CAD shapes up for the future

Tom Shelley reports on up and coming developments in the CAD world, some of which can be trialled, and others expected to soon become available.

Future engineers will be benefitting from interfaces, graphics and modelling advances made in the games and entertainment industries, according to an industry insider at a recent forum.

At Autodesk's recent Digital Prototyping Forum, Gadget Show presenter Ortis Deley described Autodesk's software as already being 'straight out of Star Trek'. But Tim Doidge, the company's technical sales manager Northern Europe, added: "We are taking a lot of ideas from video games and seeing how we can incorporate technologies, such as Wii, into our products."

Keith Perrin, senior industry manager for manufacturing, commented: "The keyboard is still there, even on the iPad, but these are things we are looking into. Maybe in five years' time, you will put your finger on something to wipe it out."

Deley made reference to gloves equipped with receptors, whose positions are picked up by infra red cameras, widely used in the film industry to capture motion and long considered as a means for interacting with CAD. Perrin responded that standards for alternative interfaces were emerging, such as the pinch on smart phones and the Wii. He added that there is already an App for the iPhone called 'Distant Suns'.

When the user holds the iPhone up, internal sensors detect its orientation and direction, allowing the app to identify planets and constellations in line of sight. Doidge then mentioned the virtual cameras used to film 'Avatar', which show in real time how the actors look in their alien representations in the film and suggested:?"In a few months, a breakthrough technology could lead to a dramatic change in the way things are done."

Important changes are already occurring, such as the 'Project Krypton' feedback dials from Autodesk Labs that provide real-time information on a plastic part's manufacturability, cost efficiency, and the environmental impact of the selected material. As well as Inventor and Inventor, the preview add on works with SolidWorks and Pro/Engineer.

The idea has been around for a while, as has downloading CAD software onto mobile phones for sketching. This never really caught on while it was limited to conventional phones and PDAs but, with the advent of the iPad, Perrin said that there have now been 2.5 million downloads of Sketchbook Pro.

Improvements that are to become available shortly include the ability to go from Alias to Photoshop and then back into Alias to edit. Autodesk bought Algor 18 months bringing it into the finite element analysis arena, and recently, said Perrin, a 15 million element problem was solved using a cloud of machines.

A preview of an optimisation facility for Inventor that depends on cloud computing is downloadable from Autodesk Labs. Optimisations on desktop have in the past taken hours or days to complete, so for most users, cloud computing is the only sensible alternative.

While the software is performing simulations in the cloud, engineer can continue to do other work on their desktop. When the design optimisation is complete, the technology preview's job monitor automatically notifies the user. Mobile users can shutdown Inventor or even the machine after starting. Once the process is complete, the user only has to open their design and enter the optimisation environment, where the results will be waiting.

Tom Shelley

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