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CAD/CAM reinvents itself

May 15, 2001

6 Min Read
CAD/CAM reinvents itself

Do you remember when every CAD package was "robust"? Times have changed, and so have buzzwords. The newest one is collaboration. This year's National Design Engineering Show (NDES) brought about a spate of improved CAD/CAM products, many of which are aimed at helping designers manage projects and meet with suppliers and customers on the Web. Exhibitors liberally sprinkled terms such as collaborative product commerce (CPC) and collaborative product development (CPD) throughout their presentations. 

But behind much of the trumpeting lie real solutions to real problems both product and mold designers face. In addition to Web-enabled software developed to bring far-flung participants together in cyberspace, other improvements aim to streamline the computer-aided design process with more elegant solutions. All in all, the time is right to take a look at the new offerings, many of which could be found in the CAD/CAM pavilion at NDES. 

Art-to-tool Speed 
New from Cimatron, the QuickConcept line of products (Figure 1) is the next generation of the QuickTools software and offers a Web-enabled, CAD-independent collaboration package for viewing CAD data, conducting analysis, and creating preliminary tool designs. Each of the products in this line—Quote, Split, Compare, and Pro—can operate independently or in tandem with other modules. Users will also see the entire line embedded within Cimatron Elite, the next-generation CAD/CAM package to be released later this year. 

With these packages users can either work within Cimatron or manipulate CAD data without actually using a CAD system. Instead, IGES or native Cimatron files are read to a viewer that operates on Microsoft Windows standards, making it easier for nondesigners to learn. During design review meetings via the Internet, the software allows participants to view and analyze a model concurrently. 

In the QuickConcept Split module, models with gaps, mismatched boundaries, or missing faces can still be analyzed without the need for a healing function. All open objects are considered surfaces, while all closed objects are solids. None of the geometry exists on levels any longer; the parting line, for example, is part of both core and cavity. Split directions are geometry driven and user defined, with the split simulation taking place on the fly. 

QuickConcept Compare weighs the geometrical differences between two versions of the same model, and then graphically marks these differences and documents the changes in a file. This module can detect new features, alterations to existing features, or subtle changes in the shape of a surface, and it allows the tool designer to accept or reject changes. Accepted changes are automatically propagated throughout the rest of the model. 

To speed up the quoting process, a Quote module focused on tooling decisions allows users to view, analyze, and mark up a digital mock-up of the mold. It performs draft analysis to identify undercuts; calculates mass, volume, and surface area; and animates core/cavity and slide actions. 

Major Collaboration 
Two CAD suppliers introduced collaborative capabilities for their software—Solid Edge (Unigraphics, now called UGS) and I-deas (SDRC). Both efforts address designers' needs to collaborate online and manage product data at the same time. 

In SDRC's case, the newly introduced software is called I-deas Enterprise. The product integrates I-deas software with the company's Metaphase technology for product data management. Rather than switching between two programs, users connect with the design and data management software through a single interface. According to SDRC's Mike Morse, Enterprise is the only unified environment available on the market today. Using a Team Browser, participants can share data with a single click, and there are no limits on the number of users or amount of data. 

Solid Edge Exchange (Figure 2) is billed as a design collaboration portal powered by e-Vis, the same technology used by automotive B2B exchange Covisint. Besides general project collaboration, the portal offers real-time interactive conferencing with 2-D and 3-D data files as well as desktop applications. Both sharing and product data management features are accessed through the same Web browser interface. When designers want to collaborate with suppliers who don't have Solid Edge, a free viewer can be downloaded from the Solid Edge website. 

Linking Data to Geometry 
Bringing together all of the information for a design project is now exponentially easier, thanks to a new software package called EnCapta (Vistagy). The program lets engineers capture vital nongeometric design information—such as design details, cost estimates, engineering change orders, material specs, and assembly instructions—and link it to CAD geometry. 

"When you begin building a part, the geometry is only part of what you need," says Steven Luby, president and ceo of Vistagy. "There are pages of related information for tooling, testing, materials, and details that usually end up in drawings, spreadsheets, notebooks, and even handwritten notes. None of these is associated with the CAD geometry." 

To resolve this issue, EnCapta lets users create objects via XML templates that contain the relevant information, and then link those objects associatively to the geometry. Designers can then browse an object to display the associated geometry, or click on an area of the CAD model to display the linked EnCapta data. Links remain associative within the 3-D model, so there is no need to re-enter data after making design revisions. 

Currently, this software is integrated into Catia, Pro/E, and UGS CAD systems, but Vistagy plans to broaden this scope after its initial product release this quarter. 

Net-based Computing 
3Ga Corp. unveiled its collaborative design solution, called 3G.web.decisions (Figure 3), as a true peer-to-peer (P2P) collaboration tool. For those baffled by these initials, P2P is a computing platform Intel Corp. is developing, and 3G.web.decisions runs on Intel architecture workstation and server platforms. 

The Web-native software allows any member of a design team to simulate the impact of parametric engineering changes on the fit, form, and functional behavior of the design. 

These design alternatives are stored in a knowledge base called the Active Solution Space. From this common URL, design team members can collectively determine the optimum design configuration. Once the best design is agreed upon, parameters are sent back to the CAD modeler for automatic updating, eliminating the need to redesign the original CAD model. 

Currently, this product supports SolidWorks and Solid Edge. 3Ga is actively working on adding Pro/E, Unigraphics, and Catia, with other CAD packages planned as well. 

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