Jeff's MCAD Blogging
Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »

Simulation Added To Fusion 360

October 1st, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

A day before its official release, I spoke with a couple of Autodesk Fusion 360 staffers, Daniel Graham, Fusion 360 Senior Product Manager and Bill Danon about what to expect in the newest update.

The biggest news was the inclusion of simulation capabilities in Fusion 360 – at no additional cost – at least not for now or the foreseeable future. That in itself is pretty significant. Of course, there were some other improvements and enhancements, but let’s start with simulation

Simulation in Fusion 360 lets you perform linear stress analysis that assumes linear elastic behavior and infinitesimally small displacements and strains, as well as modal analysis for study the dynamic properties of structures undergoing vibration. With Fusion 360 simulation you can define materials, add constraints, and add loads to solve for weaknesses in assemblies, within the design environment.

When in the Fusion 360 design environment, a workspace labeled “SIM” under the workspace switcher is where you choose from two types of simulation studies: Static Stress and Modal Frequencies.

Fusion 360 Simulation

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Bunkspeed Becomes SOLIDWORKS Visualize For Photorealistic Rendering

September 24th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Although it isn’t exactly breaking news, Bunkspeed, a developer of advanced rendering technologies, as we know it, or rather, as we knew it, has a new overseer and brand — SOLIDWORKS Visualization.

SOLIDWORKS Visualization products (note the plural) provide a suite of standalone software tools that combine rendering capabilities with design-oriented features and workflows that “enable easy and fast creation of visual content for designers, engineers, marketing, and other content creators”. The last part of that statement always gives me a chuckle — advanced rendering products, even if they’re “easy to use” are not necessarily for the faint of heart or those who easily become impatient. Also, “easy to use” does not guarantee professional looking results. For example, remember back several years ago when Encapsulated PostScript arrived one scene. Suddenly, with the opportunity to use dozens of fonts, many “professional-looking” documents looked more like gaudy ransom notes or circus posters.

I’m not saying that with some training and practice, just about anyone could produce good looking photorealistic renderings. I’m just saying that this (like many aspects of technical software) is not always the “professional results out of the box solution” that too many marketing hype types like to push.

SOLIDWORKS 2016 Visualize

Since it’s GPU based for ray tracing, you might want to invest in a good graphics card to take advantage of all SOLIDWORKS Visualization packages can do.

As said earlier, and since everybody likes options, SOLIDWORKS Visualize is available as the following two packages:

SOLIDWORKS Visualize Standard

What was Bunkspeed shot is now called SOLIDWORKS Visualize Standard with features that include

  • SOLIDWORKS Visualize Standard features include:
  • Photo-quality imagery at unlimited resolution (Wow, what does that mean?)
  • Advanced multi-layer materials
  • Accurate simulation of real-world lighting with HOR support for photorealism without manual lighting techniques
  • Decals (interactive stickers) placement just like real life stickers
  • Support for professional Texture Maps (Bump, Normal, Specular, Alpha, Color)
  • Interactive Part Splitter for separating surfaces without going back to a CAD modeling package
  • Preset Camera Filters to enhance images

SOLIDWORKS Visualize Professional

What used to be known as Bunkspeed Pro Suite is now called SOLIDWORKS Visualize Professional with features that include all Visualize Standard features, plus:

  • Demonstrate products more effectively with full animation of parts, models, appearances, cameras, and environments
  • Quickly show off the final design with one-click 360 degree spins
  • Intuitively create dynamic camera fly-bys in a snap with the unique Camera Animation Ribbon
  • Rapidly generate colorways and product variants using Configurations
  • Create interactive web content (VR and Panoramas)
  • Present and compare varying design solutions side by side with multiple viewports
  • Customizable Camera Filters
  • Enhance the lighting of your scene with integrated advanced lighting and environment features, like Sun Studies
  • Boost productivity and performance with integrated Render QUEUE and render farms that scale
  • Simulate real time vehicle physics with the included physics-based driving simulator and object interaction

The last item — anything “physics-based” is not easy to comprehend, much less execute well, if this is new to you. Interesting stuff, but you better be prepared to put in some time.

With either flavor of SOLIDWORKS Visualization you can import SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Alias, Rhino, SketchUp, and many other CAD formats to create scenes and realistic content.

A call to the company requesting pricing information got the response, “It is still being determined and will be available soon.” You would have thought pricing would have been determined early in the game, but these decisions are made by much bigger minds than mine.

The biggest question I have is how SOLIDWORKS Visualization will impact another rendering option from the company — PhotoView 360.

It looks like PhotoView 360 is being positioned for basic quality checks and surfacing analysis while working in SOLIDWORKS.

SOLIDWORKS PhotoView 360 has some pretty nice tools for creating photorealistic renderings and animations, including:

  • Apply Appearances—Adjust elements of models including color, texture, and illumination
  • Apply Scenes—Set and control the background and surroundings
  • Decals—For labeling, branding, stickers, instrument faces, etc.
  • Integrated Preview—View output in a preview window before fully rendering
  • Rendering Options—Control output image resolution, animation frame rates, etc.
  • Final Renderer—Generate detailed output after preview
  • Rendering Scheduler—Set up renderings to run during off-hours
  • Rendering templates—Save rendering settings for later use to ensure consistent output

Both SOLIDWORKS PhotoView 360 and Visualize are being touted as easy to use, so it will be interesting to see how the company handles three rendering products. There has to be some overlap somewhere, so why continue to develop multiple products that do basically the same thing? Although it’s nowhere near the debacle that occurred with the core product CGM and Parasolid modeling kernels, it’s still an issue that many users who like and use SOLIDWORKS PhotoView 360 will likely have to contend with.

This is a tough one to call. In my experience, though, I haven’t come across a ton of SOLIDWORKS users who have been clamoring for a(nother) photorealistic renderer. I tend to think SOLIDWORKS Visualize might be overkill for most users.

In the end, though, customers will vote with their initial purchase and subscription wallets as to whether SOLIDWORKS Visualization was a move in the right direction.

Editor’s Note: Bunkspeed is hardly the only rendering technology. For example, in the past few years several other alternatives have become available, notably KeyShot from Luxion. In the near future we’ll take a close look at what Keyshot’s been up to and see how it compares with SOLIDWORKS Visualize. This promises to be an interesting comparison in advanced rendering.

Innovation On The Hydrogen Generation Front

September 17th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

With the relatively cheap price of oil from production to pump, alternative energies, especially R&D seem to have taken a back seat. Battery technologies are progressing (slowly), wind and solar seem stagnant, as do most other innovative technologies, including fusion (well, enough said there). An alternative energy source that has always intrigued me, though, is hydrogen – the base element.

Obviously, it has challenges for safe storage and use, but producing it economically and profitably have also been challenges.

In college I was very interested in converting water to its base elements – hydrogen and oxygen – using a process called electrolysis. It works as the decomposition of water (H2O) into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen gas (H2) as an electric current is passed through the water. This technique can be used to make hydrogen fuel (hydrogen gas) and breathable oxygen; however, today most raw hydrogen fuel is made from natural gas. Not exactly a sustainable alternative source or method.

Even with this drawback, hydrogen is considered an important source of “clean” energy, and the cleanest way to produce hydrogen gas is to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. But, scientists have struggled to develop cost-effective water-splitting techniques.

Recently, though, researchers at North Carolina State University have created a technique using a new catalyst for converting methane and water into hydrogen and a fuel feedstock, called syngas, with the assistance of solar power. The team of chemical engineering researchers used a catalytic material that is more than three times more efficient at converting water to hydrogen gas than previous thermal-water-splitting methods.

“We’re excited about the new material and process because it converts water, inexpensive natural gas and clean, renewable solar energy into valuable syngas and hydrogen fuels,” said Feng He, a PhD student in the lab of Professor Fanxing Li at NC State.

How Can Water Be Turned Into Fuel?

Syngas is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, and it’s used as a feedstock for commercial processes that produce synthetic diesel fuels, olefins, and methanol.

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Mr. Rowe Goes To Middle School

September 10th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

I’ll say right at the outset: “It ain’t for the money.”

What do I mean by that? Read on . . .

For several years I have been interested not only in education in general, but how I might get actively involved, especially at the high school level in math and/or science. No, I have never been a teacher in a formal sense, and no, I don’t have a teaching  credential either. Even though I had the will and desire to become a teacher, unless I had a teaching license issued by the state of Colorado, my options were limited.

Sure, I could have been a volunteer or a private tutor, but for me these options were limited in scope, responsibility, and personal satisfaction. I thought earlier this year that I was at a dead end until I remembered an ad I had seen and saved a couple of years ago about a program called Denver Math Fellows. This program is the first large-scale tutorial program integrated into the school day to be implemented district-wide in Colorado schools.

The concept and possibility of becoming a Denver Math Fellow (DMF) really piqued my interest because one of the primary qualifications was a college degree in virtually any field (mine’s in industrial design). This was good for me because I had never been a teacher before. Other qualifications include the desire to help students close the opportunity gap in math, as well as committing to at least a one-year term of service — in my case August 2015-June 2016.

Below is a slideshow/video of some the orientation and training I did before becoming a Denver Math Fellow — just click anywhere in the photo.

 DMF Summer Institute2

Denver Math Fellows 2015 Summer Institute

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ANSYS Gets On The IoT Train By Acquiring Delcross Technologies

September 3rd, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

ANSYS, a major provider of engineering simulation (CAE) software, announced that it has acquired substantially all the assets of Delcross Technologies, a developer of computational electromagnetic simulation and radio frequency system analysis software.

The acquisition is intended to let ANSYS users to understand how antennas interact within their operating environments and how this behavior affects the system’s overall ability to transmit and receive data without interference. As usual, and not surprisingly, terms of the deal, which closed earlier this week, were not disclosed.

So, what does this really signify? Simulating not just large-scale antenna systems, such as those found in giant aerospace projects (which will surely go on after the acquisition), but on a much, much smaller scale for Internet of Things (IoT) projects.

Although it’s almost a year old, below is a video presentation (click on the image) from Delcross Technologies for modeling installed performance of antennas on electrically large platforms, such as aircraft and automobiles.

Delcross Technologies


Delcross Technologies Simulating Antenna Performance

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3D Printing Comes To Big Box Stores

August 27th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

It’s obviously no secret that 3D printing continues its march on dominating the world of 3D physical realization. In the past year I’ve personally seen 3D printers at Office Depot, UPS, FedEx, and Staples where you can bring in an STL file on a USB drive and, theoretically, come back in a few minutes or hours with a 3D product of your creation.

From what I’ve seen, I haven’t exactly been overly impressed with the results. Between under-trained store staffs, limited choices of processes and materials, and just plain bad designs, the end product and process still leave a lot to be desired. In other words, it’s a hit or miss proposition, and probably more of the latter.

Honestly, if you’re serious about the result, take your design to a 3D printing service bureau with more process and material options, not to mention a professional, experienced staff who understands those important issues, but good design practices, as well.

Sam’s Club Brings 3D Printing to Moline, Illinois

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Additive and Subtractive Processes Equal Manufacturing Innovation

August 20th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

With multitasking an increasing fact of life for us all, it’s no surprise that machine tools continue to evolve into increasingly multifunction machine platforms, as well.

Let’s be honest, though, multifunction machines are not exactly new. For example, machines with processes that work together providing several functions, such as milling, turning, drilling, tapping, measurement, and EDM have been around for a number of years as requirements have changed.

I’ve also seen a number of interesting things on the exhibit floors at manufacturing trade shows, such as RAPID and IMTS, that employ traditional multifunctional capabilities, but have been most intrigued by a new emerging class of hybrid 3D printers that employ both additive manufacturing (AM) and subtractive (conventional machining) methods. Some of these innovative hybrid machines follow.

Hybrid (Additive & Subtractive Manufacturing) Machine by DMG Mori 

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Machine Research and Spatial Partner to Develop Cloud-Based App

August 13th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Wow, it’s still summer, but what a week for cloud-based CAD apps. First, Onshape for Android, and now this development from Spatial and Machine Research.

Spatial Corp., a provider of 3D software development toolkits announced that Machine Research, a software provider that helps manufacturers increase efficiency and profitability, has leveraged Spatial’s 3D InterOp and 3D ACIS to launch the first Machine Research app for manufacturers, providing them with the ability to view, measure, collaborate, and translate virtually any CAD file type to any other file type on a secured cloud-based platform. Customers also can manage projects, utilize a visual search engine to find legacy projects of similar geometry, and customize and standardize the quotation process across their organization.


The Machine Research Multi-Purpose App

The Machine Research App provides two levels of service:

  • BASIC service allows manufacturers to avoid the expense associated with multiple CAD seats and one-off translation tools for an easy, cost-effective viewer and translator on the cloud for a monthly subscription.
  • PRO service (currently in Preview Mode) allows manufacturers the ability to search and find parts of similar geometry. Their search engine instantly gives users access to legacy parts of similar geometry to leverage the knowledge they’ve gained in the past to do things more efficiently and profitably going forward. It also allows users to take the multiple inter-connected spreadsheets out of the quotation process by providing a customizable quotation platform throughout their company.

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Onshape Launches Android CAD App

August 11th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Today, Onshape for Android, claimed to be the first 3D CAD system to run on Android phones and tablets, was released. The new mobile release comes just five months after the launch of Onshape Beta, a full-cloud 3D CAD system that lets design teams simultaneously work together on the same model using a web browser, phone, or tablet.

This is big news because, as far as I know, Onshape for Android is the first 3D CAD app that lets you create designs on Android platforms, whereas other CAD companies have only a viewer.

“We founded Onshape with a vision to make CAD accessible on any device, anywhere,” says Onshape founder and Chairman of the Board, Jon Hirschtick. “We’re proud to be the first in the industry to run on Android. And by ‘run,’ I mean really run. You’re not just viewing models. You’re able to sketch, extrude, fillet, shell, create 3D models, edit their shape and size, and put them into assemblies.”

Editing An Assembly On A Nexus Android Tablet

Editing An Assembly On A Nexus Android Tablet

3D CAD users are no longer restricted to one primary workstation, as their data is now readily available on practically any device. In addition to Android, Onshape also runs on iPhones and iPads – and in a web browser on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

“When we first started, a lot of people were skeptical that CAD could be done on such a small device,” explains Ravi Reddy, team lead for Onshape Mobile. “We solved the precision selection problem and made sketching easy with touch-based finger offset tools. We added intuitive lock and unlock modes to help with pan, zoom, and rotate operations for sketching and assemblies.”

“We rejected the standard notion of providing a view-only version of CAD on mobile or choosing a subset of features,” he adds. “We were determined to build a full CAD product that can be used anywhere and from any device.”

Keep in mind, though, the mobile app is not intended to replace Onshape’s use on desktops and laptops – it is meant to expand a CAD user’s access to their work outside the home or office.

Onshape for Android is available now for free in the Google Play store.

Additive Manufacturing’s Next Frontiers – 4D Printing and Self-Assembly

August 6th, 2015 by Jeff Rowe

Today, 3D printing is relatively well established, with an ever-increasing selection of printers available, ranging from low-cost personal/desktop 3D units for home to the larger and much more capable industrial-strength printers.

The technology itself has also evolved and is now being implemented in a wide range of industries from automotive to aerospace, construction, health, food, and many others.

By now most of us are familiar with 3D, but for the past couple of years there has been increasing chatter about 4D printing. So what is 4D printing?

A couple of years ago 4D-printing was introduced at a TED Conference in 2013 by Skylar Tibbits, director of MIT’s Self-Assembly Lab.


The Emergence of 4D Printing


He described 4D printed objects as 3D-printed objects that reshape themselves or self-assemble over time, depending on the environment they’re in. In other words, the 4th dimension is time and/or environmental conditions.

Tibbits is said to be working with GEOSyntec to design 4D printed water pipes. As the scale and reach of the technology increases, applications in the military (no surprise here) and construction industries are likely to materialize.

4D Printing


Shapeshifting: 3D printed materials that change shape over time.

Dr Dan Raviv, postdoctoral fellow at MIT, believes that 4D printing may be used in a wide range of applications such as home appliances, childcare products, or even clothes and footwear that optimize their form and function by reacting to changes in the environment.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) recently acquired a 4D-printed dress which designers were able to print using a powder-based nylon material, and made the dress out of thousands of interlocking pieces.

The pace at which 3D printing has evolved in various industries is impressive, but the technology is still too slow for mass manufacturing, and precision and repeatability must still improve for fabrication of structural components.

The power to offer customized products that are manufactured closer to their point of consumption certainly makes the technology appealing to both providers and consumers. It’s a growing market, but there’s still a lot work to be done – particularly around process speed, product size, and the variety of materials that can be used with the technology.

In the near future, 4D printing could be used in space. For example, an improved 3D printing process using materials that could self-assemble (the next topic below) was used to fabricate components on-site and on-demand for astronauts during a space mission.


Self-Assembling 3D Printing

A recent study reported in The Conversation has shown that high frequency vibrations can cause bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D object, a finding that may one day help reduce the need for factory assembly lines.

The findings, published recently in the journal, Scientific Reports, signal a key advancement in programmable self-assembly, which was previously thought to only be possible using one-dimensional or two-dimensional objects.

Self Assembling 3D print

Self-Assembly Demonstration

The research team, led by Dr Ido Bachelet from the Institute for Nanotechnology and Advanced Materials at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, used an algorithm from the Computational Geometry Algorithm Library (CGAL) as part of a design that allowed 18 tetrahedral bricks to self-assemble into a larger 3D cylinder.

The following video shows blocks in the self-assembly process. Two sets of the object (36 bricks) were inserted in the chamber and after 2.5 hours in a constant speed of 320 rpm one set was assembled. The video doesn’t contain the whole, but portions of it.

The Basic Self-Assembly Process

“Assembly rules are encoded by topographic cues imprinted on brick faces while attraction between bricks is provided by embedded magnets,” the researchers said in their paper. “The bricks can then be mixed in a container and agitated, leading to properly assembled objects at high yields and zero errors.

“Improved designs inspired by our system could lead to successful implementation of self-assembly at the macro-scale, allowing rapid, on-demand fabrication of objects without the need for assembly lines.”

The ability for life to self-assemble is something that continues to puzzle scientists. For example, proteins, viruses, living cells and multi-cellular organisms are all examples of systems in which parts are bonded to each other through attraction to form a structure or pattern.

Hamza Bendemra, a Research Engineer at the Australian National University, who was not involved in the study, said the research of 3D printed assemblies is remarkable.

“The algorithm was inspired by the molecular assembly of the DNA,” he said. But he added that more research was needed to address challenges of time, space and safety for the model to be more efficient at forming and remaining together.

“In the study, a two-brick assembly took less than a minute to self-assemble. However, an 18-piece assembly required over two hours to perform the same feat.”

“The components are subject to high vibrations and collide over and over again until they fit in the right combination. It would be a challenge to implement such a method with materials with low strength and poor impact tolerance without causing damage.”

The next step in developing this concept for construction and manufacturing industries is to use both magnetic forces and adhesives to ensure the assembly stays in place.

Bendemra agreed, saying that “the researchers did a great job at adding topographic cues to ensure a unique combination only would lead to the pieces locking in. Their footage clearly shows that pieces that collide in a non-desired formation detach until they lock-in as planned.”

“The number of pieces involved in the assembly and the nature of the materials being used (including the magnet) in more complex assemblies could limit the use of such a method.”

This self-assembly effort is not entirely unique, as the Self-Assembly Lab is collaborating with Autodesk and Stratasys for 4D printing.

So, there you have it: 4D printing and self-assembly. There is certainly a long way to go to commercial viability, but these demonstrations point the way to some fascinating possibilities.

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