9/1/2010 | 6 MINUTE READ

CAD: Historic, Simple & In The Cloud

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Changes are happening across the spectrum of computer-aided design (CAD) products. Here are three to show improved ease of use, modeling performance, and collaboration capabilities are still the major drivers for revising CAD software.


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History is history

When it comes to computer-aided design (CAD), this is true: Parametric/history-based modeling works. It records all the steps in placing and then extruding, sweeping, and otherwise moving points, lines, and curves into 3D shapes. When modifying those shapes, designers need only go back through the history and enter a new number or tweak an entity. The modeler then automatically updates, adjusting the model accordingly. "For simple models, it works great," says John McCullough, account executive for Kubotek USA (kubotekusa.com), a supplier of 3D-based engineering software. Now for the inevitable but. If the model is constructed from dozens upon dozens of steps, the designer going back into the history may find the model should have been constructed differently. But editing this history can lead to undesirable ripple effects. The model's construction "turns into a brain teaser," continues McCullough. "Our modeler"—KeyCreator—"is more a 'think as you go' product. It doesn't record those steps."

KeyCreator, now up to version 9, lets designers edit models without knowing how the model was created, who created it, nor the order that points, lines, and shapes were created. Kubotek calls this "direct dimension," a "no-nonsense style to CAD design and productivity." When editing models, designers explicitly move faces as needed. Where faces are complicated by several blends coming together, designers can deconstruct the face by pulling off blends. This removes clutter, simplifies the model, and lets the designer focus on the appropriate faces.

Direct modeling becomes valuable further down the product development process "when [the designers are] receiving models from somebody else, and they don't have the tree," explains McCullough. This is especially true when creating a mold from a customer's geometry. Speaking of mold makers, he says they "don't care about the original history of the object being designed. They don't want to run into all the headaches of trying to manage the history tree. They just want to work with the geometry and make an inverse of it." Another benefit of doing away with the parametric approach is that KeyCreator can rapidly "de-feature" models for downstream applications, such as numerical control machining, finite element analysis, packaging, and documentation.

In addition to faster performance in version 9, display performance has been improved, noticeably so for assembly models comprised of large numbers of entities. Also in the new version, the initial selection prompt for the Dimension Driven Edit function lets designers select edges in addition to dimensions. This saves designers from having to exit an editing function to dimension the face. New entity mating capabilities let designers control and constrain models as needed. Plus, entity mates will only move as far as permitted by the entity mate. For example, an axial mate lets the mated entity move along and around a defined axis, but not off it. This capability saves clicks and time when designing, say, the horn pins in an injection mold.

KeyCreator sells for $3,700. It includes tools for 2D, solids, and surfacing, as well as specialized functions, such as for sheet metal work. KeyCreator includes translators for several common and defacto read/write formats. Optional translators exist for Pro/Engineer, NX/Unigraphics, and Catia V4/V5.


2D's value reinforced

Two-dimensional CAD just got a huge vote-of-confidence from a major 3D solids modeler vendor: Dassault Systèmes (3ds.com). No, Dassault is not going into the 2D business. Instead, Dassault is helping SolidWorks and Catia users move from 2D to 3D by offering a free, modern, professional, and Dassault-supported 2D CAD program that works with DWG/DXF files and 2D workflows. The program is DraftSight, an OEM version of the ARES Commander Edition 2D program from Graebert GmbH (graebert.com).

(It should be noted that years ago, SolidWorks offered IntelliCAD-based DWGeditor to SolidWorks users. Three free licenses of DWGeditor were given for each license of SolidWorks. DWGeditor product was later renamed "2D Editor" because California-based Autodesk Corp. (autodesk.com), maker of AutoCAD and other CAD software products, took legal action to protect the "DWG" name. 2D Editor will no longer be updated.)

Does the world really need another 2D CAD program? Well, yes, especially with the demise of 2D Editor. Some customers will use DraftSight to migrate from AutoCAD to SolidWorks or Catia. Some of those customers will use DraftSight so they can continue using their DWG/DXF files for reference or for normal workday use. Some customers will use DraftSight as a bridge to share and exchange DWG/DXF files within their supply chain. The diehards—designers and engineers who still begin their design concepts in 2D (think drawing on napkins)—will just want to replace their current 2D program with something better and current. Especially if that something is free. DraftSight will let these users create, read, and share DWG files until design development eventually requires a 3D modeler. (Of course, Dassault would prefer that 3D modeler be Dassault's.) At the other end of product development, many companies need to produce 2D drawings from their 3D models for the manufacturing floor or for customer documentation.

People can download DraftSight anonymously (no registration required) from draftsight.com, 3ds.com, or solidworks.com. To print or save files, users will need to submit their email address. (DraftSight requires this re-registration annually. Dassault wants to track product usage.) The program weighs in at 43 MB and runs on the Microsoft Windows XP, Vista, and 7 operating systems. (Linux and Apple Mac versions should be out soon.) "Community" support is available free, which includes online training videos, tutorials, and user forums. Users wanting DraftSight technical support and access to application programming interfaces (API) can purchase an enterprise license (reportedly $250 per year). To date, an API for LISP programming exists; planned are APIs for C++, COM, and .NET.

DraftSight has some very sophisticated CAD features, including toolbars, mouse gestures, wheel-mouse (dynamic) pan and zoom, layers and layer manager, polygonal viewports, background masks for notes, polar snap setting, the ability to view proxy objects, hatch pattern files, and templates. These are in addition to the usual entity creation, draft, drawing setup, and editing tools designers would expect. Interoperability features include reading DWG/DXF files from version 2.5 on and writing the same to any version from R12 to R2007-2010. Company officials claim DraftSight loads 2D CAD files significantly faster than SolidWorks 2D Editor. (Various postings on the web seem to confirm that claim.)


The cloud(y) future is good

"Nobody wants to wait for [displays] to load and nobody wants yet another viewer plug-in to install," says Chris Boothroyd, CEO of Vancouver-based Aftercad, Inc. (aftercad.com). Still in beta, Aftercad's Project Immersion makes 3D content immediately and interactively ready to use and share, what Aftercad calls "zero-wait state 3D." There's no client-side software to install. No plug-ins. No ActiveX controls. No Java applets. In fact, no CAD files are downloaded. Instead, the web browser displays 3D content using AJAX, which is short for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, a collection of web technologies for retrieving data from a server without interfering with the browser display.) The AJAX-based user interface works tightly with software as a service (SaaS) technology on the server side. This yields speedy, very responsive renderings, regardless of the complexity and resolution of the 3D content.

Once a user's browser lands at a website, users can move around the displayed scenes at will, including zoom, pan, and selecting what layers to view. Project Immersion uses the Unity 3D Engine from San Francisco-based Unity Technologies (unity3d.com), a game technology developer, to infuse real-life physics in the displayed 3D scenes. For instance, dropping a part on a floor in the display will either damage the floor or shatter the part if that's what would happen in real life.

Project Immersion's immediacy, interactiveness, client-side simplicity, and technological openness makes SaaS and the nascent cloud computing environment more palatable to people using 3D data over the Internet, such as designers and engineers, and to people managing and footing the bill for the data communications infrastructure, such as IT and corporate bean counters. Project Immersion also fits nicely with HTML5, the next revision of the HTML standard for presenting content on the World Wide Web. HTML5 will include standards for video playback, rendering of graphics objects, and drag-and-drop. These are functions that so far have come from third-party browser plug-ins—plug-ins that Project Immersion does without. 


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