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 »
October 30th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
For many years, all of the major CAD vendors have been stressing the importance of managing the design and manufacturing data created using their software. Surprisingly though, still relatively few design and manufacturing companies, especially SMBs, have a formal PDM system of any type in place beyond Windows Explorer or Excel. Some of the reasons we hear for PDM not being employed include the perceptions (and experiences) that PDM is time consuming and expensive to implement.
While most SMBs have made the transition from 2D to 3D, many are finally exploring how to manage the mountains of CAD and associated product development and project data. These companies are seeking solutions that are more capable and scalable than just files, folders, Excel spreadsheets, and Windows Explorer.
October 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
While 3D printing gets a lot of attention on the output side of the design process, going from digital to physical; just as important is the converse, going physical to digital, also known as 3D scanning. Like 3D printers, 3D scanners vary in object capture quality (resolution), and associated cost — ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. 3D scanners are also being used for a growing number of applications, including big-ticket industries, such as automotive and aerospace.
The automotive industry has been particularly fertile ground for 3D scanning with applications ranging from reverse engineering to inspection. I recently came across an interesting automotive 3D scanning application using Artec scanners.
October 9th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Mitsubishi Agricultural Machinery (MAM), part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Group, designs, manufactures and sells agricultural machinery. To better meet the needs of a rapidly changing market, Mitsubishi adopted a strategy known as concurrent engineering, using Lattice Technology’s advanced 3D data format called XVL.
Concurrent engineering is a workflow method that promotes a parallel tasks. For example, job functions such as design engineering and manufacturing engineering are integrated, which allows workers to reduce the time needed to bring new products to market.
October 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Although it officially launched ThinkDesign 2013 on September 9, and we didn’t receive a press release until September 27, it appears that the CAD enigma, think3, is attempting to resurrect itself — at least in Europe and Asia/Pacific anyway. As for North America, it doesn’t appear likely, at least what appears on their marginally functional website.
I thought I’d witnessed the last of think3 and ThinkDesign because I haven’t seen or heard much from the company for over two years. As a matter of fact, the last time I really thought about the company was May 2011 when we published the following article: Another One Bites the Dust: think3 Declares Bankruptcy
As I said back then and still maintain today, it’s demise was not that the company produced bad products. Rather, I felt it was the lack of focus and continual management turnover that was its ultimate undoing. think3 had developed some very innovative technologies, features, and capabilities that included advanced surfacing and even voice commands.
On the negative side, though, think3 attempted to go up against Autodesk and SolidWorks in production machine design (with thinkdesign), and Alias in the industrial design space (with thinkiD). They both failed miserably in the intended markets. Also, think3 tried to enter the PDM and other MCAD-related spaces with little or no market strategy, presence, or penetration. Again, fail.
think3 did actually play a prominent role in industrial design for a few years, but primarily in education that really didn’t translate into many commercial seats after graduation. Because of the UI, relative ease of use, and ability to generate surfaces, I always felt that the company would have been better served (and maybe ultimately survived) if it had stuck with the ID space. However, bigger minds and egos prevailed, and they felt the ID market to small to focus on, and felt they were destined for bigger (and more competitive) markets. Well, we saw where that line of thought got them.
While it was quite capable for certain types of design, it also had some problematic issues with handling large assemblies, as well as limited interoperability. Counter to what the company claimed, this latter issue prevented wide adoption by organizations using other MCAD systems.
think3 boasted a revamped management team (again) and $10 million in additional capital. The funding came on the heels of winning several major new customers. These customers came from the sector think3 was now aggressively going after – machine design – the most competitive MCAD market segment.
Specifically, think3 targeted mid-sized manufacturers, those with revenues between $50 million and $1 billion (the same market Autodesk, SolidWorks, and others were also pursuing). The company regarded this group as the largest and also the most neglected segment because the higher-end MCAD companies go after the “bigger fish,”. The mid-sized range is also the domain of 2D CAD, which plays to its strength, since thinkdesign is a 3D system embedded with a 2D core — or so it thought Was think3 thinking that no other competitor had this same strategy?
The next release of thinkdesign was made to order for the machine design customer. As company management at the time said, “It’s got everything you need for sheet metal, large assemblies and it’s 3D. There is a large, untouched market within this mid-sized niche – perhaps 40% or more of the mechanical design market itself. So that’s what we’re going after now.” Again, a little late to the party.
Whereas thinkdesign sold as a subscription package for $1,995 per user and ran on Windows PCs, the more established players such as Dassault Systemes, and PTC had more expensive offerings, but well-established sales and support teams. In addition, those programs were difficult to learn and required significant investments in extensive training whereas think3’s software could be learned relatively quickly over the Web, according to the company. The subscription model and Web-based training were innovative for the time, but to compare thinkdesign with CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER (now Creo) was quite a stretch.
Then, think3 offered another advantage – an integrated Product Data Management (PDM) program called thinkteam, that captured, organized, automated, and shared engineering product information, including standard components, documents, part numbers, bills of materials and active projects. thinkteam was available as a standalone product or could be integrated into thinkdesign or into Microsoft Office. thinkteam was an example of how the company was trying to be all things to all customers and the result was a product line that became diluted with diminishing direction (and return).
In 2001, the company brought in about $15 million in revenue. The goal was earning $27 to 30 million, thanks to new accounts from such customers as Buell Motorcycle and Boeing, one of the world’s biggest CAD users, primarily using CATIA. The entrée into Boeing was a good start, but the company never disclosed how many seats were actually installed. Buell Motorcycle became defunct in 2009 and is now long gone.
This time frame was also the high point for think3, and it didn’t last for long.
After the “good” era, the company drifted from Silicon Valley to Ohio with an increasing lack of presence. As a matter of fact, many MCAD industry watchers started counting down the end of think3. As a matter of fact, it virtually dropped off all the radar screens of industry pundits and customers.
A few years later, though, think3 sort of surfaced when the following press announcement was released:
Think3, Inc., a provider of design and modeling software, will join the family of Versata affiliated software companies. Think3 provides technology that links three separate design areas: the concept, its development, and the finished product.
Think3 will continue to operate as a stand-alone corporation within the Versata family of software businesses. Atlas Capital IB LLC acted as financial advisor to Versata on the transaction. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.
Ultimately, think3 couldn’t survive, even after being brought into the Versata fold.
So, although a relatively minor player, another MCAD player rode into the sunset – once again leaving its user base looking for alternatives. Unfortunate, but inevitable given the course that think3 had chosen over the years. Although its technology was always good, it was management that lacked vision and funding that ultimately sank the company, especially in the North American market. With all of its past issues, I don’t expect think3 to re-appear in this hemisphere again soon, if ever.
September 23rd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
As our readers know, there is no shortage of mechanical CAD tools available for trained mechanical designers. But, I recently discovered a unique mechanical design product, DesignSpark Mechanical, tailored for engineers whose primary role is electronics design, and secondary role is mechanical design for creating panels, enclosures, and machines. I was interested in experiencing how a mechanical design product would translate for electronics designers and conceptual design. Oh, and it’s free of charge.
I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be a very capable mechanical design tool for non-specialists and was pleasantly surprised at its capabilities and potential.
DesignSpark Mechanical is built on SpaceClaim Engineer, 3D design software that offers a short learning curve along with a direct modeling approach that lets you directly pull and move geometry for design optimization.
Using DesignSpark Mechanical consists of the following three basic steps:
DesignSpark Mechanical has comprehensive 2D and 3D sketching capabilities, as well as the following basic tools for creating and editing 3D geometry:
With these basic 3D tools, I realized that I had the ability to conceptually model many types of electronic panels and enclosures.
Three Modeling Methods
With DesignSpark Mechanical there are three methods for modeling — from scratch, by selecting components from the DesignSpark library and using them as the basis for a design, or a combination of the two.
With the online library I was able to combine my test design with off-the-shelf electromechanical components (enclosures, relays, switches, etc.) from RS Components’ and Allied Electronics’ 3D library. I was able to select and drop in 3D part models with RS part numbers directly into my test design.
I also was able to import ECAD files from an EDA tool, DesignSpark PCB (RS Components’/Allied Electronics’ printed circuit board design tool), and create a mechanical design around the electrical design.
Design Tools for Electronics Designers
DesignSpark Mechanical has specialized functions and tools specifically for electronics designers – Measure, Dimension, Bill of Materials, and Order Components.
I used the Measure tool by selecting it and clicking on an object (edge or face) for measuring length, area, and perimeter. This was a useful tool for ensuring components or subassemblies would fit within an enclosure.
Selecting the Dimension tool and clicking on an edge or face previews a specific dimension. Clicking a second time, I created the dimension for display. The Dimension tool is useful for calling attention to critical dimensions for collaboration or production.
For design communication, it’s always a good idea to include a Bill of Materials (BOM) as part of a design. In DesignSpark Mechanical, BOMs are automatically populated for both internal and external components that comprise an assembly.
Finally, DesignSpark Mechanical reads in purchasing data from parts downloaded from the RS Components and Allied Electronics webpages and auto-populates a bill of materials (BOM). I clicked the BOM Quote button and the parts list in the current design populated a table in a pop-up browser. By clicking Order Components, I received a quote very quickly.
For all the functionality it provides for designing innovative electronic products, DesignSpark Mechanical is available free of charge.
I have evaluated and used many software products over the years for designing mechanical and electromechanical products. Based on my experience, I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be an easy to use, yet capable tool for conceptual electromechanical design, especially by those who have limited or no experience with a mechanical design tool. The learning curve is short, the 3D component libraries are extensive, BOMs and quotes are easy to generate, and it’s free. When considering all of these benefits, I found that there is a lot to like with DesignSpark Mechanical.
For More Information on DesignSpark Mechanical: www.designspark.com/mechanical
September 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Immediately following Labor Day, I, along with about 35-40 other CAD and business journalists and bloggers were invited to Dassault Systemes’ North American headquarters in Waltham, MA for the launch of the SolidWorks 2014 products. The HQ is situated across a freeway from the beautiful Cambridge Reservoir, owned and operated by the city of Cambridge, MA, and provides a nice contrast to the perpetual string of office parks that line I-95 in the area.
It was an interesting event because after a general session by SolidWorks’ CEO, Bertrand Sicot, that included all invitees, we were split up into two groups – journalists who witnessed a day of presentations and demonstrations (from SolidWorks employees and some marquee customers), and bloggers who had an all-day hands-on experience with the new products. I would have preferred a little bit of both, but that’s just me.
As you might imagine, the company line for the new SolidWorks 2014 release is that it delivers “major productivity and usability gains for pushing innovation to the forefront.” According to the company, the major new and enhanced features and capabilities fall into the following four areas:
Aaron Kelly, a long-time SolidWorker in a new very visible role as VP of user experience & product portfolio management did a good job talking through the SolidWorks 2014 product lines and answering questions. It’s good to see Aaron in this tough role as one of the company’s primary spokespersons for addressing customers and the press at a critical time for the company.
Granted, there are some nice changes to SolidWorks 2014, but much smaller incrementally than the new features and capabilities found in most previous versions. SolidWorks, of course isn’t alone here, as most other CAD products’ improvements become relatively smaller and smaller the more mature a product becomes. That said, SolidWorks is still an important cog in the DS machine, generating approximately 20% of Dassault’s revenue.
Interestingly, there seemed to be more attention paid to the new kid on the block who has yet to make an actual appearance – SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). We heard from Bertrand that there are “Topics still to address” before it can be released. However, he said that is in production testing now with about 10 customers. Also still in the future; pricing and packaging for SWMC will be presented at SolidWorks World 2014 in late January.
Making it perfectly clear by the product management team, SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual will be a design product for design professionals, not hobbyist/consumers. This hints at the product’s complexity and price point. The management team was also careful to point out that SWMC will be “Mechanical Conceptual”, not “Industrial Conceptual,” so will not compete with Autodesk’s Alias for conceptual industrial design and styling. It still remains to be seen what SWMC will actually be, but it has gotten a lot of attention.
A 2D tool that also deserves some attention is DraftSight 4.0. It will still be available as a free version, but there will also be some licensing schemes that will be paid, and the prices are very reasonable for a capable 2D product that is good at what it does (creating, editing, and viewing DWG files). Not surprisingly, if or when the need arises, DS SolidWorks has also provided a relatively smooth path for moving from 2D with DraftSight to 3D With SolidWorks.
The online pricing and licensing model for DraftSight is new for the company, but has absolutely no plans for carrying this business model over to the SolidWorks side of the house.
Unlike what I had perceived for a while now, the company at this meeting was fairly ambivalent about commitment to cloud-based software, services, or really anything for that matter. Unlike some of its competitors, DS SolidWorks is moving cautiously in this area.
After spending some “face time” in Waltham, there’s no doubt that this is a critical release for the future of SolidWorks, both as a product line and brand for Dassault Systemes. I’m anxious to try out for myself some elements of the SolidWorks ecosystem — SolidWorks 2014 (especially shape control and costing), Enterprise PDM, and Mechanical Conceptual (when it becomes available).
Based on what I witnessed in Waltham, it’s going to be a very interesting upcoming year for the company and I’m looking forward to experiencing the new product line.
August 29th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Last week, Autodesk reported financial results for the second quarter of fiscal 2014. Yes, that’s right, 2014. Although I’ve had this funky financial calendar explained to me, I still don’t quite get it. It’s sort of like cars that are introduced in January 2013, but they are 2014 models.
Anyway, Autodesk had some pretty mixed financial results company-wide for the quarter.
Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO said, “Our second quarter was marked by strength in our Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) business segment and continued growth in suites”. “Growth in these vital areas was offset by mixed contributions from other parts of the business. On the product side, we strengthened and expanded our leading product portfolio with new desktop, cloud and mobile offerings.”
What we take that to mean is AEC is doing well, but other major market segments, such as mechanical is doing OK, while media/entertainment continues to go down, with no prospect for real improvement in these segments anytime soon.
For example, revenue from the AEC business segment increased 9 percent to $177 million compared to the second quarter last year. On the other hand, revenue from the Manufacturing business segment increased just 2 percent to $144 million compared to the second quarter last year. Finally, revenue from the Media and Entertainment business segment decreased 11 percent to $43 million compared to the second quarter last year. Ouch on the last one.
For flagship products (such as standalone AutoCAD), revenue decreased 11 percent to $289 million compared to the second quarter last year, while revenue from suites increased 18 percent to $193 million. Suites are sweet for Autodesk.
For something a little more inspiring, check out the following video that shows some interesting “Behind the scenes” 3D printing news from Autodesk’s perspective.
Now back to Autodesk financial results . . .
Looking ahead to the future, Mark Hawkins, Autodesk executive vice president and CFO said, “With the recent introduction of more flexible license and service offerings that have ratable revenue streams, such as cloud-based and rental license offerings, Autodesk’s business model is evolving. We are currently refining our plans around the pace and time frame for this business model transition”
Admittedly, with the way Autodesk has changed internally, what it offers, and the way it offers its products, these results are not all that bad. The company is into a lot of things for the long haul, such as low-priced, cloud-based apps and subscription software that do not now and may never contribute greatly to the bottom line. Of course, this can’t go on forever, but the company has shown a higher degree of patience than in the past – good for customers, not so good for investors.
For many reasons, and these financial results notwithstanding, Autodesk fully acknowledges that it cannot afford to slip into any state of complacency or stagnation. The company has gambled on a number of technologies for “creators” through in-house development, as well as acquisitions. Autodesk seems to be financially willing and able to continue down this path, realizing that there will be some winners and some losers. In the end, though, Autodesk will have to remain at the forefront of innovation if it wants to maintain the status and stature it has in the many market segments it serves.
August 23rd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Small Footprint, Big Performance
We evaluate several mobile and desktop engineering workstations every year. Some are unique; some not so much. Some are well designed and built; some are not. Some are inexpensive and you get what you pay for; others cost more, but are great values.
Experience has shown us that workstations from BOXX Technologies are unique, well-built, and while costing a bit more, have proven to have excellent price/performance ratios. The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME desktop workstation continues the positive experience we have had with other BOXX machines in the past.
BOXX Technologies builds a wide spectrum of high-end workstations geared for high-performance applications, such as CAD, CAE, advanced animation and rendering, game production, and other demanding design and engineering work.
Even though it’s a desktop workstation, it is relatively compact with a smaller footprint than previous BOXX desktop workstations we’ve evaluated in the past, measuring 6.85”W x 14.6”H x 16.6”D. As a matter of fact, the 4150 XTREME is BOXX’s first foray into smaller form factor desktop workstations – a plus for those with space-constrained work spaces, like me.
This machine will appeal to those users who need higher levels of performance, reliability, and quality, and are willing and able to pay a bit more for these attributes. So, let’s see how the relatively compact 4150 XTREME performed and compared.
3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Workstation Specifications and Build Quality
EDITOR’S NOTE: Many hardware component options and configurations are available for the 4150 XTREME workstation.
BOXX claims the 4150 XTREME to be the fastest single socket workstation available for engineering and product design applications, such as SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor, as well as all other frequency-driven, CPU-bound applications. We’ll check that out soon enough.
Another nice feature of the 4150 that we’re seeing more and more is the fact that no tools are required to access the workstation’s internals – just remove two thumb screws and you’re in.
When pushing the unit during demanding benchmark testing, it remained cool and relatively quiet, thanks to the liquid cooling. The 4150 XTREME has just about every connectivity option you could need, and many ports are easily accessible from the front of the unit.
Like BOXX computers we have evaluated in the past, the build quality of the 4150 XTREME is very solid. Overall, the 4150 XTREME is a well-executed, high-quality platform that is also well-priced for what you get.
The tests were performed with the 4150 XTREME “out of the box,” as we received it – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. I actually get more out of the subjective testing because it’s more “real world,” but the raw numbers from the benchmarks are also useful as a means of objective comparison with other machines in the class. Your evaluations will probably differ from mine, but they do, at least, provide a point for comparison.
For objective testing, as we do with all workstations, we ran two benchmarks NovaBench (geared more toward overall performance) and SPECviewperf 11 (geared more toward graphics performance).
NovaBench Benchmark Test
Total NovaBench Composite Score: 1499
The 1499 composite score was a about 8% higher than the score of recent and comparable desktop workstation evaluations.
SPECviewperf 11 Benchmark Test
For a desktop workstation, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation is relatively compact, well-built, and well-priced. The level of performance that this small footprint machine exhibited is also quite good.
Whether mobile or desktop, workstations have come a long way in the past few years, and they often command a premium price. However, with the quality, performance, and configuration options, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME has a good price/performance ratio, offering high-end performance in a relatively compact package.
For More Information on the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation: BOXX Technologies; 512.835.0400; www.boxxtech.com
August 22nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
MakerBot (now a Stratasys company), the company that brought us one of the first relatively low-cost, assembled 3D printer is at it again, this time with a 3D scanner called the MakerBot Digitizer.
In an effort to appeal to the low end of 3D digitizing (much like it did with the MakerBot Replicator), the MakerBot Digitizer takes physical objects, scans them using a camera and two lasers, and creates a 3D digital file – “without any need for design or 3D software experience.” Really? I’m skeptical of this statement because it has been tried before, with relatively little success — scans of complex objects can be difficult to process into something useful.
The MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner is optimized for and works seamlessly with MakerBot’s Replicator Desktop 3D Printers and MakerBot Thingiverse (no surprise there).
Just connect the MakerBot Digitizer to a laptop or computer and you are ready to digitize. Is it really that easy?
According to the company, the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner offers:
The ease of use and “no skills required” claims are a bit of a stretch for me, because the MakerBot Replicator is not exactly foolproof and totally autonomous, so how can the MakerBot Digitizer be that much different?
The MakerBot Digitizer is for sale at makerbot.com/digitizer. Pre-orders are being taken now, with shipping expected mid-October. Price is $1,400, plus an optional $150 for MakerBot Digitizer MakerCare, a service and support program, plus $9 shipping insurance. A total cost of $1,559 might seem like a bargain at first, but expect to see several lower-cost 3D digitizers on the market in the next few months.
At that price point, is the MakerBot Digitizer overpriced? Sight unseen and with no hands-on experience with it, I would tend to say yes, as there are a few low-cost, low-end 3D digitizers/scanners already on the market, including Microsoft’s Kinect at a fraction of the cost. Another competitor, NextEngine, has been around for several years, and yes, it costs twice as much, but seems more robust and production-ready, as well as having superior accuracy and resolution. Both the MakerBot Digitzer and the NextEngine scanner employ turntables for rotating objects for capture, but the NextEngine is able to accommodate larger objects. It’s true with 3D digitizing as with most things — you get what you pay for.
Will the MakerBot Digitizer be a hit like the MakerBot Replicator was? I would peg the probability as low. Why? A lot of competition is coming soon, and how many objects does an average DIYer/hobbyist really need to print in 3D as output, much less digitize for input? As I said in a blog post a few weeks ago, why buy when you can rent, and I think this will ultimately ring true for 3D digitizers for the common man unless the price drops quite a bit.
EDITOR’S NOTE: I am in the process of writing an authoritative, comprehensive sourcebook on 3D object scanning/digitizing/capture that will detail methods, technologies, applications, vendors, and trends. Look for it in Q2 2014.
August 8th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed. That is, until recently. According to the Wohlers Report, sales of 3D printers started to decline last year and have continued to accelerate downward this year.
But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.
It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.
That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local Staples or UPS store.
A few months ago, ago, office supply retail giant, Staples, announced that they had opened their first 3D printing “Experience Centre” in the Netherlands. Staples selected Mcor’s paper-based Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) 3D printing technology, exclusively for this service, citing Mcor’s relative low cost and color capability.
This announcement followed Staples’ announcement last November that they were launching “Easy 3D,” an online and in-store 3D printing service. Together, these two 3D printing endeavors will (hopefully) fulfill Staples’ goal to provide comprehensive 3D printing services for its customers.
Last week, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service will enable UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.
The UPS Store is installing Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printers in six test locations, beginning in San Diego. The test is a collaborative effort by Stratasys and The UPS Store to make 3D printing more accessible as awareness of the technology and its capabilities grow. Following the test launch, retail customers will be able to bring CAD files to participating UPS Store locations and have their 3D design printed.
How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at Staples and UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, you’ve got to start somewhere . . .
So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at Staples and UPS stores.