Monday, October 18, 2010

Solid Edge ST3, My First Impressions (part 2)

In Part 1 I described my observations regarding how Solid Edge ST3 lines up with some of the typical issues related to traditional parametric history-based modeling. In this Part 2 I will share some of the other crazy observations I have:

Here is a statement coming from “You no longer have to choose which modelling workflow to use up front, instead it is a simple case of switching between ordered (traditional) and synchronous whenever required.” And, by the way, if you “switch”, or move an ordered feature to Synchronous, there is no going back. It’s a one way trip. Siemens still provides no ability to rationalize the history-tree (ordered) from a direct model/feature (synchronous). Something that Autodesk is struggling to solve with their Change Manager. With SE ST3 it seems real simple to move ordered features to synchronous. Since it is a one-way trip, I wonder how long it will take before all your Solid Edge history-based (ordered) data is completely history-free (synchronous/unordered).

When reading about SE ST3 I started having flashbacks to the mid 90’s. This started sounding strangely familiar. At the time I was fairly close to the developers of TriSpectives at 3D/Eye, now known as IronCAD, (CAXA in China). Here is a good article with some of the IronCAD history. IronCAD has always been and is still a parametric history-based system at its core. Although it was only a few years ago that they exposed the history tree structure to the user. Due to the systems ability to automatically reorder the tree structure, it was infrequent that a user actually needed to manipulate the structure manually. IronCAD did several things different from traditional history-based modeling systems. I had included much more detail on IronCAD while writing this but as I was writing Deelip Menezes published an extensive review of IronCAD. So I will refer you to his review for more detail on the similarities of IronCAD and SE ST3. In summary there are many similarities, although IRONCAD has been providing this type of "mixed mode" capability for many years now.

It seems to me that the synchronous features in the ST3 tree simply represent a single B-Rep model organized somewhere in the tree. You might consider it what other parametric history-based systems refer to as the “base feature”, although with ST3 this B-Rep is ordered somewhere in the tree, and can contain UDF’s (user defined features). In ST3 these UDF’s are actually defined by a modeling operation. When you drag and drop a feature from ordered into synchronous, you are simply taking the geometrical results of an ordered feature and adding that geometry to this single B-Rep, and then removing the ordered feature definition. This single B-Rep becomes more complex, or detailed, with each addition. The resulting new faces in the B-Rep are tagged to keep them grouped as a UDF. Am I over simplifying this?

I am not saying that any of this is bad. On the contrary I like to see this kind of stuff pushing all of us in our thinking of CAD. But as you are considering this, just keep in mind what our ultimate objective really is; and that is - designing products (sometimes 3D models can help us do that).


Solid Edge ST3, My First Impressions (part 1)

It looks like Solid Edge is getting a lot of new functionality and modeling capability. I am not a user of Solid Edge and as such my “first impressions” have nothing to do with the new functionality. I will leave that up to the users and experts. What I am most interested in is what they have done with Synchronous Technology and the Solid Edge model structure.

When reviewing technology I try to see things from a process and workflow point of view. As you probably already know I am kind of partial to direct modeling. I certainly understand the value of the parent/child relationship that comes with the history tree, and the associativity that it can provide, but I see all too often that many designers are over-served with this technology. The challenges that come with history-based modeling sometimes overshadow the benefit. These challenges have driven and accelerated the development of direct modeling. The challenges I speak of include the following:

  1. Complexity of the tool and general training requirements
  2. The need to plan ahead before modeling
  3. Interoperability and data exchange
  4. Reusing history-trees (history-based models)
  5. Resolving conflicts in the history-tree
  6. The need for modeling standards and best practices

Again, I understand the benefits, but all of the above can keep you from getting your job done in a timely manner. And it is these issues that are driving the interest in direct modeling. There are still some yet unsolved challenges with direct modeling of course, but none of the above apply with mature robust direct modeling.

So my question is: How does Solid Edge ST3 impact the issues listed above? Is life improving for the typical Solid Edge user? Let’s take them one at a time.

  1. Complexity of the tool and general training requirements: In my opinion SE just became harder to learn. Even if you will never use Synchronous, or will never use Ordered, just having those buttons on the menu just made it more complicated. It is safe to assume that the training manuals just got thicker. It looks intuitive enough, but it goes deeper than that. How, when, why is it acceptable for a user to move a feature from Ordered to Synchronous?
  2. The need to plan ahead before modeling: It doesn’t matter if you are in a history-free mode (synchronous, direct, unordered, whatever) or in a history-based mode (ordered, parametric, whatever), if the system is recording information about the modeling process (modeling features) you will need to plan ahead and model carefully, if you intend to realize any future value from the record. In synchronous mode, the order may have no relevance to the future use of the model, but the collection of faces recorded in the feature certainly will. Will SE ST3 be a good concept design tool? The chaos of concept design often times renders a history tree completely unorganized and useless. Very often this will lead to a model rebuild when moving to detail design. Does SE ST3 resolve this?
  3. Interoperability and data exchange: We all know that history-trees are proprietary and that exchanging history-trees between different history-based systems is flaky at best. Geometry is common between all CAD systems, and with robust direct modeling we can make use of any geometry and edit it freely. My only problem with SE ST3 in this area is that I see no evidence that they have improved the robustness to handle the demands of complex direct modeling. I’ve had a few chances to try Synchronous Technology in NX and SE in the last year, but was never really impressed with its ability to resolve complex topology changes on imported models. Live rules or not, the system needs to be able to handle the demands of direct modeling. Like I said “I see no evidence” of improvement in this area so I can easily be proven wrong on this one. I just need to see it to believe it.
  4. Reusing history-trees: It has always been a bit of an issue when reusing a history-based model that you created many months/years ago or that someone else created. You need to spend some time studying the tree structure before you can really make use of it. It seems that with ST3 the tree structure just got more complicated. I know, you don’t have to use both modes in one model, but can you control the other users?
  5. Resolving conflicts in the history-tree: I guess if you do have a conflicted or corrupt history tree, with ST3 you can just take all those features and move them to Synchronous. That would fix it, right? What about all the other references and relationships tied between those ordered features and their children and/or other parts/features? How are those resolved in ST3?
  6. The need for modeling standards and best practices: I have seen some fairly thick 3-ring binders full of documentation on modeling best practices. These are usually created by larger organizations to train users and ensure that these users are creating history-trees that have some consistency in them in order to better ensure these models (history-trees) can be used in the future and by others. I think with ST3 these binders just got bigger. I can see some more best practices coming.

Solid Edge has certainly come a long way. The SE ST3 videos they have online look fantastic (as they should). I do commend the product managers and developers of Solid Edge for pushing the envelope on this. They have introduced some interesting concepts with ST3. I’m anxious to see how it continues to develop. I am still not convinced that they have the “best of both worlds”, as some fellow bloggers have already indicated. Sorry, I am just a bit skeptical. I hope it doesn’t turn out to be one of these:


Part 2

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Considering the Cost vs. Benefit of CAD

As a manager or leader of product development, have you ever wondered what the real value is of all that CAD data that is being created? Are you getting a positive return on your CAD investment? Probably a strange question to ask since everyone seems to concur that CAD is one of the basic necessities of product development. I’m actually not questioning if CAD is adding value, what I’m questioning is just how much of CAD is adding value. Our CAD tools are incredibly powerful – whether you need it or not.

When I first started my career I worked as a machinist in a prototype and model shop at Hewlett Packard. One of my specialties was in designing and building soft tools (molds) for plastic parts. At that time most of the product designers and engineers were well on their way of moving from 2D CAD to 3D CAD. I could easily tell a difference in the drawings as they moved to 3D CAD. With 2D CAD I would get drawings with a single line that represented the side of a part or feature, with a note designating plus draft or minus draft – very easy to deal with in 2D CAM. With 3D CAD I started getting drawings with two lines representing the side – with no notes. At that point in time, the cost of the drafted 3D model was actually higher than the value – cost being related to the effort to create the draft features AND to use them. We actually stopped putting draft on models for a while. Of course as both CAD and CAM improved, and our use of the 3D model improved, the value of the drafted model soon surpassed the cost.

That’s a long story to make a simple point. Are you getting a positive return on your CAD efforts and resulting data? I have no question that you are getting positive value from a complete and accurate 3D model (even though in some situations we are still removing features that someone spent time creating). My question is more related to all the other stuff we are doing with CAD. Is it adding value beyond effort? We have some amazingly powerful capabilities in our modern day CAD tools. Being a guy that really enjoys CAD, I want to master and use them all, whether I need to or not.

I find it fascinating to see how much time a CAD jockey can waste on coming up with some elaborate associative parametric solution to a problem that really didn’t need to be solved in such a way. It can certainly be challenging and at times enjoyable, kind of like solving a Rubix Cube. Of course there are many times when this capability yields very high value, and that is why this power exists in the first place. But is it required in the design of all of your parts/products? What about simply getting parts out the door? Sometimes I think we get sidetracked from our real objective; and that is to design products, not model them. Just to be clear, I am not trying to make a case for or against history-based or history-free modeling. In CoCreate (the product I represent) I can fully parametrically control models and assemblies, in some very elaborate and intriguing ways. “Over modeling” can be done in most any CAD tool. (That’s my new term for the day: “over modeling”.)

It would be interesting to evaluate the effort that goes into all of the additional intelligence and associativity that we are building into our models versus the actual value that we are getting from it. Often times this intelligence is considered insurance against mistakes, although it is not too uncommon to apply this intelligence incorrectly. There are other, and sometimes cheaper, ways to ensure correctness. Perhaps we consider this extra layer of intelligence to be necessary to convey design intent to other team members and downstream functions. This is certainly valid in many situations, but there are less costly and simpler ways to convey design intent. Sometimes we are adding this extra layer of intelligence to the model simply because the CAD tool forces us to; it’s intrinsic to the modeling process.

What about the life-cycle of this intellectual property we call "model intelligence"? Will it be easy to “consume” and extract value from throughout the life-cycle of the resulting product? Can it be leveraged in other products we are designing? Is it built on standards or specific to a particular tool? What is the possible value? Does it yield a positive return?

Often times the problem is simply that we may not realize that there is an alternative to what we are doing. Have you considered the alternatives? If you do not recognize alternatives, you will never recognize opportunity.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Top Ten Reasons Companies add Direct Modeling to their Product Design Toolbox

It seems that almost all CAD companies are now investing in history-free CAD technology (direct, explicit). If a design/manufacturing company already owns a very capable CAD tool, why would they purchase a direct history-free CAD tool? What value are they getting from history-free CAD that doesn't already come from their existing CAD tool?

I personally have been involved in the history-free CAD business for many years now. Below I have tried to identify the top ten reasons a company may purchase history-free CAD - based on my observations. Certainly others that have experience in this market may have different observations and opinions. If so, you are welcome to add those as comments to this post.

As usual with a Top Ten list, I’ll start at #10 (least significant) and work up to #1 (most significant).

#10. Functionality

  • Most companies already have a very capable CAD tool. The purchase of a history-free CAD tool usually has nothing to do with missing functionality in the toolset they already own.

#9. Management of Engineering IP

  • It may take some time for a company to understand the differences between managing history trees and managing 3D models, but it is significant. People are beginning to understand this and it is starting to influence decisions.
  • The lifecycle of geometry can be very long. History trees can be rendered obsolete very quickly. Some CAD companies have done this simply by introducing their next version.

#8. Multi-CAD Legacy Data

  • History trees are proprietary. Geometry is common across all CAD platforms. With mature direct modeling, value can be extracted from any geometry created by any CAD tool.
  • Companies may add direct CAD to easily extend the value of their legacy data, 2D or 3D.

#7. Teamwork, Collaboration

  • Teamwork and collaboration can happen more easily when the data in question is a 3D model rather than a history tree. With geometry what you see is what you get. With history trees there will always be an extra layer of complexity.
  • Improve collaboration and interaction with your dispersed team members, suppliers and partners by sharing data that is clear, simple and based on industry standards.

#6. Company Product and Process Characteristics

  • Product and process characteristics should drive the usage of a particular CAD technology. Direct modeling may be better suited in the following areas:
    1. Products that demand high innovation with many iterations
    2. Products with short and high speed development cycles
    3. Products with short life cycles
    4. Low volume products
    5. When you just need to get parts out the door as soon as possible.

#5. Large Assemblies

  • In-context design and optimization at the assembly level is easy and natural in direct modeling, even with 100,000+ part assemblies.
  • File sizes can be 60% to 80% smaller in direct compared to history-based modeling.

#4. Interoperability

  • Improve the exchange of engineering data with partners, suppliers and customers that perhaps use other CAD tools.
  • With direct modeling, geometry is the master, with history-based parametric modeling the history tree is the master.

#3. Speed

  • Reduce product development cycle times, especially in the concept phase.
  • Reduce time in the bid and proposal phase.
  • Reduce time in late stage engineering changes
  • Reduce efforts and time in preparation for analysis

#2. Ease of Use

  • Reduce time-to-productivity and improve the flexibility of resource allocation.
  • Usable by infrequent users. For example:
    1. Analysts for model simplification and preparation for FEA
    2. Marketing for concept review
    3. Bid and proposal team for quick concept development and review
    4. Other non-CAD experts can get value from design data through direct interaction

#1. Flexibility

  • Review multiple concepts quickly and easily.
  • Improve innovation by quickly and easily repurposing and reusing existing data.
  • Improve accuracy in proposal generation by reviewing more alternatives.
  • More easily respond to customer driven product development.
  • Complete freedom in the part and assembly modeling process, no requirement for best or common practices
  • Capture design intent and intelligence in the design only as needed

Many of the characteristics listed above will drive a company to add direct modeling technology as a complementary tool to their existing history-based tool set. It is important for a company to understand workflows and processes to attain highest possible value with minimal disruption. There are a few characteristics however, such as #6, that may drive a company to bring direct modeling technology in as a replacement of their existing toolset. I have recently witnessed several examples of this.

As recognized by thousands of manufacturing companies and several CAD companies, direct, history-free CAD is of high value and is only going to become more prevalent in our industry. If you haven’t already, you should be considering closely what value it can bring to your product development process – most likely your competitors already are.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Are you a Designer or a Programmer?

I don’t mean to imply that if you are a “programmer” you are not a “designer” or visa-versa. The question is; as a CAD user do you spend more time designing or programming?

Most CAD users are very familiar with history-based CAD. It is probably what they were initially trained on, and may be the only thing they have ever used. Relatively, very few people have used or understand history-free CAD. They may be familiar with direct editing, but history-free CAD is much more than the direct editing. Every week I personally witness more and more people catching on to the value and benefit of history-free CAD. Most had no clue that such power was available in such an easy and flexible tool.

So what’s the difference? Here’s one way to look at it.

With history-based CAD, users create a “program” typically called a history-tree. This program is created by defining 2D sketches, modeling features, and relationships using specific methods and structure. When the “program” runs, 3D geometry is created. In a history-based system, users do not create 3D geometry, but rather create a program that creates 3D geometry. In the same sense, users do not modify 3D geometry, but rather modify the program that will then create different 3D geometry. The program (history-tree) is the master.

History-based CAD can be a very powerful tool in the right hands, but there are some key requirements and best practices that must be followed. These requirements and best practices are very similar to those found in software development. Here are just a few of them:

  • Have a clear understanding of the end goal, or intent, before you start
  • Maintain a clear and consistent structure such that others can follow
  • Be sure the structure supports the intent
  • Define small-manageable components that are well organized
  • Pay close attention to references and relationships

There are also similar challenges with developing a good history tree and developing a good program. Here are a few:

  • Debugging the program
  • Translating a program from one language to another
  • Collaboration at the program level
  • Reusing an old program that someone else wrote
  • Managing references and relationships between programs
  • Managing very large programs

With history-free CAD, users are not creating a program but are rather directly creating and manipulating geometry. Since you are directly interacting with geometry there is no language to learn, no need to plan ahead, no need to understand how the geometry was created or what tool was used to create it, and no need to develop and manage complex references and relationships. What you see is what you get. Geometry is the master. There are certainly challenges yet to be solved with history-free CAD, but the technology is improving rapidly. It is a technology that has been around for many years, but if you haven't tried it recently you need to do so.

History-based CAD is certainly the dominant CAD technology used today for product design and engineering. It is a very powerful tool when properly aligned with the design process. It can also be a very problematic tool when misaligned. One thing to consider is the amount of effort that goes into “programming” vs. “designing”. If the resulting program yields value exceeding effort, then use it to the maximum. Programmatic development and control of geometry can be of high value in the right context. If however the program, including the typical challenges that come with “programming”, get in the way of progress and yield little future value, then consider the alternative.

History-free CAD is being used today by thousands of companies around the globe, as both an alternative and a compliment to history-based CAD. Here are some of the reasons why these companies are using history-free CAD:

  • If you need a tool that can help you more quickly review a variety of concepts you will want to consider history-free CAD.
  • If you have a need to involve more people besides the CAD experts in product design, you will want to consider the ease and flexibility of history-free CAD.
  • If you have a need to interact with geometry coming from a variety of CAD tools, you should be considering history-free CAD.
  • If your product life cycles are short, there may not be a return on your "programming" investment.
  • If you need to obsolete your products before your competitors do, you may not have time to develop well structured programs.
  • If you work with large assemblies (30,000+ parts) you need to consider history-free CAD.
  • If you need to leverage, reuse and share design data, it is likely easier and more intuitive to do so with 3D models rather than programs.


(To try out the most mature and capable history-free modeling at no cost, check out PTC CoCreate Modeling Personal Edition:

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Direct Modeling & Large Assemblies

Interest continues to grow in our industry for the flexibility and ease-of-use that comes with history-free direct modeling. Unfortunately there is still much confusion out there about just what direct modeling is and what value it adds to the process of product development. One of the many high value opportunities that come with direct modeling is in “large assembly design and management”. Direct modeling technology can offer some unique advantages over traditional history-based modeling that can greatly improve design, interaction and management of large assemblies.

Based on the technology behind direct modeling, large assembly design and management can be fast and easy. As direct modeling does not record the modeling steps used to create the model, memory requirements and file sizes can be considerably smaller than with traditional parametric history-based modeling. With PTC CoCreate Modeling, for example, I have found file sizes to be 60% to 80% smaller than the same model created in most any traditional history-based system. This would indicate that these parts and assemblies will also consume much less memory when loaded.

In a traditional history-based CAD system, an assembly is basically a collection of references and relationships to other individual history trees. These history trees represent individual parts and sub-assemblies  The history trees can be large and complex. The assembly references and relationships between these trees can be even more complex. With direct modeling an assembly is simply a collection of solid models that are organized in a hierarchical structure. There is no history tree. There are no hidden references or relationships. What you see is what you get. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve been doing some large assembly testing with several different CAD systems. It has been startling to witness how poor many of the most popular CAD tools perform with large assemblies, even with “dumb solids”. The assembly that I am using in this example is made up of 29,455 part and assembly objects. The STEP file of the entire assembly comes out at just over 302mb. The native CoCreate package file of the entire assembly comes in right at 100mb. This is not a large assembly compared to many of the assemblies I have witnessed CoCreate users working with. Most CoCreate users would consider a large assembly to be somewhere around 100,000 to 250,000 parts. (By the way, the native geometry resolution/accuracy of a model developed in CoCreate Modeling is 1.0E-6 mm by default – about 2500 times higher accuracy than any other CAD system on the market, and yet it is still possible to manage these large assemblies.)

Below is a picture of the assembly I have been working with. It comes from a company in Europe. This is a coagulator used in the cheese making process. CoCreate Modeling was used from beginning to end to support the design process.

For the video below I loaded this assembly in its entirety. All parts are loaded as high accuracy solid models. None of the parts were loaded as lightweight, graphics only or in some suppressed mode. Based on the privileges controlled by the PDM system, every part and/or assembly can be quickly and easily modified. As you will see, in-context design is simple and fast, even in the context of 30,000 other parts.
Do you work with large assemblies? Do you enjoy it? Is it easy to collaborate with other team members when working together with large assemblies? If not, perhaps you are using the wrong technology. Remember that in a history based system everything must be programmatically and parametrically controlled; parts AND assemblies. More on this topic in my next post.


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

PTC USER World Event 2010, Day 1 and 2

As you would expect, I attended the PTC USER World event this year specifically to represent the PTC CoCreate family of products. With this post I hope to provide information related to the CoCreate solutions, including the CoCreate sessions and related activities. For those CoCreate users out there that could not attend, we missed you, and I hope this post can give you some sense and feel for the energy and excitement of the event. I know there was much more to the event than what I am going to write about, so please check out some of the other blogs and articles that document the event from other perspectives. An easy way to do this is to follow the hashtag “#ptcuser10” on twitter.


Day 1 started off with a bang as you would expect. Dick Harrison kicked it off with a high-level enthusiastic overview of business past, present and future. According to Dick PTC is now the fastest growing PLM company with FY10 license growth expected to reach 7x that of its peer group. Dick also talked about some of the changes at the upper management levels of PTC. Dick will be moving to Chairman of the Board for PTC and in his place Jim Heppleman will take over as President, CEO, and COO.

Dick quickly handed over the stage to Jim. Jim reemphasized the fact that "PTC is the fastest growing major software company in the universe, bar none". The enthusiasm and excitement grew in Jim’s voice as he discussed many of the enhancements to existing products and some emerging products. Jim concluded his presentation talking specifically about CAD. The CAD industry almost seems static right now, probably since 2000. And yet there are still unsolved problems related to the role of CAD in product development. Jim summed up these problems in 3 major categories; usability, interoperability and large assemblies. At this point Jim introduced a new initiative that is in the works at PTC. He called this initiative “Project Lightning”. Project Lightning is going to “take Pro/ENGINEER and CoCreate to the next level”. And with that Jim handed the stage over to Brian Shepherd.

Brian went into detail with slides and demonstrations of most all of the PTC PDS solutions. This company has a lot of fantastic products. Some day you really have to check out Windchill 10 … very nice!

During Brian’s presentation we even got to see a clip of CoCreate Modeling v17 doing some of its direct modeling magic. It was great hearing about and seeing all of the new innovations that PTC is bringing to the market – but I was most interested in this “Lightning” thing.

Brian finally got around to talking about Project Lightning. He referred to it as “The future of CAD”, and “A fundamental breakthrough”. I could try to summarize the talk but it would be better for you to hear it directly from Jim and Brian. Check it out here:

I realize there is not a lot of detail being shared right now, but you can know for sure that by bringing the people together that invented parametric modeling with the people that invented direct modeling with PTC’s PLM expertise … “break-though” might be an understatement. Mark your calendars: October 28th 2010.

Breakout sessions started right after a quick break. Korie Carter and Scott O’Brien of Tensor Engineering kicked off the CoCreate related content. This company develops the detail drawings necessary to manufacture the steel and construct the bridges. That is a terrible simplification of the incredible engineering challenges that they must solve along the way. And they solve these problems with many innovative tools, many of which they have developed themselves. One of the tools they use is CoCreate Modeling. Both Korie and Scott showed some amazing automation tools they have developed with extensive use of the parametric modeling capabilities of CoCreate Modeling – that’s right “parametric modeling” in a history-free direct modeling system. It was fascinating to see the engineering challenges that they have solved with this technology. They have refined the technology down to a one button solution. Amazing!!

After Korie and Scotts presentation, Chris Whitman, technical specialist for the CoCreate solutions and myself delivered a presentation focused on providing an introduction to CoCreate Modeling. The room was full of people that had little or no knowledge of CoCreate. I assume that the talk about Project Lightning may have sparked some of this interest. We spent very little time with slides but rather took turns showing some demonstrations of what direct modeling really is in the context of a mature, robust and very capable tool like CoCreate Modeling. We provided 4 basic demonstrations. One showing some quick and easy conceptual design of a fixture, applying design intent and parameters as needed. And then ending with some simulation of the fixture: Video

The next demo was of the conceptual development of a computer mouse using some high tech surface editing technology only found in CoCreate Modeling: Video

Chris then demonstrated some amazing interoperability by loading some IGES files and doing things with imported geometry that most people assume can’t be done. In CoCreate Modeling you work with imported geometry as you would with native data – no difference. We leverage the intelligence already built into every solid model regardless of where it comes from. Even imported sheet metal parts can be modified and flattened with appropriate k-factor.

I ended the demonstrations by loading a 30,000 part assembly into CoCreate Modeling, something that most CAD sales people would never do in front of their customers - and actually something most history-based CAD users have never done. I loaded the complete assembly in its full form with all parts loaded as high accuracy (1.0E-6mm) solid – modifiable – parts. The load took 50 seconds. This is a 300mb STEP file. I then proceeded to make some design changes in many areas of the assembly … in-context with 30,000 parts. And this is a relatively small assembly compared to what many of our customers work with on a daily basis.

We basically talked about “ease of use, flexibility, interoperability, and large assemblies”. Sound familiar?

The next session was designed to give existing CoCreate users a detailed look at all the various enhancements of CoCreate Modeling version 17 . However the full room did not only include existing users, but more people that wanted to learn more about CoCreate. Chris and I had to balance the time between giving the existing users some useful information, but also help the many other people understand the basics of what direct modeling is. Thankfully our users engaged in the discussion, and were probably more effective than Chris or I in helping the others understand the technology and value of CoCreate. It was an amazing session. It is always fun watching peoples expressions when the begin to realize and understand what they are seeing – they usually can’t believe it at first.

Every other minute Chris and I had in the day was spent at the CoCreate booth in the exhibit hall. People were waiting in lines to see demos and to get to know better what this CoCreate thing is. It was a lot of very hard work, but so much fun to see the expressions on people’s faces. Many assumed for whatever reason that CoCreate Modeling is some low-end 3D sketch kind of thing, with some inferior geometry kernel with very little capability. It only takes about 2 minutes to change this perception as we demonstrate solutions to complex design problems that they obviously had never seen before – including high-end complex surface editing, and interaction with large assemblies that they could hardly comprehend. 100% of the people that were able to get a demonstration and talk with us, left with a complete different perspective on CAD – and all wanted more. I think we will be very busy in the weeks and months to come.

During booth duty some of my media friends stopped by to say hi. It was great to talk with Leslie Gordon from Machine Design. Thanks for coming by Leslie – let’s continue our discussions. Also Kenneth Wong stopped by for a quick demo and some discussion. (I want a copy of that picture we took, Kenneth.) You can check out Kenneth’s coverage of the event at his blog: Kenneth Wong’s Virtual Desktop


On Tuesday Chris taught two classes on CoCreate Modeling. I unfortunately missed the keynote as we were setting up for the classes. The first class was for existing users to get hands on experience with the new CoCreate v17. We saw many big smiles and raised eyebrows as Chris showed the new v17 enhancements and users got to try them out. This is one of the most significant releases we have had in years.

The next class was an introduction to CoCreate. The room was full of people that were excited to get their hands on CoCreate for the first time. It always takes a little while for people to understand that when working with CoCreate you work directly with geometry. There is no history tree. Modeling operations are not recorded. There is no need to be concerned with how you create the geometry. At first they seem to be cautious or nervous about creating the geometry in the wrong way or perhaps breaking some reference or relationships with an edit. And then in a few minutes “the lights come on” and they realize … it doesn’t matter.

I wish we could have stayed another day and met more people and provided more demonstrations, but we had to get back, and now I am on the airplane writing this and reflecting back on all the fun, and great people that I got to meet. I fully expect to see you next year in Las Vegas, where perhaps we won’t be talking about “The future of CAD” but rather “experiencing” it.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

CoCreate at PTC/USER World Event 2010

The CoCreate products will again be represented at the PTC/USER World Event 2010. I will be there and have 2 sessions that I will be presenting along with one of our product experts. The two sessions are detailed below:

Introducing CoCreate Modeling, the World's #1 Explicit Modeler

This session is specifically for people that have little or no experience or knowledge of CoCreate Modeling, or history-free explicit modeling. I will talk a bit about the technology, but we will be spending most of the time showing you the technology. You will see some fascinating demonstrations including things that you have probably never seen a CAD system do before. Then we will review how this technology can complement your design environment and add value in several areas of product development.

Introducing CoCreate 17.0: Simplicity of 2D, Power of 3D

This session is tailored more for the experienced CoCreate users. We will be going into much detail on what is new in V17. This will include many demonstrations of the product features and capabilities. We plan to have a highly interactive session with the CoCreate users.

Korie Carter and Scott O’Brien of Tensor Engineering will also be delivering a very interesting presentation. Their presentation is titled: “Automated 3D Field Splice Generator”, (whatever that is). You may not have much to do with bridge design, but you should see what these people are doing with CoCreate Modeling and how they are using history-free parametric relations to capture design intent and solve some very complex design problems. You gotta check this out.

For more detail on where and when these presentations are occurring go to:

CoCreate Modeling Hands-on-Workshops

We are also providing some informal hands-on-workshops on Tuesday. These were last minute additions to the schedule and as such you may not find much information about these in the formal agenda. Here are the details:

Tuesday, June 8 in the Wekiwa 5 room

9:45 to 11:30: V17 hands-on update training. For experienced users that want to learn more about the v17 enhancements.

1:00 to 2:45: Getting started with CoCreate Modeling. For people that have little or no experience with CoCreate Modeling. Come and try it out. We’ll have some fun with it.

CoCreate in the Exhibit Hall

I'll also be providing demonstrations in the exhibit hall with some of our other product experts. Be sure to come by and see us.

Keep track of the activities on twitter with hashtag #PTCUSER10.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Explicit Parametric Concept Design

I know that most of you will consider the title of this post as being a contradiction in terms. I hope to show you otherwise. We are certainly seeing the makers of history-based parametric CAD tools attempting to add explicit like or direct modeling type functionality to their history-based systems. Unfortunately many complications can evolve in the model when direct geometry edits are made to a history-based model. Maybe someday the issues will be worked out. While this work is going on, makers of explicit or direct modeling systems are adding parametric modeling capabilities to the history-free model. Adding, managing and controlling “design intent” are not capabilities exclusive to a history-based modeling tool.

In the video example below I am showing some quick concept design of a fixture assembly, but while in the process I will capture some design intent as needed. Again in this case I am using CoCreate Modeling from PTC.
You will notice in the example that it makes no difference how the model is created, or how the assembly comes together. There is no up-front planning that needs to be done. History-free “design intent” has no dependency on how the models or assemblies were created or structured. As a matter of a fact, it makes no difference where the geometry actually comes from; IGES, STEP or even a 2D drawing. I can just as easily add design intent to imported models as I do with native models. Also, another user can easily interact with the design intent with no knowledge of how the model was created or how the intent was structured. The parametric solver in CoCreate Modeling is a synchronous solver. It is not a linear solver as would be the case in a history-based system. As such there is not dependency on the order that constraints and relationships were created. They are solved simultaneously.
You will also notice in CoCreate Modeling that constraints and relationships are not always necessary – and in many cases redundant. A mature explicit history-free modeling system must understand and leverage the properties of the B-Rep solid geometry to be of any value. If it does, it can use these properties intelligently to recognize geometric properties and greatly simplify the design intent solution.

I first hope you noticed how easy and fast it is to create and manipulate geometry, with no need for up front planning. Secondly I hope you noticed that design intent can be added independent of the modeling process.
I know most all CAD companies are trying to figure out how to provide their customers with the “best of both worlds” (history-based parametric & history-free explicit/direct). Will the “best” eventually come from a history-based system that provides direct editing? Or perhaps will it come from a history-free system that provides parametric capabilities?
Some ways to learn more about CoCreate Modeling:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Growing Power of the IT Department

As I mentioned a few times before, in my current position at PTC I get the opportunity to visit many companies. I just returned from a trip to Europe where I was able to visit two very large companies. One interesting thing I am recognizing is the growing power of the IT organization, especially with large companies. I’m sure one of the reasons that this happens is that as a company grows AND as they become more dependent on computers, the internet and infrastructure, a good portion of the company budget goes to IT. When I first started in the industry I don’t even think the term “Information Technology” existed, we were kind of on our own with our big CAD workstations. When the concept of the IT organization did emerge, it was considered a “support” organization”, and it provided a very welcomed and needed function. For many companies IT has now grown into something entirely different.

I am usually visiting these companies to make recommendations in the area of product development productivity. I do my best to follow what is suggested in the diagram below.

A company’s business drivers and key business objectives should drive and guide process, and process should define the supporting technologies. If we do this correctly the technologies will enable and support the defined process improvement initiatives, and the improved processes will deliver to the business drivers. In too many cases I’ve witnessed situations where companies have tried to force fit technology into the process with little regard to the process and business, rather than working from top to bottom and back up as indicated by the chart above. This often results in chaos in the deployment project and overruns in the project budget.

So where does the IT department fit into all of this? Chances are that they will be responsible for deploying the technology. Are they also responsible for determining what technology best supports the process and yields highest return at lowest cost? If so, does your IT department understand the product development process enough to make the appropriate choices? How is success measured with a technology deployment that impacts product development?

It is interesting to witness IT’s involvement and influence within the context of product development. It can range from complete and dedicated “support”, to complete and dedicated “control”. In most cases there is a healthy balance and interaction between IT and Product Development, but not in all cases.

Regardless of IT’s roll in the acquisition of technology, where does “productivity” of Product Development fit into the decision criteria when acquiring tools for your product development organization? What are your observations?

As a representative of a company that sells product development technology, a key to success is in knowing who the buyer is. It’s fascinating that in many cases our “buyer” is IT.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

SolidWorks, the CATIA Kernel & Direct Modeling

In my last blog post: Technology and the Product Development Process, one of the readers asked a great question:
  • Paul, I know it is coming out in bits and pieces, but at SolidWorks World there is a good deal of reporting about solidworks enhanced direct editing, and even some speculation that solidworks is switching to the catia kernal. What would this indicate about the future of direct modeling, and cocreate's place within it?
This question opens up many good discussion points, and I apologize in advance for the length of the post.

It is interesting to see discussion about the CATIA kernel in context with direct editing. A geometry kernel has little to do with whether a CAD system is history-based or history-free or has direct editing or not. Direct editing does demand more of the kernel than history-based modeling does, but I see no evidence that the CATIA V6 kernel brings anything special to direct editing. CATIA certainly has direct editing capabilities but much of what you see in CATIA Live Shape is very similar to Instant3d in SolidWorks and Dynamic Editing in WildFire. As stated in this video: CATIA V6R2010 User experience, CATIA Live Shape allows you to “manipulate feature parameters directly on the geometry itself instead of editing through panels and keyboard input” - you are not directly editing geometry but rather dynamically manipulating feature parameters that are managed in the tree.

So what about direct editing in SolidWorks and the future of direct modeling?

People still seem to have the idea that somehow we are going to be able to combine these two technologies and get “the best of both worlds”. Since it is not possible to “record history” and “not record history” at the same time, there are only a few approaches that developers can take. Several CAD companies have already made attempts at combining these technologies and several others continuing to work on it – but so far none have been able to provide “the best of both worlds”. First of all, what is “the best of both worlds”? Here is my attempt at an answer. Others are welcome to add to the lists:

The best of history-based:
  • Some claim that the history tree is the best way to capture design intent (I disagree, but that's personal preference).
  • Some may claim that the history-tree is the best way to manage and maintain associativity (however associativity does not require a history-tree).
  • History trees allow for faces to be consumed by an edit, and at some point in the future these faces can be exposed based on another edit – I guess this could be considered a best, not sure.
  • History-based CAD forces a very specific modeling process and behavior. This could be good in some cases.
  • Most of these systems are very mature with much depth and breadth in functionality – although this has nothing to do with being history-based, it is relevant.
What are some of the other bests of history-based modeling? I’m running out of ideas. The list used to be much longer but it continually gets shorter with the rapid advancements in history-free modeling.
The best of history-free:
  • No need to throwaway models due to bad trees – all geometry is of value
  • No regeneration/re-compute issues
  • Can manipulate geometry with no regard to how it was created in the first place
  • Natural in-context, top-down, bottoms-up, what-ever design (flexibility)
  • No need for part modeling and/or assembly modeling modes
  • No restrictions or complications related to the use of certain modeling and editing functions (unite, subtract, intersect)
  • Add and remove design intent as needed – on native or non-native geometry: Some Examples
  • Easy to reuse and leverage ANY geometry from ANY source, full interoperability
  • Large assembly modeling/management (simply much less data to manage)
  • What-you-see-is-what-you-get
Those are a few of the bests of history-free modeling. Of course not all history-free CAD systems are as mature as others, so the level at which you can realize these bests today will vary – although the technology is rapidly improving. What’s interesting here is that IF there is any hint of a history-tree in the CAD system, you will never realize most of the bests in the history-free list.
Equally, if there is no history tree you will never… I can’t think of anything. Maybe you will never be able to consume a face and at some point get it back.
Below is a quick review of some of the industries attempts at getting “the best of both worlds”:

Siemens, (NX, Solid Edge) – They simply have made the two technologies, (history-based/history-free) available under the same UI. In this case it is still one or the other. And when you choose history-free, the system lets you know that the tree and all the intelligence built into the tree will be lost – forever. If the history-free capabilities were more robust and complete most users may not care, but that is not the case - yet. In the history-free side of the product, Siemens has done a nice job at combining parametric control with history-free modeling with their Live Rules, but they have not combined history-free with history-based.

Autodesk, (Inventor/Fusion) – Inventor has already had direct editing for several years. Fusion is just another history-free tool, although not a very good one - yet. The Change Manager will recognize direct edits and translate them back to the history-tree in the form of a feature change or an added direct edit to the bottom of the tree. In the end, all of this functionality may be under one UI and transparent to the user, however the end intent is to maintain the history-tree. Unfortunately the Change Manager will never resolve problems that may show up in the history tree, and because they are maintaining the history tree most of the benefits of history-free modeling listed above will never be realized. The Change Manager functionality will also result in design intent being automatically changed, i.e. lost.

SolidWorks – SolidWorks has also had direct editing for a few years now. I haven’t seen this new stuff in person, but I assure you that there is nothing magical about it. They are either throwing away the history tree, or they are keeping it intact. Those are the ONLY two choices that are available. Most likely they are keeping the history tree intact, as SolidWorks will probably always be history-based. The new stuff is either an extension of Instant3D or it is direct editing that is, like Fusion and the Change Manager, being captured in the tree either as a feature edit or an added direct edit in the tree. As with Fusion and the Change Manager, most all benefits of history-free modeling will not be realized – as there is still a history tree.

PTC, (Pro/ENGINEER) – Even at PTC there is talk about combining these two technologies. In WF5 we are starting to see much more direct editing. Again, however, the same “laws” apply. Either the history tree is thrown away or it is kept intact. With Pro/E I am quite sure there will always be a history tree no matter how much direct editing they put into the system – and again, most of the benefits of history-free modeling will not be realized.

IronCAD – Ironcad was the first CAD system on the market to make a good attempt at combining these technologies. Although it was only recent that they exposed the history tree to the UI IronCAD has always been history-based, even before it was IronCAD (Trispective). Notice the references to the "tree": Introduction to IronCAD 2009. Their use and management of 3D primitives (3D shapes/features with no sketch) make it possible to directly edit these features, the edit simply changes the primitive. The primitives must be ordered in the tree. If the model is a single feature model (history-free) the direct editing capabilities can apply to the entire model. These direct edits are limited only by the robustness and predictability of the direct editing capabilities, as is the case with direct editing in any CAD system.

In all of the cases mentioned above the history-tree is fundamental to the system, regardless of any add-on functionality or fancy user interaction. As such most of the bests of history-free modeling cannot be realized. I understand that many of the history-free examples on the market still do not provide the depth and breadth of many of the mature history-based CAD systems, but this is quickly changing. History-based modeling is mature. We may have already hit the limits of what we can do with this technology. On the contrary, even though we have been playing with history-free modeling for many years, there is still so much more that we can do with it. It is relatively immature.

SpaceClaim posted record growth numbers for 2009. Kubotek claims that 2009 was their best year ever. As part of HP, CoCreate and now PTC CoCreate, I can tell you that we have never experienced the level of interest in the product and growth that we are experiencing right now. CoCreate's place in this market is very solid. To think that some combination of history-based modeling and direct editing is going to slow this growth is quite short sighted. The future of history-free modeling is very bright and there is nothing you can do with a history-based CAD system that will change that. In reality the only way we will ever get even close to “the best of both worlds” will be to start with something that is fundamentally history-free.


For more information on CAD geometry kernels please refer to a more recent article: The Geometry Kernel and What it Means to Product Development.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Technology and the Product Development Process

Everyone seems to have an opinion about CAD technology and what is best – including me. But I often question what it all really means to product development. In my current position at PTC I get to review and analyze the product development processes of many companies – all of which have a different mix of technologies that support, to some degree, their product development process and product characteristics.

In every product development organization there are vocal users that think they know best – and in many cases they do. There are even IT professionals that think they know best. But I also find that many of these people are focusing their arguments and discussion based on their own individual circumstance, experience and needs. Many times I find that we are ignoring the bigger process picture. Although the user experience is important, there is much more to consider when evaluating our product development tools.

Consider the process of innovation or perhaps "concept design", and also consider the process of detail design. There is a significant difference between innovating and detailing. There is no hard line that separates the two, and innovation may actually occur throughout the entire process. However, these are two different disciplines – or “processes”. Consider the technologies that might be best suited for these different disciplines. What technologies best support the requirements? Of course to have a real meaningful discussion we would also need to know what the overall business drivers are and how they impact the process of developing products. We would also need to know much about the characteristics of the products that are being developed as well as the dynamics and structure of the product development organization itself.

If you are person primarily involved with innovation and concept design, you have different requirements than someone that is more involved with detailing and documenting a design. If your company is dependent on innovating products there will be different requirements than that of a company that is more focused on configuring products. Some CAD tools may support both disciplines but many don’t. Some PDM tools may support one process better than the other. Consider some of the requirements for innovation and concept design (just to name a few):

  • The ability to consider many different ideas (flexibility)
  • Reviewing old ideas to come up with new ideas (leverage, reuse)
  • Interacting with others at the idea level (teamwork, collaboration)
  • Analyzing and comparing ideas

What type of CAD system would do best in supporting the above requirements? It is true that with history-based modeling you are strongly encouraged to “plan ahead” - for a variety of very good reasons. Another term for “planning ahead” is “concept design”. What about detail design? Perhaps your history-free tool doesn’t have the desired capability for capturing design intent or “documenting” the design. Depending on your processes and product characteristics, this capability may bring value.

What about your data management practices and tools? Do they support the requirements of innovation? How do they support the need for flexibility, access and teamwork? For detail design, do the practices and tools provide the proper control?

Next time you are having a discussion about which tool is best, please consider and clarify the context of your evaluation and opinion. It can make a big difference. If not, your opinion could actually lead to a serious mismatch between tools and process. If the tools fail to support the process, the process will fail to support the business.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Direct Modeling and Freeform Surfaces - An Introduction

In a recent post titled “Predictability with Direct Editing – Part II” I included a video that very briefly shows the creation of freeform surfaces by using a direct edit. Since then I have received several questions and interest in understanding more about how freeform surfaces can be developed and modified using direct modeling technologies.
Freeform surfaces are surfaces that are non-analytic, i.e. they cannot be defined as a plane, cylinder, toroid or cone. These surfaces are defined using Basis-Splines (B-Splines) or Non-Uniform Rational Basis-Splines (NURBS). There are many surface modeling tools on the market that specialize in the creation and manipulation of freeform surfaces. Many of these do not generate volume solids, but rather interact directly with the surface geometry. This technology has been around for many years. There are also many solid modeling systems that have freeform surface design capabilities. This technology is a bit more complex in that connectivity must be maintained to form a solid, even during editing.
History-based modeling has simplified the problem of freeform surface design in a solid model by making the development and modification of these complex surfaces “history-based”. In other words, with history-based modeling you capture the process of creating the surface in the history tree. Rather than directly manipulating the 3D surface, history-based modeling allows you to go back to the original sketches and parameters that were previously captured in the history tree, modify them as necessary, and then regenerate the model. With this technology there is no need to directly manipulate the surface and try to maintain connectivity. It greatly simplifies the problem – that is, IF you create the part correctly in the first place.

With history-free direct modeling there is no history tree. As such surface design and manipulation can be more complex. The system can certainly provide a variety of surface creation capabilities, but when it comes time to modify the surfaces there are no 2D sketches to go back to. The interaction must be done directly on the surface while maintaining connectivity and continuity – in a predictable way. It is certainly not a trivial task and there are still many challenges, although progress continues.
The video below is the first of several videos that I hope to do regarding history-free solids-based freeform surface design (or something like that). This first video is a simple example that only shows a small subset of the freeform creation and editing capabilities. As usual I will be using CoCreate Modeling for these videos, but if the other makers of history-free direct modeling systems (Spaceclaim, Kubotek) want to add to this, I will be glad to include links in other posts.