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Archive for September, 2013

Software Review: DesignSpark Mechanical for Conceptual 3D Electromechanical Design

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

As our readers know, there is no shortage of mechanical CAD tools available for trained mechanical designers. But, I recently discovered a unique mechanical design product, DesignSpark Mechanical, tailored for engineers whose primary role is electronics design, and secondary role is mechanical design for creating panels, enclosures, and machines. I was interested in experiencing how a mechanical design product would translate for electronics designers and conceptual design. Oh, and it’s free of charge.

I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be a very capable mechanical design tool for non-specialists and was pleasantly surprised at its capabilities and potential.

DesignSpark Mechanical is built on SpaceClaim Engineer, 3D design software that offers a short learning curve along with a direct modeling approach that lets you directly pull and move geometry for design optimization.

Using DesignSpark Mechanical consists of the following three basic steps:

  1. Sketching and pulling to create parts, or importing and opening existing part models from other modeling software, or from the RS Components/Allied Electronics parts library.
  2. Refining a design using DesignSpark Mechanical’s 2D and 3D editing tools.
  3. Saving and exporting model data.

DesignSpark Mechanical has comprehensive 2D and 3D sketching capabilities, as well as the following basic tools for creating and editing 3D geometry:

  • Pull – This the primary tool for creating and editing models in DesignSpark Mechanical for extruding, offsetting, revolving, sweeping, drafting, and blending edges and faces. This tool sets DesignSpark Mechanical apart from more complex history-based parametric modelers.
  • Move – This tool is used for selecting and moving faces, solids, surfaces, or objects in a 2D or 3D model.
  • Fill – This tool is used for selecting a model region and then filling it with the surrounding solid or surface. The fill operation in DesignSpark Mechanical is relatively simple compared with most other feature-based modelers.
  • Combine – This tool merges and splits solids and surfaces for altering objects. Objects can be added (or merged) together and subtracted (or split) from each other, creating new modified objects that better suit design needs.

With these basic 3D tools, I realized that I had the ability to conceptually model many types of electronic panels and enclosures.

Three Modeling Methods

With DesignSpark Mechanical there are three methods for modeling — from scratch, by selecting components from the DesignSpark library and using them as the basis for a design, or a combination of the two.

With the online library I was able to combine my test design with off-the-shelf electromechanical components (enclosures, relays, switches, etc.) from RS Components’ and Allied Electronics’ 3D library. I was able to select and drop in 3D part models with RS part numbers directly into my test design.

I also was able to import ECAD files from an EDA tool, DesignSpark PCB (RS Components’/Allied Electronics’ printed circuit board design tool), and create a mechanical design around the electrical design.

Design Tools for Electronics Designers

DesignSpark Mechanical has specialized functions and tools specifically for electronics designers – Measure, Dimension, Bill of Materials, and Order Components.

I used the Measure tool by selecting it and clicking on an object (edge or face) for measuring length, area, and perimeter. This was a useful tool for ensuring components or subassemblies would fit within an enclosure.

Selecting the Dimension tool and clicking on an edge or face previews a specific dimension. Clicking a second time, I created the dimension for display. The Dimension tool is useful for calling attention to critical dimensions for collaboration or production.

For design communication, it’s always a good idea to include a Bill of Materials (BOM) as part of a design. In DesignSpark Mechanical, BOMs are automatically populated for both internal and external components that comprise an assembly.

Finally, DesignSpark Mechanical reads in purchasing data from parts downloaded from the RS Components and Allied Electronics webpages and auto-populates a bill of materials (BOM). I clicked the BOM Quote button and the parts list in the current design populated a table in a pop-up browser. By clicking Order Components, I received a quote very quickly.

Final Thoughts

For all the functionality it provides for designing innovative electronic products, DesignSpark Mechanical is available free of charge.

I have evaluated and used many software products over the years for designing mechanical and electromechanical products. Based on my experience, I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be an easy to use, yet capable tool for conceptual electromechanical design, especially by those who have limited or no experience with a mechanical design tool. The learning curve is short, the 3D component libraries are extensive, BOMs and quotes are easy to generate, and it’s free. When considering all of these benefits, I found that there is a lot to like with DesignSpark Mechanical.

For More Information on DesignSpark Mechanical:


A Visit To Waltham Pond And The Launch Of SolidWorks 2014

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Immediately following Labor Day, I, along with about 35-40 other CAD and business journalists and bloggers were invited to Dassault Systemes’ North American headquarters in Waltham, MA for the launch of the SolidWorks 2014 products. The HQ is situated across a freeway from the  beautiful Cambridge Reservoir, owned and operated by the city of Cambridge, MA, and provides a nice contrast to the perpetual string of office parks that line I-95 in the area.

It was an interesting event because after a general session by SolidWorks’ CEO, Bertrand Sicot, that included all invitees, we were split up into two groups – journalists who witnessed a day of presentations and demonstrations (from SolidWorks employees and some marquee customers), and bloggers who had an all-day hands-on experience with the new products. I would have preferred a little bit of both, but that’s just me.

As you might imagine, the company line for the new SolidWorks 2014 release is that it delivers “major productivity and usability gains for pushing innovation to the forefront.” According to the company, the major new and enhanced features and capabilities fall into the following four areas:

Design Tools

  • Advanced Shape Control – New Style Spline functionality, automatic Sketch Picture scaling and Conic Fillet controls allow users to create complex surfaces and organic shapes faster, easier and with more precise control.
  • Faster Drawing Detailing – Perform faster and more automated drawing detailing.
  • Sheet Metal Improvements – New sheet metal features enable faster creation of sheet metal geometry and improved data output for manufacturing. Users gain improved control over corner treatments, the ability to create stiffening ribs such as the indented design seen on mounting brackets used to reinforce the weight and force placed on the part.

Integrated Workflows

  • SolidWorks Enterprise PDM Streamlined Workflow – Easily manage more data with the new Microsoft Office integration and enhanced Web Client with graphical preview.
  • SolidWorks Electrical Improved Integration and Performance – Enhanced integration with SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and eDrawings allows users to optimize, share and track electrical designs more easily for improved project collaboration.

Increased Productivity

  • Design Communication and Collaboration – With new support for Android devices, mobile users can expand their viewing choice beyond iOS mobile devices.
  • Streamlined Cost Estimating and Reporting – Users are able to cost parts faster with less setup, then share cost data more effectively with their business value chain. For example, key product development data for assembly can now be sent to Microsoft Excel allowing for easy sharing with departments such as manufacturing and purchasing.

Enhanced Visualization

  • Streamlined Simulation Setup – SolidWorks Simulation automatically leverages engineering data for re-use in simulations, eliminating duplication of effort and improving design collaboration.
  • Enhanced Assembly Performance and Visualization – Creates assemblies faster and easier with the new in-context Quick Mate tool bar and Slot Mate. For assembly in section views, users can include or exclude selected components allowing for a fast creation of more impressive section views.

Aaron Kelly, a long-time SolidWorker in a new very visible role as VP of user experience & product portfolio management did a good job talking through the SolidWorks 2014 product lines and answering questions. It’s good to see Aaron in this tough role as one of the company’s primary spokespersons for addressing customers and the press at a critical time for the company.

Granted, there are some nice changes to SolidWorks 2014, but much smaller incrementally than the new features and capabilities found in most previous versions. SolidWorks, of course isn’t alone here, as most other CAD products’ improvements become relatively smaller and smaller the more mature a product becomes. That said, SolidWorks is still an important cog in the DS machine, generating approximately 20% of Dassault’s revenue.

Interestingly, there seemed to be more attention paid to the new kid on the block who has yet to make an actual appearance – SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). We heard from Bertrand that there are “Topics still to address” before it can be released. However, he said that is in production testing now with about 10 customers. Also still in the future; pricing and packaging for SWMC will be presented at SolidWorks World 2014 in late January.

Making it perfectly clear by the product management team, SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual will be a design product for design professionals, not hobbyist/consumers. This hints at the product’s complexity and price point. The management team was also careful to point out that SWMC will be “Mechanical Conceptual”, not “Industrial Conceptual,” so will not compete with Autodesk’s Alias for conceptual industrial design and styling. It still remains to be seen what SWMC will actually be, but it has gotten a lot of attention.

A 2D tool that also deserves some attention is DraftSight 4.0. It will still be available as a free version, but there will also be some licensing schemes that will be paid, and the prices are very reasonable for a capable 2D product that is good at what it does (creating, editing, and viewing DWG files). Not surprisingly, if or when the need arises, DS SolidWorks has also provided a relatively smooth path for moving from 2D with DraftSight to 3D With SolidWorks.

The online pricing and licensing model for DraftSight is new for the company, but has absolutely no plans for carrying this business model over to the SolidWorks side of the house.

Unlike what I had perceived for a while now, the company at this meeting was fairly ambivalent about commitment to cloud-based software, services, or really anything for that matter. Unlike some of its competitors, DS SolidWorks is moving cautiously in this area.

After spending some “face time” in Waltham, there’s no doubt that this is a critical release for the future of SolidWorks, both as a product line and brand for Dassault Systemes. I’m anxious to try out for myself some elements of the SolidWorks ecosystem —  SolidWorks 2014 (especially shape control and costing), Enterprise PDM, and Mechanical Conceptual (when it becomes available).

Based on what I witnessed in Waltham, it’s going to be a very interesting upcoming year for the company and I’m looking forward to experiencing the new product line.

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