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Dashboard

These two views of a dashboard were created using Bentley System's MicroStation Modeler's new integrated surface modeling. On the top is the wireframe model of the surface model shown below it. (Source: Bentley Systems, Inc.)

Mechanical Desktop

This fixture shows the solids modeling capabilities of Autodesk's latest release of Mechanical Desktop, based on ACIS 3.0 solid modeler from Spatial Technology. (Source: Autodesk, Inc.)

ACIS laws

These two figures illustrate the new capabilities in ACIS 3.0 for sweeping using ACIS laws, which are symbolic representations of equations that specify mathematical functions. On the top, a sweep was created using the default minimum rotation rail curve. The screw on the bottom was created by first creating a center line for the screw, then offsetting it with a twist law to create a helix, and then using the helix as the sweep path. (Source: Spatial Technology)

CAD Vendors Create New Solutions

Shifting alliances, the continued encapsulation of engineering expertise, and the drive to reduce the complexity of today's computer-aided design (CAD) systems are just some of the latest milestones on the path toward solids modeling becoming the de facto design engineering tool.

Capturing Engine/Engineering Knowledge

One major bugaboo about engineering data management is simply capturing data, especially the data that defines an OEM's competitive edge. Consider how this is done by Parametric Technology Corp.'s (PTC; Waltham, MA) Pro/Engine suite of standalone software modules and databases. Pro/Engine lets you capture the process of automotive engine design—capture "best practices"—and then helps you design and manufacture those engines.

For starters, Pro/Engine's interactive Model Creation Wizards helps you capture the corporate standards by asking for the complete specification requirements for part creation, such as a gear. How many teeth? How big a pitch, backlash, and separation do you want for the gearing? Sure, you could go to any engineering manual for recommendations about designing a gear pair, but these recommendations might not conform to the operating conditions you want for this gear. You may or may not have lubrication in the gear set, for instance. Or you want a certain backlash. Once this information is captured by Pro/Engine, future gear designs can be calculated simply, routinely, and repeatably. Another Wizard helps users build cylinder heads and engine blocks—two of the most complex pieces of engine geometry.

This company-specific information augments the content database that comes on a CD with Pro/Engine. This database contains fully detailed assemblies consisting of all components, assembly structures, engineering and manufacturing deliverables for 4-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC engines. Also on the CD are reusable generic templates with Pro/Engineer models, engineering knowledge (loads and conditions, kinematic solutions, and attributes), and process definitions for creating complex parts and assemblies.

When designing an engine, the Pro/Engine Process Navigator steps you through the process, including the design of such subassemblies as the alternator, crank shaft, cylinder head and block, distributor, exhaust and intake manifolds, and valve train. The interface to the Process Navigator should look familiar; it is based on the Netscape Navigator Web browser.

The result is an electronic solid model of the newly designed engine that can be sent to other PTC modules for functional simulation and analysis, as well as eventually to manufacturing. From this model come process plans, casting, tooling, and numerical control data, data for laser and probe verification technologies, and Web-enabled production documents.

The cost for an unlimited site license for Pro/Engine—software and implementation services, including training and consulting—is $500,000.

Expect to see more CAD systems in the future encapsulating knowledge. Rather than being "geometry focused systems," says Joel Orr, president of Orr Associates International (Chesapeake, VA), the CAD systems will become more like "intention-based engineering" systems. The downstream benefits, according to PTC:

  • Efficient use of advanced technology. Reduce the learning curve for advanced product modeling and technology.
  • Higher quality. Establish an efficient and repeatable product development process.
  • Maintaining consistency. Embed rules about reusability of key parts from vehicle to vehicle.
  • Faster throughput. Reduce the time to design and document products.

For example, once you reduce the design iteration cycle down to days or even hours, says Jeff Lauer, PTC's Director of Operations, Automotive Division in Southfield, MI, "you can turn around some form of a logical result very quickly.

You can ask the experts if this is what they meant and start making good, high-quality decisions. If one iteration design step takes six months, it's too long. There's too much disconnect. People forget."

And both OEMs and the suppliers lose market share.

 

Solids Modeling Is Here. Really!

Orr "loves" to look at his predictions from the days of yore. One that he's been making for at least 20 years is: "In five years, all mechanical designers will use solid modeling." Today, points out Orr, "that is still not true. Although, it may be true in five years!"

One reason this prediction is coming closer to reality can be seen in the latest release of Mechanical Desktop, version 2.0, from Autodesk, Inc. (San Rafael, CA). Mechanical Desktop is a PC-based parametric solid modeling product that competes mightily with high-end solids modeling systems. At the core of this new release are two main features. First, Mechanical Desktop 2.0 comprises the full drafting capabilities of AutoCAD Release 14, the market leader in PC-based design engineering software.


Second, the solid modeler in Mechanical Desktop is based on the most recent release of ACIS from Spatial Technology Corp. (Boulder, CO). ACIS 3.0 not only supports standard solids operations like blending and Booleans, but it also supports surface modeling tools such as skinning, lofting, net surfaces, and 3D sweeping. You can now sweep surfaces along any arbitrary 3D path, while the surface's orientation and twist is managed by simple Law functions.

 

High-Stakes Changes

 

Here are some shifts that might be of some interest to your 401k. On November 4, 1997, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) (Waltham, MA) announced its acquisition of Computervision Corporation (Bedford, MA) as a wholly owned subsidiary. "From a strategic perspective, PTC's acquisition of Computervision will immediately expand our business presence into the highest levels of the automotive and aerospace industries," says Steven Walske, chairman and CEO of PTC. PTC will continue development, maintenance, and support of Computervision's products independent of PTC's own Pro/Engineer product line.

PTC's acquisition follows two agreements EDS (Plano, TX) made about a month earlier. First, EDS and Intergraph Corporation (Huntsville, AL) intend to form a new company that will "address the growing demand for high-end CAD and manufacturing solutions and the dynamic market for Windows-based design products." The new company will combine EDS Unigraphics, including its Unigraphics, Parasolid, and Iman products, with Intergraph's mechanical CAD products, including Windows-based Solid Edge. EDS would have majority ownership of the new company.

About that same time, EDS Unigraphics and Bentley Systems, Inc. (Exton, PA) signed a licensing agreement whereby EDS' Parasolid technology will become the core solid modeling technology in several of Bentley's CAD products, including MicroStation Modeler (desktop solid modeling system), ModelServer (server products), and the upcoming MicroStation/J (Java-based desktop modeling product).

This is a major switch. Up till that announcement, Bentley has been using the ACIS solid modeler from Spatial Technology (Boulder, CO) as a kernel in Bentley's MicroStation modeler. "To be honest, it's been a struggle every inch of the way," admits Dick Trask, Bentley's Product Marketing Manager. "We now need a platform that can take us into the future, so that we can grow to address the high-end requirements of our users. The gap between the mid-range and the high-end CAD marketplace is getting smaller all the time."

For the time being, Bentley will still be using the ACIS kernel, but will also be working with EDS Unigraphics to answer users' demands that include not only the design requirements of the higher-end systems, but also the data management requirements of the associative engineering information.

The Laws function, new in this ACIS version, lets you specify equations for easily defining complex surfaces. Laws functions support standard math functions, like sine, cosine, and tangent, as well as such math operations as integration and differentiation. This can be particularly helpful for modeling complex shapes, such as a helix, which are used in the fastener and machine tool industries.

Mechanical Desktop also incorporates a new user interface. If you're familiar with Windows Explorer file management system in Microsoft Windows 95 and NT 4.0, then you're familiar with Mechanical Desktop's user interface. All the features in the part you design appear as individual line items on a hierarchical tree. You can click on any line item—any feature—to select, copy, delete, or reorder. Move a feature to a different place in your design model, and the model will display a different result.

The retail price for a new Mechanical Desktop license is $4,995.

Guri Stark, Director of Autocad's MCAD Marketing, points out that Mechanical Desktop is targeted to the Tier 1 suppliers and beyond—not necessarily the top automotive companies. Not that these users are replacing their high-end CAD systems, mind you. It's just that at $5,000 per seat, a PC-based CAD system is a lot less expensive than $20,000 per seat for the high-end system. And the PC-based system is "good enough" for many design applications. "You can model a 10,000-part assembly, but you won't be happy with the performance," admits Stark. But for tooling and fixtures, say, Mechanical Desktop has been very successful. In fact, just that market segment alone is huge. Someone at General Motors recently told Stark that the engineering work done on tooling and fixtures is forty times more than that done on the cars themselves.

 

Reducing Software
Complexity/Maintenance

Mergers and new technology is one thing, but what about the increasing complexity of software. How many of us shudder each time we update any of the software applications on our computers? Consider, for example, the software infrastructure that comprises CAD. There's the operating system, a plethora of CAD modules, third-party browsers and telecommunications applications, and the utilities that tie these modules and applications together. And all of these are continually getting revised, what with new features and the corrections to undocumented features ("bugs").

Enter Bentley Select, the "service and technology subscription program" from Bentley Systems, Inc. (Exton, PA)

Bentley Select does away with the Great Big Major Release that comes once a year or so from engineering software vendors and replaces it with a novel concept called "continuous improvement." Every quarter, Bentley sends a new CD to the subscribers of Bentley Select. (Alternatively, everything on the CD is available on Bentley's Web page the day the Bentley Select subscriber is certified.) Subscribers get new features, updates, bug fixes, even major product upgrades, and all of these can be installed with minimum disruption to the subscriber's site.

To keep the record straight, Joel Orr is quick to point out that while he's president of his own consulting company, he's also a Bentley Engineering Laureate for Bentley Systems. Nevertheless, he still speaks the truth when he says that "this whole arena in which CAD is embedded has become far more fractally complex than anyone anticipated."

 

Spending & Realigning

"CAD/CAM, CAE user spending is continuing a record growth streak in 1997," reported Daratech, Inc., last November. Daratech, a market research and technology assessment firm in Cambridge, MA, forecasted that the worldwide mechanical software revenue of developers and leading resellers will be $4.7 billion, matching the 1996 growth rate of 18.5%.

Three major factors are fueling this growth, said Daratech. Manufacturing companies worldwide see CAD/CAM/CAE software as a way to "streamline productivity and enhance their global competitiveness." Second, the software vendors are focusing their marketing efforts on "strategic industries, especially automotive companies and their suppliers." Last, engineering and manufacturing customers are migrating from 2D solutions to low- and mid-priced solids modelers.

Note that new technology is absent from this list. Sure, some new technologies have emerged lately in the CAD industry, says Joel Orr, president of Orr Associates International, but they are not as "radical" as what is happening from a marketing perspective. "In the classic marketing model, one would say by looking at the Wall Street reports that CAD/CAM is going through the typical consolidation phase that industries go through when they mature."

But are these trends? No, contends Orr. "Because of the rate of change induced mostly by the Web, I think we're seeing the beginning of a truly chaotic period in which arbitrarily small changes lead to arbitrary changes! What we're seeing is the beginning of a major realignment, breakdown of the old ways of doing things, and an emergence of new ways of doing things.

"To coin a phrase, `a paradigm shift.'"