Solid future

Tom Shelley reports on some of the opinions, debates and new software revealed at this year’s SolidWorks World event



CAD in the future is likely to include advice on how to be more environmentally friendly, to include haptic interfaces and to combine biotechnical design with mechanical design, according to opinions at this year’s SolidWorks World event.
In the near term, the emphasis is on improved graphics, ease of use, and speeding up the design process for traditional mechanical design.
All the CAD companies, SolidWorks included, are very open to suggestions – most things are possible in software if somebody is willing to invest the time and effort – so we went away from the event with the strong feeling that kites were being flown to inspire ideas, and it is up to users to tell software producers what is needed.
Some years ago, we encountered SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick and asked him about the future of CAD, to which he responded: “I will not be satisfied until our CAD software is as reliable as my PDA.”
On encountering him again, he replied: “We still aren’t quite there yet. CAD is one of the most complicated computer applications there is.”
When we asked whether there were any plans to introduce hand gesture interaction of the sort developed and demonstrated by Nasa some years ago, chief technology officer Austin O’Malley said: “We have been looking at haptic devices. The trouble is, you need a lot of hardware horsepower. An idea like that comes up then it falls from grace, after which it slowly comes back. So interacting directly is still way off. We are trying to let the engineer use the tools he has. Applying a feature at present is like sculpting – making small blows on stone – when you really want to work with clay.”
This concept has led to the most striking enhancement in SolidWorks 2008 – its graphics.
Photorealism is going to be available all the time if the user wants it. Drag handles bring up rulers, so that dimension changes can either be achieved by eye, or snapped to values. Pushing on a handle associated with a boss with a chamfer can turn it into a hole with a countersink. When the user selects an edge, the software offers logical choices. When fillets meet at a corner, all logical choices are offered and can be selected from a drag and drop manager.
A new search facility that seems to have been inspired by Google Desktop allows any feature of any part to be found quickly. These features can then be re-used in other parts.
Fast preview models will load in “well under five seconds”. None of the detailed models are loaded into memory until parts of interest are opened. 2008 nonetheless preserves all assembly mates even when the parts are not loaded into memory.

Sustainable design
Among the highlights of the event were several presentations on sustainability and its link with engineering design – including a discussion on the role that CAD should play in this.
Anna Jaffe, co-director of the Vehicle Design Summit, revealed that this worldwide collaboration between engineering students to develop sustainable cars has already resulted in four pre-prototypes – one inspired by the Sinclair C5 – with plans to take one design on into crash testing and production.
The four pre-prototypes came out of the Summit held during the summer of 2006 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 55 student engineers from 21 universities spent 8 weeks coming up with four designs: one human/solar/electric powered, and the others powered by biofuel, fuel cells and straight electric.
Jaffe then revealed revealed that VDS 1.0 is to be followed by VDS 2.0, in which design will be “distributed all round the world” with the goal of producing prototypes of a car capable of 200 mpg, 150 mile range, 0 to 60 in under 6 seconds and 120 mph top speed in 8 months. Up to 40 pre-production prototypes are to be built for crash testing in two years.
The project is heavily backed by SolidWorks, which has supplied SolidWorks for the CAD, Cosmos for the FEA and PDMWorks to manage the collaboration.
Jaffe said: “We’re aiming at a modular unit where we can change fuels so that the base electric drive will interface to different power plants. There is a pretty big jump moving from prototypes to a production vehicle”.
The monocoque will be composite. The VDS 2.0 specification is for a five-passenger car, which is much closer to a standard sedan than what we have been doing”.
Kishore Boyalakuntla, SolidWorks’ national technical manager for analysis products, made the point that SolidWorks (or any other leading edge CAD tool) is already of great assistance in designing for sustainability. Minimising weight, designing for repairability and disassembly and optimal choice of materials are all improved by using advanced CAD and FEA.

Pointers

* The next release of SolidWorks will offer photorealism and pull handles that allow features to be fully pushed and pulled – even to the point of turning a boss with a fillet into a hole with a countersink, plus pop up rulers to snap to dimensions

* Integration with biotech and haptic interfaces are being researched and considered, but there are no plans to incorporate them yet in mainstream products unless users demand it

* Encouraging and enhancing the use of CAD to improve sustainability is becoming a major issue

Author
Tom Shelley

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