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 »
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.
May 15th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
BOXX Technologies builds a diverse range of desktop and mobile workstations geared for high-performance applications, such as CAD, CAE, advanced animation and rendering, game production, and architectural design.
In the past we’ve evaluated some of the company’ desktop and mobile workstations and have come away impressed with the performance and build quality of the machines. This time around, we’re reviewing the GoBOXX G2720, a machine I’d classify as a high-end mobile workstation. Normally, we evaluate mid-range workstations because they can provide a good balance between performance and price. However, we did not regret going high-end this time because the GoBOXX G2720 exceeded our expectations for its performance, price notwithstanding.
The GoBOXX G2720 Mobile Workstation
This machine will appeal to those users who really need high levels of performance, and are ready, willing, and able to pay for it. So, let’s see how this mobile beast fared.
G2720 Mobile Workstation Specifications and Build Quality
The GoBOXX G2720 we received had the following specifications as supplied:
CPU: Intel Core i7 – 3970X (3.5 GHz); 6-core
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro K5000M
RAM: 32 GB DDR3; 4 DIMMs
SSD: 240 GB SATA
Connectivity: 3 SATA ports internal; 1 IEEE 1394 port; 1 USB 3.0/eSATA port; 2 USB 2.0 ports; 2 USB 3.0 ports; 1 HDMI; 1 external DVI; 1 display port; Ethernet
Other: 8X DVD Multi-drive; 9 in 1 Flash memory reader; 2MB digital video camera; fingerprint reader; Kensington lock port;
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Ultimate Edition 64-bit
Display: 17.3″ Full HD (1920 x 1080) LED Backlit with Super Clear glare screen
Dimensions: 16.5″(W) x 11.3″(D) x 2.4″(H)
Weight: 12.8 pounds (with battery)
Warranty: One-year limited
Default resolution of the full-HD backlit LED that measures a whopping 17.3″ is 1,920 x 1,080. Screen image resolution/clarity, colors, and brightness were excellent.
When we received the GoBOXX G2720, we had high expectations for performance, largely because of the high levels of performance we have experienced in the past with other machines from BOXX Technologies. The objective (formal documented generic benchmarks) and subjective (actual design and engineering software applications) tests we ran fulfilled our expectations. In fact, this machine posted the highest performance numbers ever for an engineering workstation — mobile or desktop.
The tests were performed with the GoBOXX G2720 “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.
May 6th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Designing lighter products, whether they’re as large as jet liners or as small as mobile phones, has always been smart business. Less material means less cost and lower energy consumption, both in production and operation. Lower production costs mean higher profit margins for manufacturers. Lower operational costs lead to broader customer acceptance and higher market share.
These days, the “smart business” in lighter products has been upgraded to “essential ingredient.” Lower weight and material efficiency are mandatory for companies that expect to succeed in markets coping with volatile energy prices and increasing environmental regulations. Higher energy prices cause sharp swings in production costs. Manufacturing a product and its component materials means more predictable costs and higher profit margins.
End products are also subject to more scrutiny during their operational lives. Vehicles have to squeeze more miles out of every gallon to satisfy mandates such as U.S. corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards
For decades, making a product lighter meant optimizing designs to cut out mass that wasn’t needed to achieve engineering goals. Now, extensive use of fiber-reinforced composites has introduced a new weight-saving measure into product design. Especially in vehicle design but also in appliances and industrial machinery, composites offer comparable strength to metal at a fraction of the weight.
However, introducing composites into product design requires extensive testing. Composites’ plasticity means they do not perform as predictably as metals under real-world conditions. Many manufacturers qualify composites through extensive physical testing on prototypes. This is expensive, time consuming, and can be replaced by simulation – provided that simulation evolves to accommodate composites. Otherwise, they will not yield accurate material allowables, and inaccurate allowables can lead to poor product performance or outright failure.
Simulation technology has traditionally focused on metals. Composites, however, have different properties from metals. For example, a metal-stamped part will behave the same way regardless of how it is manufactured. By contrast, the manufacturing process can change a fiber-reinforced plastic part’s behavior significantly because the process can affect the orientation of the fibers in the material’s epoxy-resin matrix.
Those additional variables complicate engineers’ tasks. They can optimize a design for maximum lightness but end up with a different set of problems because the composite won’t perform the way they expected. Engineers must be able to simulate the strength of composites in different configurations and through various manufacturing processes down to the microstructure level. However, simulation technology hasn’t accommodated them so far.
Most simulation solutions depict composites as “black aluminum.” They represent a composite part’s geometry, but not the full range of its properties. Composite suppliers provide their customers with property data, but that data seldom takes into account the manufacturing process’ influence on the material. Entered into a simulation, these data points will not produce accurate results.
Without accurate material modeling and simulation, designers have to approximate how the composite will perform under real-world conditions. That often leads to over-designing to guard against failure. Over-designing undermines the purpose of designing with plastic or composite in the first place – using less material and reducing weight. It also adds unnecessary cost.
Many simulation technology vendors have incorporated some level of non-uniform material behavior into their solutions. However, these solutions only simulate composite behavior on the surface. A truly realistic model requires an intelligent handle on:
Conventional simulation tools do an excellent job of modeling a party’s geometry, loading, deformation physics, etc. Incorporating detailed material behavior for composites drives further precision into the simulation lifecycle.
Giving engineers that precision opens a new range of possibilities for making products lighter without sacrificing performance. For example, an automotive OEM wants to re-design a metal engine mount in composite to save weight. Design engineers develop the basic geometry for the new mount in a 3D CAD environment. The mount weighs 1.2 kilograms. Simulation reveals that the engine mount performs its function under normal loads and in normal operating conditions.
Through virtual simulations to analyze the composite’s behavior in that shape and function, the design team does a series of iterations, analyzes the mount’s performance, and reduces its mass by 40 percent without compromising performance. The lower mass shaves 15 percent from the mount’s cost.
This is what design teams can achieve when they have the tools to model and simulate composites with the same precision they have for simulating metals. It’s the approach that manufacturers need to incorporate in bringing composites into their designs while keeping prototyping costs. The result will be lower material use and energy consumption in production and operation, and more accurate material and part performance. These essential qualities will enable manufacturers to meet the new economic realities of rising energy costs and the societal obligations of sustainability through lighter, better products.
This article was contributed by Dr. Roger Assaker, PhD, founder and CEO of e-Xstream Engineering, and also chief material strategist at MSC Software. Please see http://www.mscsoftware.com/product/digimat for more information.)
April 24th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Today I saw a demonstration of SolidCAM’s newest version of its iMachining technology. The co-hosts of the presentation were Shaun Mymudes, COO, North America and Ken Merritt, senior application engineer.
After a little SolidCAM iMachining theory, the science of cutting angle, and how it’s different from the competition, a live demonstration via webcam began with new iMachining software controlling a Hurco VMX42 HSi machining center. A tool running at 10,000 RPM and traveling at between 85-200 inches per minute cut and finished a pocketed part of 1018 steel in pretty short order.
Owing to iMachining’s unique tool motion control algorithms and variable cutting angle, the presenters said (and showed) significant improvement in cycle time efficiency/time savings (in this case, more than 70%), as well as reduced tool wear.
After the live demo, it was time to see some of the features and capabilities of the software.
April 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Autodesk President and CEO, Carl Bass, led a conversation about “Engineering the Future” for the manufacturing industry at Develop3D LIVE 2013.
In a keynote address, Bass demonstrated how a series of major technology trends are shaping the way product designers and engineers work, and how these trends paved the way for Autodesk to create its cloud-based design platform Autodesk 360, which has been accessed by nearly 15 million users since September 2011.
Additionally, Bass announced that pricing for Autodesk Fusion 360, Autodesk’s comprehensive cloud-based 3D CAD offering, will range from $25 to $200 per user, per month. Originally unveiled at Autodesk University 2012, the cloud technology behind Autodesk Fusion 360 offers universal access where design data is the center of the design process. It also supports an open design environment, allowing designers to incorporate and modify CAD data from virtually any source and share it.
Carl discusses the Cloud and how it is transforming design:
In the following video, Carl discusses how Autodesk is solving tough design problems with Fusion 360, and provides examples of how Fusion 360 provides designers and engineers with clear choices on not only what they want to use, but also how they can buy it, and what it costs.
This is interesting news because I’m about to go hands-on with Autodesk Fusion 360. I’ll tell you how it goes.
April 5th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Like many people, if not most, spring is my favorite time of the year. The days are longer, the weather is warmer, foliage is coming back to life, and it’s the season for FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) all over the country. Eligible participants are male and female high school students — grades 9-12; ages 14-18.
For those unfamiliar with the event, every team is given a standard parts list and kit from which to build their robot that consists of mechanical, electrical, electronic, and software components. This, along with rigorous inspection for compliance with the strict rules and specifications before competition ensures that all teams literally compete on a level playing field.
A FIRST team working on their robot, preparing for competition
I was a volunteer at this year’s Colorado Regional FRC event. My official title was Field Repair/Reset, but in actuality I was a scorekeeper. Once the action starts, it’s non-stop and pretty heated until the competition is done for the day. Between the robots, teams, and fans in the stands, the volume level also remains pretty high throughout the day. A lot of excitement and great fun for me.
The game changes every year and this year’s was especially challenging. It involves team-built robots picking up and shooting Frisbees into target goal at varying heights. In addition, there is also a segment of the event that has the robots climb tubular pyramids — the higher, the more points. For safety, if a robot ascends above a certain height, it must be belayed back to the ground with climbing rope and special hardware.
There are also two different timed modes for competition — autonomous and teleops. The first 15 seconds are autonomous where the robot must find the target goals on its own and attempt to fling Frisbees into them. The teleops portion of the competition has the robots “driven” by team operators with computers and joysticks.
I wish my tools were this well organized . . . team from Minnesota’s tool crib
The FIRST events are always well organized, well attended, and well worth the time of everybody involved — participants, volunteers, teachers, parents, mentors, and sponsors. The FIRST event always leaves me with a good feeling about the promise of the future of engineering in the hands, minds, and hearts of those who will create the future.
April 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
On a weekly basis I review hundreds of press releases relating to (more or less) CAD, CAM, CAE, and related software and hardware products. With most of them it is immediately apparent whether they merit publication, are overt sales pitches, or new rehashes of old news. Not always, but often, my interest gets sparked by the headline, such as, 3D Printing Inspires New Working Style in CAD/CAM Software Industry. Interesting stuff, right? The headline was pretty catchy, although it didn’t mention a specific company name. In spite of that, I read through the press release once, twice, three times, and still had trouble comprehending what was trying to be said.
Well, the company is Chinese software developer, ZWSOFT, and what they are trying to get across is the new Print3D function in ZW3D 2013 for leveraging 3D printing. The company doesn’t tell you how to do it and the 3D printing capability isn’t specifically mentioned in its 56-page “What’s New in ZW3D 2013” document. In fact, if this press release had not come out, there is no way I (or prospective customers) would even know it’s there. I tend to think it’s buried in some obscure place that will really take some digging to find.
3D printing is mentioned in online product literature under Reverse Engineering in the following context (and accompanying graphic):
I’m no marketing guy, but if you’re going to push a new capability, wouldn’t you give it little more prominence?
I’ll download a trial version of ZW3D 2013 and see what and where the 3D printing capabilities really are.
Beyond that, the only reference I could find with regard to ZW3D’s 3D printing ability was an event last year when personal manufacturer Ponoko teamed up with ZW3D and 3D model library GrabCAD to 3D print the winners of its Holiday Design Challenge.
So another MCAD company enters the market with this year’s “must have” capability – 3D printing – which is fine. I guess the more, the merrier. What I more interesting is a rumor I’ve heard from more than one source that another Chinese company may soon market a 3D printer in the $300-$500 range and PLA and/or ABS consumables for $10-$20 a spool.
While it is possible, I still maintain that 3D printing isn’t suited for everything or everybody. While there have been some impressive results, many of the parts I have seen produced on the so-called “low end” machines are analogous to dot matrix output when 2D printers came on the market. Like many technologies, just because “everybody’s doin’ it,” doesn’t necessarily mean that everybody should be doing it.
March 26th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Even though we’re not even through the first quarter of 2013, some companies can’t wait for 2014. A case in point is Autodesk, who today announced in general terms its next generation desktop products and Autodesk 360 cloud-based services for 2014. In actuality, the cloud-based offerings augment the desktop application suites. All suite subscribers have access to select cloud services as part of their subscriptions, and can always purchase additional cloud access, if and when needed.
One of the most intriguing of the new cloud-based services is a point cloud engine for processing point clouds called ReCap. With it, you’ll be able to use laser scan and photographic image data to build 3D models. This is one I definitely want to try out for myself.
Autodesk’s Amar Hanspal acted as the MC for the product introductions and kicked things off with a new look logo and branding for the company — kind of origamic — that he said was a new identity that blended art and science.
As it has for the past couple of years, Autodesk prefers to market its products, not so much as discrete products, but multi-tiered suites (Standard, Premium, and Ultimate) with more comprehensive utility, function, and profit. The Autodesk product suites that we’ll pay the most attention to in the coming months will include:
Without a lot of specifics to draw upon, several aspects of Autodesk’s 2014 product and service lineups look promising. However, the devil’s in the details of how all these parts work together, and that is exactly what we’ll be evaluating in the coming months.