Software Review: Software For Free-Flowing Designs

Feb. 21, 2008
As a bottle designer, I create everything from simple round containers to complex handleware (bottles with built-in handles). For this, I rely extensively on NX 5 design software.

The software is powerful, yet intuitive, especially for sketching and building surfaces. It has a variety of commands that help create associative complex shapes. Better yet, NX 5 lets users combine sketches, surfaces, and solids to create unique and free-flowing models. I create most of my models with surfaces, though the end product is always a solid model.

The software’s editing features are most impres s ive. Constructing a model can take hours, sometimes days, and inevitably customers request changes. With NX, changes are easily edited in the feature tree. Should a change break the associative link, the software notifies you right away by raising “red flags” in the feature tree or generating pop-up warning boxes. These give users several options to repair the model or adjust it another way.

Another plus is that the software helps cut time spent building models. For example, I recently developed what’s called a “seed file” to start every project. The file contains several title blocks, all my common Expressions (in mathematical terms, expressions are combinations of symbols representing a value), and an Excel spreadsheet. After I build a model of any size, the title blocks let me easily pick the proper size sheet to use as a working drawing.

Common Expressions are great for sketching and later when editing. Because Expressions are outside the model or sketch they can be edited by merely changing text. This makes for quick model adjustments. And the Excel spreadsheet eliminates calculator work. NX lets users pull information directly from a model into the spreadsheet. My spreadsheet, for example, has all the calculations I use to figure out volume, wall thicknesses, and surface area. I also have a few built-in equations that help decide how best to change the model and highlight possible problems in the design.

Surfaces have always been a major strength of NX and this is still true. Free-form features such as Swept and Through Curve Mesh create controlled surfaces, while Face Blend trims them to smooth tangent surfaces. Edge Blends are easier to use in NX 5 than in previous versions. The feature lets users blend sharp edges with a constant or variable radius. NX has a variety of ways to create these free-flowing shapes.

Sketcher is better than ever. Users can revise Expressions while still in Sketcher and even reattach dimensions in case the designer wants to change the reference point of the dimension. An Offset feature provides intuitive and easily editable constraints. Editable offsets inside of Sketcher are a new feature in NX 5.

All things considered, my favorite new feature in NX 5 is the Instance Geometry command. It lets users copy geometry along a path, including a spline, a great capability for creating complicated handle grips on a bottle. I have also used the command to create a helix, a relatively complicated shape. A typical helix cannot be associated to a point. NX 5, however, lets users link the Instance Geometry Helix to a point that changes as a user’s expressions change.

Another new and nifty feature in NX 5: Instead of using Help to learn about a command, users can now click on Command Finder (the icon looks like binoculars). Just search for a command or term, such as Trim or Extract Curve. A search provides a dialogue box that lists all the commands that relate and a brief description. Highlight a command in the list, and the command’s icon is highlighted on the tool bar. Commands not on the tool bar are highlighted in the pull-down menu.

NX has always included strong rendering tools. I use them to create photorealistic images to send to customers or use in presentations. The software lets users import background images to put a product into its proper environment. This is a great way to visualize end results of a design. Rendering is an add-on, but well worth the extra cost for those preparing customer presentations.

The software comes f rom Siemens PLM Software, 5800 Granite Pkwy., Suite 600, Plano, TX 75024,

—Laura Kent

Among other useful things, a seed file contains a user’s common Expressions.

The photorealistic image was created with NX5’s rendering tools.

ommand Finder lets users search for a command. The feature then highlights the command in the toolbar or a pull-down menu.

The Instance Geometry command is copying a geometry along a path.

The Sketcher captures design intent through constraints for parametric designs that can be updated later.

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