Scott Wertel 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 his knack for CAD when creating CAD exercises and exams for his high school drafting class, which later progressed into CAD standards for his first employer.
Later, Scott learned 3D modeling in CATIA v4, UG(NX), I-deas, and Pro/E; and then on to mid-range modelers like Solidworks, Solid Edge, and Alibre Design. Scott is a registered professional engineer in the state of Arizona. He is a member of NSPE and ASME. To keep his design skills sharp, Scott freelances P/T for jobs that do not constitute a conflict of interest. « Less
Scott Wertel 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 »
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.
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?
The Gravity Defying Vomit Comet (image courtesy NASA JSC)
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.
If a rotary union would normally spin, let it spin. Don’t clock the halves together.
If a plenum would normally slide, let it slide. Don’t constrain an offset distance.
If a follower glides along a cam, let it glide. Don’t lock the follower to a fixed point.
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?
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
6800 Governors West, NW
Huntsville, Alabama 35806
United States When: June 15th – 16th, 2011 How:Visit the Event Page Cost: $350
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.
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.
Models Recently Added to GrabCAD
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.
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”?
Intel Core 2 Duo CPU E6850 (3.00Ghz)
8 Gig RAM
Windows 7 64-bit (SE 32-bit only cause I don’t have 64-bit downloaded yet)
Quadro FX 1700
Intel X25-M 80 Gig SSD
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
4800 Total Parts
340 Unique sub-assemblies
1.2 Gig Total Document Size
The second video:
1659 Unique Parts
19200 Total Parts
341 Unique sub-assemblies
1.2 Gig Total Document Size
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.)
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.
I have had quite a few criticisms volleyed towards Max Freeman, the Marketing VP for Alibre, Inc. in regards to Alibre’s presence in social media.
As an engineer, I am conservative in my approach to new, untested technologies. I was late to LinkedIn, late to Twitter, and I still don’t have a Facebook account. Like many others, I questioned the value of these tools but could easily see the distraction they created. None the less I couldn’t criticize if I haven’t tried them. After using them, I realize there is value in these products, more than just name or brand recognition. When used properly, they really do create relationships; provide timely, meaningful information about my industry; and don’t take up much time out of my day.
My criticism, though, lies more with the mentoring of future engineers. Why? Because Facebook and Twitter are where the future engineers are. If we are doing our duty as senior engineers and mentors, then we need to reach out to the young engineers – and that means social media.
Much to my surprise, last week Max announced on the Alibre forums a new website, Alibre Powered. This is a Facebook-like clone developed specifically to allow Alibre users to showcase their abilities. So, not only is it social media, but designed from the ground up to be a value-added user experience.
(image courtesy of Alibre Powered website)
I wasn’t about to let Max off the hook so easy. He stated that Alibre spends its resources making the best CAD for the money and therefore doesn’t have time for social media. But, Alibre has time for an entire social website? Much to my dismay, I couldn’t pull one over on Max. This is Alibre’s vision for Alibre Powered, via Max’s response to my razzing.
The amusing this about this project is that it required literally no resources. We thought about the idea, made it happen, and went live inside of basically 24 hours. The real goal is to let the users come and post their designs – and we can point schools, young engineers, media types, prospective customers, etc. here so they can see what “real” people do with our software, versus “marketing people” (us). We made this with a specific goal of making a living gallery basically, which is why the 2 main sections are “designers” and “their stuff” – but as you suggest it will also serve nicely as a social media aspect.
So congratulation to Alibre and their marketing team for putting together a very cool, useful, social outlet for Alibre users. And, you can even use Alibre Design to create the logo.
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.
Alibre Design v13 Shipping Box
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.
I have to admit, I’m not an early adopter nor beta tester of too many things. I don’t have the time nor the desire to risk failure over someone’s work that I have no direct oversight.
Nonetheless, I find myself almost addicted to beta testing not only CAD software but also the latest in social media. Me, an engineer, who would rather shy away and be a wall flower than join a conversation among a group of people. What benefit is there to being a part of the cutting edge in technology? Things like Google Wave, Technorati (CTQDMSPEFNWY), Twitter, and LinkedIn. OK, so many of these are not new or cutting edge to you, but for a conservative engineer who likes things to be proven to him before jumping on board, they still are new.
What value is Twitter? What value is LinkedIn? What value is Posterous compared to a blog or Twitter? What value is linking Twitter with LinkedIn? Well, apparently quite a bit.
The problem is, the only way to get value of these new forms of media is to be on the cutting edge of adopting them. Not only do you get to experience the joys of a new toy, but you get to influence its development. Not directly, but by defining useful methods of utilizing the media.
So keep on eye on emerging trends. Take time to invest in them. Get the old dog to learn new tricks. And most importantly, let’s all network and see how we can better communicate what engineer & design is to all the young engineers who breath cutting edge.
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.