Blogs / CADplace Blog

As a software engineer, I appreciate the power that comes from combining innovative algorithms with cloud computing resources.


Autodesk Within

"Autodesk Within" brings generative design to engineers (image : Autodesk)

This combination already plays a key role in design optimization software, in simulation software, and realistic rendering software. Today, in the form of generative design tools, it looks like it is going to play a key role in your CAD design software.


Generative design is a way to use design constraints within the CAD environment to create designs - and to create many variations on the design - and to do so using the power of cloud computing and design algorithms.


Just a few years ago, the topic was reserved for research projects. Today, commercial applications are available.


One of the hot topics is in architectural design. This can be viewed as the next step in mimicking nature. Observing nature and applying her evolutionary skills to architecture allows us to build buildings which generate their own water. While it is not necessary that generative design in architecture mimics nature, the resulting structures give a distinctly organic feel.


This Autodesk case study shows how generative design can be applied in mechanical design applications (image: Autodesk)

Another area of application is mechanical design. Some of the key benefits of using generative design, in my opinion, are the built-in assumptions of automation and optimization. The design is constrained and the results are automated. Generative design inherently optimized the resulting design variations based on the constraints. And while the definition of the design is not automated, certainly the generation of the design is.


Autodesk has recently released the Autodesk Within product for generative design. Autodesk has a two-pronged positioning strategy. Within is a generative design application which targets 3D printing. While there is nothing inherently "3D printable" about designs from the generative design process, it does reflect Autodesk's focus on 3D printing technology. As you can see from the Autodesk case study of a load-bearing engine block, generative design can be constrained to create printable designs and it can also produce designs which would be difficult, if not impossible, to manufacture using other processes.


Flux for sustainable design

The Flux team dreams of dramatically reducing the environmental footprint of our buildings (image: Flux)

A group of former Google employees have been working for several years to apply these ideas and others to the problem of dramatically reducing the environmental impact of our buildings. The company, Flux, has created a platform to integrate and synthesize relevant data which can dramatically change the design process.


Bentley is also commercializing generative design technology with the product GenerativeComponents.  The product aims to integrate generative design technology into the BIM environment for architecture and construction.


More resources are available on Generative Design. Greg J. Smith's book 'Generative Design - A Computational Design Guidebook'    is available. Sivem Krish blogs on the topic, and Glenn Wilcox has an interesting post on generative design scripting.  Finally, for a short description of Autodesk Within from the 3D printing perspective, Andrew Wheeler's post can be found on 3D Printing Industry.


Naturally, I welcome your experiences on generative design - please leave a comment for me below!


Good luck with your projects !


Autodesk Showcase on a Lenovo ThinkPad W550

The ThinkPad W500 has a high-resolution 15" monitor which is perfect for design software on-the-go/ (photo: Tom Lansford)

I have another mobile workstation in the office to test.


Par for the course, I loaded SPEC Viewperf 12, my other benchmarks, and then proceeded to load a few trial versions of Autodesk software for testing.


But it wasn't going to be so simple... Viewperf loaded and ran. No problem. Went to the Autodesk pages. Found AutoCAD 2016. Start the trial download... oops.


Autodesk makes all their design and engineering software available as free, 30 day trial versions. But sometimes, it can be (nearly)  impossible to download and install


Autodesk Showcase download dialog

6000 days is a bit too long to wait for a download. Restarting the process helps to get around some download issues. (photo: Tom Lansford)

Autodesk decides that I shouldn't be downloading the trial version from, but rather that I need to go visit the French online shop (for my English speaking readers, I live in France's Loire Valley).   While that option may be commercially more interesting for Autodesk, it wasn't at all what I had in mind.


After a bit of wrangling with the Autodesk websites, I finally ended up on a French AutoCAD 2016 page and was able to initiate a download of AutoCAD 2016 ... yes, in English. Please do not ask me to explain the convoluted route that companies make us travel in this modern age just to get to the point where both we and the company want to reach - downloading their software.


But that was not yet the end of it. Autodesk recommends that visitors use a relatively high speed internet connection for downloading their trial versions. Most normal ADSL lines today have no difficulty in providing good download performance. Maybe it is really Autodesk who needs to pay attention to download speeds and the quality of their servers.  I had several interruptions in the download. Restarting the download was hit-and-miss since the Autodesk download management software doesn't elegantly handle problems in the download - it seems to assume that the process will run smoothly.


In the end, I was able to get the AutoCAD 2016 free trial installed, but not with the other components such as Autodesk ReCap. I managed to get Autodesk 3ds Max and Autodesk Showcase installed, but Autodesk VRED Professional simply refused to download and install - each time the server aborted the process.


What to do about AutoCAD 2016 download issues


The first step is to make certain that everything is taken care of on your system's side of the process. Check that your firewall is not blocking the download-manager. Make sure that your anti-virus software is not causing an accidental issue. Download at a time when your own ADSL network is not over-loaded.


Beyond that, if the trial software download aborts or does not complete, consider re-starting the download again, ... and again, ... and possibly at different times of the day to avoid peak traffic on the Autodesk servers.  I've downloaded Autodesk trial software versions on many different workstations and persistence has always - up to this last attempt, that is - paid off.

Dell's Precision M3800 makes work a pleasure....

When you have a lot of work to finish, you don't want to spend all that extra time in the office. When you are comfortably installed on the sofa, you don't want a 4kg mobile workstation shortening the useful lifespan of your knees.  Which is where the Precision M3800 works out great for me. 


At the moment, I happen to be taking a "break" between ending one project and launching another on a Sunday afternoon at home. I get a lot of motivation by leaving my office, pulling up an easy chair and foot stool next to the window through with the sunshine and the view of the medieval street descending from the chateau - who wouldn't?


Dell Precision M3800

This workstation is as comfortable on the sofa as you are... (Photo; Tom Lansford)

And to do that in comfort and style means a full-power, high-resolution, sleek, lightweight Precision M3800 is propped up on my knees... The ultra high-resolution display, 16 GB of RAM, and 1 TB of storage (divided nicely between 256 GB of SSD storage and 750 GB of HDD storage) is a perfect match for my HD and 4K video & graphics work. And my tests of this machine prove that it can handle 3D modeling and visualization applications, too. 


I'll let readers get the details from the original review and comparison to the Precision M6800 as well as the 2015 update where I looked at the new model with Thunderbolt 2 and a 4K display.  Suffice it to say that spending extra time finishing projects on the weekend is much more comfortable (and motivating) when your workstation is as comfortable in the living room as you are....


Good luck with your projects!

What is new in the Dell Precision M3800  refresh? We compare the 2013 and 2015 models

Read the CADplace review of the 2015 release of the Dell Precision M3800

Dell increased the resolution to 4K and added Thunderbolt 2 Technology. CADplace lists more updates.


Important features which did not change? The CPU generation did not change. The new model for 2015 is slightly faster. The professional GPU is the same mobile GPU, the Quadro K1100M with 2GB of GDDR5 memory.


Whenever Dell refreshes this model to the next generation – let's call it the M3900 – the obvious updates will be a new generation of professional GPU and a new generation of Intel processor. At CADplace, we speculate that the next-generation product will be launched in the last quarter of 2015.




Dell Precision M3800 2013


Dell Precision M3800 2015


Display resolution








Intel Core i7-4702HQ


Intel Core i7-4712HQ


Multi-touch display


5 finger


10 finger


SSD drive maximum capacity


500 GB


1 TB


Solid State Mini-Card storage maximum capacity


500 GB


1 TB




Thunderbolt, mini-DisplayPort


Thunderbolt 2.0


Operating System


Windows® 8.1 Pro (64-Bit)

Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (64-Bit)


Windows® 8.1 Pro (64-Bit)

Genuine Windows® 7 Professional (64-Bit)

Ubunto 14.04 LTS



Autodesk 2016 - moving to 100% subscription. Will you hate it or will you love it?

Autodesk always follows in Adobe's foot-steps.


So with Adobe's Creative Cloud showing financial results, it can hardly be a surprise that Autodesk has announced the move to subscription-only purchases of their desktop products starting next year. You can find the details from Autodesk here. You will also find a perspective from our friends at GraphicSpeak here.



Stand-alone desktop products like AutoCAD or Autodesk Showcase shown here, will only be available via subscription beginning in 2016

f you are like me, whether you love it or hate it depends on how Autodesk implements it.  Let's come back to Autodesk in a minute. 


I am a long-time Adobe customer and I have the Creative Cloud subscription. I hate it. It makes me mad as hell. And it isn't because I don't like the software, or how I stay up-to-date all the time (at my choosing, too).


And it's not because I don't like subscriptions. Subscriptions have some real benefits such as saving the up-front cost of buying an expensive license.


Autodesk stand-alone products will soon be available only via subscriptions


And it's not because it is too expense. I understand paying a fair price for a fair value.


What I hate is unfair pricing. Let me be perfectly clear, Adobe, as much as I like their products, is focused on how much money they think that they can pull out of customers' wallets. That's not a bad thing for a commercial enterprise, but they are blatant about it. But what I hate about the Adobe CC subscription is how Adobe obviously and without any shame, screws international customers.


Yes, in the USA, there is no federal sales tax (VAT) and as a European customer, I pay more due to VAT. I have no problem with that.


But Adobe still has a built-in price-penalty that I pay because I have a French billing address that my colleagues in the USA do not pay.  The bottom line? Depending on the exchange rate, I pay 15% to 30% (without considering VAT) than if I were billing in the USA.


There is not anything that justifies this other than Adobe and their "share of wallet" mentality towards their customers.


Autodesk can treat it's customers more fairly than their business idol, Adobe, if they simply create local pricing which is fair and uniform across the globe.   If that happens, then you may very well love the switch to subscription. You can spread your expenses (easily) across multiple projects through the year. You can subscribe and then drop products that which you do not need all the time, but which help you on special projects. That is all good news.


Now if you are a reseller and not a customer, then you may "love" the Autodesk subscription changes much less. Autodesk developed a formidable reseller channel in its early years and Autodesk also has a long history of making changes to upset these resellers.  In the end, the Autodesk resellers have to run their own businesses according to their own best interests and remain flexible with regard to Autodesk channel partner changes.


If you are an Autodesk customer, then you probably have many open questions. One important point is that Autodesk Suites are not (yet) moving to a subscription-only plan. Another is that existing owners of perpetual licenses before the change next year will be able to continue with that product. You can find the most complete answers from Autodesk's announcement.


Tell us what you think by adding your comments below. Are subscriptions OK for your business? Do you prefer subscriptions or perpetual licenses? Please let us know.

Professional graphics is a good business - from workstations to GPUs to professional design software.


CADplace noticed a report from JPR (Jon Peddie Research) pointing out the continued growth in the computer graphics market. JPR looks at both the software and hardware markets and considers the professional workstation space as well as other areas of computer graphics like gaming PCs and consoles.


Data: Jon Peddie Research

For us the interesting news is in the areas of professional workstations and graphics applications.  Here the current market is already a $7 billion market and will grow to almost $9 billion over the next 2-3 years. There are several areas of key technology in a workstation, the professional platform : Xeon CPUs, ECC memory, SSD storage, GPUs, and displays. From recent company reports, there is a good part of that market in professional graphics - NVIDIA sees a $1.5 billion market annual opportunity for professional graphics, albeit the NVIDIA numbers and JPR's may not be based on the same data. None-the-less, there is agreement that the workstation market is large and growing.

Jon Peddie Research pegs the computer graphics market at almost $150 billion in 2017


Data: Jon Peddie Research

The professional software market is double the workstation market at almost $15 billion. JPR shows that it is not growing at the same rate, however, which we find curious. In particular, the CAD/CAM market is growing at just over 3% which is less than half of the rate of workstation growth. While CAD is a mature market, the market is enormous - everything made in our world must be designed, at that needs CAD software. And CADplace will do some digging to look at growth and size of markets in areas specific to CAM and CAE/Simulation.


In any case, the computer graphics software market will be a healthy size in a few years - close to $17 billion. And that is software, not hardware, so a lot more margin stays in the pockets of the software companies. This drives product improvements, new R&D, and investment into expanding markets. All of which is good for designers and engineers.


What is new with AMD FirePro and NVIDIA Quadro at Siggraph?

This week is Siggraph, the Mecca of professional 3D. For many decades Siggraph has been the event of the year for new announcements and product introductions.

We imagine this year will be no different.


With an advanced GPU architecture, 16GB of memory, support for 4K monitors, and OpenCL GPU-computing, the FirePro W9100 is the ultimate professional GPU

For both of these professional graphics companies, new products are in the cards. In the case of AMD FirePro, the FirePro W9100 and W8100 have both been released with new GPU technology recently, but the FirePro W5000 and W7000 are waiting for their updates - Siggraph is the occasion to launch them.   For NVIDIA, the Kepler series of Quadro products await a complete make-over and, like AMD, the new GPU architecture is in the wings and Siggraph presents the perfect opportunity to unveil a new line-up.


For the FirePro products, it is perfectly clear that the new mid-range and high-end products need to be launched. This simply rounds out the family. I look forward to watching how the AMD team addresses the entry-level professional 3D spot. Will they re-spec or spin the first generation GCN architecture into this market segment?


NVIDIA Quadro refresh at Siggraph?

NVIDIA Quardro line up is ready for a refresh at Siggraph

In the case of Quadro, it will be interesting to see if they refresh the entire line up at one time. The ultra-high-end Kepler-based Quadro K6000 was not released that long ago and these professional products are famous for a long life-cycle. But with the new FirePro W9100 on the market with more graphics memory, faster compute performance, and generally higher spec'd than the Quadro K6000, will NVIDIA need to refresh this ultra-high-end already?  As for the rest of the Kepler Quadro line-up, it seems like a reasonable bet that the entire set of boards will get updates. The existing line-up will still live on for the remainder of Quadro's guaranteed life-span, but the refreshed graphics line sorely needed - not in the least for the Tier-1 workstation OEM refresh cycle in progress for this year.


Another area to look for news ... what will be the technology announcements these two companies present at Siggraph? In the past, technology innovations like interactive GPU raytracing have been launched at Siggraph. With the industry focused on Vancouver for the entire week, it is a perfect platform to show off the latest advances in GPU, graphics and - maybe even - GPU computing technology.


CADplace is half-way around the globe from Vancouver at the moment, but we'll keep our eyes on Canada and update you with the news this week.


Getting more out of your CAD application with the right graphics technology

When it comes to professional CAD, not all applications are created equal. I'm not talking about the modelling philosophy or the UI. I'm talking about the attention of the application developers to optimizations.


Some CAD applications make little effort to optimize the graphics pipeline. This puts brakes on the system and brakes on your productivity. Other applications scale nicely with graphics performance. This is one indicator that the developers have an efficient, effective 3D pipeline. This kind of CAD application helps make you more productive.


So perhaps what I really mean is "getting the most out of your graphics workstation with the right CAD application"...


Is your CAD program using your graphics power like it should?

I'm reflecting on this today and want to send you to a recent post I wrote for the PTC Creo blog. Creo is one of the CAD applications which scales nicely with graphics performance. It is an application where the developers have actively sought out partnerships and dramatically improved performance and quality by using the GPU effectively.



So please check out this blog post over on the PTC site and reflect on your own CAD application - is it giving you the best performance possible or is it putting the brakes on your profits?

How did CAM ever become "subtractive manufacturing"?


This reminds me how the introduction of digital watches spawned the nonsensical term "analog watch".


I recently spent time with Peter Dicken, Delcam's Marketing Director and we had some time to chat about rapid-manufacturing, CNC milling, 3D printing and rapid prototyping.


Delcam CEO Clive Martell

Delcam hosted the Asian Techincal Summit August 20th and 21st in Bangkok, Thailand

He joked a bit about how CAM / CNC milling had been named "subtractive manufacturing". This is only due to the fact that 3D printing, the digital watch of our time, has been termed "additive manufacturing. 


My guess is that most people would rather be "additive" than "subtractive". It is a silly naming scheme anyway, but in my opinion, inaccurate and slightly pejorative as well.


We can disagree about the pejorative aspect, but let's compare the two technologies and how many people position them.


Competitive technolgies:

There is often an implicit sense of competition between the two technologies. But this is essentially never true. Milling and 3D printing are two different ways to produce an object and depending on what you actually want to do, you will chose one or the other but you will essentially never need to chose either / or. These technologies expand your choices, and they are complimentary, not competitive.


Rapid manufacturing:

When someone refers to rapid manufacturing, you need to ask yourself "are they talking about making parts fast or about going from design to first production quickly".  The reason: rapid manufacturing is often applied to 3D printing techniques. Let's be clear, 3D printing cannot produce a part every 2 seconds. It is not rapid.

On the other hand, it can mean producing a custom part faster. It can certainly improve the design verification to production process. This is how we refer to 3D printing : sometimes it actually is in the context of rapid-manufacturing, but usually it is in the context of rapid-prototyping.


My guess is that most of us see this issue the same way. 3D printing and CAM/NC milling expand our choices rather than being competing methods to chose between. However, the additive/subtractive comparative moniker and occassonally overheard misrepresentations give impetus to call out the differences and to recall the age of digital watches and analog watches...


Business models based on cloud-computing have taken off for a good reason. For many problems that designers, engineers and architects (among other professionals) face today, “the cloud” offers a better solution than conventional options did on the past. Sometimes the cloud makes collaboration and sharing easier – such as in PLM or BIM systems. Sometimes it saves money to use a cloud service for occasional needs rather than invest in specialized or more powerful hardware in-house.


Perhaps the most important aspect of cloud-computing is to make the impossible become possible by allowing anyone, anywhere to access essentially unlimited computing power to solve a problem. When it comes to creative problem-solving, designers need to change the way they think about problems. When it comes to services & software, it forces companies to fundamentally re-examine their business models.


Engineers often know the simulation or the analysis which they would like to have. Creative problem-solving in the past often entailed finding clever methods to estimate the solution or get to an answer which was good-enough and could fit within the constraints imposed by very real limits in computing power and computing costs. In today's world of cloud-computing, this idea has been turned upside-down. Autodesk's CEO, Carl Bass, has noted that in today's design world one of the most available resources and one of the least expensive tools for solving almost any problem is a practically unlimited supply of computing power. For today's engineer the question is quickly becoming “is there a service or an application which corresponds to my problem and allows me to tap into the near-infinite computing power of the cloud?”. Creative problem-solving turned on its head.


Businesses recognize, for the most part, that their strategy has to include the cloud. At CADplace we do not see any company ignoring this market-changing trend completely. A select few are truly embracing the cloud at the core of their strategic business development and investment. Which brings us to the point of where the cloud meets your needs in design.


First, let's recognize that the client-cloud model is neither a replacement for, nor an updated version of the client-server model. The latter has it's own relevance for companies and we even see the virtualization of graphics workstations moving into the server room creating a new client-server model for engineering and design. The data center has both advantages and limitations relative to the cloud.


Regarding the designer's workstations, the need for it as well as the power available in a workstation, has never been greater. Any designer, engineer, or architect working interactively with their designs needs a more or less powerful workstation depending on their designs and their applications. And the increasing power and capacity of affordable workstations are making these professionals more productive and efficient. Your CAD tools for design, engineering, & interactive visualization will not be moving to the cloud soon.


(At CADplace we have noticed that less demanding tools, some might even say trivial, like those for interior home design for consumers, have moved to web-based, hence, cloud applications. These fall into the same category of web-applications as has been applied in the past to spreadsheets and word-processing. While convenient from time to time, most users still run a local client application for such tasks.)


Now, the distinct benefit of the cloud, specifically cloud-computing, is to allow anyone to rent, at an affordable cost, any amount of the world's computing capacity for a day, or an hour, or a minute, or a second... to solve their problem. This is the game-changing development and we have not even begun to see the way this will change the way we work and the way we solve problems. For designers, this impacts anything beyond the most basic simulations and analysis.


The second distinct benefit of the cloud is the accessibility, sharing, and collaboration made possible by the cloud. Of course the distinction here is not the near-infinite computing capacity but rather the near-infinite storage capacity and the universal access to the same information. For example, Autodesk's PLM 360 has taken the full functionality and complexity of an enterprise PLM system and moved it to the cloud. The company has done the same with BIM. This is a different problem and a different solution to simulation and analysis, for example, but the cloud again provides a solution for PLM & BIM which was not possible before. It changes the way we solve problems and certainly changes the business model for companies providing services and software to the design and engineering communities.