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MCADCafe e_Magazine: ZW3D 2012 Premium Software Review

Monday, July 9th, 2012

There are many choices in the engineering software space for CAD and CAM. However, there are relatively few choices that have both capabilities in one package, but ZW3D offers both in one well-integrated package. ZW3D 2012 Premium, with its ability to handle both CAD and CAM has several advantages. The biggest advantage is probably the common user interface, so you can easily move between the CAD and CAM environments for a smoother and more efficient design, engineering, and manufacturing workflow that can provide better end results.

ZW3D 2012 is available in five versions – Standard, Professional, Premium, 2X machining and 3X machining. Each version offers features for users with different needs and workflows, and includes:

  • ZW3D Standard – Comprehensive import capabilities, history-based and direct surface and solid modeling, assembly design, sheet metal design, design optimization, 2D drawings, integrated PartSolutions library.
  • ZW3D Professional – Has everything included in Standard, plus mold design, point cloud processing.
  • ZW3D Premium – Has everything in Professional, plus extensive integrated manufacturing and machining capabilities, hole machining, 2-3X milling, now including lathe turning.
  • ZW3D 2X Machining – Has 2X turning, 2X milling, hole machining operations, and auto-feature tactics. The two-axis turning function provides support for OD and ID roughing, finishing, threading, and grooving operations. The 2X Machining System includes a lightweight CAD system for modifying models easily during machining preparation. The CAD functions include solid modeling, surface editing functions, healing, and data exchange.
  • ZW3D 3X Machining – Has QuickMill technology with 2X turning, 2X and 3X milling operations, hole making, including feature recognition, roughing, finishing, and high speed machining. A new 3X operation mills surfaces in the same plane or different levels of a plane in a single operation. The 3X Machining System also includes the same lightweight CAD system as the 2X machining system.

The most significant improvements to ZW3D 2012 Premium include:

  • Sketching – easier to use with more efficiency.
  • Modeling – improved extrude, revolve, rib, and trim and split curve commands.
  • Direct Editing – a design paradigm that is integrated into the existing history-based modeling architecture – providing different design methods that each have their own distinct advantages.
  • Drawings – new processes for creating and manipulating views.
  • Mold Design- offers a whole-process 3D mold design, including parting line, parting face, core and cavity, electrode, standard mold base and standard parts.
  • CAM – specifically, turning operations that can machine a 3D part or 2D sketch.

ZW3D 2012 Premium will be the version covered in this evaluation/review. Note also, that although ZW3D Premium has a wide range of CAD and CAM capabilities, we will focus primarily on the CAD side of its features and capabilities. Because there is so much to cover on the CAM side, we will largely leave that for a future evaluation/review. We will, however, cover the new turning operations on the CAM side .

User Interface and Experience

ZW3D 2012 has a new user interface which looks and feels somewhat familiar and can be customized. In ZW3D 2012, the user interface has the following components: Menu, Quick Access Toolbar, Ribbon Tabs, Toolbar, and Data Manager.

I feel the Data Manager is one of the most unique features of ZW3D’s UI. It is used to control several aspects of parts, drawings, the CAM Plan, etc. through Levels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 1: ZW3D 2012 User Interface

The Data Manager can be used at the following ZW3D Levels:

  • File/Object Level – The ZW3D Object Manager lists the root objects, such as parts, drawing packets, drawing sheets, root sketches, and CAM process plans in the active ZW3D file. You can activate a root object for editing by double-left-clicking it from the list. You can right-click on an item in the list and select commands from the Object Editor pop-up menu.
  • Part/Sketch Level – The History Manager is accessed from the ZW3D Data Manager. Select this icon from the Toolbar and then select the History Manager tab. Use the History Manager to view the feature history of the active part in a graphical tree structure. It can also be used to select features as direct input to many commands and to execute history-based commands. The lower portion of the manager contains a list of history-based commands that you can select to execute. During a history replay, the lower list changes to show the features in the history that are yet to be replayed.

The Layer Manager is accessed from the ZW3D Data Manager. Select this icon from the Toolbar and then select the Layer Manager tab. Entities can be assigned to different layers to help manage design data. For example, reference geometry can be assigned to a different layer than part geometry. Layers can be created, edited, deleted, blanked, activated, and frozen. You can set default line and face attributes for a layer and new entities will be assigned those attributes automatically.

The Input Manager provides a non-linear method of entering required and optional inputs. Options Forms are displayed in the ZW3D Data Manager if it is enabled. You can use the ZW3D Configuration Form to have forms displayed automatically. The forms complement the command prompt sequence. When the forms are not displayed, this is referred to as “streamlined mode” verses “play mode” when they are displayed. In “streamlined mode” optional inputs are assigned default values and only the required inputs are prompted.

  • Package Level – The ZW3D Object Manager lists the root objects in the active ZW3D file. You can activate a root object for editing by double-left-clicking it from the list. You can right-click on an item in the list and select commands from the Object Editor pop-up menu. You can work in four modes in the Preview section: Off, Graphics, Attributes, or Assembly. Off is the default mode for selecting root objects for editing. Graphics and Assembly are display modes, and Attributes is an information mode.
  • Sheet Level – The Layer Manager is accessed from the ZW3D Data Manager. Select this icon from the Toolbar and then select the Layer Manager tab. Entities can be assigned to different layers to help manage design data. For example, reference geometry can be assigned to a different layer than part geometry. Layers can be created, edited, deleted, blanked, activated, and frozen. Use the Table Manager to create data tables using a spreadsheet-like interface. Data tables can be used to document tabulated information such as hole patterns, bill of materials (BOM), families of parts, etc. The Table Manager is used to create new tables and insert them onto a drawing sheet. Edit, Delete, Import, and Export functions are also available. Tables created using the Create BOM Table command are also stored in the Table Manager. Use the Regen option to update BOM tables.
  • CAM Level – The CAM Plan Manager is the primary interface for ZW3D CAM. The graphical tree interface contains each section required to define and output tool path operations within a CAM setup. A default setup is created when the manager is first activated.

For new and even experienced users, the place to start learning ZW3D 2012 are its Show-n-Tell tutorials. ZW3D 2012 also has a series of helpful CAD and CAM tips for just about all aspects of the design and manufacturing processes.

A good user interface is vital for new users and minimizing the learning curve, and ZW3D 2012 has made some significant strides in this area. However, the documentation that comes with the product is incomplete and will leave some users at a loss on how to perform some functions without trial and error.

Getting Started

Files created with ZW3D can contain as many parts, assemblies, drawings, and CAM plans as required, each being known as an object. You can store an entire project of objects in one file or multiple files. With this in mind, a good strategy is to store commonly used parts in one file and create part objects specific to an assembly in another project file.

Another good strategy for beginning a design with ZW3D is to create template objects for modeling, 2D drawing, and machining. All template objects are stored in the Templates file. You can edit previous template objects, as well as copying and pasting to create a new one. Templates can be customized to set such things as colors and line styles, layer schemes, and machining operations and parameters. A template can be selected and used when starting, for example, a new part, drawing sheet, or CAM plan. When using templates, be sure to properly save and close the Templates file when you have finished editing to ensure the integrity of your work.

ZW3D 2012 has hints and prompts as design aids that most users will appreciate. First, there is Show Hints that provides context sensitive, continuous tips. Second, at the bottom of the graphics window is the Prompt/Status Line that displays the current command and the next logical step ZW3D wants you to perform. This latter feature is not perfect, but is usually quite helpful.

With ZW3D 2012 you can work with any geometry and solids are not necessarily required. Once imported you can manipulate solids, surfaces, wireframe, and scanned point cloud data. Geometry healing is useful for correcting gaps in imported model geometry. Healing functions make it relatively easy to analyze surface topology, sew surfaces together, fill gaps with new surfaces, and specify tolerances for creating closed solids.

Part Modeling

From the beginning ZW3D has been built on the company’s proprietary Overdrive Modeling Kernel, which is a good thing for mathematical modeling efficiency, and optimization.

Like virtually all CAD systems, including ZW3D, most new designs start with sketches. However, ZW3D simplifies sketching using a proprietary capability called ReadySketch with several pre-defined commonly used, dimensioned geometric sketch shapes that can be quickly edited to a size required for a design.

Sketching in ZW3D is easy and straightforward. Clicking on a line and right clicking displays several context sensitive options, such as copy, move, mirror, cut, etc. Geometric constraints, such as perpendicular, parallel, etc. are automatically displayed and usable during sketching. Clicking on a constraint displays options for changing it which is a time saver in the early stages of a design. Like most other CAD applications, save and exit the sketch to start creating features.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 2: Sketching a Part in 2D

The most common way that 2D sketches become 3D shapes for further modeling is by extruding the 2D sketch. Extruding and adding additional features, such as fillets and chamfers is easy with several options available as they are added for creating the shape you want.

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 3: Extruded Part Sketch with Features Applied

 

At the 2D level, there are several dimensioning modes available, including:

  • Normal – dimensions point to point
  • Baseline – dimensions from the first point selected to successive points
  • Continuous – dimensions continuously between successive points
  • Ordinate – similar top Baseline, but each successive point receives an ordinate value measured from the first point.

For 3D, with ZW3D’s dynamic dimensions you can pick and drag 3D dimensions for modifying shapes with simultaneous visual feedback. This ability lets you construct 3D geometry with parametric dimensions because they are automatically created during the design process.

Next, constraints can be applied in both 2D and 3D design environments.

In 2D, there are several commands available for adding constraints to an active sketch, such as anchor, parallel, perpendicular, co-tangent, etc. Like it or not, constraints force conditions on geometry as a sketch is modified. You can choose commands to analyze and solve the constraint system of a sketch. 2D constraints (and dimensions) can also be applied automatically to sketch geometry on the fly by using the Constraint toolbar and selecting a base point.

In 3D, the constraints most commonly applied are assembly alignment constraints. For assemblies, inserting component parts and adding alignment constraints are considered individual steps in parametric history. This is a good feature because constraints can be added in any order since they are not bundled with components or replayed sequentially during a history replay. When a 3D constraint is applied, a short animation shows the parts aligning and moving into place in the assembly. Alignment constraints can be added, deleted, solved, edited, dragged, and investigated. Alignment constraints can also be applied to anchor components in a fixed position. Applying 3D constraints can be time consuming, however, because in most cases, multiple constraints are required to properly align a component.

Before leaving basic part modeling, I want to briefly discuss the sheet metal features and capabilities in ZW3D 2012 Premium.

The Sheet Metal tooltab has commands for unfolding and refolding the axial bends in a 3D sheet metal part. Unfolding the part shows the size and shape of the flat pattern. The part can also be detailed on a drawing sheet in its unfolded state. Also included here is a command to set the stationary face (a face that remains flat and is not bent) that governs how a part will unfold. Features that can be added to sheet metal parts include flanges, dimples, louvers, and extrusions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4. Unfolded Sheet Metal Part

 

Direct Editing

Although these capabilities are not new anymore, since many CAD vendors offer it, direct editing continues to be a hot topic. ZW3D actually provides two different modeling methods – history-based and direct – that together provide a hybrid approach for modeling. History-based modeling employs a History Manager, or what other parametric system vendors call a history/feature tree.

ZW3D’ SmoothFlow Direct Editing combines the best of both worlds – the speed and flexibility of direct modeling with the precision of dimension-driven modeling, while still maintaining the functionality of history-based modeling. Using SmoothFlow, you can directly modify model geometry without editing history – a real time saver, since creating and editing history-based geometry can be a challenge.

QuickEdit is a ZW3D technique that streamlines creating and editing shapes. With QuickEdit you don’t have to pre-select an editing tool. Instead, you touch a part’s face or edge, right click the mouse, and choose a tool, such as fillet, offset, or move. SnapPick is a ZW3D option that takes a point pick and automatically drives it from intersections, critical points, and axis directions. You can think of SnapPick as an assistant for helping create 3D sketches, features, and parts.

The Direct Editing (DE) approach provided by ZW3D is unique because of the way it employs a feature tree. While some competitors have abandoned the feature tree with their direct approaches, it does make for a workflow that is easier to track and understand. Direct model editing lets you pick directly on geometry for quick modifications. You also have different options for viewing how the model was created with the ability to display the history of modeling operations, a list of parent and/or child operations, as well as the ability to replay and step through a model’s history.

DE(Direct-Edit) is a method for ensuring “what you see is what you get” (WYSIWYG). The supported object types are Edge, Face, and Freeform Surface. The Face can be flat, cylinder, core, sphere, and ellipsoid. Four commands can be invoked in Direct Edit – Fillet, Chamfer, Draft, Extrude, and OffsetFace.

Direct edit is fairly straightforward to perform:

  1. Select a face, and the drag arrow displays.
  2. Before the arrow has been touched, enter a value. You can also drag the arrow to edit the selected face.
  3. Press Enter.
  4. Select an edge, the drag arrow and commands display.
  5. Select a command. By default is fillet.
  6. If you select fillet, drag the arrow or enter a value.
  7. After entering the value, press Enter to finish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 5: Removing a Face and Closing Gaps

Admittedly, Direct Edit is still somewhat limited in ZW3D 2012, but is getting more comprehensive with each new release.

Important for ZW3D users who are involved with both CAD and CAM, regardless of whether you model parametrically or directly, any changes made to geometry automatically updates associated CNC program output.

Creating Assemblies

ZW3D 2012 Premium supports efficient assembly definition, manipulation, and management, and was a fundamental consideration when the ZW3D architecture was conceived and designed. For example, ZW3D’s Object Manager loads only display data for an object into memory if that object is active for edit, minimizing an assembly’s memory footprint while maximizing the size of an assembly that can be worked with. The Object Manager also lets you decide how assemblies are distributed into files – ranging from each component in a separate file, an entire assembly in one file, or anything in between.

ZW3D Premium supports the two main assembly creation approaches – bottom-up and top-down.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 6: Saw Assembly in ZW3D 2012

Finally, ZW3D supports its proprietary lightweight Burst technology that lets you manipulate large assemblies without memory constraints. The tree structure for assemblies allows individual component parts to be graphically highlighted for identification and modification purposes.

Drawings

For drawings, ZW3D 2012 has a number of improvements, including:

  • New process for creating views by starting with the standard view and projecting other views into sequentially at the sheet level. In other words, first generate the standard view, and then generate the corresponding projected view based on mouse position.
  • Direct drag support so you can drag a view, dimension, and geometry directly in a drawing sheet.
  • View of linkage that provides the positional relationship between the views that remains unchanged after moving.
  • Hole tables that identify rear-facing and hidden holes.

ZW3D automatically creates 2D associative detail drawings directly from 3D models from which they are created, so the process is pretty streamlined. The production drawing and detailing process are assisted by ZW3D’s unique object server architecture that lets you decide whether drawings will be saved in the same file as the 3D data from the master model or in separate files.

Drawings provide an insight into ZW3D’s architecture that is a multi-level object-oriented system with access to its various integrated modules, including CAM, through a common user interface. Rather than launching separate applications for drafting or CAM, you just open a ZW3D file and proceed to the level you want; in this instance the Drawing Level for creating and editing drawing packets and drawing sheets. The Drawing Packet Level contains functions that are used to create drawing packets, while the Drawing Sheet Level is used to create drawing sheets. In ZW3D, a drawing packet is a collection of one or more drawing sheets. A drawing sheet is where model geometry is actually located.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 7: A ZW3D 2012 Drawing with a BOM

In drawings, there is a useful command for bills of material that lets you synchronize a BOM with part attributes for updating a 3D part by making changes to the BOM table on a 2D drawing , so you don’t have to drill down to the part level.

Mold Design

ZW3D 2012 Premium lets you create mold geometry that includes core and cavity, parting surfaces, draft angles and material shutoffs. The core and cavity can be created at the same time in one operation. Also available is a comprehensive library of standard mold base components that includes slides, lifters, ejector pins, cooling channels, and electrodes for producing molds. One of the most significant features of ZW3D’s mold capabilities is the way it is organized into a logical sequence that walks you through the mold creation process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 8: 3D Mold Design in ZW3D 2012

Before getting to the mold design phase, you can interrogate, analyze, and animate a plastic part’s design to ensure that it is manufacturable. ZW3D also generates so-called intelligent workflow. For example, it employs auto-feature milling with machining strategy based on a part’s features.

CAM

One of the most unique aspects of ZW3D Premium CAD process is its association with the manufacturing process. For example, ZW3D recognizes and machines geometric design features (up to 5 axes), and has the ability to directly manipulate and machine from STL or mesh scan files.

One of the new machining options that has been added to ZW3D 2012 Premium CAM is 2-axis turning. The turning capabilities can be used to machine 3D parts or 2D sketches. This time around there are seven operations available for turning operations, including:

Drilling: Drilling operations can be used to machine drill, ream, and tap holes. Parameters include drill type, tap type, depth, and others.

Face: This operation is used to machine the face of a work piece. The face operation includes parameters and a tool path can be generated without modifying any parameters. Parameters include path tolerance, step size, and allowance.

Rough Turning: Rough Turning operation is mainly used for removing superfluous materials. It currently supports outside-diameter(OD) and inside-diameter(ID) machining. The available cutting strategies include Horizontal, Vertical, and Pattern Repeat. Parameters include speeds, feeds, tolerances, and cut direction.

Finish Turning: Use the finish turning command to cut allowances left by a rough turning operation. This command can be used as either a semi-finishing or finishing operation. Parameters include speeds, feeds, tolerances, and cut direction.

Grooving: Grooves can be classified as external groove, internal groove, and face groove according to its location. The turn grooving operation provides three cut directions to machine these grooves for rough grooving and finish grooving to finish it.

Threading: For making various types of threads, like external/internal straight thread or tapered thread with single-start or multi-start. It is easy to pick a point for the thread location. Parameters include threading inside or outside diameter, thread pitch, and right-hand or left-hand thread.

Part Off: The Part Off operation is mainly used to separate an object from the workpiece. In this operation, you can generate a toolpath with just defining a Cut Off Point. Parameters include toolpath tolerance, cutoff point, and corner geometry (chamfer or fillet).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 9: New 2X Turning in ZW3D 2012

The CAM and Tactics Managers in ZW3D Premium provide assistance during the manufacturing phase. These management tools help you develop intelligent and efficient milling and drilling operations. You do this by defining rules that ZW3D CAM will use when analyzing CAM features. The rules that are defined form a rule set that will help select the best machining tools from your library and calculate the best tool paths. For example, if a drilling operation is required and a good match from available drill tools cannot be located in the library, ZW3D CAM searches existing reaming or boring tools for a better match for the given operation. The suggested tooling operations can then be organized, verified, and output just as manually created operations would be.

Final Thoughts

While ZW3D 2012 Premium has several strong capabilities in part and assembly design, drawing creation, and data management, its greatest strength and differentiator is the fact that in one package, you have all the tools necessary for going from design through manufacturing (machining). In effect, ZW3D 2012 Premium can handle the entire product development process – from concept through manufacturing. This comprehensive ability really sets it apart compared with its competitors, many of whom require optional or add-in products to achieve this level of functionality, especially for manufacturing.

Having all workflow capabilities available in one package ensures a similar user experience throughout the design and manufacturing process. Dealing with one comprehensive software application, such as ZW3D 2012 Premium will benefit many potential customers, especially those directly or indirectly involved with design and manufacturing operations.

The parent company, ZWSOFT, continues to evolve and appears to have shaken up its worldwide sales channel. Technical support in the U.S. is available through a knowledge base, instant messaging, email, and channel partners. The relative lack of real “live” support, however, is improving.

Although it’s a competitive market, ZW3D 2012 Premium is a unique design/engineering/manufacturing software application because it can cover all the CAD and CAM bases and should be given serious consideration.

 

Evaluation

ZW3D 2012 Premium

2D/3D CAD/CAM

Pluses: Wide range of capabilities from design through manufacturing; CAD/CAM workflow; hybrid modeling with direct editing; modest system requirements.

Minuses: Technical support; product education/documentation content.

Overall: B+

Price: $7,000 (US). Upgrade $1,500 (US). Free 30-day trial download available.

The pricing for the ZW3D 2012 product line is as follows:

ZW3D Standard $2,500

ZW3D Professional $4,000

ZW3D Premium: $7,000

ZW3D 2X Machining: $1,500

ZW3D 3X Machining: $4,000

ZW3D 4&5-Axis Machining (add-on): $5,000

 

For More Information: ZW3D 2012 Premium

 

Jeffrey Rowe is the editor of MCADCafé and MCAD Weekly Review. He can be reached at jeff@ibsystems.com or 719.221.1867.

 

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Product and Company News

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Luxion and GrabCAD launch the KeyShot Engine Rendering Challenge

Autodesk Helps Huntair Turn Operating Rooms into Cleanrooms

Additive Manufacturing Users Group Leads in 20 Most Influential List

ANSYS Making Electric Vehicle Batteries More Practical and Efficient

CGTech and DP Technology Announce Direct Interface between VERICUT and ESPRIT

CIMdata Releases its 2012 China PLM Report

CIMdata Publishes “CAD Selection Considerations: Design Changes”

Delcam updates Solid Doctor for CAD data repair

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Faurecia and Creaform Working on Software Solution for Dummy Positioning

D&K Engineering Selects Aras Enterprise PLM Software

Bulk Loader for Windchill from ETRAGE Supports Upload of SolidWorks Models

The EDA and MCAD/MCAE Almanac – Nominal Q1 2012

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IMAGINiT Technologies Awarded Autodesk PLM 360 Specialization Designation

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STAR-CCM+ v7.04: Accelerate, Understand, Improve

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Stratasys and Oak Ridge National Laboratory Partner to Advance Additive Manufacturing

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TFTLabs announces Free JSON3D Gallery, View and Share your 3D CAD models on the Web for free

Service Pack 1 for ZW3D 2012 CAD/CAM Adds Over 180 Enhancements

Nova Delivers the T600 Stand Alone Metrology Tool to a Leading Memory Manufacturer in Asia

MecSoft announces VisualMILL 2012 for SolidWorks

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Honda of the UK Manufacturing Ltd Selects Aras and Minerva for New Model Project Management Pilot Implementation

SQS Launches PLM Test Automation Framework for Teamcenter from Siemens PLM Software

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Axiom Releases Affordable Video-based Tutorials for Users Upgrading to AutoCAD 2013

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Industry Events

IMTS – The International Manufacturing Technology Show 2012 On Track to be One of Largest Ever

Hexagon Metrology Spotlights Measurement Automation at IMTS 2012 in Chicago, IL, September 10 – 15, 2012

Social PLM 2012, The Global Virtual Conference and Exhibition in PLM, Engineering and Product Design Is Announced.

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PTC to Speak at the NASDAQ OMX 28th Investor Program on Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

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Delcam tastes success at Hermle Open House

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Corporate Newsletters

Autodesk University Newsletter – June 2012

SURFCAM Newsletter – June 2012

FEA Information Engineering Solutions – Vol. 1, Issue 5, June 2012

Delcam Newsletter – July 2012 — Featuring Delcam at the Farnborough Air Show

 

State of Tablets for Engineering Work

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

I’ll admit up front that I’ve had a “thing” for mobile computing devices for some time — smartphones, netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets, and so on for day-to-day office work activities. However, I’ve increasingly gotten more interested in how these mobile platforms work in an engineering environment.

I’ve used various Windows, iOS, and Android devices with different levels of satisfaction and frustration.

I currently use devices running iOS (an iPad and iPhone), as well as a Dell Notebook running Windows XP. In the past I have used an Android smartphone and tablet.

I actually had the highest hopes for the Android devices, but gradually got so frustrated with the relative lack of standards and consistency with different apps and devices with regard to look, feel, behavior, and reliability. I guess I could have worked more diligently getting things to work better, but felt I didn’t need another hobby/part time job, so I sold all my Android stuff. That’s not to say I won’t return to the Android camp at some time, because I do like the “open” aspect of things Andoid. I’m just going to take a step back for a while.

I now use the Apple devices on a daily basis and am pleased with the way they work together in their little ecosystem — what works on the iPhone usually works on the iPad and vice versa. Office document, engineering application, and photography workflows are still quite a challenge, but I’m really trying to make things work. Beyond writing and simple photo editing, on the engineering side, the I use the iPad primarily as viewer. There are some interesting apps for engineering, such as simple CAD and simulation, but haven’t spent too much time with them yet, although I intend to in the near future.

On the Windows side, I’ve had fairly good luck with the Windows platform (netbook), but it is Windows, and that fact alone has caused me a lot of frustration over the years — don’t get me started. The upcoming Microsoft Surface tablets with Windows 8 look interesting, but with the keyboards Microsoft is pushing, they look more like ultrabooks than innovative tablets. When introduced, there will be two levels:
-RT with an ARM CPU, 16-32 GB and starting at $599
-Pro with an Intel CPU, 64-128 GB and starting at $799

Admittedly, Microsoft is a little late to the tablet game, and the company (with few exceptions) has not exactly been a powerhouse with in-house developed hardware. However, Microsoft tablets might be popular in the business world, including engineering. I’m going to wait and see on that one, though.

Ideally, I’d like to be able to have one OS/platform that meets all my needs, but for the foresseable future, I’ll probably be using two — one for personal work and one for professional work — iOS and Windows. This means ongoing compromise, but I enjoy the ability to make the best use of each one in ways that work best for me. I have no doubt, though, that mobile devices and engineering apps will continue to improve to the point where they are as useful as their counterparts on desktop platforms.

Editor’s Note: I’ll review and report on some engineering-oriented apps in the coming weeks and months.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: Solid Edge ST5 Released

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division and a leading global provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) software and services, announced the release of Solid Edge ST5, with advances in core design capabilities aimed at helping users develop better products faster. The latest Solid Edge release also contains more than 1,300 new customer-driven productivity enhancements.

Siemens PLM Software also announced Solid Edge Mobile Viewer, a new free 3D viewer mobile device application (app) for the iPad portable digital device, which broadens access to design data to help companies enhance collaboration. The announcements were made at Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge University 2012

“The new features in Solid Edge ST5 are driven by our strong focus on our customers’ requirements. By responding directly to their needs, we ensure each functional enhancement delivers real business value,” said Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge product development, Siemens PLM Software. “Customers are seeing real benefits from our industry-leading synchronous technology and we’ve strongly extended our lead in this area.”

Faster more flexible ways to use synchronous technology

Solid Edge continues to leverage synchronous technology, Siemens PLM Software’s breakthrough history-free, feature-based design technology for digital product development, to provide designers and engineers a better way to create and edit designs and to help cut design time by enabling reuse of imported models. Solid Edge ST5 uses synchronous technology to provide enhanced support for multi-body modeling, which lets users import parts and assemblies from virtually any CAD system. The resulting imported geometry can be combined into a single part or multiple parts depending on manufacturing requirements.

“I am very impressed with what I have seen in Solid Edge ST5; especially the new multi-body design capability,” said Grant Holohan, Mechanical Engineer, Hatch, a leading global EPCM company specializing in designing large-scale mining operations. “The new multi-body design capability gives us the freedom to design without worrying about individual parts unless needed. Using Solid Edge ST5 will dramatically increase the design productivity of our staff, saving a substantial amount of design time.”

Continues to simplify drawing documentation

In many design and manufacturing companies, drawings are a key deliverable. Solid Edge enhancements continue to focus on drawing productivity to help lower shop floor errors. Enhancements in Solid Edge ST5 include the ability to show an assembly in multiple positions within a drawing view, to automatically place parts lists across sheets, and easily align the position of dimensions. A new marquee feature is the ability to create nailboards of electrical wiring harnesses, complete with flattened and “bend” views, drawing views of connectors, and connector and conductor tables for creating complete manufacturing documentation.

Delivers thermal analysis for steady-state simulations

Engineers often need to simulate both thermal and mechanical systems where a part may have to undergo both stress and a thermal load. And when issues are encountered, they require a fast, easy approach to making changes that improve design quality. Solid Edge ST5 now includes steady-state thermal simulation and when coupled with synchronous technology users can test more alternatives in less time, so designers can reduce the need to build and test physical prototypes.

Solid Edge Mobile Viewer App for the iPad

Users across a company now have the ability to view 3D parts and assemblies created with Solid Edge using the new free Solid Edge Mobile Viewer app on an iPad. The app includes the ability to rotate, pan, zoom, show and hide parts, create and email images. Solid Edge Mobile Viewer allows individuals outside of the traditional design and engineering departments to view design data, enabling faster, more convenient design reviews, customer presentations, or general model inspection.

Solid Edge ST5 is scheduled to ship in July. For more information please visit www.siemens.com/plm/solidedgest5

 

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

With ST5 the Synchronous Technology saga continues . . .

Starting about four years ago, one of biggest mechanical CAD software developments then arguably was Synchronous Technology (ST) that found its way into both Solid Edge and its big brother, NX. Given that it was a “Version 1” of the technology, it was stable, but was not implemented through all design environments within the Solid Edge product. That, however, has been addressed over time, and continues to be increasingly implemented throughout in new releases.

In 2008, Siemens PLM Software announced a new CAD methodology that it claimed to be the biggest MCAD breakthrough in a decade called Synchronous Technology. That was a pretty big claim, but the possibilities and implications were pretty intriguing.

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Tata Technologies Uses Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE Platform for Electric Vehicle Feasibility Study

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I guess it’s just me, but I’m still trying to get used to Dassault calling itself the 3DEXPERIENCE Company with a 3DEXPERIENCE Platform that consists of all of of its product lines. To its credit, though, Dassault recently announced a tangible result with Tata Technologies’  use of its 3DEXPERIENCE platform, based on V6 technology, for developing the small urban electric vehicle study – the eMO (for electric MObility).

Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE Platform

The eMO study was undertaken to demonstrate the feasibility of developing an electric vehicle at an affordable price. Tata Technologies says that the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform enabled its team to complete the project quickly and accurately.

“We needed a highly regarded partner for this project, as we were relying on it to showcase our multi-dimensional approach to vehicle engineering and development,” said Kevin Fisher, president, Tata Technologies Vehicle Programs and Development (VPD) Group. “We have a deep history with Dassault Systèmes and were confident that CATIA and ENOVIA V6 applications would help us leverage the talents of a global engineering team to meet numerous design and cost constraints, as well as create the targeted user experience, including a final vehicle price tag of under $20,000.”

A significant challenge in the development process was the requirement to fit all the required vehicle systems into a small footprint while maintaining spacious seating for four adults. To achieve this, Tata Technologies used CATIA and ENOVIA to develop various studies, allowing global collaboration to rapidly evaluate and optimize possible solutions.

The development of the eMO was a global effort, requiring collaboration among more than 300 Tata Technologies engineers from the U.S., Europe, and India. The data generated by the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform became the common language for collaboration and allowed rapid comparison of proposals, leading to swift decisions and innovative solutions. In addition, it allowed more time for testing of different design features aimed at reducing energy consumption, such as vehicle weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics.

Not a lot of details were given, which is sort of understandable for a feasibility study, but is tangible proof that Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE Platform is being used for real work. It will be interesting to see how eMO evolves and where it goes.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: PTC’s CEO Jim Heppelmann Declares New Era of Manufacturing Competitiveness at PlanetPTC Live 2012

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

At its annual worldwide gathering of customers, PlanetPTC Live in Orlando, Florida, PTC declared a new era of manufacturing competitiveness driven by technology solutions that help companies achieve product and service advantage. In his keynote address, PTC president and CEO Jim Heppelmann argued that the world is poised to enter what The Economist magazine recently labeled a “third industrial revolution.” In this new era, a concerted focus on strategy will lead a renaissance in global manufacturing which will, in turn, put companies using PTC technology solutions in increasingly important roles helping create new value for their companies, and helping them achieve a competitive edge in the 21st Century.

“Over the past few decades, global manufacturers have made massive investments in technology and process change aimed at improving operational efficiency,” said Heppelmann. “Today, however, we are reaching the limits of the competitive edge these investments can deliver. Manufacturers need to be operationally efficient to stay in the game, but they can no longer achieve meaningful advantage from that alone. The time has come for a new source of competitive advantage – product and service advantage – from technology and process change that improves strategy decision-making across the enterprise, from engineering to the supply chain to sales and service networks.”

Fundamentally, PTC technology solutions transform the way companies create and service products by enabling them to make better, smarter, faster strategy and planning decisions. These decisions relate to how products are designed and engineered, how a supply chain is optimized, how quality and compliance is assured throughout the manufacturing process and, ultimately, how service is efficiently delivered against a product once sold. Individually, these planning decisions help deliver a strategy that supports a brand. Collectively, they are the new source of competitive advantage.

Over its 25 year history, PTC has developed a deep expertise in helping companies optimize the processes associated with each stage of the product lifecycle. In recent years, through a combination of organic development and acquisition, PTC has built a broad portfolio of technology solutions that it combines with its process expertise to assist customers in achieving greatness. In 2012, PTC has gone one step further and reorganized the company itself to align directly with the organizational structure of the modern manufacturing enterprise. Specifically, PTC has established five internal leadership teams focused on driving its technology solution strategies in the areas of product lifecycle management (PLM), computer-aided design (CAD), application lifecycle management (ALM), supply chain management (SCM), and service lifecycle management (SLM).

“A new era is upon us,” concluded Heppelmann. “To win in the new century requires a new way of thinking. For manufacturers, it’s about making fundamentally smarter strategy decisions. Today, advantage goes to those who differentiate their product and service offering, and PTC is proud to align itself with leading global brands that are poised to win in the new competitive era by achieving product and service advantage.”

 

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

Along with about 2,000 other attendees, we just returned from PlanetPTC Live 2012.

It was a good conference with a different “vibe” than in past years – more confident, forthcoming, and upbeat. I don’t know if it was the recent management changes that made the difference, but it was evident that the era of the “new PTC” has begun.

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SpaceX Cuts Composite Development Time With Siemens’ Fibersim

Friday, June 1st, 2012

The privately funded and developed SpaceX Dragon just returned from a flight that was successful from start to finish. The SpaceX Dragon capsule parachuted into the Pacific on May 31, 2012 to conclude the first private delivery to the International Space Station and ring in a new era for NASA’s approach to space exploration.

SpaceX’s CEO/CTO, Elon Musk, said “Welcome home, baby,” and was said to be a bit surprised with the SpaceX Dragon’s triumphant mission.

After its initial success, the primary goal for SpaceX will be to repeat the success on future flights.

Because the unmanned supply ship’s arrival was so accurate, when it splashed down, a fleet of recovery ships was able to quickly move in to pull the capsule aboard a barge for towing to Los Angeles.

It was the first time since the shuttles stopped flying last summer that NASA got a sizable load returned from the space station – more than half a ton of experiments and equipment.

The arrival of the world’s first commercial cargo carrier concluded a nine-day test flight that was virtually flawless, beginning with the May 22, 2012 launch aboard the SpaceX company’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, continuing with the space station docking three days later, and departure six hours before landing in the ocean.

SpaceX attributes a large part of its design and engineering success to CAD, CAM, and CAE software, including Fibersim from Siemens PLM Software for composite material design and engineering.

According to Chris Thompson, Vice President of Structures Engineering at SpaceX, “Time is always of the essence for us, so Fibersim’s proven ability to take us from art to part so rapidly was a critical consideration in our decision to purchase the software. Fibersim improves product quality by providing accurate engineering information to the manufacturing floor, which also helps the repeatability of the manufacturing process.” The repeatability of the manufacturing process is vital for repeated success of the space platform.

 

Adopting Advanced Composite Materials

For more than 50 years, commercial access to space has been limited by the high cost of flight operations. However, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has rewritten the rules of the game by adopting a new business model and cutting edge technologies to enhance reliability and reduce the cost of space access.

One significant way SpaceX enhanced the performance of its Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule was by adopting composite materials. Composites have received growing acceptance in a variety of industries, including aerospace, and the space industry has taken note. SpaceX was no exception. The design team recognized that composites could significantly enhance performance by improving the strength-to-weight ratio of the materials used to construct its spacecraft.

Once that decision was made, SpaceX conducted an evaluation of available composites engineering solutions and concluded that Siemens PLM Software’s Fibersim software was the best fit for its design and manufacturing environment.

“Based on our comparison, there was no question that Fibersim was definitely the best choice on the market for designing and manufacturing composite components to suit our needs,” said Kirk Matthes, SpaceX’s design manager.

SpaceX’s business model is derived from the philosophy that simplicity, so low-cost and reliability can go hand in hand. By eliminating the traditional layers of management and subcontractors, the company reduced costs while speeding decision making and delivery. Likewise, by keeping the vast majority of manufacturing in-house, SpaceX reduced costs, kept tighter control of quality, and ensured a tight feedback loop between the design and manufacturing teams. By concentrating on simple, proven designs with a primary focus on reliability, the company has reduced the costs associated with complex systems operating at the margin. Fibersim has proven very valuable within that design/engineering paradigm.

SpaceX used Fibersim to design and manufacture a variety of composite parts on both the Falcon rocket and the Dragon capsule. Fibersim was used to develop production fiber placement diagrams and laser projection files. It was also used to assist with actual fiber placement for the spacecraft’s thermal protection system, including the heat shield, exterior panels, insulating layers on the rocket and spacecraft, and several panels around the nose cone and engines.

Fibersim is now being employed from the outset on all new composites projects and has enabled SpaceX to reduce the design-to-manufacturing time on composite parts, such as the 5-meter fairing boattail panel by 71 percent, from seven days to two days. For other designs, the generation of manufacturing data was reduced by as much as 86 percent, from seven days to one day, using Fibersim. These time savings mean that changes are processed more quickly, designs are updated more reliably, and the overall process flows more smoothly.

SpaceX has used Fibersim to perform a variety of tasks, including creating designs, making flat patterns, working in conjunction with its finite element analysis (FEA) software, and creating laser data.

 

Strong Support From Siemens

As a newcomer to composites, SpaceX was also concerned about finding a software vendor that had significant composites experience so it could receive the necessary guidance and support as it embarked on working with new materials.

“Siemens PLM Software’s support is excellent,” said Matthes. “Anytime we have a problem, we can send a model to the Siemens PLM Software’s technical consultant and he helps us get through the issue. Again, as a fast-paced organization, we must continually be moving forward, and Siemens PLM Software’s responsiveness and expertise enables us to do just that.”

Siemens PLM Software also embeds the know-how derived from its years of experience in the composites industry to provide intuitive, easy-to-use features for the design of a variety of composite structures. This is integrated into the software, speeds learning time, and makes the learning experience for new users more effective. This also aids in training new users who may not have experience in designing with composite materials.

Since most of the composite parts are not especially complicated, the Fibersim Composites Engineering Environment (CEE) has proven to be sufficient. However, certain sections of the launch vehicle are characterized by complex curvature, so SpaceX opted for Siemens PLM Software’s Advanced Composites Engineering Environment (ACEE) to design those parts. ACEE exploits the inherent advantages of many different composite design methodologies –including structure-based, zone-based, and ply-based design — to enable efficient engineering of large, complex structural components and highly contoured composite skins.

Most importantly, it helps to address the changes that inevitably occur while developing a composite structure. Based upon inputs from analysis, manufacturing or further iterations of the design, the definition evolves to its final state. This can require frequent updates and changes, which are time-consuming without software created specifically for this process. ACEE is designed to meet this challenge and create a more straightforward process for managing design changes.

“ACEE provided a significant boost to our efforts to define or import laminate specifications and requirements quickly using a zone-based design methodology,” explained Matthes. “It helped speed ply definition by dynamically generating zone transitions and ply boundaries using an offset profile.”

The ability to accelerate the process and make it more accurate enables SpaceX to proceed with high speed and quality, as well set new standards for designing and manufacturing composite spacecraft both now and in the future.

As a kid who grew up during NASA’s heyday in the 60s and 70s and the more recent hiatus, I’m now very encouraged about the future of space exploration – due in large part to private enterprise — and I applaud the efforts of SpaceX. I hope SpaceX’s accomplishment ushers in a new wave of engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurial companies who will take advantage of this great opportunity.

 

Collaboration & Interoperability Congress 2012: Where’s JT?

Monday, May 21st, 2012

This week we are attending the Collaboration & Interoperability Congress (CIC) 2012. CIC is a unique independent vendor/technology/product-neutral event that addresses collaboration and interoperability in manufacturing and business processes. The event seems particularly well attended this year and represents by a wide range of industries and standards bodies.

One notable absence, however, was any representation from the JT camp — Siemens PLM Software. I would have thought that JT would take advantage of an event such as CIC to showcase and grandstand the data format. With no real presence, what are we to think? Is JT really as ubiquitous and pervasive as we have been led to believe? Maybe yes, maybe no. Admittedly, JT has its own conference this coming fall, but when just about every other interoperability technology provider shows up, why not JT? On the other hand, an organization that had a major presence was the relatively new 3DPDF Consortium.

CIC is an interesting conference because collaboration and interoperability are undergoing huge changes, due in large part to clould-based computing, storage, and software as service. Will the cloud be used exclusively tomorrow? Probably not, but over time it will be increasingly used as a primary digital data creation and management platform. In any case, interoperability in the cloud will become a bigger and bigger issue with great challenges, but also great opportunities.

An interesting session on the first day of the Congress discussed the following lightweight 3D formats:

  • STEP
  • 3DXML
  • 3D PDF
  • JT

Free viewers are largely what differentiate the above formats, but it was made clear that there is no such thing as a free viewer due to implementation and IP protection/security costs.

The 3D PDF format really got a lot of attention, at least during the first day of the Congress. It seems the reasons for this are the industrial strength tools available for 3D PDF, excellent user acceptance, and the fact that PDF is a widely recognized ISO standard (ISO 32000).

In the coming weeks, we’ll detail the advantages and disadvantages of each of the lightweight formats because they definitely have each.

As its central theme, CIC drives home the point that like living creatures and technologies, when it comes to evolution, it’s not necessarily the strongest or brightest that survive, it’s those who are the most adaptable. I think this will prove true and apply to collaboration and interoperability going forward.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: ASCON Releases Geometric Kernel As CAD Component

Monday, May 21st, 2012

ASCON Group, developer and integrator of professional MCAD and PLM solutions, announced that it is making public its proprietary geometry kernel C3D as the foundation for creating computer-aided design systems and applications. The kernel is also well suited for designing computer-aided engineering (CAE) software, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) programs for CNC machines, and modeling of engineering processes for product lifecycle management (PLM).

Development of the geometric kernel began in 1995, and then in 2000 ASCON released KOMPAS-3D v5.9, the first computer-aided design software system based on its C3D. Since then, the company has updated the kernel, and is now launching it as a separate product for the CAD component market. It handles all aspects of a CAD system: 2D drawing and sketching, 3D hybrid and solid modeling, parametric constraints, and translation.

“The decision to open access to our technology was the next logical step in our on-going development of the geometric kernel,” said Maxim Bogdanov, CEO of ASCON. “We are confident in the quality of C3D. For more than a decade, it has been the basis of our own line of successful CAD/CAM software.

“We see great prospects for its use, as new players appear on the market needing components for their CAD systems,” he added. “Standard 2D systems will inevitably switch to 3D, and consequently require a fundamental change to the core of the systems — or else find a replacement. The CAD component market is changing, and so there is a place for a Russian company with 17 years experience in geometric kernel development, and whose mathematical quality is recognized throughout the world.”

The main feature of ASCON kernel is that it is complete. The core of C3D combines everything necessary for the development of application solutions, as follows:

C3D Modeler is the geometric modeler with functions for 3D solid and hybrid modeling, sketching, and 2D drawing

C3D Solver is the parametric constraints solver with functions for creating and solving parametric constraints on 2D and 3D geometry

C3D Converter is the translator module that reads and writes geometric models in all primary exchange formats

Potential users for the C3D kernel are developers of CAD, CAM, and CAE systems and related applications requiring the processing of 3D models and 2D graphics. Among them are large industrial companies who often create software for internal use. Third-party developers can use the ASCON kernel to extend functions and abilities, increase performance and reliability, quickly create 3D modelers based on existing 2D systems, and reduce cost of development of their products.

Even before C3D was released officially, an early tester was already putting it to real-world use. “We were among the first to work with ASCON’s geometric modeling kernel,” explained Andrew Lovygin, CEO of LO CNITI and the official distributor of Esprit CAM in Russia. “In just four months, we embedded a full 3D solid modeler in our CAM system. Our choice of C3D was driven by ASCON’s flexible pricing policy and quality technical support. I am confident that ASCON will achieve excellent results with its kernel on the international market.”

C3D was first announced in April at the Congress On the Future of Engineering Software (COFES). C3D kernel is available now for limited licensing based on individual requests. Full access will be opened in January, 2013.

 

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

When you think of geometric modeling kernels, does anything immediately come to mind? For most of us who have been long enough, the ones probably at the forefront are ACIS and CGM (owned by Spatial Corp., a part of Dassault Systemes) and Parasolid (owned by Siemens PLM Software). Now, though, ASCON has entered the arena.

There was a time when geometric modeling kernels were the keystones of the MCAD industry. Most CAD vendors then relied, at least to some degree, and licensed them as engines for making their software applications go. While newly developed and released kernels were a good thing, some CAD developers felt that they were held hostage by the release cycles of their geometric kernel developers.

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Wohlers Report 2012 Report: An Excellent Source for Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing Information

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Wohlers Associates just published Wohlers Report 2012, an in-depth analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. This new edition marks the 17th consecutive year of its publication. I can attest that the Report is the most thorough and comprehensive document of its kind.

Wohlers Report 2012 covers all aspects of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents pertinent developments in the past year, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, and industry, and summarizes the state of the industry in countries around the world. It also tracks the extraordinary growth of personal 3D printers—machines priced under $5,000, with the majority in the $1,000 to $2,000 range.

The information is used to track industry growth, provide views and perspective, uncover trends, and offer insight into the future of additive manufacturing. “The 2012 edition is the most ambitious effort in the report’s history,” said Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates and a principal author of the new report. Major new parts on applications, materials and processes, and front- and back-end considerations were added. The final part of the report concludes withtrends that are expected to shape the future of the technology and industry.

Additive manufacturing is the process of joining materials to make objects from 3D model data, usually layer upon layer, as opposed to subtractive manufacturing methodologies. Additive manufacturing is used to build physical models, prototypes, patterns, tooling components, and production parts in plastic, metal, and composite materials. AM systems use thin, horizontal cross sections from computer-aided design (CAD) models, 3D-scanning systems, medical scanners, and video games to produce parts that can be difficult or impossible to produce any other way.

The report sells for $495 worldwide and is available in PDF form. The report’s table of contents, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at wohlersassociates.com.

I’ve known Terry Wohlers for many years and consider Wohlers Report THE source of timely and comprehensive information for additive manufacturing. I don’t recommend many books, but highly recommend this one for anyone who wants to get accurate in-depth information on AM.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: Dassault Systèmes Acquiring Gemcom

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Dassault Systèmes announced its intent to acquire geological modeling and simulation company Gemcom Software International (Gemcom) for approximately US$360 million. Privately-held Gemcom is the world leader in mining industry software solutions, headquartered in Vancouver.

“With the acquisition of Gemcom, coupled with our 3D Experience platform capabilities, our objective is to model and simulate our planet, improving predictability, efficiency, safety and sustainability within the Natural Resources industry and beyond,” said Bernard Charlès, President and CEO, Dassault Systèmes. “To support this ambitious goal, we have created a new brand, GEOVIA. Raw material provisioning and long term resource availability is a major concern for society. Today’s announcement is a significant step towards fulfilling our purpose of providing 3D experiences for imagining sustainable innovations to harmonize products, nature and life.”

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