Spatial Updates Components, Drops JT Support

The announcement of all the new features in R21 of ACIS and InterOp 3D is overshadowed by the end of support for the JT visualization and data exchange format.

Software component vendor Spatial Corp. has released version 21 of its 3D ACIS Modeler and 3D InterOp Suite for CAD file translation, but not without controversy.

CAD Model Translated using R21 InterOp 3D.

There are a variety of new features that will impress its clients, the makers of CAD and other technical software products. But the list of new features is countered by the elimination of support for JT, the 3D CAD and data visualization format popularized by Siemens PLM software and popular in automotive manufacturing.

The dropping of support was not a listed feature in Spatial’s announcements regarding the R21 releases. It first came up at a live webinar during the Q&A. In response to a specific question, Spatial said JT support was being dropped “due to a host of reasons,” as reported by industry commentator Ralph Grabowski on Twitter (@ralphg).

Comments on Twitter generally expressed concern or curiosity. Blake Courter, co-founder of SpaceClaim, noted that his company uses Spatial technology but gets its JT translator direct from Siemens, so they weren’t worried. Frank Patz-Brockmann, director of R&D for PLM solutions vendor Contact Software, said on Twitter there was an upside to Spatial’s decision; “the good news is, it might improve the competitive positions of vendors like Datakit and Theorem” which both make competing translator technology.

When we inquired directly with Spatial, we were referred to 3D InterOp product manager Vivekan Iyengar. His reply:

We introduced support for JT format during the R20 service pack cycle based on published JT Open specifications by Siemens. The specifications published by Siemens are for JT file format v8.1, but there are older and newer versions of JT file for which the format specifications have not been published. We have come to the conclusion that without the format specifications available for older and newer versions of JT format, it does not fit with our overall 3D InterOp goal of producing high quality manufacturable ACIS models. This is the reason we are no longer offering JT as a supported file format for 3D InterOp.

More on this below, in the section The Final Analysis.

The New Features
Both ACIS R21, 3D modeling component technology, and 3D InterOp, 3D translation technology, have a variety of new features.

ACIS R21 New Functionality and Enhancements
Since the previously released version, ACIS R21 includes the following new capabilities:

  • The ACIS Faceter, used for visualizing 3D models or analysis applications generating a surface mesh to seed volumetric meshing, utilizes an all-new quad tree gridding algorithm for improved memory usage and performance. ACIS R21 also introduces an easy-to-use Faceter interface thereby reducing the implementation effort and time.
  • R21 supports efficient handling of large amounts of point data. Point Cloud operations include property queuing; Boolean operations such as unite, subtract and intersect; copying and subsetting; undo-redo; and adding and removing points. The interface is user extensible for applications to add custom data to the Point Cloud.
  • For manufacturing applications, R21 handles more complex geometrical conditions when thickening surfaces, to help ensure accurate, precise and fully bounded solids.
  • New fail safe slice operations for metrology and related applications. Fail safe slicing enables partial results when slicing an ACIS model imported from low-quality data. The result is complete inspection / measurement paths regardless of geometrical complexity or noise.
  • The Entity-Point-Distance function, which metrology applications use to measure the distance between design models and manufactured parts, has a new option to detect internal, boundary and external points. This significantly improves calculation times when comparing large amounts of data.

CAD Model Rendered using R21 ACIS Faceter

3D InterOp R21 Enhancements
Since the previously released version, ACIS R21 includes the following new capabilities:

New CATIA V5 Translation Capabilities

  • Reports missing components in XML EBOM product structure for assemblies
  • Supports Capture Sets
  • Supports Hidden PMI in parts

Translation Performance Improvements

  • String processing for IGES, STEP and VDA reader / writers
  • Attribute processing for CATIA V5 reader
  • Model generation for all readers with ACIS writer

New CAD Version Support

  • CATIA V5 R20 read and write
  • SolidWorks 2010 read
  • ProE Wildfire 5, Siemens NX7, Inventor 2010 read
  • Parasolid v22 read and write

The Final Analysis
JT has become quite popular in automotive as a common data format for visualization and related data sharing. This is partially because Siemens PLM’s Teamcenter application for product data management is far and away the best selling PLM data application in automotive.

The ability to work with JT data was only added in R20; it seems very odd to drop it after only one release. Spatial’s explanation for dropping JT support rings hollow. Spatial (and Dassault Systemes, as its parent company) positions itself as the neutral vendor of component software for all to use, with support for all important standards and formats. Choosing to drop support for a popular visualization standard is contrary to the stated goal.

It was reported recently, here and elsewhere, that Chrysler will be moving from Dassault’s CATIA to Siemens PLM’s NX for all new design projects.
(Neither Chrysler, Siemens PLM, or Dassault Systems have commented publicly on this report.) If dropping JT support is retaliation for events at Chrysler, it is exactly the wrong kind of message to send to a manufacturing ecosystem that more than ever wants interoperability in both word and deed from its software vendors. §