Autofact '96: CAE now sees through plastics lenses

December 31, 1996

Wireframe-to-solids converter
CADKey '97 will feature a wireframe-to-solids converter so that moldmakers can bury part designs in a block, then subtract them to create mold surfaces.

As little as five years ago, the world of computer-aided design, manufacture, and engineering that convened for this expo presented a real paradox: here were the most advanced design and manufacturing tools in the world; yet, in general, their focus was still firmly on traditional materials—namely metals. Perhaps the dollar value of products still made from metals was a factor in this myopic view, but it made little sense to nearly overlook an emerging market such as plastics.

This year at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Autofact exhibitors restored our faith in the intelligence and keen eyesight of the CAE community. As a group, it appears to have overwhelmingly grasped the fact that more engineers are designing with plastics, and that computer tools are nearly essential for the job to be done effectively. Of course, there have always been vendors with this mindset, especially those marketing products such as Moldflow and C-Mold. What has changed are general-purpose CAD/CAM packages as well as FEA offerings, which now reflect the significant position occupied by plastics in automotive, medical, IT, and a litany of additional markets.

MF/Flowcheck analysis package
MF/Flowcheck, a preliminary filling analysis package, is now integrated within Autodesk's Mechanical Desktop.

Other changes are afoot in this industry as well. Unlike its splashier, consumer cousin Comdex (for coverage, see pp. 30-31), the mix at the Autofact show is changing. Formerly large exhibitors such as Parametric Technology Corp. and Autodesk were either completely absent or represented only as a partner in a "group booth." On the other hand, we saw several product design and development firms here for the first time. Those that specialize in plastics included Lexmark's Plastics Technology Center (PTC), Compression Inc., and Plynetics/ Prototype Express. PTC's Steve Spanoudis noted that his company finds that design engineers in general increasingly seek to outsource this type of plastics design expertise.

Mergers and acquisitions among many of the industry's key players have contributed to a scaled down expo floor. But although show size was smaller, sales of software appear to be healthier than ever. Market research firm Daratech forecasts those revenues will top 18 percent growth for 1996, breaking previous records.

Formula 1 Minardi
The engineering team for the Formula 1 Minardi uses Cimatron's design, analysis, and drafting modules.

IMM made several interesting discoveries during this year's exhibition, hosted as always by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. First, hot topics on the Autofact conference agenda have also been covered recently in this publication (see sidebar, "For your information"). Secondly, we tracked down a clear, concise explanation of recent advances in solid modeling (see sidebar, "What's in a solid?"). And finally, we found computer tools aimed directly at plastics designers, molders, and moldmakers, all of which are detailed below and on the following pages.

Solid Updates
A third version of Autodesk's design-through-manufacturing solution, the Mechanical Desktop 1.2, will be available this month, according to Guri Stark, Autodesk director of industrial marketing. Customers such as Trane, Siemens, and Philips are using the hybrid modeler to unite 2-D wireframe and 3-D solids, reports Stark.Autodesk has also assembled fifteen software vendors that it calls MAI solution partners for Desktop, including Moldflow and Ansys, to offer users a complete suite of art-to-part capabilities. Similar to other modelers, this is a feature-based, parametric solids package with bidirectional associativity and Nurbs-based surface modeling. Unlike competitors that run only on Unix, however, Desktop is PC-based.

Euclid Quantum modules
All of the modules within Euclid Quantum, including Designer, Analyst, and Machinist, are linked to Euclid Desktop for access to the Web, intranets, and easy data exchange.

The new release will feature a simplified user interface along with edit-in-place capabilities—that means users can work in assembly mode, adding parts as necessary. An interesting aside: Stark noted that "Gunslingers," an expanded quality program in which customers spend a week with developers to find and correct bugs, will be performed twice for each release of Desktop.

After recently unveiling the Euclid Quantum series (November 1996 IMM, p. 66), Matra Datavision further underscored the value of its integrated design, analysis, and machining package for concurrent engineering environments. The same technology underlying Quantum, which Matra calls Cas.cade, will be applied to other products, the company confirmed. This includes Strim for plastic part design, analysis, and prototyping as well as Moldmaker with its built-in library of 3-D parts.

CADKey, a Windows-based solid modeling package, is now owned by Baystate Technologies. President Robert Bean told IMM that 30 percent of CADKey users are moldmakers. By the end of January, the company will release CADKey '97, with integrated ACIS modeler and wireframe-to-solids converter. "This will allow moldmakers to bury a solid model in a block and subtract it to produce core and cavity sets," says Bean. Surfaces can then be output via IGES. Baystate is committed to upgrading CADKey with a new release every six months, he notes.

Intergraph's Solid Edge, a Windows-native solid CAD package with parametric part modeling, will feature open profiles in its newest version 2. This means part features will be connected to, and can exchange information with, adjacent features. In addition, the program will offer more intelligence in geometry creation. It will know, for example, that a rib follows across multiple faces and features. An assembly mode lets users create new parts and reference the geometry of existing ones.

Ansys/AutoFEA 3D embedded within Autodesk Mechanical Desktop offers tighter integration between design and analysis.

Analyzing Designs
Moldflow and Autodesk have integrated MF/Flowcheck within Mechanical Desktop for seamless flow-analysis capabilities, according to Moldflow's Paul Bordonaro. "This gives product designers a 'will-it-fill' guideline," he notes. Analysis results will show fill, flow pattern, and location of possible weld lines and air traps. Each node will be assigned a confidence factor based on color—blue means the part will fill under normal injection pressure, green means it may fill, and red means it will not fill. When two or more colors are present, the software determines an answer based on the dominant color and importance of its location.

Another Desktop solution partner, Ansys, has integrated AutoFEA 3D for early, upfront design validation. "Users can answer the questions 'Will this design work?' and 'Will it perform when forces are applied?'" notes Dick Miller, vice president/general manager of Ansys Design-Space. By embedding the system, he adds, Ansys ensures that validations are performed directly on the CAD model for data integrity. AutoFEA 3d runs in AutoCAD r13 or Mechanical Desktop 1.1 under Windows95 and NT platforms.

Engineering Animation Inc. introduced VisMockUp for digital prototyping of large assemblies. The product is due for release in the first quarter of this year.

Moldmaking News
Cimatron Technologies Moldesign module, integrated within the Cimatron CAD/CAM product, lets moldmakers read in a design file, perform detailed mold development, and output a precise NC milling file, all within the same environment. Peter Bolger, vice president, tells IMM that 80 percent of Cimatron's customer base is involved in moldmaking. "These are people who need true CAM integration with elite solids and surfaces," Bolger says, "and these are the areas where Cimatron excels." The package is open to all platforms, PC and workstation alike.

In version 8.0, developers created functions just for moldmakers, such as knowledge-based NC. This means the software automatically knows where the unmachined areas are. Also, users can build libraries of machining strategies for similar parts so that they don't have to continually reinvent the wheel, Bolger notes. Cimatron also offers hybrid modeling—rather than converting the entire IGES wireframe file, users can just pick a reference point or one surface for conversion to parametric solids. "This is especially time saving for fillets and corner blends, where you can literally save hours," he says.

Step-to-IGES converter
International TechneGroup Inc. displayed a Step-to-IGES converter for importing Step-based CAD files into IGES-based CAM programs.

Cimlinc is focusing its efforts on helping automotive moldmakers re-engineer their process for growth. Jeanné Naysmith, vice president, believes the company's Prospector package is the first process optimization software to address all mold machining issues. "It not only verifies paths created by the CAM system, it also allows operators to quickly optimize those paths on the shop floor or create new toolpaths to take advantage of objective conditions," says Naysmith. Prospector runs under Windows NT and uses a knowledge base to let operators determine the best tool, tool holder, and adapter for each mold. The system also maintains associativity between toolpaths and the surface models contained in the part's CAD file.

Reverse Engineering
Mold repair via reverse engineering just got simpler. Imageware's Surfacer links digitized model data from a variety of sources (touch probes to CMM equipment) to existing CAD/ CAM tools. Surfacer will get a facelift of sorts as the company adds on a new module to speed the time it takes to create surfaces. The new approach simplifies the process, allowing someone who isn't a Nurbs "guru" to quickly create complex, multiple-surface Nurbs models, says founder Kurt Skifstad.

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