Jumping through Hoops

What’s OpenHSF? Don’t know? Don’t worry! Ron Fritz, co-founder of Tech Soft America and original developer of Hoops 3D streaming technology explains.

With the dramatic and ongoing rise of distributed work teams, outsourcing, and the adoption of a more collaborative work environment, the need to share and visualise digital part models has been skyrocketing.

A widely-used MCAD industry assessment is that for every part designed, there are upwards of 10 people who need to visualise the part as it makes its way through the supply chain.

In order for visual data to move smoothly through this process, a format is required that can flow easily between various companies and applications, while providing intelligent, graphical data in a rich, engineering-focused 2D/3D visualisation format.

However, to date, the industry is still seriously lacking a common visualisation format, which has created a lag in engineering efficiency and has been an inhibitor to the greater use of visual data within the full engineering process.

Those behind the OpenHSF (Hoops Stream Format) Initiative believe the only viable, realistic solution is the adoption of a common visualisation file format supported industry-wide and available to anyone, which is robust enough for engineering and which finally allows vendors and users alike to fully capture the productivity enhancements of the Web. In short, we need a format which is to engineering what Adobe’s PDF format is to document viewing over the Web.

While some individual CAD vendors may have appropriate technologies in this area, the major CAD vendors themselves are not likely to cooperate to make one of their competitors’ formats a de facto standard. Thus, end users are forced to either use applications from a single vendor, or suffer the interoperability problems that continue to stifle the use of 3D.

The OpenHSF Initiative delivers an open format, freely available to anyone, so all content creators can export the HSF format and any downstream applications can import this data. Through this, intelligent digital models will be able to move smoothly through the entire design process as it moves through concept, design, analysis, manufacturing, marketing, e-commerce, maintenance and end-of-life processes that make up the product life-cycle.

Currently, there are a plethora of formats for 3D visualisation. The closest current solution to a ‘standard’ is the Virtual Reality Markup Language (VRML). Most CAD packages can export VRML files, so it is certainly ubiquitous. However, though widely available, VRML is not widely used within engineering due primarily to a lack of supporting specific engineering data types. Other efforts are afoot which take a committee-based approach to setting a 3D visualisation format standard.

These include X3D and potentially MPEG-4, each of which suffers from the same issues that hampered VRML’s adoption within engineering. Namely, they are aimed at more general, lightweight uses of visual information such as virtual worlds, games and entertainment.

There are also dozens of companies promoting new ‘3D for the Web’ formats, hoping to become the solution for pervasive use of 3D on the Web. Among these are Viewpoint (VET), Virtue3D (VTU), Reality Wave (ZGL variant of XGL), and Macromedia’s (W3D) formats.

With so many disparate formats to choose from, each lacking in some crucial way, it is difficult for engineering organisations to rally support behind any of the current format options. As a result of this ‘Tower of Babel’ situation in engineering visualisation, all of the upstream and downstream participants face significant barriers to sharing visual data, particularly if they need sophisticated engineering representations of that data.

HSF has the advantage of being specifically shaped to the needs of engineering and has been published as an open format with read and write tools available from multiple sources, which will be licensed to any and all interested parties without restriction.

A major element behind the widespread adoption of any format is the weight of those behind it and the momentum it achieves as a result. The OpenHSF Initiative has already gained broad support from developers, end users and industry analysts alike and we expect this enthusiasm to continue as more adopters follow. More applications capable of reading and/or writing HSF files are coming on-line rapidly.

For a full breakdown of the technology benefits visit the OpenHSF website.

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