Archive for December, 2011
Friday, December 23rd, 2011
A recent study entitled, “Trends in Concept Design,” conducted by PTC, found that the majority of respondents are recreating concept designs once the concept design is released to downstream engineering stages. For example, recreating drawings, sketches, and models that were generated during the concept phase and released to the engineering department for further development. This approach is known as throwing a design “over the transom,” not knowing how the final product will be realized as compared with the original design intent from the concept phase.
Clearly, this approach is not only inefficient, but also usually contributes to too many unexpected and undesirable results between the concept stage and the marketplace.
Fortunately, today there are tools and approaches to help manufacturers eliminate the need for data recreation, streamlining the concept design stage of product development and downstream engineering processes. Even at the concept stage, manufacturing companies are increasingly reusing existing design data instead of creating everything from scratch – a potential big time saver reusing design data that is already known to work.
At the concept stage, using a tool, such as Creo Direct, you can create regular geometry for 3D purposes. In Creo Direct, you can create and edit 3D designs through direct interaction with their geometry. You can make changes to the basic design elements at any point with little impact to the overall design process. The resulting geometry is compatible with all the Creo applications, including Creo Parametric that is used for refining designs downstream in the product development process. In fact, even 2D sketches captured with Creo Sketch are compatible with Creo Parametric.
The Creo Sketch and Creo Direct user interface is similar to that of Creo Parametric, and so supports and streamlines the design process.
Creo Parametric can share data seamlessly with other Creo apps, notably Creo Direct and Creo Simulate. This means that time is not wasted on data recreation or translation, resulting in costly errors. Users can seamlessly move between different modes of modeling and 2D and 3D design data can easily move between apps while retaining original design intent. This all provides a very high level of interoperability productivity gains throughout many product development processes between design and engineering groups.
In the end, successful product development, from the concept stage, to engineering, to production all comes down to interoperability between the various groups at various stages and the tools they use. Interoperability is vital for optimizing collaboration between groups and stages and for maximizing the potential for a product’s ultimate success.
Tuesday, December 20th, 2011
The past couple of years we’ve been hearing that anyone can be a creative genius by using a variety of tools ranging from CAD products to rapid prototyping machines. While most people have the capacity to be creative in a certain capacity, this heady claim fails to take in to consideration that not everyone might be truly creative when it comes to creating something of real value in 3D – for either themselves or others. In other words, even with the best tools in the world, there is no guarantee that everyone will be able to create things that anybody else would really want.
The current popularity of the DIY movement has helped the “creativity for everyone” movement, but I think back 20+ years ago when another “revolution” took place in desktop publishing. Prior to desktop publishing for all, printed documents for most home computer users consisted of Courier, Helvetica, and maybe Times Roman fonts on dot matrix printers. With the introduction of Encapsulated Postscript (EPS) and more capable printers, the font possibilities were endless. So endless, in fact, that many early EPS documents with their myriad fonts looked more like ransom notes than business documents. It took a while, but eventually most people got that more fonts is not necessarily better for printed communication. I’m afraid the same thing is happening with 3D printing for visual and tactile communication, but should get more realistic and sound with time and more than just silly toys.
As an industrial designer, over the years I have critiqued designs and reviewed portfolios of ID students at design schools and conferences. The most prominent trend I’ve seen over the past several years is that students have a ton of digital tools at their disposal, but they are concentrating too much attention on the tools themselves and presentation, and not enough on the design problem they are trying to solve. Closely related to this is the fact that while a lot of pretty product designs are being created, relatively few can be manufactured economically, if at all.
When I look way back to my own creative beginnings, as a child I loved to draw on paper and Etch-A-Sketch in 2D and build things in 3D with Legos, Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, and wood with nails. Did I create anything of real value that appealed to anyone but myself? Honestly, no, but it did spark a an interest in a formal education in design and engineering, as well as fostering a lifelong interest and appreciation for good design.
With the advent of easier to use and affordable (a lot even free) 3D software and hardware, will creativity proliferate? Certainly it will to an extent, but let’s be realistic on the quality and value of the vast majority of the things produced. While there is some reality to the thought that everyone can be creative and produce things in 3D, there is also a good deal of myth with regard to what is actually being created. However, new creative hands-on skills are being learned and put into practice, which is a good thing.
I applaud the efforts that some of the 3D software and hardware vendors have put forth in getting their technologies into the hands of a new type of user. I would just caution the vendors from overselling the promise of creativity for everyone that will result in stunning designs. A small percentage of the designs might have value, but as with products coming out of the professional community, many probably won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, along with DIY, I think it’s a great movement and should be strongly encouraged, we just need to sort out myth from reality when it comes to creating things in 3D.
Since this is such an interesting, strong movement, I’ll come back to this topic many times in the future, especially as I check out a number of the 3D software and hardware products and services for myself. Let’s get creative!
Friday, December 16th, 2011
Virtually all new product developments projects begin with a conceptual design phase. During this early stage, industrial designers and engineers rapidly explore and refine several ideas by engaging in free-flowing, collaborative brainstorming sessions. These sessions are intended to originate a wide range of potential design solutions from hand-drawn sketches, 2D drawings and layouts, 3D models, and renderings. All of these concept design methods come with inherent advantages and disadvantages. Designs coming from the sessions are considered and evaluated until a final concept design is chosen and pursued for further development – usually determined by functional, marketing, and manufacturing requirements.
During the concept phase, ideas are generated using methods ranging from rough sketches on paper or white boards to using a 3D CAD tool. A recent study entitled, “Trends in Concept Design,” conducted by PTC, discusses the different methods by which concept designs are initiated and captured. According to the survey, the largest percentage of the survey’s participants indicated that concept designs were captured electronically in the form of 3D data, however, several participants indicated that concepts were still created and shared through hand-drawn paper sketches. Regardless of how concept designs are generated, manual or digital, the vast majority of those involved with concept design have the ability to visualize and create designs in 3D. This is only natural since we all live in a 3D world.
Another reason why concept design is such a critically important phase of successful new product design is because this is usually when the majority of the total development costs are committed to developing, manufacturing, and bringing a product to market. The PTC survey found that the majority of the manufacturing cost of a typical product is committed by the end of the conceptual phase. As a result, if poor decisions made during this early phase of design, manufacturers stand to lose much of the money that was committed before production even starts. The bottom line is that a high-quality concept design model is essential for accurately determining and committing to product costs.
PTC’s Creo family of design apps is well-suited for both concept design and detailed design. Creo Sketch is a tool for capturing early concepts in the form of 2D sketches, while Creo Direct is suited for efficiently creating a high-quality 3D model that can be used for a multitude of purposes. In the Creo Direct environment, you can create and edit 3D designs through direct interaction with their geometry. You can make changes to the basic design elements at any point with little impact to the overall design process. In this design environment, the shape of a 3D model is how it appears from the outside. Additionally, the resulting geometry is compatible with all downstream Creo applications, like Creo Parametric or Creo Simulate.
So, while some manufacturers have downplayed conceptual design in the early phase of product development as an unnecessary cost, successful manufacturers have embraced concept design and have been rewarded with better overall designs and cost management up front – ultimately leading to more satisfied customers and higher profits.
Tuesday, December 13th, 2011
One of the biggest trends we have witnessed in the MCAD market for 2011 has been the number and magnitude of PLM industry acquisition transactions and the possible short- and long-term consequences. It seemed as though in some weeks we received at least one announcement from a major MCAD/PLM player acquiring either another company i its entirety or at least a piece of its PLM-related technology. Although nothing really new, the acquisition train really seemed to pick up steam this year compared to the recent past.
While a lot of technologies were grown organically from the inside of the major MCAD vendors, Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, and PTC also all made significant external acquisitions this year that will diversify and strengthen their offerings. Notably absent in the flurry of acquisitions was Siemens PLM software, although the parent company did do some acquiring in other divisions of the company.
The acquisition mix included everything from CAE, to ECAD, to software lifecycle development management, and a a number of technologies that are a little more esoteric.
Will any one of these acquisitions cause huge changes in the PLM market generally? For the most part, no, but they do point to the fact that the MCAD/PLM market continues to evolve and consolidate. However, the current acquisition/consolidation cycle might have significant impact on users who either already use one of the Autodesk, Dassault, or PTC PLM sets or are are in the process of selecting a PLM set for the first time.
We see no sign of the acquisition train slowing down anytime soon. We actually see the momentum picking up as the major vendors, relatively flush with cash, acquire smaller companies that have technologies that complement their existing product sets.
Though the PLM market continues to consolidate through acquisition, it will never completely consolidate for two reasons:
- New independent PLM companies will continue to start up and evolve while developing new technologies.
- A lot of independent PLM software development companies (and their customers) are satisfied being independent and want to keep it that way.
There is plenty of room in the PLM space for both camps to co-exist – industry consolidation thorough acquisition and remaining independent. The big boys can continue to expand their PLM sets and the independent software vendors can continue to do and focus on what they do best. Overall, the co-existence diversifies, stabilizes, and moves the PLM market forward while benefiting both vendors and customers.
Thursday, December 8th, 2011
For the past several years there’s been a lot of chatter throughout the MCAD industry about the significance, or rather, insignificance of one of the main software components – geometric modeling kernels. In other words, do they really matter anymore? I contend that they definitely do still matter.
While it is true that few users really care about the origin of the modeling kernel in their CAD tool, software component kernels are good for the following reasons:
- They are developed, supported, and maintained by an expert source that focuses on improving specific aspects of the kernels/components.
- They allow relatively small software organizations to develop applications relatively economically and lets them focus on what they do best on the application side.
- They are updated and released on a regular schedule so software developer customers can time their application releases accordingly and regularly, knowing that improvements have been made to the kernel.
Of course, a counter argument could be made regarding software components, but most of software component software development and end user customers I have spoken with over the years have generally been pleased with the arrangement and results.
At the beginning of December, we saw a news item stating that some technical institutions in Russia were collaborating and investing ~$22 million over three years to build a “national” 3D solid modeling kernel. According to the news release, “Parasolid is indicated ‘as a functional prototype’ for the project.” What this means for the CAD industry as a whole remains to be seen, and I’m not convinced that a “national” 3D solid modeling kernel is necessarily a good thing, but the effort illustrates that component software is still viable today and into the future.
3D software components are the legacy of several component vendors, with components that include ACIS, CGM, Parasolid, eDrawings, and many others. These components and their developers will continue business for a long time to come. As they were in the past, software components will remain significant and relevant into the future for the MCAD industry.