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First Look: Solid Edge Mobile Viewer for iPad and Android

By Ralph Grabowski, September 19, 2013

It's become common in the last two years for CAD vendors to release viewers for mobile devices, usually at no cost. These let us see 2D and 3D models on our smartphones and tablets. Siemens PLM Software last year released a free viewer for iPad and this year for Android tablets.

Solid Edge Mobile Viewer interactively displays 3D models exported from Solid Edge. Using multi-touch gestures, we view the models by rotating, panning, and zooming them. Images of the models can be saved and sent to others using the tablets' communication facilities, such as email or Dropbox. Currently, the app displays only 3D models from Solid Edge ST5 (on the iPad) and from ST6 (on both iPad and Android). The upcoming Solid Edge ST6 MP1 due in mid-September adds the export of 2D drawings to both devices.

I was interested to see how the viewers worked, and if there was any difference between the iPad and Android versions. In particular, I was interested in their sharing capability: how easy would it be to get files onto and off the tablets?

I downloaded both apps, one for my iPad running iOS and the other for my ASUS Transformer tablet running Android. It turns out that these viewers are not designed for use on devices smaller than 7”, such as iPhone, and so both Apple's and Google's app stores would not allow me to download them to my phones. An update in September will allow the Android viewer to run on smart phones; there is no similar plan for iPhone.

Here are the direct links for downloading the viewers (see figure 1):

Figure 1: Solid Edge Mobile Viewer page in the Google app store

Solid Edge Mobile Viewer for iPad Tablets

I first tested the app on my iPad. Tapping the Solid Edge Mobile Viewer button on the iPad's home screen brought up an initial title screen, and then showed the file page listing the drawings available (see figure 2). I was pleased to see that many sample models are provided by Siemens PLM, as some CAD vendors provide none.

Figure 2: The home screen displays the available files

There were four icons along the top whose purpose puzzled me (see figure 3). Using Google, I found online help at http://www.soliddna.com/SEHelp/ST5/EN/w_z/xid453677.htm. It turns out the buttons segregate the thumbnails into file types: parts, sheet metal models, assemblies, and all models. The update slated for September will add 2D drawings.

Figure 3: The control buttons for segregating files by model type (center), and the sharing button (at right)

To the far right is the all-important Share button. Its purpose is to let me share files, but it would not let me share the demo files. I'll come back to this button later in this review.

Tapping the thumbnail image of a model opened it in the viewer (see figure 4). This app displays models only in fully shaded mode; wireframe and other display modes are not available. I found that the following gestures manipulated the view of the model:

Figure 4: Editing surfaces using Solid Edge ST 6's ordered mode

Along the top of the screen are icons that provide controls for viewing and sharing (see figures 5a and 5b).

Figure 5a: Controls for viewing and sharing the model on iPad

Figure 5b: Controls for viewing and sharing the model on Android

Ignoring for now the button at the far left, here is what the buttons do:

Tap the icon at the far left to return to the file listing screen.

Solid Edge Mobile Viewer for Android Tablets

After I downloaded and installed the app for my Android tablet, I found that it operated exactly the same as the iPad version; even the gestures are identical. There are just two differences: the user interface is adjusted to meet Google's guidelines, and it has many more sharing options.

Getting Models from Solid Edge to Mobile Viewer

I mentioned earlier that I could not share the models, because perhaps they were demos. To test sharing, I had to get my own files. To do so, I went into Solid Edge ST 6, opened a model, and then used the File | Save As | Save for Tablet command, which saves models in an SEV format. This XML-based format was developed a few years ago for the stand-alone Solid Edge Viewer utility that runs on desktop computers. (I wonder why viewers don't use JT?)

Now, to get the file onto my tablets: I tried two methods - email and Dropbox - and both worked as I expected in Android; they didn't, however, work as well on the iPad, as I explain later.

For the email method, I used these steps:

  1. On the desktop computer, I wrote an email to myself and then attached the SEV file.
  2. On the Android tablet, I opened the email, and tapped the attachment to download it.
  3. After it downloaded, I tapped the attachment again, and choose Solid Edge MV to view the file.

On both the desktop and the tablet I used Gmail. The process worked on Android but not on iPad: tapping the attachment opened it as a text file. Because I couldn't figure out how to get Mobile Viewer for iPad to open the SEV file, I turned to Dropbox.

The Dropbox method works similarly to email: on the desktop computer, I copied the SEV file into one of my Dropbox folders. On both tablets, I opened the Dropbox app and then tapped the SEV file. After it downloaded file to be downloaded, Dropbox prompted me to choose the Solid Edge MV app. The Mobile Viewer opened and displayed the model automatically. This worked equally well on Android and iPad.

Now that I had a non-demo file on both mobile viewers, I could test that Share button. In Android, many share options are available (see figure 6); on iPad, only email is available for sharing SEV files.

Figure 6: Android's many options for sharing models

Conclusion

The Solid Edge Mobile Viewer is a good first start from Siemens PLM. The app operates and displays 3D models quickly on both of the tablets on which I tested it. It shares models as SEV files or raster screen grabs. The iPad and Android versions operate the same, but the Android version is better at receiving and sharing files.

From this base, Siemens PLM should add functions found in viewers from competitors, such as cutting models, displaying standard views and in a variety of render styles, and being able to measure and annotate models. Until the next update, Mobile Viewer works well for just seeing 3D models on portable devices.

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About the Author

Ralph Grabowski, TenLinks managing editor, is one of the leading CAD journalists and authors, with over a 100 books and many hundreds of articles. His upFront.eZine may be the industry's longest running newsletter. Ralph holds a civil engineering degree. More...

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