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.