Thursday, August 11, 2011

Common, But Strange, Product Design Terms

Lately I have been pondering over some of the common product design terms we use in our industry. If you really think about some of these terms, you may find like me that in reality they actually make no sense at all. Perhaps they can tell us much about how software vendors have changed our world.

Here are just a few that I think about. There are many others, but I'm going to pick on these three for now.

Top-Down Design

When humans first designed ships that crossed the oceans, do you think they used top-down design or bottom-up design? I really want to know. How did they do it?

I understand what top-down design actually refers to, but does the contrary, bottom-up, ever yield good design? is there really another choice? Is this term simply used due to the nature of our CAD tools we use today? Are we forced to use this term due to some awkward deficiency in our CAD tool? Try to forget about your favorite CAD tool for just a moment. How would you REALLY approach the design?

In-Context Design

What is the contrary to in-context design? Out-of-context design? What is that? Is real product design ever done out of context? No, never has, never will. So why do we need this term? When the rocket scientists designed the rockets that sent men to the moon, did they design them in context or out of context?

Do you suppose they went to the rocket parts bin, and started bolting parts together to make the rocket? I guess that would be an example of out-of-context design (and bottom-up design), and I bet it wouldn’t work. Do we really need special tools and training to keep our designers from designing out-of-context? Again, why does this term exist? Ignore your CAD tool again for a moment. How would you REALLY design a product; in context or out of context? Is there another choice I missed somewhere along my education or career. Does the use of the term have something to do with our CAD tools?

Design Intent

Is there a difference between "design" and "design intent"? I once heard this response from someone after seeing a demonstration of direct modeling: “No, we could never use direct modeling with our products. Our products demand firm design intent”. (Or something close to that). Wow, many thoughts crossed my mind. Thoughts I couldn't repeat in front of them, but will share here: “Are you telling me that your products are so sophisticated that they couldn't be designed without history-based modeling?” Or worse yet: “Are you saying that you can’t design without history-based modeling?” Another crazy thought: “So you think that this rigid design intent will keep you from making mistakes? Oh, right.” Hopefully they are just telling me that it would be more difficult to design their product without it. I’ll think positive and assume the latter.

It’s almost as if humans were never before able to design, and convey the intent of the design, until we had CAD with history trees. History trees certainly provide a useful method of documenting your design "intent". Do they provide the best method of conveying your design "intent"? (And do we really need to use the word "intent" after the word "design"?)

How do you suppose the caveman above was ever able to document and convey the intent that the center hole had to be concentric, at a specific tolerance, to the outer diameter of his new round wheel? Eventually it had to be done. How’d he do it? By the way, how do you REALLY define design intent? What defines it? If your answer has anything to do with CAD - you are wrong. There are certainly many ways to “document” and "convey" your design intent - with history trees, with 3D models, with 2D CAD, even with paper and pencil. What do you suppose is the easiest and most universally understood method of documenting and conveying your design - intent?

Bottom line: Do our tools fit the process of design, or are we forced to adjust the process to fit the tool?


Monday, July 25, 2011

Some Fun Direct Modeling with Chain and Sprocket

I hear the term "direct modeling" being used and abuse to describe many different things. To me direct modeling refers to a CAD systems ability to interact with edges, faces, features, parts and assemblies directly during the design process. It means that the CAD system is intelligent, not necessarily the geometry. It means that the CAD system can intelligently interact with geometry regardless of how or where the geometry was created – basically; “what you see is what you get”. There is already a lot of useful information in a solid body. A direct modeling system should be able to recognize this and take advantage of it. Here's an example.
Below is a video I created after doing some direct modeling with some drive chain and a sprocket using Creo Elements/Direct Modeling. As I mentioned in the video I am not sure how useful this is in the real world, but I found it interesting and wanted to share it. I personally have not done much design with drive chain since my brother and I designed and built a go-cart, about a thousand years ago. The chain kept falling off on those tight corners, (and I lost part of my eyebrow on another tight corner. "Wear a helmet, stupid" - Whatever!).
Chain is interesting simply due to the relationship from one link to the other. By recognizing the physical properties of the solid bodies that make up the chain, you can visualize some of these interesting behaviors, especially as it interacts with the sprocket.
For this example I started out by downloading the sprocket and chain in STEP format from a 3D content web site. I then created the simple shaft in the center of the sprocket. All parts are dumb solids, and there are no assembly relationships to begin with. In the “Position” function of Modeling there is an option called “Physical”. If you turn this option on, the system will recognize the physical properties of the 3D solid models, and recognize the relationships between models in real time (or very close to it). You will notice that I do eventually put a fixed relationship onto the shaft, but I apply no other relationships to the models or assembly. There are no “user defined” relationships defined between the chain and the sprocket, and there are no assembly references. What you see is what you get.

What I find interesting is the various ways of using the “Relations” capability together with the “Physical” option when moving parts. The system doesn't recognize gravity, acceleration or anything like that so it’s not doing kinematics. It simply knows moments of inertia, CG and the fact that these models are solid. And best of all – it makes no difference how the models were created or assembled, and on what CAD system they were created or assembled, (just had to throw that in).

Monday, July 18, 2011

Direct Modeling and Variant Design

Designing products with the help of a CAD tool that is history-based (some call it parametric modeling) has been the norm for many years now. However there are thousands of companies around the world that have been successfully designing products with CAD tools that do not retain modeling history. We call this technology direct modeling. It’s more than just modeling however. Depending our your product characteristics and processes, the flexibility that comes with direct modeling may provide a better environment and methodology for supporting your particular design environment. This direct modeling methodology is catching on and now spreading rapidly.

The technology behind this methodology is experiencing substantial improvement. With some of the CAD systems out there that are based on this technology it is now possible to parametrically control models and assemblies – without recording modeling history in an ordered way. The term “parametric modeling” can no longer be used to describe history-based modeling. Parametric modeling can be done with or without history.

The benefits include the fact that with the direct modeling methodology there is no need to plan ahead. Users can create and manipulate geometry anyway possible. Relations and constraints (design intent) can be added on the fly as need. There is no need for strict and consistent modeling practices. It simply makes no difference how you come up with the geometry. And it can work on any geometry; 2D, 3D wires, surfaces, and solids, regardless of where it comes from or how it was created. With direct modeling, geometry is the master, rather than the proprietary history tree.

In the past there were several areas where history-based modeling and the ordered model provided many advantages over history-free direct modeling. One of those areas was in regards to the development and management of family , or variant parts. The ordered structure made it relatively simple to represent a part in several slightly different states or configurations. With adherence to modeling standards and careful development of the 3D history-based model, the model can be “programmed” to support the family variants simply by changing a parameter.

Below is a video of doing something similar with history-free direct modeling using the PTC Creo product “Creo Elements/Direct Modeling” (“CoCreate” or “SolidDesigner” for the old guys like me.)
In this case I am starting with an IGES file just to highlight the fact that with the direct modeling methodology, it makes no difference where or how the geometry came into existence, or if proper methods were used in creating it. Perhaps this is an example of a model coming from a supplier that uses a different CAD tool. In this scenario we need to add some design intent to the model so that we can represent other variants that may be required of this part. With traditional history-based modeling this would require a model rebuild.

Perhaps in another video I can show you how the assembly configuration can actually be used to drive the configuration of this part.
Imagine a design process that does not involve planning ahead, ordered models, model rebuilds, strict modeling practices, proprietary data, regeneration failures and the mind-numbing web of relationships and references. Well, it’s not too far away.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Is Your Investment in the Structured Model Generating a Positive Return?

As I've mentioned before, in my current job I get to visit and interact with many people and companies involved with product development; several every week. Most of these people/companies use history-based modeling of some kind as their primary design tool. As I walk through their processes and tool usage,I am continually amazed at how little value most companies get from their history based design tool and the resulting structured model, considering the level of investment that goes into the development and manipulation of the structured model. It seems that rarely is the potential value of the structured model realized. I say this based on a few observations:
  • I've had the opportunity to look at many history based models/assemblies and review their history trees and structure, coming from a variety of different CAD tools. While I see some models that are well structured with a good representation of design intent, most models are very poorly structured and really make no sense. They are clear examples of people just trying to get their job done as quickly as possible; get the models built, evaluate the design, make drawings and make parts. And a lot of these models are coming from companies that I would consider high tech and leaders in the industry.
  • For further review I often load these models into my CAD tool of choice (Creo Elements Direct Modeling) and run a simple interference check. Since they are structured models I assume that errors will not exist, as many people believe that the structured model keeps them from making errors. Unfortunately, and all too often, I find many errors.
  • I also find that recreating models is not too uncommon. This doesn't indicate that they are not getting value from the models, it just indicates that the cost of a well structured model may be much higher than most realize.
Why are we investing so much time, effort and money into history-based modeling and the structured model, when so often we are not getting the value from it that we could/should? Here are the most common answers I hear, or can assume based on what I see, with #1 being the most frequent.
  1. They don't know of, or recognize, any alternative. Many people truly don't know that there is an alternative to history-based modeling and the structured model. Value is a relative thing, and if there is no recognition of alternatives, there is no recognition of opportunity.
  2. Many companies assume that strict modeling practices are being followed and as such assume they are getting value from it, but have really not done any work to validate this.
  3. The company may not be open to an alternative as migration costs are assumed higher than the potential return. Of course understanding potential return will require a clear understanding of alternative solutions.
  4. Individuals may not be open to an alternative as they have bettered their career based on their knowledge and skill with a particular tool. Learning a new one will set them back.
  5. User preference often gets higher priority than process improvement when it comes to tool selection. The cost of training can contribute to this. A lack of understanding in how the tool impacts process also contributes to this.
  6. Others?
Of course the alternative I am referring to is direct modeling and the unstructured model. Most all CAD companies are working on this technology and are presenting it in some form or another. This alternative is becoming much more prevalent in our industry.
Before you start jumping to conclusions about the lack of value in an unstructured model, be careful not to assume that the unstructured model cannot be predictably controlled and/or represent design intent. Creo Elements Direct Modeling, for example, has a powerful 3D parametric solver built into it. Users can add control and design intent to geometry and assemblies at anytime in the process, independent of where or how the geometry was created. An IGES file can even be parametrically controlled and easily be made intelligent if desired. Assemblies and mechanisms can easily be brought to life for virtual prototyping. And don't confuse design intent with modeling intent. Here's an old example using imported models (although I should update this to Creo):

So the question is, are you really getting value from your investment in history-based CAD tool and the structured model? If so, what value? Do you understand the total investment, and does the value justify the investment? Are you sure you understand the alternatives?
There is certainly value that can come from the structured model, but many times this value comes at a great cost. I could go on about the various perceived values that people think they are getting from the structured model. Some are valid, some are not. Perhaps that is a topic for a different post.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Creo, My Take on It - Part 3

Part 3: Creo and “AnyRole Apps”

<<Part 2

One of the things you will hear PTC talk about in the context of Creo is AnyRole Apps. Creo is a scalable suit of right-sized, purpose-built, interoperable apps built on the common data model. It is all about providing the most appropriate and right-sized application for the task at hand. There, that’s the marketing stuff.

So, what value does the concept of AnyRole Apps bring to product development organizations and their development processes? The way I see it is that while AnyMode Modeling allows for creating engineering data in a variety of ways while maintaining consistency in the data model, AnyRole Apps is about allowing others to more easily consume, utilize and add to the engineering master.

Before Creo there were two choices for any potential contributor or consumer of engineering data:

  • Equip these people with the common heavy CAD tool that is used for core product development, including training and best practices. In many cases this tool was far more powerful and complex than what was actually required, depending on use cases.
  • Or – allow these people to use the most appropriate tool of choice with a high probability of disconnecting the downstream deliverables from the engineering master, resulting in potential interoperability issues and duplication of effort.

With PTC’s concepts around AnyRole Apps, the engineering master is maintained regardless of roles and the supporting applications that may be used. This concept certainly can be of high value to companies that have chosen the history tree and the resulting ordered model as the engineering master. It can also be of value to companies that have chosen direct modeling and geometry as the engineering master.

With the Creo apps, for example, you no longer need a full CAD tool just to render an image that is associated to the master data - or interrupt a busy CAD expert to have them generate the image for you. The Technical Publications department may no longer need to maintain a full CAD tool just to develop associated animations for the Service department.

My Understanding of Potential Creo Applications

Certainly a significant feature of the PTC Creo applications is that they will all have the same look and feel from a user experience point of view. They will also have the same look and feel from an IT perspective. But what I think really makes Creo unique is the potential to maintain the connection to the ordered model regardless of the app being used and the person using it. Higher individual and process productivity, improved interoperability, and reduced duplication of effort are all possible benefits.

My conclusion:

I’ve seen the slides from PTC that show the 4 big problems they claim to solve with Creo. If in fact they did is a decision you will have to make for yourself. For me it comes down to this. Use the tool that best fits your needs and enables you to be most productive - no need to be burdened with functionality that you will never use. Enable others, besides the CAD experts, to participate in the product development process with controlled contribution and interaction to the engineering master. Eliminate disconnects with the engineering master, and reduce the duplication of effort. Could it be that simple? Well, since Creo is not yet released, I guess we'll have to wait and see.

There is certainly much more to Creo than what I have covered here, but I hope it has given my readers a little better idea of what Creo is about - from my perspective anyway. Hope to give you a demo soon.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Creo, My Take on It - Part 2

Part 2: Creo and “AnyMode Modeling”

<< Part 1

There is a significant difference between using a parametric (history-based) system as your primary design tool and using a direct modeling (history-free) system as your primary design tool. These two technologies offer completely different methodologies and experiences for product development. Certainly a company that has standardized on parametric modeling may get value from the flexibility of direct editing in certain areas of the process, but if they have chosen the history-tree to be the engineering master (document of record), the history-tree needs to remain the master. If, on the other hand, a company chooses direct modeling as their primary design tool and understands geometry to be the engineering master, geometry needs to remain the master.

With Creo, I don't think PTC is somehow attempting to mix these two in some convoluted way, inevitably leading to a compromise in both methods and data. On the contrary, PTC is providing powerful purpose built solutions, tied together through the common data model.

For the company that has chosen to standardize on a parametric history-based solution, Creo provides a high-end purpose-built no compromise parametric modeling app AND a complimentary purpose built direct modeling app. This particular direct modeling app provides an option to track direct edits into the common data model. These records can then be accessed and consumed by a parametric app that can make sense of them as it relates to the ordered feature tree. The user of the parametric app is given a choice to accept or reject modifications. If accepted, the edits will be reflected appropriately in the tree. This direct app can be used in a parametric environment to allow infrequent users, or perhaps even non-CAD users of the parametric app to more easily participate in the design process. This capability makes it possible to take a fully parametric model into a much simpler direct environment, make edits as necessary, then bring it back into the parametric environment with NO data loss – maintaining the engineering master. I’ve heard some call it “round tripping” (P>D>P: Parametric>Direct>Parametric). PTC’s round trip is made possible via the common data model and is very unique. It is of course important to understand process to determine where this type of workflow makes sense, but when and where it does, Creo can support it.

With Creo, PTC is also providing the best most powerful direct modeling app on the market that is capable of supporting complete art-to-part. For companies that chose direct modeling as their primary design tool, and geometry as their master, Creo provides the best, no compromise solution. This app comes with a synchronous parametric solver when firm design intent is needed. These customers can also take advantage of the parametric app as needed if and when there are circumstances that are well served with the parent/child relationship of parametric modeling. Via the CDM, the resulting geometry can quickly and easily be incorporated into the direct design environment and carried forward as native data.

Part 3


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Creo, My Take on It - Part 1

I have written about Fusion, SpaceClaim and recently Synchronous Technology, so I guess I should write something about Creo. I am an employee of PTC so I want to make it clear that what I write on my blog is my own personal opinions and may not reflect the opinions of my employer. At PTC I am responsible for technical sales. I am not a product developer, product manager or in a marketing position, so I have no direct responsibility for what Creo is. I view the development of Creo from the sidelines (although I guess that’s better than the bleachers).

I’m sure that most of you have already heard about Creo. I’ve read much about it online in many publications, blogs and forums. There seems to be many different ideas about what it is, what it’s going to be, and what it is not. It’s been interesting to see what PTC is working on and seeing it come to reality. PTC already has the most robust direct modeling technology in the CoCreate product, now Creo Elements/Direct. And of course, they also have the most powerful parametric modeling tool in Pro/E, now Creo Elements/Pro. As a matter of fact these products were the first of their kind that led to many followers – in both cases.

Part 1: Creo and the “Common Data Model”

So what is Creo? The graphic above is indicating the concept of many purpose built applications, all with a common user interface and a common user experience. These apps are sitting on top of what PTC is calling the “common data model” (CDM). There are many advances PTC is making with Creo. For me I am always interested in what’s happening on the direct modeling side, and Creo certainly involves direct modeling. But before getting into that it may be more appropriate to discuss this common data model, (CDM), as this sets the stage for much of what Creo is.

In the graphic above the blue internal arrows basically reference the common data model. I overheard a PTC Product Manager describing the CDM as a book with chapters. It sounded like each chapter could contain different things related to the data that may be created and consumed in the context of Creo. Depending on the “app”, different chapters may be accessed for storage and retrieval. Beyond this I don’t know a lot of details, but I could envision how there could be a chapter for 2D geometry, one for 3D geometry, one for design intent, one for the associated drawing, one for FEA attributes, one for sheet metal attributes, one for NC tool paths, one for technical pubs, and so on. And it’s conceivable that multiple apps could be accessing the CDM synchronously, interacting with the appropriate chapters as needed. The CDM is much more than a common file format or a common data structure and the possibilities are intriguing.

If I’m correct, or at least close in my description of the CDM then the concept of what PTC refers to as “AnyApps”, can really start to make sense. This could be a very powerful approach in solving many issues related to interoperability and consistency across purpose built apps. Lightweight purpose built apps that can read and write into the different “chapters” of the CDM as needed. This would be true of all the “apps”, even the bigger geometry creating apps, whether direct or parametric. Through the CDM a person could chose to use a purpose built standalone 2D app to do some early concepting, for example, and never be disconnected from the engineering master. In this example, the 2D geometry could then easily be utilized in the development of a 3D model, while the CDM maintains the appropriate linkages and consistencies. Today the only way to get this level of consistency is with one big monolithic application that does it all.

Time will tell, and as I learn more about it I hope to share it with you. It seems that the CDM puts the right foundation to Creo.

Part 2


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Direct Modeling Continues to Catch On

It should be no surprise that interest in direct modeling is continuing to grow, and at an ever increasing rate. Every major CAD vendor now has a strategy around direct modeling. These companies don’t do this because of some fascination with technology. Most are public companies and must show growth, revenue and profit. They do it based on real business potential.

This growth, however, has nothing to do with direct modeling somehow being better or more functional than traditional history-based modeling. These two methodologies are very different and they add value to the product design process in many different ways and in many different areas. There is no need to debate which is better. That is a pointless debate. The market has now proven a strong need for both methods.

I can name many companies that are currently standardized on history-based modeling for their product development, but are now adding direct modeling to their environment to improve specific areas of the product development process. These companies are not adding direct modeling due to some missing functionality in their history-based tool. As a matter of fact, some of the direct modeling tools they are deploying are much less functional than their standard CAD tool. Another important fact is that their addition of direct modeling is not causing a reduction in the seat count of their standard tool. Why do you suppose this is happening? Why would a company that already owns the most capable CAD tool on the planet (whatever you think that is), add direct modeling to their toolset - without reducing the seat count of their standard CAD tool? They already own a very capable CAD tool and yet they are realizing value from direct modeling. Do you have any idea why this is happening? In my little world I see it happening every week. If you don’t know, you certainly should.

There are also thousands of companies around the globe that have standardized on direct modeling as their primary CAD tool of choice for product design, from concept to manufacturing. This choice is based on their product characteristics and product development process. I can assure you that this choice was not some uninformed, unintelligent choice made in a vacuum, or perhaps made by some highly opinionated user. Most all of these companies switched from traditional parametric history-based modeling and continue to reap huge benefits from the switch, again, based on product and process characteristics. This wholesale switch however makes up a very small percentage of the growth that is happening in direct modeling.

It’s obvious that in most cases where direct modeling is being deployed, the hardcore full time CAD users are not switching to direct modeling. Many are satisfied and productive. So where does the value come from to justify the addition of direct modeling? I can give you many real-world use cases, but I’ll let you consider it yourself for a while, or you can read this, it’s my: Top Ten Reasons Companies add Direct Modeling to their Product Design Toolbox”

Most people I meet in my business are very involved in product development and many are serious CAD users, and yet most have never heard of direct modeling and have no clue what it is. I guess this would indicate that the growth we are seeing in direct modeling is only the tip of the iceberg … uh, maybe that’s not a good analogy... :<)


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Product Design in 2011

Wow! We are already well into 2011 and I haven’t posted to this blog since October. Happy New Year everyone! (Kind of late with that)

Maybe I am imagining things, but it seems to me that in 2011 we are going to see some significant differences in the tools we use to support product design. Are you keeping up with all the craziness going on out there in CAD and PLM? Well you sure should be. Consider the recent news about SolidWorks and Dassault, PTC Creo, new releases of Synchronous Technology, Spaceclaim and much more. It’s going to be an exciting year for sure.

2011 is going to be an exciting year for me as well as I am very much involved with Creo at PTC. For the previous two years I have been responsible for technical sales of the CoCreate products. Since October I am now responsible for technical sales of Creo. It’s much bigger and broader, and there is huge interest out there. As such, since October my work life has been a bit crazy and the workload continues to grow. It’s enjoyable and exciting to see and hear the responses from people once they understand what this Creo thing is. I have a post I’ve been working on for some time now regarding my take on what Creo is. I hope to post it soon – we’ll see.

As you probably know from this blog, I’m somewhat of a direct modeling guy. It is interesting to see that the concept of direct modeling is making its way into the portfolio of almost every CAD supplier. Do you realize now that almost every CAD tool out there that is based on direct modeling (Synchronous Tech, Elements/Direct (CoCreate), SpaceClaim, KeyCreator) now has the ability at some level to capture design intent on history-free models? That you can control this so called “dumb solid” parametrically? Of course some do it better than others and it’s still somewhat more robust in history-based CAD, but in a few years it will be nothing special. Watch what happens in this area in 2011. With direct modeling, this type of history-free control and design intent is not dependant on the modeling process and can be applied to any geometry from any source. You will no longer have to confuse “Design intent” with “Modeling Intent” ;<).

What kind of things may happen in the CAD world for 2011? There’s certainly a good amount of talk about CAD in the cloud. What is that, anyway? Seems every time I talk about it with someone I hear a different perception about what it is and what value it brings. Not sure I can answer those questions yet. Maybe it will be something like the on-line computer games our kids are playing, (ok, I do too – whatever). There is some fascinating technology in that space that we could be taking advantage of. Someday soon you may be interacting with PLM technology, and not know it -- “Inconceivable!”

I think it is safe to say that the pace of change in our world of product design is not slowing down. It would be fun to hear from some of you. What do you see coming this year?

  • Will Solidworks -on the CATIA kernel -on the cloud -on … whatever else, change our world in 2011?
  • What about PTCs Common Data Model? Will it change the way we interact with each other? I can tell you it has never been done before.
  • Will we figure out how to reliably reconcile a history tree based on external geometry edits?
  • What about the proprietary history tree? Will it continue to be the preferred engineering document of record?
  • Are we going to see history-based modeling magically merge with history-free modeling into some sort of CAD antimatter?
  • Will touch screen CAD finally catch on? (But what if it’s in the cloud?)
  • Will we somehow learn when to use ordered features versus unordered features?
  • Just how many new releases of SpaceClaim can they squeeze into 2011? They’re off to a good start.
  • Will our CAD UI make a giant leap in becoming less significant?
  • Last but not least: Will Jon Banquer finally get the CAD/CAM tool he’s been long searching for? Oh please! Oh please! (just for you Jon :<)