3D CAD shows a more solid future

Tom Shelley picks out some of the highlights and good free advice to be gleaned at this year's Solid Modelling show

Tom Shelley picks out some of the highlights and good free advice to be gleaned at this year's Solid Modelling show

The most surprising aspect of modern state-of-the-art solid modelling software is that the amount of good that it does to the design process still comes as a surprise to engineers who had not previously embraced it.

Fairly typical is the opinion of Richard Abram, head of design and development at Tempus Computers, a company in Birmingham that makes enclosures to protect laptop computers taken out into the field. Users include fire commanders who need to be connected with their on-site crews and headquarters, police officers who need to log and retrieve information from their cars and utilities such as National Grid Transco and Centrica.

He told us that adopting SolidWorks (well represented at the show), had changed design times from "Weeks or months to a few days. More importantly, there are no collisions and no need to make prototypes. When we used to have to make prototypes in hardware, this used to take two to three weeks, and if something did not fit, we would be put back three or four weeks. Now, 99 per cent of the time, things are right first time, and compared to what we had before, SolidWorks is so easy to use."

All the major CAD software vendors will be there, both in their own name and represented by their resellers. Autodesk will be presenting its latest releases: Autodesk Inventor Series 10, Autodesk Inventor Professional 10, AutoCAD Mechanical 2006 and Autodesk Vault 4. Business unit sales manager Kevin Ison told Eureka that the latest buzzwords around the company are, "Democratisation", which apparently means, "Making the technology available to more people" and "Functional modelling." "People don't like moving from 2D to 3D," Ison explained, "Going from drawing lines and circles to extruding and bosses. Less than 30 per cent of 2D users have so far migrated to 3D. People presently think in 3D and transfer their ideas to a 2D environment. We want them to get away from this. It is not that hard. Children as young as 10 or 11 in Wales are making great inroads into Inventor."

Last year Autodesk acquired Mechsoft, now incorporated into Inventor, which greatly assists matching and fitting parts together. Inventor Professional also incorporates FEA tools from ANSYS. "It is all about function driving the design as opposed to geometry driving the design", Ison continued. Significant additions include an Inventor Studio facility that includes the ability to set up lighting, incorporate textures and produce animated video. Mechanical calculators assist with the design of welded and soldered joints, plates, bearings, brakes, clamping joints, and fit and tolerance. An engineer's handbook includes a chain component wizard. A feature generator includes drag and drop modelling and 3D grips for intuitive drag based editing. Weldment design is enhanced and the software includes IGES and STEP import and export facilities. Ison summed up, "It may not quite be the Utopia engineers want, but we have tried to make Inventor help them work much more quickly while being as idiot proof as we can make it."

Bruce Boes, UGS VP of Solid Edge marketing and business strategy, will be present on Wednesday April 27th. He spoke to Eureka in advance of his visit about one of the key themes he intends to discus on the day. "Recently we have seen a significant upturn in companies making the move from 2D to 3D. While 3D has been around for some time, historically there has been reluctance by many companies to make the move. But that's changing and there are a number of factors driving this uptake.

"First, the continuous demand for broader and deeper product lines - putting more features into less space - has meant that many companies have seen an expansion in product complexity that they can no longer accommodate using 2D alone. In addition, technological advances in CAD technology that allow the mixing and matching of 2D and 3D techniques in a hybrid 2D/3D environment has allowed customers to continue to use their very efficient 2D layout processes, while making the move to 3D for complete digital mock-up. The result has been to slash Engineering Change Orders by 50 per cent or more, productivity increases of between 25 and 50 per cent and time-to-market shortened by as much as 50 per cent."

But the show is not just about software, but also about also about rapid prototyping and rapid and short run manufacturing. A section of the hall will this year be dedicated purely to subject area and branded, 'Prototype 2005'. Technologies on show will include the latest innovations in affordable 3D printing for the design office, plastic and metal based rapid part manufacturing and vacuum and RIM casting.

The shows will additionally be supported by a two day seminar programme hosted by the Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing Association (RPMA). Subjects covered will range from classes for newcomers to the technology to intermediate and advanced level discussions of practical and advanced issues.

Free talks on Solid Modelling

In addition, useful technical talks will be presented from a stage situated within the main exhibition hall, but set slightly aside from the exhibits and sound protected so as not to suffer from interference from or clashes with exhibitor demonstrations and promotional sound tracks.

Day 1 will be devoted to a selection of 'Hot topics' while day 2 will comprise 'Technology Highlights' from the exhibition.

At time of writing, the details of the program were still being crystallised but we can reveal that at 10am on day 1, ex Autodesk hardware expert, Rob Jamieson will kick off with a double slot on, "Getting the best out of your CAD hardware".

Rob opened last year's talks with a similarly titled session, which ended with up standing room only. This year he intends to pick up on similar issues but updated, taking his audience through matters users should be looking for when buying or upgrading workstations. "The most expensive is not always the best!", he says. In his talk, he plans to take a serious look at current graphics cards, essential for any workstation used for serious CAD, and offer practical advice about how to help any PC perform at its best

At 11am Peter Taylor of Art VPS will give a talk on, "Visualisation and rendering to aid product innovation". For those who don't know, his company specialises in advanced rendering technology and visualization. At 12 noon Mark Chillery of Chalice Engineering will talk about, "The benefits and limitations CAD integrated analysis". He cautions that now that FEA is available to non experts, "Integration and simplification of analysis means some of its complexities may be overlooked and misleading results generated, for example by over-simplifying in-service loads and consequently underestimating stresses in a component."

1.30pm will see Guy Desberats of Alloy Design, a man of firm opinions, ask, "Can knowledge based engineering stifle creativity?".

"The answer is," he says, "It depends: It doesn't because the most creative aspect of problem solving is actually working out what the challenges are that need to be addressed to achieve a successful result, and this part of the process won't ever be automated. "It doesn't because, simplistically, all most knowledge based systems do is apply design rules that relate to constraints over performance or manufacturability.

"The things to watch are the dangers of blind acceptance. There can be a tendency to over trust the software, and lose touch intuitively with what is going on. If the web of rules gets too complex, the dependency on IT knowledge based decisions can create a product no one actually deeply understands. If something goes wrong, it can then be extremely difficult to fault-find."

At 2pm, Andrew Connells, technical Director of Virtalis will talk about, "Virtual reality; reducing the design cycle and at 2.30 pm, John Wedrychowski of Theorem Solutions will look forwards in a presentation entitled, "Meta data and the future of product data exchange".

Solid Modelling 2005

Tom Shelley

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