June 07, 2010
NX 7 Redefines Productivity and Product Development Support
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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For more information on NX 7, please visit

Commentary By Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

As a long-time member of the MCAD community, I have followed CAD developments (good and bad) over the years with a great degree of personal interest. In the early days, it seemed like just about every release of software contained a bunch of new features and capabilities - some useful and some not so useful. “Feature bloat” became a real problem with a lot of MCAD products at the expense of real utility and stability. Recently, however, most MCAD vendors have become more concerned with product quality and reliability than just continuing to pile on more “stuff,” that few customers understand or actually use.

In 2008 Siemens PLM Software announced not just a new feature or capability set, but a new CAD methodology that it claimed to be the biggest MCAD breakthrough in a decade called Synchronous Technology. At the time, the announcement was actually more speculative than a true demonstration, but nonetheless, from the beginning, the concept and its implications were pretty intriguing. Synchronous Technology that forms the basis for synchronous modeling were integrated into the then-newest versions of Siemens' MCAD products - NX 6 and Solid Edge ST. Using NX and Solid Edge as vehicles, Siemens PLM Software became the latest MCAD company to tout the advantages of non-history-based design
methods. However, NX had a notable difference with the way synchronous technology was implemented in what the company called Design Freedom. Also, NX differentiated itself with the fact that synchronous technology could be used in both history and history-free modes.

It wasn't all that long ago that NX's interface was known as being quite intimidating. However, with NX 5, a lot of that began changing as the UI became much more Windows-compliant, and, therefore, more user friendly. A big part of the movement toward ease of use were NX's “Roles” that let you customize and limit the UI by hiding tools that you are unlikely to use. This is especially important to new NX users, or so-called casual users who can use the default Essentials role. In this default role, the command buttons displayed both icons and the command name. If you wanted a more comprehensive set of tools, click the roles tab in the resource bar and select a more advanced role. It
you have used an earlier version of NX, you can reinstate your previous UI layout from the Last Release folder in the roles palette.

The UI, roles, and customization combined are what help give NX the ability to accommodate a wide variety of users and workflows.

Like virtually all MCAD packages, parts in NX usually begin with sketches as one of its several available design approaches. The sketcher is an NX tool for creating 2D geometry within a part, and each sketch is a named collection of 2D curves and points on a specified plane.

NX sketcher tools let you capture design intent through geometric and dimensional relationships, collectively referred to as constraints, to create parameter-driven designs that can be updated later. Sketcher continuously evaluates constraints to ensure that they are complete and do not conflict. Sketcher also lets you create as many, or as few, constraints as required.

You use NX's sketcher to freehand a sketch, and dimension an outline of curves. You can then transform the 2D sketch into 3D using tools such as Extrude or Revolved Body to create a solid or sheet body. You can later refine the sketch to precisely represent an object by editing the dimensions and by creating relationships between geometric entities. Editing a sketch dimension modifies the geometry of the sketch, as well as the body created from that sketch.

You can position a feature, such as a hole or groove, relative to the geometry on a model by using positioning dimensions. The feature is then associated with that geometry and will maintain those associations whenever you edit the model. You can also edit the position of the feature by changing the values of the positioning dimensions. If the model is edited later, the associated drawing and dimensions are updated automatically.

NX uses the concept of associativity to link separate pieces of information together that helps automate part design. Associativity is used to indicate geometric relationships between portions of a model. Associativity is used when creating geometry. For example, an object may be part of the model (in Modeling) or specifically linked to a single view (in Drafting). These relationships are established as you create a model. In an associative model, constraints and relationships are captured automatically as the model is developed. For example, in an associative model, a through hole is associated with the faces that the hole penetrates. If the model is later changed so that one or both of
those faces moves, the hole updates automatically because it is associated with the faces.

In NX all drafting objects are associative. Some drafting objects, like dimensions, are linked directly to geometry so that they automatically update when changes occur. Other drafting objects, such as notes, are associated to a position rather than specific geometry. Some drafting objects, such as labels, ID symbols, forms and positional tolerances, can be associated to either the geometry or to a position.

You can associate non-geometric information with objects and parts. You can also link attributes to objects in order to record special characteristics of the objects.

There are two types of attributes - system and user-defined. System attributes are recognized by the system and assigned by a user, such as when you assign a name to an object or a group to aid in the selection process, the system will recognize that name until you explicitly change it. User-defined attributes are those that you create, but have no meaning to the system. For example, you may associate attribute information to a group of geometric objects so they appear correctly in the bill of material for the product.

You can position a feature relative to the geometry on a model by using positioning dimensions. The feature is then associated with that geometry and will maintain those associations whenever you edit the model. You can also edit the position of the feature by changing the values of the positioning dimensions.

Other NX applications (such as CAM and CAE) can operate directly on solid objects created within Modeling without translating the solid body. For example, you can perform drafting, engineering analysis, and NC machining functions by accessing the appropriate application. You have to remember to save changes made to your layout before entering the Drafting application. If you do not save the changes, they are gone when you return to the Modeling application.

NX has two modeling modes - history and history-free - and you can take advantage of the benefits of each - sort of a best of both worlds sort of thing. The two modeling modes and the ability to switch between them are what set NX 6 apart and constitute Design Freedom, however, Synchronous Technology works in either of the modeling modes. Because you can use both modes in NX 6, you might find that the history-free mode is well-suited for the conceptual stage of a design and the history mode well-suited for the refinement stages of a design.

In history mode, you create and edit models using an ordered sequence of features that are displayed in the Part Navigator. This mode is most useful for parts that are highly engineered. It is also useful for parts that will be modified using predefined parameters based on the design intent built in to their sketches, features, and feature order used to model the parts.

In history-free mode, you create and edit models based on their current state without an ordered sequence of features - only local features without a sequential structure are created. Local features are unique because they are created and stored in history-free mode. Modifying a local feature affects only the local geometry without the need to update and replay a global feature tree. This is one of the primary reasons that local features can be edited much quicker than features in history mode.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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