Design takes centre stage

Industrial designers and engineers from around the world came together in Southern California recently to see the latest advances in 3D CAD. Alan Johnson was there.

WITH industrial design becoming increasingly important, it was not too surprising to see over 4,700 manufactures and designers make their way to San Diego in late January to attend SolidWorks 2008.

Attendees from all over the world went to immerse themselves in 3D CAD, in what was described as the largest CAD conference ever.

As well as hundreds of break-out sessions on areas from CAD administration and management, through to design automation and communication, attendees were given an insight into future products and technology direction, with a sneak preview of SolidWorks 2009, to be delivered later this year.

Following major changes to the user interface (UI) last year, Jeff Ray, SolidWorks’ CEO, said the R&D department had re-aligned its focus for the 2009 version to reliability, scaleability and performance.

Ray said the new focus was more a matter of raising the bar rather than any problems with the product.

“With 08 we expected the adoption to go a little bit slower because when you change a UI and you introduce the kinds of things that we did, there’s going to be a natural reluctance to change more quickly,” Ray told Manufacturers Monthly.

He is expecting no such problems with SolidWorks 2009, and judging by the thunderous applause each new enhancement received as it was announced, the next version will be resounding success.

Productivity improvements were highlighted at every stage, with the development crew conducting a side-by-side comparison of 2008 and 2009 versions on two identical computers. They opened a 10,000 part assembly, inserted a 3-view into a drawing, added a shaded assembly, making changes then going back to the drawing for the update.

The difference was chalk and cheese. Once open, 08 took nearly two minutes to complete the task, while 09 did it in less than 30 seconds!

The audience also liked the new SpeedPak technology to be included in 2009, especially for opening large assemblies.

Adjusting the new sliders will be easy as the model eliminates what components are loaded. A view bubble shows the assembly has been drastically simplified, with only the viewed part going into memory. This greatly reduces the time needed to load the assembly, with the company claiming a five-fold increase in performance.

Users can also create a BOM in an assembly. When a user edits a field in that BOM, it updates the corresponding custom property.

There are also toolbox enhancements, where users can change configurations right on the screen and update bolt size using Instant 3D. The measure tool now supports dual measurements; imperial and metric.

There are also sketching enhancements where sketch dimensions are added automatically plus they can be resized at the same time. The ability to use negative dimensions has also been added.

As well there are new slot tools to make sketching easier, as well as simplified operations which remove extra steps from sketching tasks with dimensions updated accordingly.

A new sheetmetal toolset allows user to define angle and bend simply by clicking on faces and edges of a solid. SolidWorks then wraps the sheetmetal around the solid forming an enclosure.

For those into plastics, a new lip and groove feature allows the geometry to be created, with a few simple clicks, for mating both parts automatically.

There is also a new magnifying tool which follows the mouse on the screen, eliminating the need to zoom in and out, as well as advances in Cosmos to make design validation easier supporting ribbon cabling.

Beyond 2009

Going forward, Ray says the direction is not to automate design but to free the designer up to do what he should be doing, “thinking about a great design.

“I call it making the product a trusted advisor. Imagine someone with a lot of experience sitting on your shoulder saying there’s a better way to do that.

“Alternatively the system can tell that you’re going to want to fillet all of those areas and will go ahead and apply it, or I know what radius you want to use, because I’ve been tracking what you’ve been doing recently. Someone who’s right there helping you move it along more quickly.

“Right now the beauty of Cosmos is it’s associative and you don’t have to manually move your file, your assembly or your part over to Cosmos.”

The next step, Ray says, is being more intuitive… “To anticipate what you are trying to do”.

“If I’m designing a mobile phone, for example, in the future the software will recognise my pattern of behaviour. It will know that I’m going to drop it from a height of one or two metres onto a hard surface and I’m going to test several different points. It’s going to know that based on the history.

“And as you pick a material, it’s going to tell you, while you’re designing it, there’s a better material for you to use. Or, you’ve over engineered it. You don’t need to use the material that you’re using, you can actually use this material and based on the thickness of the shells, you’re going to be okay.

“That’s what we’re working on right now, and its very do-able,” Ray told Manufacturers Monthly.

In Australia

Local distributor, Scott Frayne CEO of Intercad, said the event portrayed SolidWorks’ thinking, “they are not trying to out whizz bang the opposition, they trying to deliver business value through this tool. It’s a consistent message.

“Key issue for us is always speed and performance, click the button and it goes. One major enhancement for 09 that impressed us was the ability to handle large complex drawings, such as oil refinery design with piping and pumping going for kilometres.

“While a few years ago a model with 10,000 components was large, today we have customers working with one million components.

“We find the need for more speed is continuously there, because as the software gets easier to use, people are doing more and more with it. They were the first to deliver ‘test it while you design it’, with Cosmos built into the product.”

Intercad enjoyed a bumper year in 2007 recording 42% growth last year in Australia, as Australian manufacturers realise the benefits of 3D CAD, with Frayne predicting further growth for 2008.

The reason for the growth, Frayne says, is its SolidWorks usability. “On first viewing it can look complicated but after someone has shown you how to navigate around the screen it’s very easy to use.”

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