Scott's MCAD Meringue
Scott is a full-time Configuration Manager. He has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MSOE and over 10 years experience in mechanical design and engineering. Scott started his career on the drafting board, a discipline he feels every new designer or engineer should experience. He discovered … More »
November 21st, 2012 by Scott Wertel
When most people think of gamification in CAD, they think of slick new GUIs or maybe human interface devices beyond the mouse and keyboard. Or, they think of using building blocks for design similar to how a Minecraft player may create the Starship Enterprise. But, there are many aspects of gamification beyond playability of your work environment. In this post, I will expand on the benefits of adding physics engines to MCAD assembly environments and explain how that enhancement can improve design especially when combined with Kinetic Modeling.
The Status Quo
The current workflow of gaming engines is to create geometry (either in CAD or DCC software like Autodesk Maya) and then transfer the geometry into a physics engine, like CryEngine. I pose the question, why can’t the physics engine be incorporated directly into the geometry creation software? Specifically, the assembly environment of MCAD tools? With the known benefits of moving simulation further to the left in the design cycle, integrating more simulation tools into the design software without the complexity of FEA is a winning scenario for engineering & design companies. As I mentioned in my previous post, there are many CAD users who don’t require FEA. Rigid body mechanics is accurate enough for their decision-making process. No geometry prep, no meshing, no time-consuming compute analysis, and no post processing. And just as important, no special computer equipment to manage and no additional file management.
The Lingering Debate
This conversation is not new. As I was browsing the archives of SolidSmack.com, because I knew he had a great video of a physics engine I wanted to use in this post, I came across a few other posts regarding using physics engines in the design process.
If that video doesn’t help, check out what the Tokamak open source physics engine can do.
Just from the video examples above, I can see a huge potential of time savings in my design workflow by gamifying CAD. I don’t realistically expect to imitate a first-person shooter game and launch projectiles at my assembly design, but I do see how adding gravity and friction as resolved degrees of freedom in my assembly model will make it more realistic. And maybe, just maybe, if I’m having a bad day at the office I can blow off a little steam by pummeling my model with simulated nukes.
What are your thoughts? Is there a benefit to bringing this technology into the engineering and design environment? Is the term “gamification” the part that prevents acceptance of these ideas into the workplace?
October 24th, 2012 by Scott Wertel
Voting is over and soon we’ll find out not only who is the lucky wearer of a Star Trek uniform, but also who the voters think should control simulation — bring simulation tools into the hands of the design engineers or bring analysts up front into the design process? As much as I love a lively debate between generalist and specialist, I vote “C – None of the above.”
The Black Box of Simplicity
I don’t mean to imply that I’m anti-simulation. Quite the contrary. But, I also know that there are plenty of design and manufacturing companies that don’t require simulation to build a safe, inexpensive, and functional product. But, those people still need to accurately model fits, interactions, and mechanisms within their product. I may be splitting hairs on semantics, but I was doing this type of engineering before it was considered simulation. I don’t need high fidelity models, I don’t need meshing, and I don’t need massive high-performance computing clusters to crunch through the stress and deflection of thousands of tiny elements. I need black-box, shrink-wrapped, envelope dimensions of rigid body sets that I can assemble and verify fit, form, and function. That’s it. That’s all I need. Let’s not over-think this. Let’s not make it more complex than what is needed to solve the problem at hand.
Best Practices are a Crutch
Assembly components should always be fully constrained. That has been the mantra of solids modeling since parametrics were invented. I fought this practice from the beginning. In the glory days of drafting boards and 2D CAD, the assemblies weren’t fully constrained. I could visualize the machine and all its working parts in my head.
Motors were whirring.
Shafts were turning.
Bearings were spinning.
Belts were indexing.
Servos were clicking.
Pneumatics were popping.
Hydraulics were leaking.
It was alive!
I wanted my assembly model to do the same thing. But, it didn’t take long until technology bit me in the arse and I soon complied with the best practice. My machine was dead, motionless, lifeless.
Today, I’m happy to say that technology has improved. Most MCAD software allows for some variety of “flexible assembly” where I can leave components under-constrained at lower levels and constrain them at a higher level assembly later in the design. Best practices remain, though, because of years of conditioning to believe that all components must be fully-constrained at every level, and also because not all flexible assemblies are robust. Technology is still biting users in their collective arses. Nevertheless, cultures are changing because someone managed to come up with a clever moniker — Kinetic Modeling. Yes, Kinetic Modeling, the solids modeling assembly technique where you only constrain to the level that the components would be constrained in actual hardware.
The Cost-Benefit of Kinetic Modeling
One of the obvious benefits of kinetic modeling is the more accurate representation of your product at the design level. A not so obvious benefit is the translation to motion analysis/simulation software like MSC Adams. The 1:1 translation of assembly constraints to joints is more accurate, meaning less time to clean up the simulation model to allow for movement. Importing an assembly with fewer constraints into animation software also eases the translation process. These are some significant cost savings benefits of kinetic modeling, if you use any of these downstream tools.
I don’t own a seat of Adams. I rarely need to do motion analysis because I don’t care about reaction forces, for example. I also know, based on sound engineering judgement, that my deflections are minimal and treating the components as rigid bodies is accurate enough for a form, fit, and function check. I’m also not fluent in rendering or animation. That’s not my job. I have a shaded model on my screen, that’s good enough. Why can’t I just use that? I see in my “move” tool that there is a collision detection option. OK, I tell this component to move and my Kinetic Model with collision detection should do the rest. Right?
Technology still isn’t perfect. Under-constrained components sometimes produce unexpected results. But there is one boundary condition that can be added to a Kinetic Model that will still allow flexibility and improve the expected results. Gravity! That’s right, I want gravity to be included in my assembly file. (Oh, and because some software considers Y-direction to be UP and others consider Z-direction to be UP, the user needs to be able to define the direction of gravity.) There are many assembly conditions where one part is “resting” on another part. If gravity were an assembly relationship, constraint, or boundary condition, this “resting” degree of freedom would be solved and the model would be more robust. Granted, there are times where I’ll want to depict a component in something other than it’s rest state. I will have to be able to turn off or over-ride gravity. I don’t expect the implementation of gravity into an assembly modeler will be easy to code and collision detection will have to be always on, which may hurt performance. I still think it could be a valuable addition to assembly modeling to make Kinetic Modeling more realistic.
I know this won’t result in anyone dressing up in costume, but what do you think? Would gravity be enough for most MCAD users to get more value out of their kinetic assemblies?
April 29th, 2011 by Scott Wertel
The Solid Edge ST4 Global Launch Event is just around the corner. Early bird registration savings has passed, but there is still time for you to be a part of the action and revitalize what will hopefully be a new trend in Solid Edge specific events.
Where: The Westin Huntsville
About the Event
The two day event consists of the usual keynotes and an ST4 preview. More importantly, it consists of breakout sessions for hands-on use of ST4 and discussions with developers, tech support, and other Solid Edge users so you can return to your office with plenty of information on how to best utilize the latest release of Solid Edge. You may even take home some beneficial tips-and-tricks for your existing installation.
To Learn More
Beside viewing the event page, there are several other Solid Edge users blogging about the event and, if you have a webkey, plenty of discussion on the bbsnotes.
And of course I have to mention my own website.
October 29th, 2010 by Scott Wertel
When GrabCAD was announced, I was actually a little excited. Not that the world needed yet one more online CAD library, but that this was a universal library for all MCAD software products. The simple fact that any user of any MCAD software could share their models in a non-exclusive environment was the differentiator between GrabCAD and other model libraries. And the fact that a sales person is not going to call me and follow up on the model I downloaded from the (supplier’s) website is an added bonus.
Back that up with powerhouse advisers like Josh Mings and Deelip Menezes, and the potential for a winning website is really taking shape. Using a standard social media wall as the front end with powerful search features to find that model you’re looking for, and the benefits continue to add up. I also like the feature to request a model that isn’t there yet. True, the traffic on the website is still growing so getting that request filled in a timely manner may not happen, but at least the door is open for the altruistic nature of future generations determined to help others out of the goodness of their heart.
This isn’t your standard CAD library either, filled with simple parts like washers, bolts, and nuts. These are full up assemblies of some pretty incredible parts. I took a screen capture of some of the latest additions to give an example.
GrabCAD also has a decent list of Partners, making me believe that this website is here to stay, once I figure out what their business model is, that is. Did you also know that have a blog? You have to scroll past all the front page updates to get to the links in the footer to find it (an improvement they could make to their website layout), but it’s there.
As someone who does freelance work, I’m always interested in finding new places to find work. I’m still waiting for this to develop. I know that entering into the engineering and design marketplace is not easy. Critical mass has to be reached very quickly for it to be sustainable – both with available jobs and talent to fill those jobs. Competition with sites like guru.com or elance.com is also difficult. Building a trust between supplier and buyer, an easy escrow system to exchange funds, and a secure place to handle proprietary information is a big hurdle that many marketplaces never pass.
I wish GrabCAD the best of luck in their future. If businesses like GrabCAD grow, then there is a chance for other businesses to grow as well. Symbiotic relationships are only beneficial if both entities find value, and an engineering marketplace is a symbiotic relationship among all parties involved.
August 26th, 2010 by Scott Wertel
Deelip has put together a great series, in plain terms, to describe the graphics performance of various 3D MCAD packages.
Here is his exhaustive list:
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 1
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 2 (MoI)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 3 (SpaceClaim)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 4 (KeyCreator)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 5 (Alibre Design)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 6 (Alibre Design Revisited)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 7 (AutoCAD)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 8 (KOMPAS-3D)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 9 (Acrobat)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 10 (Pro/ENGINEER)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 11 (IRONCAD)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 12 (T-FLEX)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 13 (Inventor)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 14 (PowerSHAPE)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 15 (CoCreate)
3D Graphics Performance Comparison – Part 16 (Conclusion)
One CAD system Deelip was not able to try was Solid Edge ST3, because it is currently in beta and only a few leaks are managing their way into the public realm. The reason ST3 really needs to be in Deelip’s comparison is because it claims to have significant improvements to graphics performance.
Well, it just so happens that one Solid Edge user did a test similar to Deelip’s. Please note that this user did this prior to Deelip’s blog posts, so it doesn’t use an engine and the pathing is only coincidental. The reason it is so late making it into the public realm is because the user needed to get permission before releasing the videos. That’s the speed of business, baby. What do you think? Are these “freakin’ awesome”?
The computer that ran this is
Intel Core 2 Duo CPU E6850 (3.00Ghz)
The test was also done on a machine very similar with only 4 Gig RAM, Windows XP, and a 10,000 RPM SATA drive and the results were identical. The Solid Edge settings were the default settings, no special tweaks.
The first video:
1659 Unique Parts
The second video:
1659 Unique Parts
And don’t tell anyone, but that issue about using 50% CPU just by moving your cursor over a blank graphics screen, has been improved also.
(I tried to embed the youtube videos, but it appears that you may have to click on the links instead.)
August 18th, 2010 by Scott Wertel
Solid Edge, the best CAD program you never heard of. How many remember that moniker? Just a couple of years ago, the Solid Edge name was revitalized because of the buzz surrounding Synchronous Technology. Once that buzz diminished though, Solid Edge reverted back to shadows, hidden by the Velocity Series and Siemens logos.
I am happy to say that those days are numbered. Siemens has put more effort into marketing Solid Edge. As a matter of fact, you will find product ads that actually say “Solid Edge” in them instead of the ambiguous Velocity Series or Siemens brand names. They hired great talent spearheading the new marketing plan. They even hired well known ringers, or big-guns, to consult for them.
One particular event that has gotten great reviews is the Solid Edge Productivity Summits spanning the US and two cities in Canada. The Summits have been announced before, but a reminder deserves mention since they are half over, but still plenty of locations left to attend. Word is spreading about these events. Attendance is reaching into the hundreds for each location. These aren’t just your regular forum participants; these are your every day users who consist of the silent majority.
Seeing the attendance numbers, hearing users’ stories, and seeing feedback about these events permeate the media makes me think that Solid Edge will not continue to be the best CAD system you have never heard of.
August 9th, 2010 by Scott Wertel
If you are not a regular reader of the Alibre forums, and you don’t subscribe to their newsletters, you may have missed the announcement that Open Beta for Alibre Design 2011 has begun. All you need to participate is an active maintenance agreement.
Much like other superstitious CAD companies, the v13 release is being renamed to match the year of release. (You can still thank AutoCAD R13 for that trend.) As a matter of fact, this Photoshopped box cover for Alibre Design v13 has been floated around the internet to joke about the subject.
If you enjoy being on the bleeding edge of CAD technology and can’t wait to see “What’s New” in the upcoming release of Alibre Design, stop by the forums, register for the Open Beta, and begin testing.
September 15th, 2009 by Scott Wertel
In my prior post, I discussed some sketching highlights of the next release of Alibre Design. Today, I’m going to dive into the modeling improvements users will see. Since the release of v12 is rumored to be just around the corner, I won’t find the time to research drafting improvements. Too bad, too because that is one area that all MCAD software, especially Alibre Design, seems to need the most focus.
Animated View Transitions
This is something that has existed in the competition for several releases – any competition. It’s a feature that is expected in a 3D visualization product – any product – at version 1.0. Yet, here we are at v12 and finally getting to the point where the Alibre graphics engine can handle view transitions of solid parts and assemblies.
Multiple Lights in 3D Workspace
This is a wonderful implementation of something that happens behind the scenes of all other CAD packages I have experience with. I think Alibre did a great job by allowing the user the option of controlling their default light sources, specifically the choice of 1, 2, or 3 light sources. Prior to version 12, Alibre only had 1 light source. It’s location in the model space was fixed and therefore was possible to get areas of the model that blacked out, i.e. no light reaches it so it is not rendered on the screen. To remedy that graphic anomaly, Alibre implemented the ability to use additional light sources, up to 3, each located to create a triad of light onto the model, forever removing the black outs. Alibre has not given the user the option of changing the type of light or the light color, those features are saved for full-on rendering packages, not modeling shaders. I have also noticed that 2 lights seems to be the best. With all 3 lights on, there is the potential to wash out smaller-sized models, at least some edges, which the 3rd picture starts to show.
I have to admit that I am pretty happy with the default color choices that Alibre chose. I know of several studies by large organizations on color, lighting, etc. etc. to make the workplace better and to also be color-blind friendly. I don’t know how much research Alibre put into this, but their light locations and color choices are better than what I could have set up for myself. Lighting is probably one of the most painstaking and time consuming parts of photorendering. Had Alibre not chosen 3 distinct light colors, I believe the wash-out effect would be much more pronounced. The lighting also works well with another enhancement of Alibre’s, more default color schemes. I know default color schemes sound trivial, but they are the spit-and-polish that make a good CAD system better. If the models look cartoony on the screen, there is less implied confidence in the robustness of the design. A good default color scheme not only makes sitting in front of the computer for 9 hours a day easier, but it saves the user a lot of time having to set up their own custom schemes just reduce eye strain.
Contour Flange (sheet metal)
Here’s one sheet metal design that won’t win Alibre any awards, since any sheet metal modeler should have this in it, but they way Alibre implemented it is fairly unique and may hint at future enhancements available to feature tree management.
Notice the feature tree. In other MCAD packages, a contour flange is considered to be a single feature. In Alibre Design v12, each flange on the contour flange is made as an independent flange feature and then collected into the contour flange group. So one super feature, or feature group, or feature collection, or whatever term you are familiar with from another CAD package, is now possible in Alibre Design. Although the contour flange feature doesn’t excite me, the potential for expanding on the feature tree organization into part and assembly environments by techniques used to create the contour flange does. Are we seeing the preview of a history free feature tree?
Lofted Flange (sheet metal)
OK, this sheet metal enhancement does excite me. Why? Because I rarely ever need to do them so when I do, I forget how and it’s a trial-and-error-and-error-and-error before I finally get a flange that will flatten. As much as I’m against adding features and bloating the code just for the sake of new features that will rarely get used, there are some rarely used features that are great to have. For me, this is one of them. Who cares that I only use it once every few months, the amount of time it saves me in my design process is worth the bloat to have it coded into the software.
View Performance for Large Assemblies
To round out my list of notable solid modeling enhancements to v12 is the performance increase for large assemblies. Isn’t that one of the main complaints/requests of users for each new version? More stability and better performance! I still don’t know what the definition of “large assemblies” is, but at least I know that my screen with pan/zoom/rotate more fluidly now.
Like my previous post, all images shown were taken from the Alibre Design v12 Release Notes which can be downloaded from links with this forum.