Expert traces the growth of the 3D design software industry.
At least two things were special about my recent interaction with R. Parthasarathy, CMD, CADD Centre Group, Chennai (http://bit.ly/F4TParthaCADD). One, he gave me not one but three business cards of his, as the founder of CADD Centre, iSolve, and iKix. And two, he did not come alone but with a whole team that quickly assembled look-alike models of big structures such as an airport, and an apartment complex. (You can see such a ‘printed’ 3D-model of the Lotus Temple, Delhi — an award-winning entry of his team — on my table, were you to pass by my room.) As for my discussion with Partha, we decided to continue it in the fourth dimension, time, through emails back and forth, for a whole week thereafter…
Excerpts from the interview.
First, a brief historical overview of the evolution of 3D design?
Design communication has evolved quite rapidly in the last two decades. CAD systems came into use 25 years ago. In the early days, these were simple tools to draw the 2D views faster and easier. But the drawing elements had only (X, Y) co-ordinates.
Two significant impediments to the growth of design software were that the computer display systems were quite basic and did not have the sophistication to quickly display large designs. Plus, the raw computing power needed to process advanced modelling simply did not exist in the computers of those days. I vividly remember how the running of CAD software on even the best of computers used to be painfully slow — we would take a coffee-break while the system was doing intense calculations. So, good design software had to wait till powerful hardware became available and affordable.
3D in CAD software started to gain acceptance only in the late 90s. A big reason for this was the explosion in desktop PC sales worldwide. A lot many “follow on” applications, such as rendering, 3D walkthroughs, animation, etc, took 3D design beyond the realm of just design, thus providing significant traction.
In India, the early adopters of the CAD systems were the manufacturing companies — the automotive firms in particular. Indian auto companies were either competing with global players or supplying to them and found it mandatory to make the change. They all have reaped the benefits.
The exponential demand growth in the construction industry was the next big growth phase for the 3D design software industry. Quite significantly, design and construction firms moved from paper to digital methods of design data sharing. This mandated the downstream firms, such as smaller contractors and design firms, to adopt 3D technology.
Any software is only as good as the person using it. The easy availability of well-trained engineers with minimum 3D CAD software skills has ensured that ROIs are above expectations.
Today, 3D design process has evolved to even producing the required part quickly, using a 3D printer — with excellent accuracy and good colour capabilities. So, just like creating a document and printing it on your printer, designers can create a 3D design and print it on a printer — all in a day’s work and right in the office!
We must keep in mind that our mind always thinks in 3D. If you imagine your dream house, it will most likely have a nice sloping roof, at least two floors of living space, well-designed family area, kitchen and dining rooms, bedrooms for the elders and the kids, and perhaps a compact work area, and, with a nice garden area in front. Communicating this design on a 2D space like paper, using front, top and side views is cumbersome and is now easily done in 3D.
Can you take us through the ideation, development stages and significant milestones of CADD Centre?
Post my graduation from BITS, Pilani, I worked for a year with a well-known IT company serving manufacturing companies. This was in the late 80s when personal computers were just about starting to become popular. I had this burning desire to do something that combines computers and designs — so CAD was a natural choice. I had already gained some expertise on CAD systems and could quickly realise that Indian industries will gain a lot by adopting CAD, but will not get the most out of it without a trained workforce lining up at their doors. Organised, high-quality software training simply did not exist in those days; so, we set out and created one. Today, our customers are assured of finding quality CAD engineers close to their offices.
Our goal has been to serve the needs of the design and engineering companies and we have retained the focus to this date while carefully expanding the products and services to meet all needs of our customers. As early as the 1990s, we introduced for the first time in India, A0 scanners from Contex, Denmark, that would enable companies to scan and modify designs in real-time. In 1999, we commenced offering A0, high-speed printers from Oce, the Netherlands, world-leaders in wide format printing machines that could print and fold up to ten A0s in a minute.
Over the last 23 years, our products and services have grown to meet the critical needs of the design community in India. Our customers cover all products you use in your everyday life — personal products to clothing, to automobiles to housing to aeronautics.
Your observations on the newer applications of 3D design?
3D design is at the core of every new product. So there is a huge potential for 3D design in all areas of traditional industries, without doubt. It is also relevant to the new age consumer. Basic 3D design forms an integral part of animation, an industry that is growing rapidly. Gaming is another area of explosive growth that needs 3D design skills. Consumers in the 15-20 age group want only phones with good gaming interface. Therefore, 3D design study goes beyond the traditional student — more of arts and science students with aptitude form a big part of our customers now. Another good trend we see is that basic design courses are gaining popularity at high school level; and this will pan out into more products to the next-gen.
3D design is finding other innovative uses, too. For example, a renowned sculptor had a unique problem. He would sculpt about six new creations and run a one-week art show at a reputed gallery. Most of his customers were foreigners who would want to choose, buy and take it with them. So, on day one, the sculptor’s two best creations are sold and go out of the show and he did not have them for the rest of the show. 3D design offered a simple and elegant solution to this. iKix, our 3D design studio, created a 3D model of the sculptor’s creations and “printed them on our 3D printer”. So each time a piece was sold, we would re-print another piece in time for display at the gallery.
Here is another example. For a dentist customer of ours, we created a 3D print of the patient’s jaw structure from the CT scan data. He found this of great use in surgery planning.
Every large project — be it a 5-star hotel, a factory or a colony of flats — will require extensive planning before commencing construction. iKix 3D prints come in quite handy in project management and implementation. With our “Building in Box”, salespersons can ‘carry the project to the customer’ and avoid site visits that are expensive and time-consuming.
Is design education benefiting smaller enterprises in the country?
Yes, of course! Frankly, all young design professionals are more familiar with 3D design on CAD than manual methods. Secondly, the investments are low and the benefits are immense; so most small firms have acquired the best of design technology, equipment and software. They serve medium and large-size companies that follow a disciplined system and standards — the supply chain ecosystem drives rapid adoption.
We truly believe that India needs a lot more design professionals serving all kinds of companies — especially in the smaller cities and towns. We are working hard to reach customers in every district of India and are quickly expanding our office and training centre networks. This will accelerate benefit accrual for all companies — large or small.
What about the challenges faced by 3D design?
We can look at it at three levels. As the marketplace gets intensely competitive, companies will strive to differentiate and this will drive innovation in design. So the primary challenge is availability of skilled designers or design houses. At the next level, designers will need a faster way to “3D print” their parts or projects for quick analysis and testing. More technologies for this will need to come in at affordable price points. As the market matures, 3D design will need to integrate well into the production process — be it manufacturing of parts or constructing buildings. This will eliminate wastage, minimise re-work and crunch cycle time — all leading to saving costs and increasing throughput.
Going forward, your view of how the world of design will be in about 5-10 years?
In the Indian marketplace, you can see that demand is steadily expanding across all product segments. To succeed, companies will need to create more variants of models and more models with unique features. There is a constant need to re-invent yourself continuously. This will be a big driver for an explosive growth in design capabilities of companies and designers.
Having said that, new designs can be driven only by a strong invention culture. The traditional approach of defining the problem and finding a solution has limitations. Successful inventions almost always generate the demand for a whole new type of product. In a way, “Invention is the mother of necessity,” and not the other way around! Such a company can redefine its entire industry — Apple is a good example.
What are your next goals?
Our immediate goal is to increase our market coverage to every district in India and be at our customers’ doorstep as much as we can. We will take about 12-18 months to get there. Alongside, we are now offering a slew of cutting-edge technologies, products and services that will accelerate design productivity. This will assist our customers give up non-design chores and free up management time for more design and customer-centric activities.
India is blessed with a great domestic market that will only grow in size and variety in the next 30 years. There is a unique opportunity to build a stronger and well-linked chain of creators, makers and users.