Much like a food coop, membership in a CAD cooperative comes with perks and some drawbacks.
Jean Thilmany, Senior Editor
ProgeSoft bills itself as a low-cost CAD alternative, similar to other two- and three-dimensional .dwg-file-based software though it is one-tenth the cost. The company’s membership in the IntelliCAD Technology Consortium (ITC) helps keep costs low, says Damiano Croci, ProgeSoft’s chief operating officer.
The 21-year-old consortium functions somewhat like a farm cooperative, only for software. Individual member companies share in the development of a baseline CAD platform that they can then customize to reflect their own needs. Companies build upon the IntelliCAD platform to create CAD applications for surveyors, architects, and engineers, even police officers, says Dave Lorenzo, ITC president.
“By sharing the cost of development for complex projects, ITC members can develop solutions at far less cost than a single company could do on its own,” he says.
Consortium members came together in 1999 to create ITC and to upgrade its IntelliCAD engine. IntelliCAD—based on the .dwg direct library from the Open Design Alliance—reads and writes the .dwg data file format widely used in CAD applications to store graphic and text information.
Essentially, IntelliCAD is a CAD package run by committee.
As a founding ITC member, ProgeSoft, of Chiasso, Switzerland, has backed the project from the consortium’s inception. The company recognized that by foregoing basic platform development and relying on IntelliCAD, it could focus on the bells and whistles that make ProgeSoft unique, Croci says.
“Joining ITC was a hazardous, fascinating, and rewarding experience, all at the same time,” he says. “IntelliCAD gave us an excellent CAD product. After putting the finishing touches to it, we brought progeCAD to the cutting-edge of low-cost CAD technology.
Architects, engineers, drafters, artists, and designers who use an AutoCAD download to create precision drawings or technical illustrations can do the same with ProgeCAD, he says.
The ITC offers two membership levels. The royalty-free commercial membership is $69,000 the first year and $62,000 subsequent years; the royalty-based commercial membership fee is $39,000 the first year and $32,000 subsequent years with a $15-per-copy fee for new licenses.
The fees help employ programmers to update the software. In exchange, members get the code and sell it as they wish: as a straight CAD package, as part of a vertical application, or for in-home use, Lorenzo says. IntelliCAD is updated annually.
Today, the consortium has around 50 members located in more than 130 countries.
A timely alternative
To understand IntelliCAD’s role in the industry, know that in 1999—when ITC came into existence—the CAD landscape looked quite a bit different than it does today. Only a few, strong players dominated the industry.
“IntelliCAD was originally created to stop Autodesk from a complete CAD monopoly, freeing millions of users to edit billions of engineering data files outside of Autodesk products,” Lorenzo says.
“Today, IntelliCAD DNA runs through every major AutoCAD alternative,” he says, including popular programs such as ZWCAD, BricsCAD, ActCAD, FrameCAD, Trimble, and MicroSurvey.
ITC members choose to work with the cooperatively created CAD platform to keep costs low. But they also become members to ensure a safe spot in the marketplace. Member companies know that by controlling their CAD platform they need not rely on another software maker for survival, Lorenzo says.
“Many of our members came to the ITC after Autodesk decided to compete with them,” he says. “Imagine being an Autodesk partner for decades and then suddenly they decide to compete with you. You spend years creating a valid market only to have the platform you built your business on decide that it’s time for you to go. But how else can Autodesk grow its revenue?” Because ITC is a non-profit cooperative it has no shareholders to demand continued revenue growth, Lorenzo says.
“The ITC also has no end-user products that might compete with members, as our only funding comes from members who also direct our mission,” he says. “This keeps the ITC focused on creating core technology and services. We can’t compete with our members because we literally work for our members.”
The ITC offers tools and expertise that members can integrate slowly into their business to improve their development processes over time, he adds.
“Looking back to when I was a small, third-party developer, the insights from a consortium like ITC would have been invaluable,” he says. “I didn’t really learn large-scale development processes until I worked for larger companies like Visio and Microsoft.”
Drawbacks include the time members must spend customizing the ITC software for their own use and the need to translate it into non-English languages.
A run-in with the FTC
IntelliCAD itself has a complex history that winds its way through Softdesk, Autodesk, Boomerang, Visio, and, finally, the ITC, according to Ralph Grabowski, a longtime writer covering the CAD community. In 2004, Grabowski was editor at upfrontzine.com and was asked to contribute his thoughts at the first IntelliCAD Technical Consortium’s user conference, held in September of that year.
In 1994, a company called Softdesk held the rights to IntelliCAD. Then, in December 1996, Autodesk moved to acquire Softdesk. This came as no surprise because Autodesk usually bought out its competitors or started its own competing product, Grabowski writes.
The surprise in this case was that Autodesk didn’t know Softdesk had developed its own AutoCAD clone, perhaps to keep Autodesk at bay or to have its own software in the hopper. That clone was IntelliCAD.
The matter triggered a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigation into the status of AutoCAD as a potential monopoly. In 1997, AutoCAD accounted for 70% of the installed base of about 1.4 million users, according the FTC statement.
In March 1997, the FTC announced an antitrust settlement with Autodesk over the Softdesk and IntelliCAD acquisition, according to FTC filings. The move gave the go-ahead for Autodesk’s $90 million stock-swap merger, but IntelliCAD could no longer be part of the deal.
The FTC found that the purchase of Softdesk’s IntelliCAD software would have created an uncompetitive environment. Autodesk agreed to divest the CAD technology without a formal request from the FTC.
The investigation was unusual for the time. Before the Autodesk investigation, FTC and Department of Justice had challenged only a handful of mergers with hardware and software companies, according to Howard Morse, an FTC spokesperson at the time.
“There may be numerous mergers in this industry, but only a handful are thought to lessen competition,” he said after the investigation.
Softdesk, as part of the agreement, transferred all rights for IntelliCAD to Boomerang Technology, which in turn sold the rights to Visio, according to a March 31, 1997 CNET article.
The divestiture to Boomerang occurred because the FTC wanted more information on the Softdesk acquisition and looked at IntelliCAD as potentially being anticompetitive, according to the article.
Grabowski notes that Visio, which made a diagramming and vector graphics application, first sold IntelliCAD for 10 percent of the price of AutoCAD and eventually gave it away free in the early days of the ITC.
In July 1999, Visio set up the ITC to be run by an independent board of directors, Lorenzo says.
IntelliCAD went on to be used as more than an AutoCAD clone. In 2004, the ITC announced its IntelliCAD technology was a critical component of the DWGEditor functionality incorporated into the 2004 release of SolidWorks CAD software.
The SolidWorks DWGEditor gives users the ability to edit 2D DWG files in their native format without conversion or data loss. The tool is ideal for design engineers who use 3D design software but still need to edit and maintain legacy DWG data, according to a 2004 ITC statement.
“When a user of SolidWorks 2005 opens a DWG-based drawing, the IntelliCAD technology is invoked to provide editing capabilities in an AutoCAD-like interface,” according to the statement.
While some members of the ITC members don’t come as a surprise, others take something of a mental leap to understand. ZWSoft, a Chinese maker of 2-D and 3-D CAD technology, definitely falls into the first category, using the IntelliCAD platform to develop its ZWCAD and ZW3D technology.
Companies like Quality Life Tech in Dongguan, China, use ZWCAD for design. Quality Life Tech makes a variety of medical products including motorized wheelchairs, nebulizers, and aspirators. It calls on ZW3D to create CAD models for the mechanical and electrical parts it designs.
QLT engineers often need to modify history- or the third-party data. To do that, they use ZW3D’s translator, which can read the internal or external data in different mainstream formats, Lorenzo says.
On the other hand, Leica Map360 is “not your typical CAD application,” he adds. The IntelliCAD-based product is used to reconstruct accident and forensic-crime scenes. Investigators use the tool to map data they’ve collected from a range of mapping devices onto the same scene. Data can include aerial and point cloud imagery as well as information from global navigation satellite systems (GNSS).
In that way, investigators can digitize, analyze and visually communicate the details of a scene with details, diagrams, and courtroom exhibits.
Map360 turns data into a diagram, Lorenzo says. “It’s a way to make efficient use of all the data captured at the scene and a way to give visual guidance to those studying the evidence.”
The analysis software is from Leica Geosystems and was designed and developed by ITC member MicroSurvey Software Inc. Both Leica Geosystems and MicroSurvey are part of parent company Hexagon.
Lorenzo points to the tool as an example of the way ITC members can bundle IntelliCAD with their own solutions so their customers don’t have to purchase AutoCAD separately.
“Do you think police officers want to purchase and learn AutoCAD?” Lorenzo asks.
Over the last few years, the consortium has evolved to meet additional member needs, Lorenzo says.
“And why not? Members are in control so why not change the consortium to better meet their evolving needs?” he asks.
The ITC has funded special interest groups to tackle new emerging technologies that stray from its typical .dwg roots.
“We’ve also expanded our services to provide offshore contract developers for member’s proprietary development,” Lorenzo adds.
“As a nonprofit, cooperative platform, which is directed by our members, our job is to make members successful. And they create the definition for success,” he says. “They set our vision, our membership pricing structure, and determine our services and components. They provide vision and funding and we implement.”
IntelliCAD Technology Consortium