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News Desk Software: Touch-Based 3-D Tools Bring Tactile Feedback to Manufacturing Processes

Ping Fu


Ping Fu is CEO of Geomagic (Morrisville, NC), a developer of software for computer-based inspection, reverse engineering, and scanning, which in April added touch-enabled or haptic products through the acquisition of Sensable Technologies Inc. (Wilmington, MA). 

Manufacturing Engineering: Geomagic develops software for computer-based inspection, reverse engineering, and scanning. What does your recent acquisition of Sensable Technologies add?

Ping Fu: This acquisition brings amazing touch-enabled, or haptic, technology into the Geomagic 3-D imaging and inspection product line. The software and hardware tools deliver truly intuitive organic sculpting tools into the hands of people whose ideas and innovations are hard to create in CAD. For those that have never tried Sensable’s solutions, they are spellbinding tools that simulate physical touch in a digital environment and create a sense of reality during the digital design and sculpting process. Having these products now allows us to have ‘creation and modification’ of 3-D data into our ‘scan and inspect’ workflows—an area where Geomagic has traditionally focused.

These great products fascinate me not just for what they do now, but the effect this technology is going to have on our lives—for engineers and designers obviously, but also across a wider group of people. At Geomagic we use the term ‘Digital Reality’ to describe how digital environments are increasingly being used to simulate what happens in real life. The Sensable products are a direct example of what we are talking about—simulating real life in a digital world with an important added dimension—the ability to touch what’s inside the digital environment.

ME: Why does Sensable’s haptic technology help users, and in particular how does it help some of the specialty markets it addresses?

Fu: Touch is so important to any work process. For thousands of years, all design was done by touch—real touch. It is only in the last 30 years when design became digital that the sense of touch was lost. The original appeal of Rapid Prototyping (as it was called 15 years ago) was that designers and engineers could once more ‘touch’ their designs once the prototype was made. But then they would have to go back to the CAD software to make changes without the benefit of being able to touch their designs until another prototype was made. But it has remained an important lesson.

The sense of touch in digital environments is important: just recently I saw a simulation of a space shuttle pilot where touch-feedback on the controls meant that the pilot could experience the effects of air and turbulence on his simulated re-entry. Surgeons now have access to touch-enabled systems based on Sensable products that allow them to practice a surgical procedure prior to doing the real thing—with realistic tactile feedback to help them navigate difficult and critical areas such as knee and skull operations. Being able to simulate that touch sensation allows realism to be created, and brings many new opportunities for digital reality in design, engineering, manufacturing and in a lot of areas outside those markets.

The Sensable products are allowing us to build on the concept of digital reality by bringing a full loop of ‘capture,’ ‘modify,’ ‘manufacture’—i.e., physical to digital and back to physical again using all our products. Imagine being able to scan the Great Wall of China and ‘touch’ its surface digitally. The same for an archeological artifact—scan, turn it into 3-D, ‘touch’ its surface and then 3-D print the object—this can change the way students are being taught by adding that new tactile experience to their learning program.

ME: What potential does touch-enabled software hold for future manufacturing developments?

Fu: By bringing touch back into an engineering design, we see that amazing things can happen in productivity and quality. Automotive body designers still use real clay as a key part of the design process. What if the ‘touch’ of that clay is available digitally? It is already with the Geomagic Sensable products.

There is a further dimension that greater integration of physical and digital can bring: we see a future in manufacturing where what was global becomes local again and this is being propelled by the advances in 3-D printing, and by better scanning and capture tools such as those from Geomagic.

This vision for manufacturing is what we call Mass Custom Manufacturing. In the industrial revolution, the mass manufacturing market allowed the inexpensive production of heterogeneous products, but with that the ability to have those products ‘custom fit’ was lost.

We see that new technologies, some of them being pioneered by Geomagic in tandem with other innovations in manufacturing, will enable inexpensive production of custom-fit items. The rise of outsourcing is already turning back full-circle, bringing localization once more to manufacturing. The tools like the ones from Geomagic will ultimately be able to bring customization into a mass production line. ME

Edited by Patrick Waurzyniak; for more info, contact him at (313) 425-3256 or send an e-mail to


Innovator of the Future

CAM software developer CNC Software Inc. (Tolland, CT), developer of Mastercam CAD/CAM software, announced that the winner of its 7th Annual Innovator of the Future competition for 2011–2012 is Zachary Roy, a student at the E.C. Goodwin Technical High School (New Britain, CT).Zachary Roy

Mastercam’s Innovator of the Future competition helps introduce students to real-world manufacturing by challenging them to put their own creative twist on a specific part to be judged by a special guest from the manufacturing industry. In the 2011–2012 competition, students designed and machined a guitar bridge to be judged by Senior Designers from Taylor Guitars, a manufacturer of acoustic and electric guitars. Prizes were a major motivation for students, with the winner receiving a $1000 scholarship and a trip to El Cajon, CA, to tour the Taylor Guitars Factory, where over 500 guitars are produced each day.

"There were several entries that exhibited a high level of technical abilities, and it was interesting to see the variety of approaches to satisfying the design question," says Larry Breedlove, Taylor Guitars chief engineer of product development. "In the end, it comes down to how elegantly any given design interacts as a component of the guitar ‘package.’ Zack’s entry was an obvious winner for us, in that it is a simply handsome bridge that we can easily see as that component."

For more information on the Mastercam Innovator of the Future competition please visit To learn more about Taylor Guitars, go to


CIMdata Releases

Latest PLM Report

Software researcher CIMdata Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI) has released the latest in a series of reports on PLM software with its CIMdata 2012 PLM Executive PLM Market Report.

The new report offers the industry an executive-level view of CIMdata’s comprehensive analysis of the PLM market, with summary charts on the overall market and on specific PLM solution segments (see chart), breaking out the market percentages in Digital Manufacturing (2.7%), MCAD-Design Focused (12.6%), Simulation and Analysis (15.9%), MCAD-Multi-Discipline (16.3%), Comprehensive cPDm (21.3%) and SI/Reseller/VAR (26.1%). Also included are perspectives on current trends in the PLM industry and how they may affect current suppliers and investments.

This is the second of five modules of the CIMdata PLM Market Analysis Report Series to be released. The MAR Series provides detailed information and in-depth analysis on the worldwide PLM market during 2011. It contains analyses of major trends and issues, leading PLM providers, revenue analyses for geographical regions, industry sectors, and historical and projected data on market growth.

"While the global economy sputtered, the PLM economy grew faster than in 2010, which was a very good year," according to Stan Przybylinski, CIMdata’s director of research. "Most segments of the market that CIMdata tracks saw high double-digit growth, with very strong license sales. Given that new license sales are often precursors to more software and services investment, this is a strong indicator that 2012 could be another solid year for PLM solution and services providers."

For more information or to order the report, visit


3D Systems Acquires Viztu

Additive manufacturing developer 3D Systems (Rock Hill, SC) announced it has acquired Viztu Technologies, developer of Hypr3D, an online platform that allows anyone to turn their pictures and videos into printable 3-D creations. The company expects to integrate Viztu into, adding intuitive and fun scan-to-print and create-to-print apps.

Viztu’s founders, Ash Martin and Tom Milnes, have joined the 3D Systems team, enhancing content creation and capture, hardware and software developing. "Viztu adds an important building block to our growing Cubify platform. Now everyone can begin to express themselves in 3-D as easily as snapping a picture," says Cathy Lewis, 3D Systems vice president, global marketing. "We believe that this investment will accelerate the democratization of the entire 3-D create-and-make experience for everyone."



Simulation software developer CGTech Corp. (Irvine, CA) and presetting equipment supplier Zoller Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI, and Pleidelsheim, Germany) have formed a partnership under which the companies will develop better ways to create tool libraries for their customer bases.

CGTech’s Vericut software simulates CNC machining to identify errors in NC programs including collisions, over-travel, gouges, etc., and Zoller’s product portfolio covers all application areas of tool presetting, measuring, inspection and management. "The Zoller vision system provides a direct link between the presetter and Vericut," says CGTech President Jon Prun. "Our mutual customers benefit from this partnership by having the ability to scan accurate 3-D models of tool assemblies which can be easily transferred to Vericut in a variety of CAD formats."



ANSYS Inc. (Pittsburgh), a developer of simulation software, and Esterel Technologies S.A. (Elancourt, France), a provider of embedded software simulation solutions for mission-critical applications, have signed a definitive agreement under which ANSYS will acquire Esterel Technologies for a cash purchase price of approximately €42 million (about $53 million), subject to certain working capital adjustments at close. The agreement includes retention provisions for key members of management and employees for Esterel, which has about 80 employees and reported revenues of approximately €15 million (approximately $19 million) for fiscal year 2011. Esterel’s SCADE solution enables software and systems engineers to design, simulate and produce embedded software, the control code built into the electronics in aircraft, rail transportation, automotive, energy systems, medical devices and other industrial products.

Metrology developer Hexagon AB (Stockholm, Sweden) announced it will acquire a minority stake in Blom ASA (Oslo, Norway), a leading European service provider within acquisition, processing and modeling of geographic information. Hexagon said it will buy 25% of the shares in Blom, which maintains European databases with collections of map, images and models and a focus on online services. The company has more than 1000 employees, subsidiaries in 13 countries and is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange under the ticker BLO.


This article was first published in the September 2012 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF


Published Date : 9/1/2012

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