Ray Kurland interviews Blake Courter, co-founder of SpaceClaim, about the LG Electronics win

On 22 Feb 2011 SpaceClaim announced that LG Electronics “is optimizing their engineering processes by using SpaceClaim to modify and manipulate CAD models.” This piqued my interest because LG Electronics is one of the largest electronics consumer companies in the world. I immediately placed a call to Blake Courter, co-founder of SpaceClaim, to find out more details. I was warned by their PR firm that they could probably not discuss any more details about the win, but I went ahead with the interview anyway to get Courter’s opinion of what drove the win and where SpaceClaim is finding success.

Q. SpaceClaim seems to have invented, or at least popularized direct modeling. Now everyone is trying to get in the game.

A. SpaceClaim did not invent direct modeling. It predated feature based modeling. We just realized that if we were going to get the rest of the world using CAD, it was not going to be with feature based CAD. We recognized that there was a market for the right tools [direct modeling] for specific users in specific markets and that was the way to go.

Direct modeling is the right way for most of the world to do 3D. Clearly the vendors have bought into this. Every one has a direct modeling strategy.

It’s great for all users to have these capabilities that are much easier to use than a feature based CAD system. For engineers doing certain jobs that do not require a history based or feature based system, such as simulation, manufacturing, sales engineers doing bid modeling, we have the best tool for the job. Rational companies are using SpaceClaim because we figured out how to make the right tool for this class of users. We are looking forward to having the opportunity to have that conversation with more customers as more users are introduced to direct modeling technology. This will be great for us.

Q. Clearly the market is agreeing with you and the vendors as well, considering that they are all introducing products in this area. Why did LG select SpaceClaim and where in their business do they intend to use it?

A. Can’t speak to anything outside the details shown in the press release, but I understand that they are using it for general use cases around manufacturing model preparation and manufacturing engineering.

Q. Was it a reseller closing the sale? Why can you not discuss any more details?

A. It was a direct sale. LG only agreed to let SpaceClaim disclose what was stated in the release.

Q. What is their current CAD system?

A. They have a CAD system; I think they have several and obviously have had and used CAD systems for a long time. For certain use cases they claim that SpaceClaim is a better tool for the job.

Q. Do you foresee that after they manipulate the models they would be brought back into the CAD model?

A. I cannot speak about LG, but can discuss how in general how customers use SpaceClaim as compared to how they use a detailed design CAD system. In general we see two workflows. One is doing concept models up front of traditional CAD. This uses existing CAD data plus new requirements. Users would bring all this together to create a new design. This is hard using history based systems because feature based constraints limit design flexibility. In SpaceClaim it’s a piece of cake. Users can sketch in SpaceClaim’s 3D environment to get a clear idea of what the new design might look like. Then they will release the SpaceClaim model to detailed design to develop all of the final details using a feature based design system.

Q Do you expect that detailed CAD design might directly read the SpaceClaim model or remodel the design?

A. It depends on the use case. For example, if the new design is heavily based on an existing design, SpaceClaim provides what might be needed for redesign or remodel. It is up to the user to make that decision. Dumb solids (non history based) are not so dumb anymore. Many detailed CAD systems can use non-history based solids as a starting point, can recognize features, and can even directly edit these models within the CAD system. In addition, many companies now outsource detailed designs, and thus do not even work with the detailed CAD model. Thus SpaceClaim is easier to use in many cases.

Q. What was the size of the LG order? Was it sizeable or just a handful of seats?

A. I cannot comment, except to say that is was a decent sized order. Not just one seat. In general, companies that we do announce have done a pilot and plan to use it SpaceClaim substantially in the future. We are not claiming that such customers plan to replace all CAD; instead the seats are additive for new users. For manufacturing engineering, SpaceClaim is a better tool than a detailed CAD system.

There are a lot of big name companies that use SpaceClaim software and there is a consistent pattern of where they see SpaceClaim playing a role. The usage is a different model than the traditional CAD usage we are used to. I can point to Tyco as an example. Customers like this have done pilots and intend to deploy. We are seeing a different world than the tightly integrated CAD system world, where it is  difficult to send data from one system to the other. We saw a need for all users and their supply chain to use the same system. Not having a history based system enables easy transfer of models. Most users want to visualize models, take measurements, do some what-ifs, investigate alternate components, and change some variables in the design. Feature based models are not right because they do not allow these questions to easily be answered.

We are seeing SpaceClaim used for bid modeling by sales engineers, concept modeling, simulation both up front and used with existing CAD data, and to cleanup and prepare models for manufacturing and to create tooling. That is the kind of use our customers are making of SpaceClaim.

I think it’s pretty clear that SpaceClaim’s direct modeling tools are the best tools for these uses. It does not matter whose CAD tool is in use at a company. If you want all these other people to be empowered with 3D then SpaceClaim is the best application than any other and I would welcome the chance to prove it. We are showing it over and over again to many types of companies in industries as diverse as: automotive, aerospace, defense, consumer electronics, and medical devices.

Q. Can you tell me anything about the company today so I can share how fast SpaceClaim has grown?

A. In 2009 the business was 3.5X the size in 2008, and in 2010 it tripled again. We are hiring and there are lots of job openings. However, we are a private company and are unwilling to release number of seats or revenue.

Q How many people are in the company?

A. We have about 50 in total, including development and are hiring for Concord, MA as well as some positions worldwide.

Q. Are there any aspects of recent SpaceClaim releases that drove this kind of business?

A. We have achieved a level of maturity now, with our recently shipped 7th release of SpaceClaim 2011. It’s now robust and stable – a very important factor for customers. We think we offer a more reliable system than traditional CAD vendors, which often crash a few times a day. Our goal is to be as reliable as Microsoft’s operating system.

We have several case studies available on our website that show how customers use SpaceClaim. Particularly interesting are the ones from Emhart Glass, Batelaan Plastics, and Schramm Inc. We believe that there is a high degree of pent up demand by customers looking for a tool that lets people get their jobs done without wrestling with the complexity of feature based CAD systems. This is the primary need driving the business.

Q. Do you see significant competition from CAD vendor direct modeling solutions?

A. These big beefy products are not what the customer wants. They are not appropriate for the customers we are going after. What does direct modeling in most CAD systems get you? You can edit imported parts better and easier. Is that useful for most users? Users will still need to use beefy CAD system to do their job along with a lightweight viewer. This is not the way I see things going; eventually people are going to be creating ideas in 3D, mailing them to each other and collaborating with customers and suppliers. To enable this, we are looking to remove all the CAD friction and help customers get products to market faster. SpaceClaim is the only tool able to do that – to enable really pervasive 3D. Maybe Autodesk might understand this, but other CAD vendors don’t seem to get it.

We figured out what most users want and made the best tool.


Click here to see the SpaceClaim – LG Electronics press release. Users can see more information on the SpaceClaim website, including case studies and self-running demos at www.spaceclaim.com.


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