Monday, February 23, 2009

Is History-Free Design For Real?

I get the feeling that many people view history-free, explicit, direct modeling (whatever you want to call it) as some new experiment that may or may not make it in the market. It seems that some think you really can’t do serious design work with it, that it is something only useful when simple edits are needed with non-native CAD data or when history trees get too cumbersome.  This may be due to the fact that some history-free technologies, including some that have recently been introduced, are in fact better suited for simple geometry editing rather than full on product design.

Flexible robust history-free modeling technology has been used all around the globe for the last fifteen years (or more) to design hundreds of thousands of successful products. As an example, most all of the printers you see on the shelves at Best Buy are designed, from concept to detail, using history-free modeling technology. It is real and it does work, for many companies. The percentage of companies using history-free technology for product design is certainly smaller than that of companies using history-based technology, but product design with the help of history-free technology is growing rapidly.

Just talking for PTC CoCreate Modeling, PTC claims that there are over 57,000 companies around the globe using CoCreate Modeling to design products. Most of these moved from history-based modeling after recognizing that history-free modeling better supported their processes than did history-based. I can tell you that most of these companies know intimately the benefits of history-based modeling, but they chose history-free, usually based on process and product requirements. There are certainly some that tried it and moved back, but the number of companies using history-free technologies for product design is growing. I would suspect that the same is true for Kubotek and SpaceClaim.  This explains why other CAD vendors are trying to introduce similar capabilities as quickly as possible.

Here is a quick collage of images that represent a small fraction of a percent of real, successful products that have been brought to market with the help of history-free modeling (courtesy of the PTC CoCreate web site). From Aerospace to automotive, from high-tech electronics to machinery. They have all realized the benefits of history-free product design, and continue to bring innovative products to the market in a competitive, timely and successful manor - without a history tree.

Using history-free modeling for product design is not some new concept.  It is real and has been proven to help many companies around the globe innovate and successfully compete in their market.

History-free does not mean that you have to give up design intent.  CoCreate Modeling, as well as a few other tools, allow for 3D features, constraints, parameters, driving and driven dimensions, tolerances, GD&T, and annotation, all directly on the 3D parts and assemblies.  History-free simply means that you are interacting directly with geometry rather than through the recorded sketches, parameters and features that are structured in the typical history tree during the modeling process.  It doesn't fit every company, but it would be wise to be sure you are using the best tools to support your processes and requirements.

Now for a commercial:  If you would actually like to try history-free design, PTC is hosting two free hands-on workshops coming up in mid March.  March 17 in San Jose and March 19 in Boston (Needham).  I will be at each and will be providing a quick presentation on the technologies and the benefits to product development, and then you will spend the rest of the time with some hands-on introduction and training.  Should be a fun time.  So if you are in the area, please stop by.  Here is a link to the registration.

Oh, and it looks like they are giving away a Nintendo Wii to some lucky attendee. (Maybe if we get tired of modeling we can bowl)


Monday, February 16, 2009

The Maturity Curve of Product Development

Throughout my career I have had the privilege of visiting a great many different product development and manufacturing companies, from Ford, Boeing and other giants to the small mom-&-pop shops.  From high-tech to aerospace to automotive and machinery.  (I’m actually writing this while on another airplane coming home from more visits) I find it fascinating and enjoyable to take tours and talk to people about their responsibilities and how they fit into the greater process of product development.  Also of interest to me are the types of tools these people use to support their responsibility and the greater process.  Tools can be put into three simple categories; creators, managers and consumers.  Of course, most are some combination of all three, but will most likely focus on one more than another.  So how do the tools support the process and how well does the process deliver to the business objectives?

Throughout my visits I have seen the spectrum. From drafting boards (yes, they still exist) to the total absence of 2D drawings (although still very rare).  I’ve tried to capture this spectrum in what I call my product development maturity curve, or - whatever. There are certainly a thousand different ways to look at it, but this is mine, (so far):

There seems to be two basic factors that drive companies up the curve; #1: the business – basically the objectives and drivers associated with successfully competing in the business you are in, and, #2: the desire and willingness to excel.  #1 is something that every company has to deal with, but will not necessarily drive your processes up the curve.  #2 is also required to make the move, but unfortunately is often considered optional and is pushed back or neglected in favor of getting things done by the safe tried and true methods, i.e.; there is always a risk/cost associated with “change” and “new”.  There are many reasons for not moving up the curve.  The following are some of the reasons given to me by many of the companies that I have visited. “Our piece/parts are so simple we really don’t need to move up.”  “Our culture and personnel are just not ready; it would cause too much chaos.”  “We are in a highly regulated industry that keeps us where we are.”  “Our supply chain cannot support the move up.” “We are starting a new important project and just don’t have the time.”  These are all real and to some extent valid, although they are not inhibitors, as witnessed in several other companies.

The usual question to ask when considering a move up the curve is; what will be gained by making a move up and at what cost?

This question should quickly take you back to:

What are your business objectives and do your processes deliver to those objectives?  Is there any way to improve process to better deliver on business objectives?  Can process improvements be staged to minimize disruption?  What benefits can be gained – improvements, reductions, …?  What is the value?


Are the right toolsets in place to support the proposed process improvement?  What tools will need to be replaced?  What tools will need to be added? How will culture, practices and personnel need to change?  What is the cost?

And last, but not least; what is the ROI?  (There, I just put several months of work into a few simple sentences)

I can tell you that in just the last two months, three of the companies that I have visited are experiencing budget and schedule overruns in their PLM and/or xRP deployments.  And in every case the reason given, after asking a few probing questions, was that they too quickly jumped to the solution (tool) before looking in more detail at the business drivers, existing processes, process requirements, culture,  – and – the future.  In all three cases there was a desire, and a budget, to progress up the curve.  But unfortunately the cost will now far exceed the benefit, for the foreseeable future.

PLM is typically viewed as a “manager” toolset, like the name suggests, (of course there are also elements of creation and consumption in PLM).  As such it is obvious how it can impact process and if structured and deployed properly can support a move up the maturity curve, (as a matter of fact you cannot be successful in stage III without it).  The “creator” tools also have a huge impact on process and the ability to move up the curve.

The “creator” tools can be used to create massive amounts of data.  Can this data be managed properly so that it can be found, understood and extracted as needed throughout the process and its lifecycle? Is the data managed in such a way that it will support a move up the curve? Can the data be consumed as needed throughout the lifecycle to get the maximum value from it? Will it be consumable, of value, and support the future move up the curve?

In product development, one of your biggest “creators” is the CAD tool.  Besides geometry, there is a significant amount of data that is also created and associated with this geometry.  Stuff like history-trees, sketches, features, parameters, view sets, drawings, 3D dimensions/tolerances/notes, 2D dimensions/tolerances/notes, title blocks, FEA results, engineering calculations, tool paths, animations, images and so on.  Consider the data that is being created, the time that is invested to create it, the infrastructure needed to support and manage it and the various tools that can “consume” it and generate value from it.  What is the cost and what is the value?  Will it support/enable or inhibit the move up the curve?  Some of your data may be like the music on an old 8-track tape – the data is there, it may be good (probably not), and it is likely you will never be able to get any value from it again.

What I see to be much too common as I visit companies is the tendency for the selection of tools to be weighted heavily by the preference of the IT organization and/or the users.  These people are certainly very intelligent and most likely have the best interest of the company in mind as they make these decisions, but unfortunately as recognized by the three examples mentioned earlier, business drivers, process requirements and a clear vision for the future, are often weighted lower than other criteria in the selection process.  Shouldn’t these be at the top?

Where does your company fit on the curve? Where do you need to be to compete in your business today – next year, and the next?  Are you paving the way, or are you just trying to survive by tried and true methods?  Are you moving up the curve?  It’s a good bet that your competitors are.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Inventor Fusion – More ConFusion

I'm pulling a few quotes for an article by Kenneth Wong published at Desktop Engineering.  The title of the article is: “Autodesk Joins the Hybrid CAD Movement with Inventor Fusion".  Has Autodesk solved the unsolvable?

Comment #1:

So what distinguishes Inventor Fusion’s underlying technology from its rival Synchronous Technology, made available via Siemens’ NX and Solid Edge software? The answer is, in Anagnost’s words, “a two-way street; the ability to move back and forth seamlessly between the two modeling paradigms.”

When creating 3D geometry, a CAD system is either capturing information about the modeling operation; history-based, or it is not; history-free.  When editing, you are either editing the captured information resulting in different geometry, or you are directly editing the geometry.  It really is that simple.  Some argue with me on this, but how can it capture and not capture at the same time?  It can get a bit more complicated with direct edits within a history-based system.  These edits (including information about the edit) are usually captured within the tree to preserve them during the next regeneration of the tree.  The exception is when a parameter of an existing modeling feature, within the tree, is dynamically and graphically changed and it appears to the eye as a “direct edit”.  In any case the rule still applies. So how do you “move back and forth seamlessly between the two modeling paradigms” of creating history and not creating history, or perhaps editing history or editing geometry?  Hum... Sounds confusing to me. 

Comment #2:

Anagnost says, with Inventor Fusion, you can make a change using direct editing, but if you wish to parametrically refine the geometry deformation after the fact, you may go back to the feature tree to modify the parameters. He clarifies that Inventor Fusion automatically figures out the parametric modeling steps necessary to accomplish the direct edits, “including the order of dependencies.”

This comment only refers to editing geometry, so maybe I'm making the incorrect assumption that you can actually create geometry/parts using Inventor Fusion.  Maybe it is just an editing tool.  The comment: “Inventor Fusion automatically figures out the parametric modeling steps necessary to accomplish the direct edits, “including the order of dependencies.”” would indicate that Autodesk has solved a very complex problem that many companies for many years, including SolidWorks, have been trying to solve: the ability to scan a dumb solid, or partially dumb solid, and build a useful feature tree, including parameters, that fits the users design intent.  This statement would indicate that Inventor Fusion has the capability to walk through the topology of a solid model and identify and recognize meaningful features from it (this is nothing new: feature recognition). Then it would be able to create and associate sketches (if needed), parameters and conditions to these recognized features. Then, order the features in a meaningful and useful way.  And it would all need to be done in a way that would fit the users design intent - “automatically”.  This would be very cool, but I kind of doubt it – show me.

Comment #3

"Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge development at Siemens, says, “If you make a decision to move to Synchronous Technology’s way of modeling, you actually have no reason to revert back to the traditional way of modeling. Synchronous Technology is a superset of technologies.”"

When you move from “History Mode” to “History Free Mode” in NX or Solid Edge, you lose the history tree, and the system will clearly warn you of this.  With Synchronous Technology you can still parametrically control the history-free model, ("superset of technologies", i.e. parametrics with history-free modeling), just like you can in CoCreate Modeling, but you do lose the tree.  With ST you can toggle back to “History Mode”, but it will not and cannot recreate a useful tree and feature structure from the history-free “dumb” model.  As such there is infact, as Dan states, "no reason to revert back”.  The term "superset of technologies" is refering to the combination of parametrics with history-free modeling, not history-based with history-free.  Combining parametrics with history-free modeling is something that most all history-free systems on the market can already do.  It's nothing new, although ST does a nice job of it. Are these guys talking about the same thing?  "two modeling paradigms"? "superset of technologies"?  I'm confused.

It is great to see Autodesk jumping on the direct modeling wagon to further validate the need for more intuitive and flexible modeling tools, and it will certainly be enjoyable to watch as things mature.  Maybe they really have invented some amazing new technology.  We will watch and see.  Just don’t get too excited or perhaps baffled by all the flashy marketing stuff.


Monday, February 2, 2009

SpaceClaim Response to My Topology Review

SpaceClaim requested the part that I used for the History-Free shootout in my last post. I sent the part to them along with the move positions and they quickly sent the following response. Thanks to Blake Courter of SpaceClaim for taking the time to do this.

As I mentioned in the post, I was moving the features only using the default settings and options, for all three systems. Blake points out here that there is an easy option in the Move function of SpaceClaim to solve some of the more complex topology problems. Since history-free modeling features do not have a “recipe” associated with them to tell them how to behave, it is important for the history-free system to offer options such as what SpaceClaim is showing below. This can provide more flexibility for managing the possible results.

Below are Blake’s comments and images


Hey Paul,

Here are my findings on your part. I did use our Detach First option on most edits, because this option is optimized for longer walks across topology.

#3: It seems that when all three are moved the exact same distance, we get a slightly different result. This did not show up when I wasn’t using your test part.

#5: Everything works beautifully with Detach First on.

#6: Everything works beautifully with Detach First on.

#8: I didn’t see any order-related problems.  With Detach First, we get holes in the top fin, which are easy to fill.

#9: Everything works beautifully with Detach First on.

#10: With Detach First on, we get holes on top.  Easy to fill. Otherwise they stay put.  This is a great example of why we have the Detach First option.

#11: With Detach First on, we get holes in the fin, but there doesn’t appear to be any order-depended problem.

#12: We get a different result with Detach First on.  Another great example of how the option helps.

#13: Cool thing with Detach First: the holes leave surfaces behind so you can move other objects and then reuse the surfaces to make the holes again.

R&D tells me that the default behavior is even smarter with our next release, but I think that the important points are:

  • It is easy to make all of these edits.
  • Topology changes are usually ambiguous.  Even if you don’t get exactly the result you expect, it is easy to adjust the given result into the one you want. 
  • Some of the issues you had appear specific to your test part, and we suspect they are less likely in the field.