Graebert and the ODA: core CAD engines that enable customised development
Fully featured CAD anywhere
CAD began its life as a desktop computing application on specialised and expensive hardware. It was available from a select few suppliers. Since those early days, it has grown into a huge industry with a wide range of applications and new platforms from innovative developers. One of these is Graebert, which has been designing, developing and supplying 2D and 3D CAD applications since 1983. ARES, the latest CAD product family from Graebert is DWG-compatible, supports LISP (Locator/Identifier Separation Protocol) and other programming interfaces, and runs on the Linux, Windows, Mac and Windows mobile operating systems. None of this would have been possible without the Open Design Alliance.
Graebert: CAD experts since 1983
Graebert have been CAD system experts since 1983 and during that time have consistently been first in anticipating industry trends and identifying new markets. As the first German distributor of AutoCAD, Graebert worked with Autodesk until 1993. In 1994 the newly founded Graebert GmbH developed a completely new CAD engine, the FelixCAD Graphic Developer's Engine. This served as the core engine for CAD application software developed by third parties and was later rebranded as PowerCAD.
In 1999 Graebert GmbH recognized that surveyors, architects, engineers and kitchen planners had a need for drawing and coordinate capture capabilities in the field, where they spent a large portion of their time. These measurement and survey focused professionals needed a professional CAD system for mobile devices and the company developed PowerCAD CE. When it was introduced in 2000 this was the first fully functional 2D and 3D CAD System for Windows CE.
Introducing reliability with future proofing
Graebert’s business model is to develop CAD development engines to which third parties can add features to create and brand their own products. Often embedded into Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) software, such development engines are used by thousands worldwide.
Because DWG is the predominant file format in the CAD market place, one of Graebert’s big challenges during the 1990s was to cope with the constant effort required to support and maintain conformance with DWG. It was clear that access to updated and supported .dwg libraries would save much time and Graebert began licensing them from the Open Design Alliance as soon as they were available – even before the ODA was fully incorporated in 1998.
In 2005 Graebert had a big decision to make. It recognised that the CAD market for mobile devices was growing and that new technologies would expand the market even further. Yet the operating platform on which it had so far built its products was relatively old technology. Robert Graebert cites the question that the company faced: “Do we continue to develop our own product, with a ‘business as usual’ approach and press on regardless? Or do we use ODA technology as the core for a new product that would deliver future-proofing?” He reports that there was no real way of measuring the advantages and disadvantages; there were no statistics to support a decision. “Developing a new product seemed just about as feasible so we took the leap. It would have been an incredible task without the ODA, as .dwg is essential to what we do. We could not and would not have attempted to develop a product without the ODA.”
The next question was whether to import ODA technology as the core of the product or just use ODA libraries at the periphery, for example for import and export of data. “The risk was that if we put it at the core, other people could do the same thing. In fact, several companies, including Bricsys, have done just this.” Graebert decided to rely on its innovation and intuition, its experience and market knowledge and put ODA technology at the core of its new product.
ODA technology at the critical core
In 2005 Graebert began replacing its existing CAD kernel with a newly developed, state-of-the-art core using native DWG and based on the latest technologies. As Robert Graebert explains, “We add a substantial middle layer on top of the ODA core; our OEMs will add their top layer and many clients add verified domain knowledge as well.”
After five years of development, ARES and ARES Commander Edition were launched in February 2010. Available in 13 Languages, ARES is a multi-platform software architecture that runs on Linux, Windows, Mac and Windows Mobile CE and provides productive tools and smart features for 2D drafting and 3D design. With DWG 2010 as its primary drawing file format and DXF support, ARES provides compatibility and exchange capabilities with a wide range of graphics and construction software all over the world. ARES Commander Edition is fully programmable so CAD software developers can either create add-ons or plug-ins for ARES Commander Edition or use the open architecture and wide range of API (Application Programming Interface) features within ARES to create a totally independent CAD application. For example, the features and performance of the ARES CAD engine power the new DraftSight™ software from Dassault Solidworks® on the Windows platform.
Robert Graebert comments, “Our focus is to supply a small number of high end products which incorporate different languages and quality support. Brand names are not that important to us. We use internal naming and talk to our customers about the underlying technology. We make sure that our software can be used out of the box. We know that our customers do not want to draw lines; they want to draw a screw or a cupboard. We supply the piece that does the CAD.”
The ODA enables new revenue streams
Simply put, the ODA provided the libraries and Graebert supplied an intuitive and easy to use interface to create the ARES product portfolio for desktop and mobile. “If we had not joined the ODA we would not have attempted to improve our product; with the ODA we replaced it.” ARES now constitutes half of Graebert’s annual revenue.