Monday, October 18, 2010

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


Blake said...

Sounds about right.

From what I can tell, a lot of furious customers and maybe some old-fashioned thinking drove the decisions that lead to ST3. Not exactly market driven.

d3print said...

Good comment`s Paul. Hope they survive with the new ST3 version.

Dave Ault said...

Yes, a company that is listening to their customers and not dictating top down stuff any more with no regard for feed back. I have been on both sides of the fence and I would much rather be with a company that does pay attention to my needs. After all, I hire them yearly to deliver what I want and need and they should feel obligated to do so. The flip side of the coin is a company that tells you what you are going to get and ignores what you want or need. Which side would a prudent marshall of time and money choose to be on I wonder?
Not market driven at all but user driven and this is why it will have great appeal to other users who want to be listened to. A side benefit to this of course will be market share as frustrated users move to a responsive company.

Jon Banquer said...

When a direct modeler still doesn't have a hole wizard even after numerous releases "furious customers" are bound to surface. They are the same "furious customers" who have asked for a hole wizard numerous times and have been ignored on the direct modelers official support and enhancement forum.

Jon Banquer
San Diego, CA

Jon Banquer said...

For many years IronCAD has had superior technology to what has just been introduced in Solid Edge ST3.

Unfortunately for most real world end users both IronCAD and Solid Edge ST3 are incomplete CADCAM solutions which are very poorly marketed by companies that have exceptionally poor management.

Jon Banquer
San Diego, CA

Paul Hamilton said...

Interesting comments, but I am more interested in your opinions of how they have combined the traditional history tree with Synchronous Technology. If all the functionality was there that you wanted, would you find this interesting merger of ordered and unordered features in a single part to be of benefit to your design process?

d3print said...

"If all the functionality was there that you wanted, would you find this interesting merger of ordered and unordered features in a single part to be of benefit to your design process?" No, it is not a benefit, that`s my opinion.
All thing`s that`s mess up designing can`t be benefit for your design process. One thing I miss in paper and pen design works,
there wasn`t these kind of "feature tree monsters" waiting when you started your job.

Dave Ault said...

Not sure if you meant for me to answer this question but I will. I have yet to get my ST3 dvd's and so my actual experience with ST3 so far was sitting in on a beta testers session. I think you are asking how it benefits me personally and so I will talk about the aspects of SE I use or have used. It requires far more experience then that demo session for me to be able to really state benefits of the combination of history and ST.
Now with ST I do have experience in ST1 and 2 and can tell you that basically 90% plus of all my work is being done here especially with ST2 and I am not a complicated 3D modeling shop but just a straight MCAD design build facility. Here ST saves me time in design and especially the changes that customers always seem to want today. I make extrusion dies for cookie dough depositors for instance and a simple change in a recipe to an existing product changes how it works in the depositor. I save a huge amount of time in redesign of existing parts with ST. The other area of great benefit is in importing parts from other cad systems. My customers are all over the map here with SW being the largest by percentage file type I receive followed by DWG as a close second. I expect I work on these with greater ease than someone working natively with these files and after the imports just go to work and don't worry about how or where the file was done.
I said all that to say that for me personally the addition of numerous improvements in ST was far more important than the inclusion of history except for one thing. I am quite pleased to see the number of seperate file types between ST and traditional go away and this is a big deal. A very big deal as now if ever I do choose to or need to work either way I can in the same file and my file types for sure are cut in more than half. You never know after all what a customer may ask of you in the future.
Perhaps I am not a normal SE customer but what drew me as a new customer to SE ST1 was the direct editing and so for the most part in my business history is just that, history. I know a lot of the "power" users are excited about the combination of history and ST and hopefully one of them will chime in here. I just build stuff for factories and need to do it quickly and easily and past that at this time I don't much care.

Josh said...

As a predominate SolidWorks users, I like the look of this for the workflow I use, or rather, am use to.

I like how the feature tree is split between ordered and synchronous. IMO, this would actually work into a workflow nicely and would ease the transition and the awful undertaking of updating design and methodology manuals.

I don't like that moving it to synchronous kills the history. This is something I'm sure they're working on, though it looks to be a problem Autodesk or PTC may solve first.

This is the first version of SE ST I'd feel comfortable switching to. Being a life-long SolidWorks user, I imagine that says something about who they're aiming for or what I'm looking for... or both.

Jon Banquer said...

"If all the functionality was there that you wanted, would you find this interesting merger of ordered and unordered features in a single part to be of benefit to your design process?"

I can't think of any direct modeling product that has added history based modeling tools to their workflow.

Users need to ask themselves why what I stated above is the case especially in light of the fact that just about every history based modeler in existence is now adding direct modeling tools.

It's my belief that it was PTC who pioneered history based modeling and commercialized it. PTC now fully admits that history based modeling is badly flawed and the wrong solution for many users. Further, several former prominent PTC employees have gone on to start a company that shuns the history based modeling approach and exclusively uses a direct modeling approach.

The time has now arrived for direct modelers to start offering radical new tools that eliminate any and all reasons for a history tree.

Jon Banquer
San Diego, CA