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November 1, 2001

5 Min Read
CAD turns an eye towards users


For designers, working in a true split view environment is an intuitive method that is now possible in thinkdesign 7.0. Split view makes it easier to create and modify complex, 3-D geometry. In this case, the designer is sketching curves over a TIF image with dynamic analysis tools turned on. And using a simple global shape modeling tool (top), users can explore multiple design variations.

Until only recently in the relatively short history of CAD, software developers operated in somewhat of an ivory tower. They knew what was good for the designer, so the thinking went, because they were the brains behind the sophisticated programs. In fact, at an industry conference held in years past, the ceo of one well-known software firm actually blurted out his sentiments publicly by explaining that users didn't know what they wanted. 

Let's do a fast forward. It is 2001, and CAD products such as SolidWorks and think3 have driven down costs while enhancing features. Not exactly commodities, the CAD packages of today are not the specialty items of yesterday, either. 

This is a great turn of events for the designer/user, who can now choose from software that actually addresses his or her method of working. In order to capture customers today, the big vendors are turning their focus toward the designer to make programs that actually take away obstacles and become intuitive tools. 

Several of the best examples of this trend have recently become available, either as new versions of existing software or entirely new packages. The following provides a few examples of new CAD releases built around this new trend. 

Better Modeling and Management 
With thinkdesign version 7.0, software developer think3 plans to give designers the most advanced modeling tools available along with a module for managing and sharing data via the Internet called thinkteam 7.0. 

New modeling capabilities in this package include a split view environment that allows designers to draw on multiple sketch planes at one time by moving the cursor from one window to the next to create 3-D geometry. This feature mirrors that of high-end industrial design applications such as Alias. 

For molded part design, a new lofted surface environment combines six different surface commands into one. Users select a series of curves or other entities and the software automatically recommends the best surface type for that selection, complete with a shaded preview and dynamic analysis tools. Another surfacing highlight, the Capping command is based on global-shape modeling and lets users cap a set of complex curves to create a surface more easily. 

Product data management in thinkteam 7.0 now includes a Web-based collaboration module called WebTeam that lets users share thinkteam data via the Internet. It provides viewable copies of CAD files for browsing by team members, other departments, or suppliers via an extranet. 



Among the new functions built into VX version 5 are advanced surfacing for complex shapes, complete variable filleting with a single command, and enhanced interoperability between CAD systems.

Both automated and manual inspection and repair of inaccurate geometry are offered in VX version 5.

Speed to Market 
IX SPeeD, a recently introduced suite for collaborative modeling ("Virtual Collaboration Gets Real," May 2001 IMM, p. 52), was built to use the Internet to share design data simultaneously for faster product development. Developer ImpactXoft cites research from Forrester showing that 74 percent of OEMs consider faster time-to-market their top goal for collaboration. 

Rather than transferring stripped-down geometry versions of CAD files, IX Design sends only the instructions for building the model, which are much smaller in size. As a result, design teams can work simultaneously with the same model over Internet connections as slow as 28.8 Kbps. A change made by one team member is updated almost instantly in every model. 

IX Design, the hybrid modeling portion of this package, lets users build models using a combination of sketch, wireframe, surface, and detailing tools. It also contains behavioral modeling that imbues features with functional knowledge. For example, a housing for a hair dryer can include an opening for the motor that changes depending on the motor's shape. 



This is a view of a hair dryer assembly that a mechanical engineer is modeling using IX SPeeD from ImpactXoft. The engineer has designed the hair dryer to accommodate a standard round motor housing. As the engineer works, a message highlighted in red appears in the e-mail list above the model. The message from Manufacturing reads, "New square motor from purchasing."

After the engineer accepts the e-mail, the new square motor (in green) immediately merges with the digital model. IX SPeeD automatically revises all the geometry required to match the replacement part.

Integrating Design Tools 
VX Corp. (formerly Varimetrix) believes that users today want CAD tools that accommodate both industrial designers and mechanical engineers. Pointing to two recent IDSA studies, VX contends that most industrial design groups now participate in the entire product development process because their clients are demanding comprehensive, turnkey service. 

To that end, VX version 5 focuses on interoperability for today's hybrid CAD/CAM environments. For example, files created with a Parasolid-based CAD system can be directly imported and healed. 

New surface creation tools in version 5 can manage difficult shapes. Complex surface tools let users decide how much attraction or "gravity" to apply to problem curves, helping to eliminate deformities that can't be molded or that are unattractive. Also, hundreds of variations in filleting can be accessed via a single command. 

In its moldmaking suite, VX now automatically creates difficult parting lines as well as cooling channels, face vents, swabs, electrode placement, and inserts. It also checks for interference with the part, mold cavity, or cooling elements. 

Contact information
Santa Clara, CA
Lisa Washington
(408) 987-6808

ImpactXoft Corp., San Jose, CA
Carol Montalvo
(408) 360-7700, ext. 609

VX Corp.
Palm Bay, FL
(321) 676-3222

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