Jeff's MCAD Blogging
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 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 … More »
July 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Being a mechanical design kind of guy, I’ve had to pick up a lot of electrical/electronics information on my own over the years since I graduated from college. I came through the mechanical design education system with a “classical” curriculum — statics, dynamics, materials, thermodynamics, and maybe one basic AC/DC circuits course.
Today, a lot has changed. Mechanical engineering curricula at many colleges and universities seem to be divided roughly and equally between mechanics, electronics, and software.
As I said earlier, my educational background has made it necessary to learn more about electrons and code, in addition to atoms from my traditional background. Over the years I’ve worked with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), but wanted to get down to a more basic level of understanding, so I started thinking microcontrollers, but where to start?
As it turns out, there are several microcontrollers on the market for beginners like me, but the one that really intrigued me was the Arduino, an open-source, single-board microcontroller. The single board designed around an 8-bit Atmel AVR microcontroller, though a new model has been designed around a 32-bit Atmel ARM. The software consists of a standard programming language compiler and a boot loader that executes on the microcontroller.
Sounds simple, right? Well, yes and no. I needed the hardware and software to get started, but I also needed a good educational resource. While there are tons of Arduino resources, I’m a good book learner, so that’s the route I took.
I’ve checked out several Arduino “primers,” and found the best one for my purposes to be Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects by John Boxall. This well-written book is a comprehensive tutorial that will have even rank beginners (like me) quickly building devices that are actually functional.
The book digs into basic electronics and the Arduino’s sensors, motors, displays, and software. You learn about these hard and soft components hands-on by using them to build projects that include:
As the book progresses, the projects build on the basics, and by the end of the book you’ll be able to make relatively sophisticated projects, such as a motorized remote-control tank.
Each project is broken down into easily understandable units:
By the time you build some of the 65 of the projects, you’ll be ready to build your own—and that’s the fundamental idea behind the Arduino open-source philosophy.
I’ve got a long way to go in microcontrollers and electronics, but feel I’ve gotten a solid start with Arduino Workshop. You have to start somewhere and this is an excellent place to start on the road to understanding microcontrollers. Go ahead, challenge yourself, learn something new!
Arduino Workshop is available for $29.95 in bookstores, from http://www.oreilly.com/nostarch, or directly from No Starch Press (http://www.nostarch.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-800-420-7240).
July 9th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
I know we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer as far as the season goes, but we’re also in the dog days as far as the MCAD industry goes, as well.
Historically, this time of year things are relatively slow for business in general, and the CAD industry is not immune to this phenomenon.
However, one CAD vendor in particular has been uncharacteristically quiet since well before these dog days of summer — SolidWorks, or more properly, DS SolidWorks.
Most of SolidWorks’ competitors have made announcements the past few weeks — some relatively major, some relatively minor — but they have made at least some announcements. Not so, SolidWorks.
For example, Autodesk announced some new cloud-based offerings, Solid Edge announced ST6, and PTC announced new versions and products in its Creo line. The most significant bit of news coming out of SolidWorks during this time period has been the release of its 2013-2014 Education Edition.
I can remember a time, and not all that long ago, when a virtually continuous stream of news was coming out of SolidWorks — new software products and services, products designed with the software, new customers, and so on. Periodically, a SolidWorks staffer would even reach out to me to see if there was anything I needed from them, or would discuss future developments and industry trends off the record.
I realize that things can’t stay the same forever, and CAD vendors are no exception, but those days of candidness with a relationship that fostered goodwill between a vendor (in this case SolidWorks) and a member of the industry press are no longer. It’s become more of a “What have you done for us lately?”
Not only are a lot of good folks I’ve known over the years gone from SolidWorks, so is much of the excitement within the company that translated into positive energy for customers, as well as members of the media. In years past (starting in 1995), development managers, technical staff, inside and outside PR/communications, and executives were always approachable and available. These days, I can’t get a phone call returned or a response to an email. Things have changed, and in my world, not for the better.
Although not totally groundbreaking technology, check out SolidWorks’ “Next Big Thing” — Mechanical Conceptual — that was announced in January 2013 at SolidWorks World:
Exactly where is SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual that was announced in January? Where does the next version of the SolidWorks product line stand? Where is the old SolidWorks customer and user community excitement? I ask the question, “Where’s SolidWorks?”
Nothing stays the same, but SolidWorks, c’mon back, you’re missed. Get over the dog days and back in the game that for many years and on many levels made you one of the very best players in the game for mechanical design.
July 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Although I’m gradually coming around, I still personally find the Google Glass technology/device concept intrusive and a bit creepy, but have to admit it is innovative and possibly inevitable. Google Glass is still being tested by its “Explorers,” and has received mixed reviews, but relatively few warm feelings from them. Even though not generally available until late this year or next year, there are already several places and events where Google Glass will be banned.
According to Google, “Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project, with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.” Like all things Google, Glass runs under Android, and this might be a good thing for wide acceptance.
The show of negativity toward the device, however, has not stopped many companies from exploring the possibilities of Google Glass. In fact, a CAD company recently announced an app for Google Glass — TurboSite from IMSI/Design.
The video that follows is Sergey Brin discussing Google Glass in general terms:
NOTE: To address comments about Sergey’s poor delivery, I want to emphasize that this is NOT a “TED Talk”, despite it being recorded during TED conference. It is pretty much a spontaneous appearance to show the latest technology and wasn’t prepared or rehearsed. Google Glass is also not available for purchase yet so it is not strictly speaking a product promotion either. This video is posted mostly because it has details about Glass that were unknown or unconfirmed before.
With its other mobile CAD apps already in the marketplace, notably TurboSite for tablets in the AEC industry, IMSI/Design announced at the 2013 AIA National Convention that TurboSite will be available for Google Glass when it is launched.
“We think Google Glass is a terrific platform for a site evaluation and field reporting app like TurboSite,” stated Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI/Design.
Historically, documenting walk-throughs and creating punch lists have been physically-demanding processes, because site inspection requires carrying a full set of building plans and cumbersome digital equipment (camera, computer, etc.).
“Using Google Glass and TurboSite, we’re literally letting someone to walk onto a job site carrying [virtually] nothing,” said Farros.
That is, carrying nothing but wearing the smart device glasses and running TurboSite — theoretically, you will see building plans directly in front of you. GPS will track your movement through a drawing. The built-in eye glass camera will let you take pictures and record video, and TurboSite will automatically insert these into a markup layer at the exact physical location. When the field report is finished, it is automatically distributed to an entire design and construction team.
Although it’s obviously very early in the wearable computer game, I’m not totally sold on the idea for a number of reasons — practicality, quality, integrity, security, and privacy. However, Google Glass is totally new, and not just a paradigm shift, it’s a total game changer. In kind, TurboSite for Google Glass is also totally new and promises to be one of the first enterprise tools for Google Glass. It’s really a natural outgrowth for TurboSite, an app developed specifically for mobility, and is taking it to the next level.
And, OK, at this stage TurboSite for Goggle Glass is an AEC application, but you have to believe it could also be used in plant design and verification, as well as facilities management.
As for MCAD, I envision that it could be used in automotive, aerospace, consumer product design sectors, and shipbuilding (after all, a ship is just a horizontal building that floats). Who knows? This marks the dawn of a new age of design with hardware shrinking from yesterday’s main frames to today’s wearable computers that will only continue to get smaller as their utility becomes bigger.
In speaking with IMSI/Design’s CEO, Royal Farros, he’s very enthusiastic about the potential of TurboSite for Google glass, but also forthcoming and honest about it — traits that we seldom see from an executive discussing technologies as significant as these. These evolving technologies are going to be ones to watch closely.
June 27th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
For most of us who have grown up with and seen the CAD industry evolve, it means experiencing CAD from a relatively narrow perspective, that is, a US perspective. As it turns out, the CAD development realm actually extends far beyond our shores, and is becoming more competitive over time. Some of the most noteworthy competitors are coming from Asia, notably China, and Russia.
Having had some experience with Chinese and Russian companies and associated CAD technologies, I feel that the Russians currently have the upper hand because their products seem more comprehensive, capable, contemporary, and consistent design tools.
One of the most interesting CAD tools I’ve come across is from Russia — ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D for associative 3D modeling. Models can be made from original designs, standard part libraries, or combination if the two. While that’s not especially unique, KOMPAS-3D’s parametric technology lets you generate ranges (different configurations) of products based on a single source model.
A distinguishing feature of KOMPAS-3D is that it uses its own modeling kernel and parametric system, both of which were developed at ASCON — something I have always considered an advantage over licensing components that form the basis of a CAD product.
The following video clip provides a brief overview of the KOMPAS 3D geometric modeling kernel:
What the video lacks in detail introduces the possibility that ASCON could become a power to be reckoned with in the future.
About this time last year ASCON Group made public its proprietary geometry kernel, C3D, as the foundation for creating CAD systems and applications.
Development of the C3D kernel began in 1995, and became the basis for ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D in 2000. The company continued to update the kernel, and last year launched it as a separate product for the CAD component market. It can handle several aspects of a CAD system, icluding 2D drawing and sketching, 3D hybrid and solid modeling, parametric constraints, and translation.
The main feature of ASCON kernel is that it is comprehensive. The core of C3D combines just about everything necessary for developing engineering application software with modules that include:
Keep in mind, though, that the C3D kernel is not the only Russian kernel being developed there. There is also a Russian government-financed mandate to develop a “national” CAD engine, the Russian Geometry Kernel (RGK), a B-rep modeler that can create NURBS curves and surfaces. The RGK is being developed by Russian university mathematicians, and like the C3D modeler, it supports GPU acceleration and multi-threading.
The ultimate winner of the Russian kernel competition is anybody’s guess at this point, but ASCON seems to have a number of technical things in place to make it a real player in the worldwide CAD arena. To a large extent, because it’s in control of its base product components, it may have better control over its destiny in a competitive market.
So, it just might be true, “The Russians are coming.”
June 25th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
After several months in Beta, Autodesk today officially and commercially released Fusion 360 (formerly known as Inventor Fusion) — the newest member of Autodesk’s growing cloud-based products/services family.
Essentially, Fusion 360 is a conceptual design tool. I liken it to a relatively simple modeling tool where CAD meets social media for collaborative design. As an industrial designer myself, I was especially interested in what Fusion 360 could do as a conceptual design tool, so I signed up for the Beta program and had some hands-on time with it.
Check out the Fusion 360 overview video to get an idea of what it’s all about:
Fusion 360’s interface is pretty basic, so it doesn’t take long to start creating some shapes and forms. Keep in mind that a lot of 3D form creation is based on T-Splines technology (that Autodesk acquired), so it’s different than Inventor’s method.
For conceptual design, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time in the Sculpt (for creating organic forms) or Model (for creating solid geometry forms) workspaces. For repairing imported surfaces, you’ll use the Patch workspace.
At least initially, a slightly different mindset is required for using Fusion 360 because it is based on a hub-and-group premise. At the center is your personal hub, where you can create and participate in groups, and post items to, and monitor them. Each hub and group has a similar set of tabbed pages with areas called tiles that contain related information and tools.
As of today, Fusion 360 is commercially available and is free of charge for the next 90 days. After that it will set you back $25 per user per month with an annual contract commitment. So, for $300 a year you get a fairly capable conceptual design tool that I feel can fit into many collaborative product design workflows, as shown in the following video:
There’s a lot to learn and cover in Autodesk Fusion 360, and in the coming weeks, I’ll take you through some different design workflows that involve interacting with others — importing data, creating different types of models, refining designs, exporting design data to other CAD applications for other purposes, collaboration, etc. In other words, what you can realistically expect to do with Autodesk Fusion 360.
OK, so Autodesk Fusion 360 is just outta Beta, but is ready for prime time? With some reservations, I would say yes, no, and maybe. How’s that for commitment? I think it all depends on what your expectations are and how hard you want to push it. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but in my opinion, still has some maturing to do before I’d truly consider it production-ready for sophisticated design purposes.
I like the potential of cloud-based applications, but like Adobe’s Creative Suite, I’m still coming to grips with the perception of data integrity and vulnerability, as well as a perpetual monthly fee. I guess, like many new users of cloud-based applications, I just have to get used to the inevitability of this brave new world. That said, though, with Version 1.0, Fusion 360 does have some limitations, but its potential is tremendous.
June 20th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
MakerBot, once the progeny and a proponent of the open source hardware/software movement is being acquired by Stratasys for about $403 million. Not bad for a company whose origins are the open-source community.
I use open source and MakerBot in the same sentence rather loosely because MakerBot became pretty closed and proprietary not all that long after its inception in 2009. It certainly began with an open-source design based on the RepRap Project, but effectively became a “closed” system with the advent of the Replicator 2 in September 2012. At that time, the company said it “will not share the way the physical machine is designed or our GUI.” This sudden departure from its previous open-source embrace and no longer willing to share with the community that made MakerBot possible in the first place was met with criticism in many circles. To be fair, though, MakerBot has created several products and services beyond its flagship 3D printer, which was definitely an improvement over its base design.
Officially, this deal is being called a merger and Stratasys intends for MakerBot to operate as a separate subsidiary, preserving its existing brand, management, and the good faith it has with its users and partners.
If you have never seen a MakerBot Replicator 2 in action, check out the following video:
For its part, (and until now) Stratasys had repeatedly denied any interest in the 3D printer (under $5000) market and would not pursue it, because their historical customer has been industrial, not the hobbyist or prosumer. Things change, though, and with this transaction, Stratasys has certainly changed its tune. A customer is a customer, and with the additive manufacturing/3D printing market consolidating, Stratasys didn’t want to miss out on an acquisition opportunity that was probably being explored by competitors, possibly including 3D Systems or HP.
This merger is an especially good opportunity for MakerBot to take advantage of Stratasys’ technologies that could boost part resolution, quality, and build material choices. To reinforce this possibility, the following statement was part of the press announcement: “Upon completion of the merger, Stratasys and MakerBot will jointly develop and implement strategies for building on their complementary strengths, intellectual property and technical know-how, and other unique assets and capabilities.” However, whether this actually happens remains to be seen, as companies are usually very cautious about possibly cannibalizing existing products when new assets are acquired.
Don’t get me wrong, MakerBot’s principals stand to make a lot of money off of this deal, and there is nothing wrong with that. My issue comes from the fact that few will truly benefit from this transaction that in reality was the work of many in the open-source community. Business is business, I guess. Who says there’s no money to be made in open-source technologies? Not me, not anymore.
June 13th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Along with about 1,900 attendees, we just returned this week from the 2013 edition of the PTC Live Global conference and exhibition in Anaheim, CA. We saw and heard several interesting things from PTC employees, partners, and customers.
Let’s start off on Day 1. After a short introduction, PTC’s president and CEO, Jim Heppelmann took the stage with the song “Iron Man” by Black Sabbath blasting. What’s that about? The early focus of his address was the focus of not only PTC, but just about every other software vendor – mobility.
This dramatic change of tune comes just a couple of years after Heppelmann derided the notion of software as a service and cloud computing as nothing more than “vapor.” Today, mobility to PTC, according to Heppelmann, consists of products being delivered as a service, with the line blurred between product and service.
He then introduced the concept of reverse innovation to accommodate different unique requirements for different customers. Interesting concept, but I need to get more details on exactly what this means.
He went on to say that for products in general, value is shifting away from hardware to software, especially embedded software. Increasingly, products are defined, upgraded, and updated via software. Traditional hardware manufacturers are beginning to employ more software engineers than mechanical engineers. As handy as these software innovations might seem, do they offer too many choices and ultimately frustrate customers and drive up costs? The verdict on this remains to be seen, but I tend to say, “yes,” too many choices can be overwhelming, especially for products that are meant to be simple.
What he was getting at, though, is that increasing numbers of CPUs and software mean “smart” products connected to the Internet. In other words, an “Internet of things,” thanks largely to increasing connectivity.
With 10 Creo apps currently available, and although the next release of Creo (3.0) won’t be available until early next year (Q1?), a few hints were given about what it might look like. Think scalability and interoperability – more on that later, though. PTC says that today, one in four Pro/ENGINEER users has upgraded to Creo, but sees adoption rate at 50% uptake by the end of this year. That seems just a bit optimistic, but potentially doable.
I’ve just begun with the highest of highlights about the conference and the future as PTC sees it. Over the few weeks I’ll discuss some of the most significant announcements coming out of PTC’s user conference with regard to new products/technologies, corporate direction, and customers’ reactions. From what I witnessed this week, PTC’s future looks brighter than it has for quite some time.
June 4th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
A company we have come to know quite well, Wohlers Associates, Inc., has announced the release of the Wohlers Report 2013, the company’s annual detailed analysis of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing worldwide. Among many things, the report reveals troubling trends that suggest the U.S. may be losing its competitive advantage in the AM industry.
To at least maintain a competitive advantage in manufacturing, the White House launched the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) last year with the support of several agencies, including the Department of Defense. This initiative seeks to accelerate the position of the U.S. in the development and use of AM technology. “It will not be easy, given what organizations in China and other regions of the world have planned,” said Terry Wohlers, a principal author of the report and president of Wohlers Associates.
As it has from the beginning, Wohlers Report 2013 covers virtually every aspect of additive manufacturing, including its history, applications, underlying technologies, processes, manufacturers, and materials. It documents significant developments that have occurred in the past year, covers R&D and collaboration activities in government, academia, industry, and summarizes the worldwide state of the industry. This edition is the report’s 18th consecutive year of publication.
A 3-D Printed World: Terry Wohlers at TEDxTraverseCity
According to the new report, 38% of all industrial AM installations are in the U.S. Japan is second with 9.7%, followed by Germany with 9.4% and China with 8.7%. Sixteen companies in Europe, seven in China, five in the U.S., and two in Japan now manufacture and sell professional-grade, industrial additive manufacturing systems. “This is a dramatic change from a decade ago, when the mix was ten in the U.S., seven in Europe, seven in Japan, and three in China,” said Tim Caffrey, a principal author of the new report and associate consultant at Wohlers Associates.
Wohlers Report 2013 provides an in-depth look at market forces and competitive pressures, as well as growth of the industry. Revenues from all additive manufacturing (AM) products and services worldwide were $2.204 billion in 2012. This is up 28.6% (CAGR) from 2011. Approximately 28.3% of the $2.204 billion is tied to the production of parts for final products, rather than models, prototypes, patterns, and other types of parts.
The Wohlers Report is the most thorough and comprehensive report of its kind. It is packed with up-to-date and practical information that includes charts and graphs, tables, photographs, and illustrations. The annual study is priced at US$495, and was produced with support from 74 service providers, 31 system manufacturers, and the contributions of 69 co-authors from around the world.
I’ve known Terry Wohlers for many years, and in my mind, he continues to the pulse checker and voice for the AM and 3D printing industries. I also highly recommend the Wohlers Report for its breadth, depth, and insights as the source of accurate and objective information about the ever-evolving world of AM.
For more information: Wohlers Report 2013
May 21st, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Over the weekend we learned that Autodesk had signed a definitive agreement to acquire Tinkercad, a browser-based 3D design tool/service that is relatively easy to use. The addition of Tinkercad makes a lot of sense for Autodesk and will further broaden its 123D family of apps. The acquisition will also rescue Tinkercad and its user community, despite a previously announced June 2013 shutdown by its founders.
“We are excited to have reached an agreement with Autodesk that will provide a solid home and bright future for Tinkercad,” said Kai Backman, founder and CEO of Tinkercad. “We found in Autodesk a shared vision for empowering students, makers and designers with accessible and easy to use software, and with their global reach and expertise in democratizing design, we’re confident in their ability to introduce Tinkercad to new audiences around the world.”
Introduction to 3D Modeling with Tinkercad
Autodesk said it intends for Tinkercad to remain available as part of its consumer portfolio. I assume this also includes Tinkercad’s four pricing tiers: $0-$499/month. The company also intends to incorporate elements of the Tinkercad technology and user experience into the Autodesk 123D family of products. The transaction is expected to close within the next 30 days, although (as usual) no financials were disclosed.
“Tinkercad is a natural extension of the Autodesk 123D family as well as our other apps and services for consumers, as it is already used alongside Autodesk products,” said Samir Hanna, Autodesk vice president, consumer products. “We look forward to welcoming the Tinkercad community to Autodesk and to continuing their mission of accessible 3D design for all.”
Summarizing the acquisition, Backman said, “Before signing the deal we spent a lot of time talking to Autodesk engineers and product people about their vision for Tinkercad. We were impressed by the deep insight the Autodesk team had into the Tinkercad interface and its underlying technology. There is also a strong alignment on topics like furthering education and the vision of making design more accessible. But most of all we are very excited about the roadmap Autodesk has drafted for Tinkercad.”
This acquisition is good news for Tinkercad principals and users, and should be a good addition to the Autodesk 123D portfolio and its users. The companies are also located less than a mile apart, so the commute won’t be too bad for either party during the transition period.