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

Stratasys and Objet Merging to Form 3D Printing and Direct Manufacturing Monolith

April 19th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

The 3D printing merger/acquisition train rolls on with Stratasys and Objet coming together as one. This is a biggie for the 3D production sector because the combined company could be valued at as much as $1.4 Billion.

This is a good move for each of the companies because the technologies and markets for the respective companies are different. Pubicly traded Stratasys is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers and production systems for prototyping and manufacturing applications, whereas privately held Objet Ltd. is a leading manufacturer of 3D printers for rapid prototyping.

The transaction will position the combined company as the leader within the high-growth 3D printing and direct digital manufacturing industry.

The combined company will retain the Stratasys name and operate under the name
Stratasys Ltd., and will have dual headquarters in Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Rehovot, Israel, the locations of Stratasys’ and Objet’s current headquarters,respectively.

Some of the strategic and financial benefits of the transaction will include:
– Expanded product (machine and material) portfolio
– Expanded sales and marketing reach
– Enhanced functional capabilities and scale
– Enhanced leadership and management team
– Strengthened financial performance
– Attractive long-term operating models

So, what’s not to like about this merger? For one, industry consolidation, while a fact of life, is not always a good thing with fewer choices and competitors. At the rate things are going, we may eventually be down to Stratasys and 3D Systems as about the only major players standing. Also, while the CEOs of both companies seem pleased with the announcment, corporate cultures don’t always merge quite so smoothly and can tend to clash.

However, that said, this is a big deal, and it will be interesting to see how this deal influences the rest of the 3D printing/rapid prototyping/rapid manufacturing industry.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: Autodesk Unveils New Design Suites and Cloud Services for Manufacturers

April 9th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

Autodesk, Inc. unveiled its new 3D design and engineering software portfolio for manufacturers, offering a complete set of integrated and interoperable suites and cloud services to simplify design, visualization and simulation workflows from product development through delivery.

The new Autodesk design suites are geared especially for manufacturers and include Autodesk Product Design Suite and Autodesk Factory Design Suite. The new suites provide a broad range of cloud services to help manufacturers more efficiently design, build and deliver better products faster and at reduced costs. The new Autodesk Simulation family of products delivers a faster, more accurate and flexible approach to predicting, optimizing and validating designs earlier in the design process.

“Autodesk’s 2013 portfolio provides our customers with a faster path to ROI for product development and delivery,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Design, Lifecycle and Simulation at Autodesk. “Our 2013 suites and scalable cloud services help manufacturers improve productivity and minimize upfront investment.”

Autodesk Design Suites Enhance Interoperability, Collaboration

Autodesk suites provide comprehensive workflows to connect desktops to mobile devices and to the cloud. These workflows enable manufacturing customers to develop complete definitions of product designs; integrate electrical and mechanical design to increase productivity; predict product performance; and visualize designs or complete factory layouts in 3D.

Autodesk’s 2013 design suites integrate with Autodesk 360 cloud offerings to better enable collaboration. Cloud-based assets promote design sharing and reuse. The suites also offer interoperability with the new 2013 version of Autodesk Vault product data management software and the company’s next generation, cloud-based alternative Autodesk PLM 360. Autodesk Vault software enables workgroups to organize, manage and track their engineering CAD data, manufacturing bills-of-material and change processes from a centralized location.

The 2013 Autodesk Product Design and Factory Design suites are available in three cost-effective, convenient editions: Standard, Premium and Ultimate.

Autodesk Product Design Suite Completes the Entire Engineering Process

Delivering a comprehensive software solution, the Autodesk Product Design Suite enables design, visualization and simulation capabilities, helping to drive innovation with integrated, discipline-specific tools and workflows built for Digital Prototyping.

New for Autodesk Product Design Suite 2013 are the addition of one-click workflows created to help customers seamlessly move through the engineering design process, advanced cloud-based services for simulation and the inclusion of additional software allowing customers to realize their end-to-end design process. Autodesk Product Design Suite 2013 updates include:

  • Autodesk Inventor software in the Standard edition, establishing 3D parametric design as the foundation to the engineering design process and providing a solution that delivers powerful 3D design and drafting capabilities.
  • AutoCAD Electrical software and Autodesk Inventor Routed Systems in the Premium and Ultimate editions, delivering a complete integrated electromechanical system capable of producing an entire product definition, including fully defined tubing, piping and hydraulic systems.
  • Autodesk Navisworks Simulate in Premium and Ultimate editions, providing integrated electromechanical, markup and visualization workflows capability.

“The Autodesk Product Design Suite has been an invaluable tool for Sunkist Research and a big part of our success, from generating animations in Autodesk 3ds Max Design, to overlaying a 3D model in a real-time factory environment to actual engineering design and 3D modeling with the Autodesk Inventor suite,” said Alex Paradiang, director of engineering, Sunkist Research. “We have showcased our engineering talents with Autodesk software and displayed to our customers that we are constantly looking for the best solutions to help maintain our lead in the citrus industry.”

Read the rest of MCADCafe e-Magazine: Autodesk Unveils New Design Suites and Cloud Services for Manufacturers

Autodesk Media Summit 2012 — A Brief Overview

April 5th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

Regardless of the weather, San Francisco is a great city on many different levels and I just returned from an event there with a wide variety of weather. The city just hosted the annual event that Autodesk uses to present and demo its next-generation products for all of the industries it serves — MCAD, AEC, Civil, Games/Entertainment, etc. — known as the Autodesk Media Summit. It was two days, but my favorite part of the event was when the new products were discussed and actually shown.

Throughout the event, Autodesk had a lot to say about a lot of new products, technologies in the works, and trends. We heard a number of interesting things from several Autodesk executives on many topics, ranging from cloud and mobile technology initiatives to the DIY movement. The cloud was touted throughout the presentations as the enabler for democratizing design and technology. This point got a little tired after being repeated several times by different presenters, but the point was well taken, nonetheless.

The various industry product suites were introduced and Autodesk stressed the integration of workflows with the products that comprise the various product suites. Autodesk also pointed out that it has made a real effort to make suite more cohesive so that they lok, feel, and behave in a similar manner. On the MCAD side, although Inventor and AutoCAD got their due, it was PLM 360 that was the center of attention and the star of the show. Buzz Kross also said that PLM should and will apply to more than mechanical design, engineering, and manufacturing. In other words, don’t be too surprised to see it move to other industries, such as AEC, civil/infrastructure, and others.

I’ve just barely scratched the surface of what was covered at the Autodesk Media Summit 2012, but will provide comprehensive coverage of the event in the next MCADCafe Weekly e-Magazine that will be published and available on April 9,  2012.

MCADCafe e-Magazine: SpaceClaim Announces SpaceClaim Engineer 2012

March 27th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

SpaceClaim (, announced SpaceClaim Engineer 2012. This release introduces significant new capabilities in reverse engineering, model preparation for simulation, manufacturing, and data reuse. These new capabilities build on SpaceClaim’s accessibility, ease-of-use, and low total-cost-of-ownership, enabling even more engineers, designers, and analysts to complete their projects with SpaceClaim’s innovative 3D direct modeling technology.

The combination of ease-of-use and lower cost ensures that the total cost of ownership of SpaceClaim is less than 50% of the cost of traditional CAD products. With this release, SpaceClaim continues to expand into markets where its unique tools address previously unsolved problems and where SpaceClaim Engineer meets users’ complete CAD needs. SpaceClaim continues to penetrate markets where traditional CAD is the wrong product for basic engineering tasks, and where ease-of-use, interoperability, and maturity are required to enable engineers, designers, and machinists to work in 3D.

“Before SpaceClaim, it wasn’t possible for me to do my job in 3D,” said Steve Tyler, Owner, Austmarinetech. “We deal with so many design changes that it wasn’t worth the time, let alone the investment, to use feature-based CAD. With SpaceClaim, I can open 2D and 3D designs from suppliers, assemble them into a design, and make changes on the fly. The direct modeling interface gives me instant updates and lets me communicate with team members who don’t speak English. Overall, SpaceClaim has improved my process by a factor of two and made my life a lot easier.”

“SpaceClaim 2012 is a milestone release for the company. SpaceClaim is now by far the most mature of a new generation of 3D CAD products, and we’re now seeing SpaceClaim Engineer selected as a tool of choice for the complete design process, not just for discrete tasks,” said Chris Randles, SpaceClaim President and CEO. “Traditional parametric, feature-based tools have reached the limits of their market penetration, but there still exists a huge underserved market for 3D CAD. Most users still use 2D or 3D products with limited capabilities and poor interoperability. SpaceClaim is innovative, affordable, and accessible. It makes it as easy for any user to create, document, and share 3D designs as it is to use mainstream office productivity tools. What we are seeing is the democratization of 3D CAD.”

New capabilities in SpaceClaim 2012 include:

  • New SketchUp conversion detects regions where SketchUp’s approximated, facetted geometry was derived from analytic surfaces such as cylinders and cones, and automatically replaces them with precise geometry.
  • Multiple solid editing capabilities, such as cone manipulation, surface pivoting and distance-by-angle chamfers, extend SpaceClaim’s lead in direct modeling.
  • Smart tools for manufacturing, such as recognition and editing of standard holes, make SpaceClaim increasingly practical for machine shops and detailed design.
  • Significant performance improvements to large parts and drawings further confirms that SpaceClaim is the fastest 3D direct modeler available.
  • A new lightweight viewer and Microsoft extensions that allow viewing of models from compatible programs such as Microsoft Outlook and Explorer, as well as from a new standalone application.
  • JT with PMI export, in addition to existing capabilities, makes SpaceClaim the most comprehensive JT editor on the market today.
  • Detailing improvements including exploded views, aligned and unfolded sections, arc length dimensions, text fitting and alignment tools, and BOM templates let more users create detailed drawings in SpaceClaim.
  • A new set of 2D and 3D curve repair tools facilitate working with existing drawings and wireframe data and converting them to solid models.
  • Several sheet metal enhancements representing unprecedented depth, including mitered flanges, faster unfolding, weld tabs, and improved identification and interaction with sheet metal features.
  • Environment reflection and textures enable users to work interactively on more realistic looking models.
  • Usability improvements, such as improved selection rendering and reduced selection flashing, make it easier to work on large models.
  • Flexible configuration and IT-friendly options facilitate large rollouts to corporate, government, and educational customers.
  • Improved interoperability with support for KeyShot 3, Creo 1.0, SolidWorks 2012, and Inventor 2012.
  • The improved batch file translation utility now supports all formats that SpaceClaim can read and write.
  • Expanded API coverage now includes access to more sheet metal parameters, drawing view renderings, and advanced mass properties.

“SpaceClaim and Google SketchUp share a long-term vision of enabling everybody to work in 3D. SpaceClaim’s ability to turn SketchUp files into precise solids suitable for manufacturing — without remodeling — will enable mechanical SketchUp users to more quickly realize their vision, and help SpaceClaim users take advantage of the millions of models available in our 3D Warehouse,” said Tom Wyman, Business Development Manager for Google SketchUp.

Read the rest of MCADCafe e-Magazine: SpaceClaim Announces SpaceClaim Engineer 2012

PTC Virtual Corporate Visit — Operations and Strategy

March 22nd, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

I recently attended a web-based company update by way of a quarterly PTC Virtual Corporate Visit. Over 500 people registered for the event that featured Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s President and CEO, as well as a customer, Dave Winter, VP R&D Lifetime Products. This time, though, I’ll focus on what Mr. Heppelmann had to say.

He started off by saying that PTC has a product and service advantage, meaning that PTC vision is being the premier provider of technology solutions that are transforming how products are created and serviced. PTC focuses on product companies and the processes that determine what and how they will create products and where and how those products will be serviced.

What PTC is offering is not just better products and services, but rather, a better way of creating products and services.

To explain what differentiates PTC’s offerings from ERP, Heppelmann said that ERP optimizes operations through operational coordination, while PTC optimizes product strategy (what-if) with strategy coordination during all phases of the product lifecycle with different functions within a manufacturing organization:
-Hardware and software engineering
-Supply chain and manufacturing
-Sales and service

Read the rest of PTC Virtual Corporate Visit — Operations and Strategy

Simulating Mechatronics with LabVIEW

March 15th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

National Instruments (NI) is an interesting company that develops NI LabVIEW software as its flagship product. The company is fortunate to sell its products to a diverse customer base of more than 30,000 different companies worldwide, with no one customer representing more than 3 percent of revenue and no one industry representing more than 15 percent of revenue. Customer base diversity is an especially good thing in the technical software market.

I have followed NI for a number of years and really got interested in the company a few years ago with LabVIEW 8.5 being used alongside SolidWorks. LabVIEW has followed a natural progression in the evolution of the NI product line for designing and prototyping complex systems, including robots, that are becoming increasingly pervasive in the world around us, and not just manufacturing environments anymore.

National Instruments supports the increasing need for simultaneous simulation of mechanical and electrical systems, also known as mechatronics. As I have been saying for several years, there was a time when mechanical systems and products were strictly mechanical, however, the majority of today’s products continue to become more capable, and more complex, involving the integration of mechanical, electrical, and software subsystems.

A more comprehensive way to view mechatronics is the systematic integration of mechanical, electrical, electronics, and embedded firmware (software) components. When all of the various components are combined the result is an electromechanical system. Maybe a better term is functional ecosystem. In this context, mechatronics is characterized by software and electronics controlling electromechanical systems. This description is widely seen in automotive engines and other automotive systems, as well as production machinery and medical equipment.

A continuing trend is that as mechatronics systems get more complex and as functionality demands increase, in many instances software and firmware are replacing or at least supplementing hardware. A benefit of this transition from hardware to the burgeoning emphasis on software is called “postponement,” that is, the ability to include or change major functionality features during the final stages of production via embedded software. Read the rest of Simulating Mechatronics with LabVIEW

Tool Maker Survival – Part 1

March 15th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

Both my father and father-in-law (and his father) were master tool and die makers who made excellent tools and decent livings over the course of their careers. I chose not to follow in their footsteps, but rather, to go to engineering and design school instead. However, I consider tool making to be a noble profession and one that has contributed immensely to the quality of our lives for many years and will continue to do so for many years to come.

With all the news we continue to hear today about product design, engineering, and manufacturing increasingly being outsourced in every direction away from North America, surprisingly little coverage seems to be given to the heart of product manufacturing, namely, tooling and tool making.

Although most of our readers are obviously manufacturing-savvy, let’s first define what we mean by “tooling,” because it’s often a misunderstood term by those outside manufacturing. Simply put, tooling entails the tools, machines, or other devices required to manufacture products – everything from car fenders to detergent bottles. The two most prominent groups of toolmakers are die makers whose tools stamp out metal parts, and mold makers whose tools mold plastic parts.

Beginning a long time ago, the huge transportation market (primarily automotive) still dominates the tooling industry. Because the automotive sector is rapidly outsourcing as much of its manufacturing overseas, it becomes very clear why tool and die makers, especially the family-owned small ones with five to 100 employees have suffered the most. It’s estimated that approximately 60% of stamping dies and 40% of plastic molds are used directly or indirectly by automakers worldwide, so it’s no wonder the smaller tool shops are bearing the brunt of offshore outsourcing. This offshore outsourcing has cost a huge number of tooling jobs in North America, according to estimates from several sources.

Historically, toolmakers and machinists have been among the most highly skilled and highest paid trades in the manufacturing world, but also people who provided among the highest value-added services on or near the manufacturing floor. Although some would argue that technologically enhanced professions are just as valuable, a good toolmaker/machinist is still a true asset and value-added provider today. If nothing else, these toolmakers have been instrumental in the quality level and success of manufacturing in North America for 200+ years.

As if offshore outsourcing weren’t enough of a problem, there is also the problem of money. Let’s face it, tools are expensive to make and toolmakers generally don’t get paid until a job is complete. In fact, many toolmakers are forced to wait for months to be paid until the customer is satisfied with the quality of parts that a tool is producing. During this period, however, toolmakers’ bills must still be paid to keep their businesses running. This payment lag also can make it difficult for toolmakers to obtain bank loans to either allow toolmakers to grow their businesses, or merely keep them afloat until payment is finally received.

So what does this all mean and where is it all going? Is there a direction or solution for tool makers? That’s what we’ll discuss next time.

Tool Maker Survival – Part 2

March 14th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

It’s no secret that many tool makers have experienced and are still experiencing difficult times.

By necessity, the tooling industry is transforming from its roots as a craft to a future as a complex business. For this transformation to be successful, the tooling industry as a whole must realize that it is not just undergoing a temporary downturn in business, but a radical restructuring. This restructuring is evident in not only mergers and acquisitions (consolidation), but also in cooperative and collaborative practices taking place between small- and medium-sized tool shops. Additionally, new business models are being developed by innovative toolmakers for supporting their ability to compete today and tomorrow with just about anyone, regardless of geographic location.

Restructuring an industry, however, is an extremely tall order because it involves cultural change as much as it does developing new business models. One of the toughest cultural aspects that must be recognized and addressed is the fact that although tool making historically has been regarded as a craft requiring high degrees of skill, unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming regarded as a commodity.

What, a commodity with no real distinguishing characteristics?

To a certain extent, yes, (although there are notable exceptions) because what was done by hand and eye by a select number of tool shops can now be performed by just about any shop anywhere, due to technologies (3D solid modeling, rapid tooling and manufacturing processes, high-speed machining (HSM), etc.) available to just about anybody who chooses to employ them. There is a remedy to this commodity perception; however, by seeking out niches and having outstanding product, material, process and customer knowledge, and many North American tool shops are embracing these practices.

Like virtually all other aspects of manufacturing, integrating technologies in tool making assist in becoming more competitive, but in the end, it is the creativity and adaptivity of people (both on the production floor and in the management office) to an ever changing business climate, in concert with appropriate technologies, that will ultimately win the battle and more business.

MCADCafe eMagazine: Autodesk Launches Cloud-Based PLM

March 8th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

Autodesk announced the immediate availability of Autodesk PLM 360. The next-generation cloud-based alternative provides a powerful, affordable and easy-to-implement solution at a fraction of the cost of traditional PLM systems.

Autodesk PLM 360 is the latest offering to build upon the company’s leadership with cloud-based solutions. Unlike traditional PLM systems — which have historically been expensive and complicated — Autodesk PLM 360 is instant-on and easily configurable to meet customer-specific product-lifecycle process needs across the enterprise. It is also the first cloud-based PLM solution focused on business applications beyond engineering and bill of material management. As a result, employees in a range of roles — from planning and product development to quality and compliance to service and more — can better access product and project-related information that helps them continuously improve the products they design and manufacture.

“Our customers deserve modern technology to help solve the needs of their increasingly complex and global businesses,” said Robert “Buzz” Kross, senior vice president, Design, Lifecycle and Simulation at Autodesk. “Autodesk PLM 360’s simple, flexible, cloud-based approach will radically improve the ability for companies to gain the full benefits of PLM, helping them to become more competitive and grow their business.”

Read the rest of MCADCafe eMagazine: Autodesk Launches Cloud-Based PLM

PTC’s Vision of Mobile PLM Apps

March 7th, 2012 by Jeff Rowe

In early February I received some interesting information from PTC touting its plans for making some of its PLM offerings available to mobile users. At that time, PTC said:

“Mobility and mobile applications have a way of impinging on our daily lives – for better or worse – more so today than ever before. Whether it is keeping a global project moving during your time zone’s “off hours,” being able to access all the relevant data and product code while out in the field, or accessing product data on your mobile phone, there is just no denying the presence and impact of mobility.

In fact, according to IDC research, by 2014, 46% of employees will be mobile only. Which means that by 2014, vendors need to be able to supply reliable, scalable, affordable mobile applications that can support 46% demand and usage. Couple this with a workforce of young professionals who want, expect and need a modern, mobile infrastructure.

And then you can start to imagine these apps:

  • Mobile PLM for the engineer
  • Mobile PLM for the administrator
  • Mobile PLM for the service technician
  • Mobile Social Product Development
  • CAD creation mobile sketching tools

Read the rest of PTC’s Vision of Mobile PLM Apps

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