C3D Lab is a very smart move by ASCON.

RGK, Russian Geometric Kernel, is being developed as part of a project fully financed by the Russian Government in 2011-2013. For bureaucratic reasons, the project started only in the end of 2011 but already 15 months later, by March 2013, a 3D modeler was configured with all basic functionalities and it demonstrated decent productivity. Due to the modern architecture and technological basis, such qualities rather probably set no limits for improvement and efficient user support. The project is undertaken by one of the largest and most authoritative Russian technological universities – STANKIN; Top Systems and LEDAS formed comparatively small but highly qualified teams, which are directly engaged in development. (Teams from a number of Russian universities, including Moscow University, are also involved in development). Top Systems team has enormous experience in building up and advancing MCAD T-FLEX 3D, which is rightly considered one of the most comprehensive implementations of the history-based parametric approach. LEDAS team went through 12 years of a 100 man-year contract with Dassault Systemes, when LEDAS created components so important for the customer that DS does not wish to publically talk about them.

I find the attitude of many leading CAD-experts to the market leading geometric kernels quite intriguing. Generally, all most authoritative independent experts are clearly unhappy with the kernels. Convincing technical expert examination is given, for instance, in popular articles of Evan Yares “SPATIAL, ACIS, CGM, AND THE FUTURE OF GEOMETRIC MODELERS” and “CAD Interoperability Today”, Russian translations of which made hits of the portal. The industry classic Ken Versprille also criticized kernels in the interview given recently to “In my opinion, the biggest drawback of contemporary 3D modelers today is the fact that they do not pay enough attention to the reality that we live in. Today, design is a multi-application, multi-CAD world and data created using one modeler will at some time need to be moved to a different modeler and be operated upon. The issues that arise are due to many different reasons including the use of different tolerances in calculations, subtle undocumented implications in data formats, and different algorithmic approaches to common geometric calculations… Other drawbacks, of course, include performance and accuracy. Accuracy becomes a major issue whenever the results of a geometric calculation on a 3D model are less precise than needed for other downstream algorithms operating on the model”.

Also all present major kernels were created without a serious consideration of multiprocessing, clouds and the need for a special support of direct modeling (especially, constraint-based). Judging by a number of signs, kernel developers were not much concerned to provide architecture supporting sufficiently radical development and adaptability to new conditions.

I am under an impression, however, that practically unanimous wry-faced attitude of the experts to today’s popular kernels is based not only on an objective analysis of the technological qualities of these fundamental CAD components. It seems to me that the attitude of the independent expert elite demonstrates certain fatigue from monopolistic kernels dominating the market for already dozens of years. In a way it is reminiscent of a fatigue of social elite from a political leader that has been in power for a long time, is convinced in his efficiency and is not going to retire. It is these sentiments that can explain a soul-stirring hope, which I’ve often observed, and with which acknowledged figures of authority in the CAD-market reacted to the emergence of Russian kernels of diverse age on the horizon. Probably the same sentiments can explain assumptions of the best world experts that in the next months, or even weeks the first version of RGK, created practically in one year, can replace the basis of a popular industrial CAD that now work with the kernel which has been developed for already several decades. The same experts understand better than anyone else in the world how delicate and fine is the link between numerous internal solutions of a kernel and the work of thousands, or even millions of operational applications that are based on the kernel…

What are the fate and the results of possible development and competition between Russian kernels? Here is my forecast.

C3D has recently been licensed by a Russian company Bazis-Center, known with its CAD for furniture industry. However, against its aggregate income, that for the first time is approaching 1 billion Rubles (around US$ 33 million, in 2012 growth was 34%!), ASCON can hardly earn anyhow noticeable money with C3D, which is not a mainstream product. However, the company continues active development efforts facilitating publicity of C3D, for instance, by implementing a version for Linux.

If RGK remains being owned by the Russian state, it is difficult for me to imagine any commercially effective scheme of its distribution and support.

PR and marketing.
I think that ASCON will continue successfully advertising its kernel and it will rightly enhance company’s reputation in the international market. I do not believe, however, that this reputation will noticeably increase direct global (and Russian domestic) revenues on the basis of current ASCON products such as KOMPAS 3D: with all their objective competitive ability. Roughly the same is true for ASCON advancements in trendy areas, such as creating PLM DEXMA, once labeled as a competitor of Autodesk PLM 360, or SubDivFormer available free of charge through Google play store.
Over the last couple of years, ASCON has made a comprehensive progress in marketing investments and skills, however sometimes, in particular as for C3D, it keeps a flavor of blunt teen boasting and hypersensitivity to any mention in media, which sometimes reflects uncertainty of a neophyte.

Top Systems, the main developer and technological coordinator of RGK and company with smart software solutions, was always weak in marketing and has only recently started making its first steps in the right direction. Anyway, at this stage RGK has not yet achieved the necessary level of product maturity to bring into action professional marketing, although it has already been the subject of a lot of discussions in different tenors.

Benefits for developing competence, training new modern specialists, and for R&D and technology in general.
RGK most likely has a relatively more promising architecture and high potential for further development. It was built 15-20 years later than other kernels by competent, experienced mathematicians, system architects and programmers who are well aware of the qualities of all main market modelers (see, for example, two comprehensive isicad overviews on this topic by Dmitry Ushakov 1 and 2. The work on it could not but accompany development of new efficient algorithms and basic modules, building up and strengthening qualification of the RGK team, which they will be able to employ in any other projects associated with solving complex tasks in computational geometry. In any case, it is true for the LEDAS team that in RGK project has fully applied and developed its knowledge and experience in such problems as calculating the intersections of arbitrary 3D surfaces and bodies, detecting collisions, calculating distances, and achieving high speed performance using NURBS objects.

My conclusion.
In the nearest years Russian kernels will not affect significantly the global market of 3D modelers. For this reason alone it is unlikely that competition between C3D and RGK will go beyond sheer polemics. Research and development of geometric kernel is one of the best drivers for further advancement of mathematical-and-technological qualification of any team, which already possesses rare qualifications for creating such a product. Finally, it was difficult to find a project that could better train new specialists of higher qualification for work in engineering software. In this sense, anybody investing in such projects acts wisely and strategically far seeing.

Both Russian kernels will be presented in detail at COFES Russia 2013, on May 30 – June 1 in Peterhof, a suburb of St Petersburg. Representatives of Top Systems will discuss RGK during a 2-day Technology Suite, while ASCON will hold a special C3D-workshop with Ken Versprille as a keynote speaker. There are all signs that COFES Russia 2013 will be a significant forum, even on the background of its legendary “parent” - COFES that takes place in Arizona annually since 1999. In recent years, particularly through active efforts of the isicad project, COFES is becoming increasingly popular in Russia and the CIS. Only one representative from Russia took part in COFES 2008, while in 2013 the figure was about to reach nine. Representatives of 50 companies from 9 countries already registered for COFES Russia 2013, including 18 attendees from the US. At one can see that many prominent figures of the global market are going to take part in the event, companies’ representatives as well as analysts, journalists, etc. Russian and CIS market will be represented exhaustively. My blog post gave a preliminary portrait of the event. I’d like to draw attention to the panel discussion “Perspectives on PLM” moderated by Brad Holtz, that will present two implementations of the traditional and proven PLM paradigm (from Siemens PLM and Top Systems) and two objectifications of a fashionable cloud centric/low cost/bite-sized approach (from Autodesk and ASCON).

Prior to his visit to Russia, Ken Versprille gave (already mentioned above) big interview to isicad: “The Inventor of NURBS tells about Past, Present, and Future of CAD”. It is a second interview we managed to take recently from outstanding industry leaders: at the beginning of January published an interview with Jon HirschtickNew technologies – still focus on what customers want to build with it”.

Judging by a continuous flow of publications at and social networks, the BIM issue increasingly dominates and concerns the Russian market. At the same time, it looks like principal doubts and emotions are over. The following facts, rather specific at the first glance, seem quite remarkable to me. Some time ago Anastasia Morozova, admittedly one of the brightest and most successful industry leaders in the recent years, proactively changed positions from Field Marketing Area Team Manager Russia to AEC/ENI Sales Business Development in the course of Autodesk Russia&CIS, while Marina Korol, who for many years had a successful career in Autodesk as Channel Development Manager Emerging Countries, left the company, and now is listed among participants of COFES Russia 2013 as “Marina Korol, BIM and IPD Group Lead, Mandated BIM for Russia”, and in the program of the event Marina is mentioned as a moderator of an analytical briefing named “What Mandated BIM Might Mean for Russia”. By the way, COFES Russia program also includes briefings on “Learning from the BIM Revolution in the UK” (Nick Nisbet) and “Model-Based Engineering in the Context of AEC and BIM” (Alex Bausk).

Perhaps I’ve said enough about ASCON and Top Systems – now a few words about some other CAD companies in Russian market.

In 2013 Autodesk continues robust efforts towards strengthening its connections with Russian provinces, successfully employing original events called SAPRYAZHENIE – a very popular roadshow invented by the Moscow office which is mainly organized and implemented by the customer’s community rather than Autodesk staff, (see some explanations of Anastasia Morozova). Obviously, Autodesk Russia is taking a full advantage of the news about the recently announced update 2014 of the company software. Most likely, Autodesk will remain a clear leader on the revenues gained in the engineering software market in Russia and the CIS (Autodesk does not publish separate official data for this region). However, ASCON, which is on the second position, is bound to challenge the leadership: probably with traditional PLM systems and the AEC/BIM niche, which ASCON simply must go into.

Even the number of publications from Siemens PLM Software and its (seemingly growing number of) partners demonstrates intensification of democratic marketing that previously was not that typical for SPLM – at least in Russia. Our correspondent will take part in the largest event organized by the company in Russia on May 21-22 – “Siemens PLM Ñonnection 2013” and we expect to be able to give you a detailed account of the company’s operations in our market.

There is no news from ÐÒÑ in Russia probably because, as far as I know, for already several months Russian PÒÑ lacks both the company head and marketing manager.

Nanosoft rightly became one of the four Russian companies (together with ASCON, LEDAS, and Top Systems) that Evan Yares included in his substantial review of the Russian market - “Russian CAD. It’s robust and powerful, and someday, you may be using it”. Nanosoft was earlier also presented by Ralph Grabowski in his broader overview “Russian MCAD Market”. Here is one of the most recent publications “Nanosoft upgrades nanoCAD. Keep it fresh”.

On the way of transforming into more service contracts its uncommon competence and experience accumulated in service providing and product development, LEDAS has recently established its US business entity.

In conclusion, note three more publications that also characterize some aspects of the Russian CAD market. One, a survey “What were the most important developments/events FOR the Russian market of engineering software in 2012?” organized at isicad-Facebook. Another, “ - 5-year statistics of the most popular Russian CAD/PLM portal”. And finally, an advertising article “Combining CAD formats”.

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