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How a Building Blocks Approach Supports 3D Engineering Innovation

By Jonathan Girroir • 
August 23rd, 2023

The 3D engineering space has never been an easy row to hoe from a features and functionality perspective. Software vendors need to deliver an eye-popping range of capabilities to customers encompassing everything from CAD data import and export, to 3D visualization, simulation, and more.

The sheer immensity of the task is enough to give any vendor pause, but they can take cheer and comfort from an unlikely source: the Lego.

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel

Anyone who currently has a youngster in their house or can remember back to their own childhood is likely familiar with the Lego Company’s rectangular, plastic building blocks. By assembling enough small Legos together, you can easily create something bigger and more complex.

Software development kits (SDKs) serve a similar function in the software world, providing building blocks of core functionality that developers can use to create a sophisticated application without having to write every single line of code from scratch.

This is just good sense. Think about it: If you’re a software developer, you’re not going to spend time “reinventing the wheel” and writing code for basic functionality like memory management, menu interfaces, and dialog boxes. It’s time-consuming, and the fact is that somebody’s already done the work to make those things happen.

If using building blocks for those areas makes sense, it really makes sense for more complex and engineering-specific challenges like CAD data translation. Building a wide level of CAD interoperability into a product isn’t something that talented developers can tackle by themselves; it’s not even something they can tackle with a team of engineers, unless there are nearly 100 of them – and it would still take them a long, long time to build in the necessary CAD import and export functionality.

The same thing goes for graphics and modeling.. Instead of hiring a team of graphics engineers or mathematicians to figure out how to properly extrude a surface and build up a 3D model, it makes more sense to use pre-existing component technology around visualization. These are tough problems to solve, and most engineering software vendors don’t have the time or resources to try to tackle them in-house, especially when they’re trying to bring a product to market as quickly as possible.

You’ve Got Options

Clearly, there’s a strong case for using components like SDKs – but how best to go about it? There are actually several different ways that software vendors can embrace this strategy.

One approach is to use open-source component technology. There’s lots of it out there, it’s free, and when used properly, there can be benefits to incorporating open source into your technology stack, particularly for creating an initial proof of concept.

However, when vendors go to commercialize their product – perhaps after a seed funding round, or once version 2.0 is ready – they might want to lean towards a more hardened piece of technology to run their products: one that has hundreds of engineering hours put into its development.

Another benefit of working with a commercial technology provider as opposed to open source software is that it provides access to that company’s experts, who have a vested interest in ensuring that the vendor’s product runs as smoothly and capably as possible with its technology.

There’s even a middle ground for those engineering software vendors who don’t want to have to choose between one end of the spectrum or the other. Plenty of freemium products exist that allow companies to try a limited version of their offering and then upgrade to a more full-featured version once they’re ready. Likewise, many commercial offerings have a trial period that allows developers to get a quick head start with a seasoned piece of technology before officially purchasing it.

From there, it’s simply a matter of utilizing application programming interfaces (APIs) to take advantage of the functionality within the SDK, and developers are off to the races.

Keep Up With the Jones’s and Have a Little Fun

Regardless of which approach engineering software vendors take, the value proposition offered by component technology remains the same: It allows individual software vendors to focus on what they’re good at and to tackle the niche engineering problems they’re trying to solve for their customers – all while allowing someone else to tackle the aspects they’re good at, like 3D visualization, or simulation, or CAD data exchange, or some other area.

In this way, SDKs support greater innovation while shortening the time required to deliver these innovations to market – making life easier for independent software vendors (ISVs) and allowing vendors of any size to “keep up with the Jones’s” on the technology front.

That last bit is important: the way that SDKs democratize world-class technology and make it accessible to everyone. Like Legos, absolutely anyone can use them as building blocks to put together something really cool – and quite possibly have a lot of fun in the process.

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