Siemens’ JT Data Format Gets a Nod from ISO

The year 2012 ended with a major win for (and perhaps a sigh of relief from) Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division. Namely, in December 2012, Siemens’ JT data format, a lightweight data format that makes it possible to view and share digital 3D product information in real time throughout all phases of a product’s lifecycle, was approved by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) as an International Standard. JT enhances collaboration by enabling manufacturers to move 3D product data among the large number of computer-aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management (PLM) software applications supporting the standard. With its acceptance as the world’s first ISO International Standard for lightweight 3D visualization, JT should enable manufacturers to free themselves from a dependence on vendors’ proprietary formats and more easily extend the use of 3D visualization and collaboration throughout their business.

Siemens PLM Software worked closely with ProSTEP iViP, a global consortium committed to advancing open standards, to complete the process of gaining ISO International Standard status for JT. ProSTEP iViP was also instrumental in the publication of the JT File Format Reference document as a Publicly Available Specification (ISO PAS 14306) in October 2009, which was the first step toward becoming an International Standard. ISO IS14306 provides a detailed and comprehensive description of the JT data format, enabling corporations and software vendors to further leverage JT in their PLM workflow and software applications. JT acceptance was coordinated through TC 184/SC4, the ISO body responsible for industrial data, through a global ballot process.

What This All Means

It is a big deal for any vendor to “own” a standard (truth be said, Siemens doesn’t own this standard, but is still proud to have brought it to the forefront, with the help and work of other members of the JT Open Consortium). Siemens should look forward to being regarded as a proponent of openness and for the ensuing positive impact this will have on the entire PLM and engineering community. But does it mean that now everyone must meet the JT standard and probably undergo some level of rework? The JT file format that was approved as an international standard is the same file format that was already published and widely used in industry for several years. Those companies and software vendors that are already using JT can continue using it with no rework. For manufacturers, the conversion process is the same as it was between earlier JT releases, and there is good translator support available.

Vendors that are currently not supporting the standard but would now want to start offering support would need to undergo some rework. While some Siemens PLM/CAD competitors do use JT (e.g., Bentley Systems, PTC, and Autodesk), many do not (and thus there are a plethora of JT plug-in tools for their products in the market). So how likely is it that these vendors (e.g., Dassault Systèmes, SAP, and Oracle) will embrace (or even accept) the JT format just because it is now ISO anointed? Some of these other vendors promote 3DXML as the data format. In theory, this standardization will allow CAD-agnostic PLM providers such as Aras to replace a CAD-based PLM vendor, or for someone to switch to another CAD-based PLM system. A certain number of companies will switch each year, but I don’t think this will result in mass conversion, as the cost of a migration is still very high.

JT vs. STEP vs. 3DPDF

JT is mostly about 3D visualization, so how does it compare with the STEP and 3DPDF formats, which are intended for other purposes such as exchanging and communicating 2D, text, audio, video, and image files? One of the differentiators of JT compared with STEP is that JT does not need to undergo multiple translation cycles in and out of the different systems. Once exported, it is consumed—as a JT—by other CAD systems for virtually any use case other than editing. When combined with Siemens Teamcenter PLM, the various native CAD files can be managed as a multi-CAD dataset with the complete assembly being represented by JT files that are linked to their CAD counterparts. As mentioned earlier, JT translators are available for all major CAD systems.

JT is about 3D visualization and collaboration, so users generally create JT data along with their CAD models and keep them in a managed environment. JT data can then be used by many applications without being translated again. STEP is a data exchange format, so it is about taking all the data from one system to another, including the design intent. STEP is always turned back into a proprietary format before being used in a PLM workflow. Finally, 3DPDF is a document format, and it enables 3D content in PDF documents. So these different formats are mostly complementary to JT.

Some observers wonder what might happen with the upcoming JT 2.0 version, which will supposedly not be based on the Parasolid 3D modeling kernel. Will that mean yet another disruption and migration of data exchange standards? To that end, nothing is changing with regard to Siemens’ support for JT or commitment to update the aforementioned JT File Format Reference. Siemens will continue to work with the JT Open organization and keep JT useful for industry. All changes made to the reference will be submitted to ISO for acceptance and publication in the ISO specification. ISO standards are forward compatible, so moving to the new versions of JT should not be disruptive to any business.

Recommended Reading

Beyond PLM
Interoperability Will Play a Key Role in a Success of Future CAD/PLM. January 26, 2013.

Design World
Should You Use JT or 3D PDF? August 31, 2012.

Desktop Engineering
Siemens PLM Software Walks the Walk with Openness Promise. December 21, 2012.
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