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Planning the transition to 3-D

August 15, 1999

7 Min Read
Planning the transition to 3-D

More than 75 percent of all design engineers still use 2-D CAD software to create new products and modify existing ones. Nearly all of these designers have looked at 3-D solid modeling as a possible alternative. They have heard about the time-saving benefits or the increased visualization capabilities. And those who have read this section of IMM before have seen documented results of making the switch. But what exactly does it take to go from two-dimensional drawings to 3-D models?

IMM recently spoke with an industry expert who has more than a few good answers. R. Lee Whitney, vp of planning for Microcadam, believes that proper planning is critical in the transition from 2-D to 3-D solid modeling. “In many ways, planning is even more important than when engineers gradually converted from manual methods to 2-D computer design in the late 1960s,” says Whitney. “Today, although less than 15 percent of CAD work has converted to 3-D, the shift is gaining momentum as 3-D CAD systems become more powerful, user-friendly, and substantially more affordable.”

Considering a switch to 3-D brings up at least one pertinent question—namely, why? “Solid modeling technology can improve your analysis, design, manufacturing, and, above all, productivity,” he notes. “It also significantly reduces the chance that models will require added interpretation after they are completed. Also, new systems add value to projects by enabling designers to reuse solid models for future projects.”

3-D Transition Guide
To help those designers who want to take advantage of 3-D modeling, Whitney offers the following six-step guide intended to help with the transition from 2-D.

Step 1: Understanding solids. When first planning the move to a 3-D design environment, it’s necessary to understand the importance of the solid model. In the 2-D world, drawings are continually reinterpreted throughout a product’s life cycle. With 3-D technology, the solid model is the key element. While drawings are just a different way of representing the model, the solid model may be tested directly by using analysis tools. Removing hidden lines and calculating mass properties are automatic functions. In short, solid models enable better understanding of look and function before physical models are made.

To ease the transition to 3-D, the company’s design engineers should first consider standardizing specifications for building models, defining dimensions, using parts libraries, creating features, and naming files. Standard practices increase efficiency by making it easier to reuse models and implement changes.

Step 2: Hardware and operating systems. Solid modeling requires substantially more computer resources than 2-D CAD. Memory is often more important than processor speed, and insufficient memory can cause bottlenecks on your system’s network. As more complex models are developed, the demand for memory will increase. Thankfully, memory upgrades today are relatively inexpensive.

Before making a purchase, engineers should ask if the software will support hardware features. Test software on platform alternatives and be sure to use internal data for testing. Don’t overlook the ability of a system to be easily upgraded (computer performance should be expected to double every 18 months). Also, engineers should check the availability of third party software in their environment.

The system should be able to integrate with other enterprise activities. Generally, CAD systems have few, if any, date-related calculations, but Y2K compliance should nevertheless be verified. Data management, backup utilities, and operating systems are the most likely areas for date problems.

Step 3: Implementing complementary software. CAD tools are becoming easier to integrate with other CAD-related components. This technology is evolving rapidly, and many ancillary products provided by CAD vendors may not keep pace with more general products for communications, data management, and viewing. Companies should be sure to verify systems before buying.

It is also important that potential new users understand their data flow. Are translations between processes required? If so, how are they done? Changing all pieces of the process at once will create implementation challenges, but by developing pilot projects users will learn as they go.

Recognize that different parts of the process have different needs. The best design system may not be the best tool for a mold or tooling shop; changing all systems need not be done at the same time. Solid modeling, EDM, PDM, and Internet applications (e.g., downloading parts from online libraries) can be planned and launched independently.

Step 4: Training and technical support. Training is one of the most important issues when transitioning to 3-D design, and it should receive top priority. Although the investment in time and money may seem substantial, it will pay huge dividends in the long run by helping to ensure a smooth transition to different tools and processes. Experience has shown that inadequate or insufficient training can often lead to productivity problems that are ultimately far more costly.

Fortunately, an increasing number of 3-D training options are available to CAD users. Online and computer-based tutorials, for example, are resources that can be very beneficial. CAD software vendors are also building simulated learning environments directly into the software. Such environments allow engineers to learn 3-D design without worrying about getting lost in the software’s system.

Alternate training resources include vendors, dealers, consultants, and in-house experts. The local Value Added Reseller (VAR) can play a critical role in the training and implementation of new software. Good technical support is also a wise investment. Companies should consider all the options—software vendor, dealer, independent consultant, or in-house support.

STEP 5: Handling legacy data. Legacy data can be an asset or a liability, and managing it properly is important. The approach taken depends on the source of solids software and the form of the legacy system. It is hugely beneficial to use solid modeling software that supports the conversion of existing drawings to solids.

Simple 2-D drawings may be no more than a cartoon. If the user has faked data and not drawn auxiliary views accurately, the value is marginal. Depending on the software, automatic constraining tools may be able to fix problems for drawings created using single precision. Using parametric functions to align edges and features across views will be a great help.

Conversion of 21/2-D drawings present many of the same challenges. The advantage of 21/2-D is that drawings have been defined using 3-D matrices to position the projection planes of each view. With these transformations, production of the solid model is straightforward.

Complex 3-D wireframe and surface models will cause new challenges. The data is 3-D, but the wireframe may be ambiguous and incomplete. Older wireframe systems may use curves and surfaces not supported by today’s systems. Surfaces may need to be sewn or stitched to complete the conversion to a solid. Most likely, the old surfaces were not trimmed to a tolerance suitable for solid modeling and will need to be adjusted.

Converting from solid modeling systems that do not support industry standard translators can be more challenging than other forms of legacy designs. The cost, time, and effort to transition to solid modeling are important factors to consider before converting. Product revisions, product liability issues, and new product development all require a system that can be supported for years. There are several alternatives for dealing with legacy data: convert everything; convert only as needed; convert only certain components; or maintain existing systems.

Before converting, a company must consider what is the correct mix of these alternatives for its business.

Try 3-D for free

Want to give solid modeling a whirl without making any commitments? Microcadam is offering a 45-day free trial of its Helix99 hybrid solid modeling software. The license allows users to explore the package assisted by interactive learning guides, and also includes a preview of the Helix interactive training system, a multimedia tutorial for solid modeling design. After 45 days, the program expires with no obligations. For details, check out the Microcadam website listed below or call (800) 255-5710.

Step 6: Defining management’s role. Management must take a leading role in planning, coordinating, and directing design interaction throughout the enterprise. Once the transition to solid modeling is made, design and manufacturing can expect a significant increase in productivity. Solid modeling provides new opportunities to customize products and expand product lines. Reusing models will benefit everyone from sales to logistics. Solid design also offers the potential to change working relationships with customers and suppliers, making it easier to communicate.

Solid modeling and other engineering software can be important tools, allowing companies to explore new design solutions while improving productivity and reducing costs. Still, careful planning is essential!

Contact information
Burbank, CA
R. Lee Whitney
Phone: (818) 253-2274
Fax: (818) 253-2250
Web: www.microcadam.com
E-mail: [email protected]

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