Tech Soft 3D Blog

Beyond 3D Podcast: Building Machines in the Cloud

Posted by Tyler Barnes on Jul 2, 2018 10:08:30 AM

If you’ve ever designed a custom piece of tooling or machining equipment, you know that traditionally it takes weeks and weeks from design to delivery.  But now there’s a platform that allows you to design on Monday, order on Tuesday and get the machine delivered on Wednesday. It sounds unbelievable, but it’s the future of machine building, and it’s made possible through the development of 3D CAD in the browser.  Tune in to learn more about Vention from CEO and Co-Founder, Etienne Lacroix.


Listen to this episode:

To read the full podcast transcript, see below. 

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Angela Simoes: Welcome everybody to another episode of Beyond 3D. My name is Angela Simoes and I'm here with Gavin Bridgeman who is CTO of Tech Soft 3D. Hi Gavin, how are you?
Gavin Bridgeman: Hi Angela, how are you today?
Angela Simoes: I'm doing all right, a bit of a cold but I'm doing all right. A very cool guest we have today. I'm excited to hear everything he has to say about his company. We have Etienne Lacroix who is founder and CEO of Vention. Hi Etienne, welcome.
Etienne Lacroix: Hi Angela, hi Gavin. Pleasure to be with you guys.
Angela Simoes: Pleasure to have you. Let's just kick it off and tell us a little bit about yourself and then how and why you started Vention.
Etienne Lacroix: Great. Vention is a venture that started back in 2014. At that time I was a very active management consultant in an industrial company. This was about the time where WebGL got good enough to do real 3D in the Browser. As a former tooling engineer mostly working in aerospace, I knew that as soon as 3D in the Brower was possible, it would transform this industry where the design of tooling or custom industrial equipment instead of taking place in five to 10 different environments, would then take place in a single digital stream.
  This is really what Vention is all about. Now with Vention, users that are mostly mechanical engineers and manufacturing engineers can go online, design in 3D a full tooling or full automated equipment inside their browser using available modular parts. As they design in that environment, if they choose to go ahead with an order, they can actually order straight from the 3D environment. This is a true digital workflow from ideation up to delivered equipment with all the hardware parts taking place in the browser. This vision basically, we started to build the pieces in 2016, so two years after the initial idea. We are now roughly a year and a half into this adventure and this has been a phenomenal ride I guess, up to this point.
Gavin Bridgeman: Great. For anybody who hasn't already checked it out, I'd really encourage you to go to vention.io and check it out. It really is remarkable, some of these machines that you can build and how easy it is to do it. Etienne you talked a little bit about WebGL as being one of the enabling technologies. What were the other elements behind your technology stack that you were looking at? Are you built on the Amazon cloud? Can you talk a little bit about the technology stack behind?
Etienne Lacroix: Of course. For us, the whole Vention business model relies on the ability to do the full digital flow form the idea, the ordering and then the delivery of a machine in the same, obviously, cloud environment. Yes, we use a portion of Amazon cloud. We also use Heroku as part of our stack. As you guys know, we are partner with HOOPS so we deliver HOOPS technology for our rendering engine, which was one of the first actually decision we took when we initially designed a technology stack back in 2016. You ask around within the CAD community and those that claim being further off CAD and obviously HOOPS has appeared to be the reference there. For us, it basically enables us to save roughly, I would say, six months worth of development time.
Etienne Lacroix: We've used Amazon cloud. We've used Heroku. We obviously have an HOOPS server for rendering engine which basically enable our 3D team which was very, very small in the early days of Vention, to really focus on what matters for our … For the specific of our business model, which is to enable our users to assemble a component as easily as it can be in a browser-based environment. The technology stack is built as such. HOOPS provides the CAD grade rendering engine. We as the team here at Vention build obviously our own technology on top of that and the whole thing obviously is cloud based
Gavin Bridgeman: Was … A big part of the platform is this ability to drag and drop standardized components. For the creation of those standardized components, was that something you did through partnerships with the manufacturer of these or was it essentially things that you designed yourself internally?
Etienne Lacroix: This is a good question. I'd like to say that we are a little bit like an Apple model in the sense that our team here at Vention actually designed quite a bit of hardware components, whether it's extrusion system or assembly plates or tooling components. We do a lot of design internally using traditional CAD but then we take those components that most of the time are designed by Vention engineering team. Also, we work with a lot of branded vendors that want to have their parts available in the Vention library. We obviously then make them available in our own 3D assembler that is cloud based. What's important here is if I go a little bit more into the specific of the Vention workflow, is users that basically go online can access our 3D tool for free.
  Our whole technology platform is entirely free. In that environment as you said, users can build industrial equipment using this predefined library of modular part. Whether it's structural parts, motion parts, control parts or hardware, all of those parts use the same interface standard. We are able to reflect the behavior of those parts in the real world, in the physical world back into the software world or inside our own assembly CAD. Users build their machine using those modular components. Most of the time as I said, they've been designed by Vention and as users design, we can do features that will never be possible in a traditional CAD.
  For example as users build their assemblies, whether it's automated or whether it's structural only, they see price in real time. They see even assembly time in real time. They know exactly what date it's going to get delivered to their factory. Now you can … Basically before you actually even call procurement, you already know as engineers the cost, how long it's going to get to assemble so people can do real quick assessment, very, very quickly about a business case if they're given industrial equipment and assess if they want to move on. This entire part, as I said earlier, is free.
Gavin Bridgeman: It's pretty … In that realm, general area, isn't also the case that some of these designs that members of your community are making are then available to that broader community so that they can build upon other people's work?
Etienne Lacroix: That's correct. Vention is very active right now, roughly in 20 micro industries and some big ones. The big ones are obviously automotive, aerospace or robotics. Robotics right now is about to get in most manufacturing source so we do a lot of robotics type project. A lot of those equipments are actually reusable. The beauty of having a cloud based platform, whether it's the e-commerce side of Vention or whether it's the 3D design side of Vention, is it's really easy for people to share and collaborate.
Etienne Lacroix: Something that ... There is a debate going on in the CAD industry like web based CAD is something that is a trend or will it stick? Something here we're convinced for a fact is that 3D CAD in the cloud is there for stay. It doesn't mean the other will coexist but the web version of 3D will stay. There's a phenomenal reason for that, is that people need to collaborate. Rarely today we see an engineering project that involves all the engineers. We see an engineering project involving the folks that are going to assemble that equipment when it arrives at their facility. We see procurement being involved as part of their workflow.
  We see Project Managers, they want to know where the design is at. All of those guys all rely on expensive and cumbersome tool to install a software license. The one thing that everybody has in common is a web browser and that's where collaboration can really exist. Vention in that sense facilitates that and users can go online, can design the equipment and if they choose to do so, they can then deliberately share those equipments in what we call a public library of design. Those are the open source design or it can be purchase as is, if users want to do that. They can be used as a starting point to further customize a design.
  It can be used as well as a tutorial to obviously learn the platform and learn the possibilities that the components of Vention offer. For us, the team of reusability is actually quite important. Initially being myself a former tooling engineer and working in large corporations that keep their data in a very secretive fashion, I had doubt … Would that really work? Will people accept to share? Actually the response has been phenomenal on both sides. People wanted to publish but also people wanted to reuse, so we see both sides of the platform working here.
  As I said earlier, being a former management consultant in industrial, I had a chance to visit a lot of factory floor, a lot of factory floor on most continents. Even if I walk in the same … On the same floor of, let's say large aerospace manufacturers, I can see those jigs and I always ask “all those jigs are pretty similar, why are they different? Why have they different colors, different wheels, and different holding mechanism for the parts?”
  The answer I get is typically “Oh, this is the year we hired interns” or “This is the year that the plant manager changed.” Those little changes in the human behaviors tend to change how we do a design and every time engineers … I can say that because I'm one of them but we like to reinvent the wheel. Hopefully a platform like Vention or a fully cloud based will help produce that, will help people collaborate and we do see this as a trend that will not go away.
Gavin Bridgeman: I know an example of this, SolidWorks 10 years ago had their content central plan where essentially it's something similar. It's much more primitive to what you have but it's the same concept allowing people to reuse and I know that's been successful for them. You guys have gone really many, many steps beyond that with not only allowing people to reuse it but then press a button and get that, manufacturing part delivered to your premise. Can you talk a little about …? You've really made is easy for people to reuse CAD and build things. I went on the site and built something myself, believe it or not. Can you talk a little bit about the people who are using your software? What does your standard user look like?
Etienne Lacroix: We tend to serve mostly manufacturing engineers in the broad definition of what manufacturing engineers are. Some comments that get to me is all engineers aren't that far away from the manufacturing floor. They can be traditional manufacturing engineers. They can be meteorology engineers. Sometimes there are actually R&D engineers that do test batch to test their product before it's getting manufactured. We tend to serve those users. Obviously being a highly technology centric platform, our use base tend to be younger so we … I'd say engineers that are between 18 to, I would say 40 are a very strong adopter of our technology.
  I think beyond that, beyond serving those, this demographic, people that basically are in hurry for time or basically don't want to make it complex, don't want to transform every engineering project into an engineering project, use our platform because this is really what Vention provides. We provide speed and we provide ease of use to our users and we make what basically used to be an engineering project, basically a simple e-commerce experience. Those are … Like I said, we are very active in automotive, very active in aerospace and robotics right now but we serve industries that go as far as entertainment or that go as far as sports equipment that we've been involved with. It's very diverse sets of demographic with the core tree that I explained earlier.
Gavin Bridgeman: Do you notice any trends that might be interesting for our audience around, particular, not just vertical markets but geographical regions? Is there any place that technology has surprised you at how quickly it's adopted?
Etienne Lacroix: There's always an interesting story there but we served clients on five continents already even though most of the e-commerce operations of our business is all based in Canada. Most of our customers are obviously US based but we have a client in Australia or a client in Asia. Keep in mind that if you need a custom piece of equipment delivered in the same week, you have just no other option in the market right now. If you basically need a piece of equipment where you design on Monday, you order on Tuesday, you want it next day … We ship customer equipment basically next day, 4000 kilometers away. We've been lucky to work with those users that are seeking time, they need more time and this is really what we provide through the fully integrated hardware, software platform that is Vention.
Gavin Bridgeman: One thing that's pretty interesting is the application is very, very responsive, it's very easy to use and some of … I think people are aware today in WebGL that you can get really powerful graphics in the web browser but some of the elements that you have around your constraint management and all as worked remarkably well and is remarkably responsive. Any insights just to give me some background? A lot of our audiences are developers so are there any specific insights or comments you would have on that front?
Etienne Lacroix: Yeah. I can only obviously give flower to the CTO here at Vention who've built obviously the foundation of what is our constraint solver that runs parallel with HOOPS but most of the work … From the get go we decided to put that constraint solver on the client side in order to make things fast as much as possible. This is something that was mostly developed in house obviously, leveraging the HOOPS infrastructure but for us, it's an algorithm that will keep getting better as we learn more about however users design and the type of connection they want to make between parts and the assemblies that are more meaningful to them.
  We see patterns and how we can then further ease how parts can connect, not only how the software understand how the various physical parts can connect to one another but more importantly, how the software predict how the various parts can get connected. This is really where if you compare that with the traditional CAD, positioning of parts in the traditional CAD will be anywhere between eight to 20 mouse clicks or mouse movements where every constraint will block a couple of degrees of freedom, one in one or one to six.
  With Vention, we are trying to operate every constraint where one mouse click is one new part. Every part can be added to an assembly using a single mouse clicking. As we get those algorithms better, you really see … For example, we see our power user designing custom equipment that have three automated access, full automation, full sensing, a thoroughly complex piece of equipment literally in two hours, which is something that will normally take up to three weeks in a traditional environment. We see those types of examples that emerge more and more as we continue to invest in our 3D constraint technology.
Gavin Bridgeman: That brings on a little bit to the final part. What's next? What are the big problems that you feel you have to solve?
Etienne Lacroix: That's a very good question. For us, the roadmap ahead is actually … We are building a machine building platform where there's … The reality or the frontiers between the hardware world and the software for it just don't exist. We really want engineers to be able to come online, design in minutes, click the order button and have their machine next day ready for them to operate on their floor. There are a couple of building blocks we continue to add. Obviously a lot of them are on the software side. A lot of them are just on further expanding our part library but there is some cool thing that only a CAD software that is connected to the hardware can do and we'll continue to invest into those.
  I've talked about the fact that we provide assembly time in real time or pricing in real time, this is one thing. One thing that we often talk about is in CAD automation. In CAD automation for us is the ability for our users to design the full logic side of equipment straight from their web browser and obviously always in context of the mechanical design of their machine. Currently right now those worlds don't speak to one another. If you look at any industrial equipment being built today, the folks doing the automation side and the folks doing the mechanical side of the machine, they are typically a different team working in different software. We are working pretty hard at again removing the barriers or the frontiers as we are working in removing the frontiers between the software world and the hardware world in general.
Gavin Bridgeman: Interesting. What about on the side of the actual manufacturers who are behind plugging into that platform. Is that an important part of your strategy?
Etienne Lacroix: Yes. Listen, the … We are working on ways of expanding our part libraries. In the context of Vention, we are not trying to provide all the components. We are trying to right size the components. You can look on our libraries. We don't have all these motors out there. We have small, medium and large. We keep it simple. Same thing for the wheel, we have small, medium and large, caster wheels that can be added to equipment. We keep it simple. We actually work with a lot of hardware manufactures that share that vision of simplicity, share that vision of fast design and that are willing to adjust their own interface to be compatible with a greater ecosystem.
Etienne Lacroix: One thing that typically convinced everybody is our users or receiver of Vention piece of equipment need a single tool to assemble the entire machine. There is only one key you need to assemble the entire machine and this is because we are pretty rigid on the hardware architecture principle that we allow on the platform. We work with manufacturers on the automation side, on hardware side that are following, that believe in that vision and you'll see more of partnership coming very similarly on that front.
Gavin Bridgeman: Do you see this manufacturing as a service and some of these industry themes around engineering? It would seem like your platform could play a prominent role in enabling that.
Etienne Lacroix: Yeah. Listen, For us, our goal is to make the work flow from ideation to delivered equipment, a full-fledged workflow as fast as possible. We obviously provide a lot of customization possibilities through our modular part. You'll see … Maybe some highlight that I can give to the audience of HOOPS is some features that are then coming very shortly along those trends then are custom panel. It seems like a trivial part but a lot of custom equipment needs some panel, whether it's a table top, whether it's an enclosure panel.
  Right now as you know, in a traditional CAD workflow, those panels will be designed as a part and then added back to an assembly and so on. We ask ourselves why the heck should people even design those? Because those are always created in a context of geometries, of a frame that needs to be covered or a table surface that needs to be covered. We actually created that feature and we actually work with a partner now to provide custom panel within two days where users basically select the surface they want to cover or protect.
  The panel gets design, the geometry gets created automatically out of outside parameters. Again if the users want to move ahead or move forward with that as soon as they press order, this custom component goes straight on a CNC machine to get manufactured and shipped within 48 hours. Those are the types of integration we see more and more happening.
Gavin Bridgeman: That's great. Well that was a lot of interesting commentary and insight. That was very, very helpful for me and I'm sure our audience.
Angela Simoes: Yeah. It's almost unbelievable. I would say if you have any doubts, visit vention.io and check them out because it might sound too good to be true but you are actually making it happen. It's pretty amazing, so congratulations on a phenomenal venture. That wraps up our episode. Thanks so much for being with us Etienne. We really appreciate your time. Thanks again Gavin.
  Thank you all for … Out there who have joined us for another episode and spent time listening to our conversation. If you have any feedback, please send us an email. You can reach us through our website at www.techsoft3d.com. If you haven't hit subscribe, please do so now. You can subscribe on iTunes or on SoundCloud. Please also leave us a review so that others interested in this topic of anything related to 3D, manufacturing and engineering, can find our podcast. With that, we'll wrap it up and say thanks again and have a great day.
Etienne Lacroix: Thank you Angela, thank you Gavin, it was a pleasure to meet up.

 

Topics: 3D, Discreet Manufacturing, IoT, Database, SMB, Manufacturing, Cloud

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