A CAD modeler for toolmakers

Dec. 11, 2003
Most engineers think of Pro/E as a solid modeler for designing consumer and industrial products. It is. But it has lots of other modules as well. For instance, Pro/Weblink lets users construct wizards to guide users through manufacturing processes. Projectlink handles project-management tasks.
Pro/E Wildfire includes a wide range of integrated design applications for moldmakers including those for cores and cavities, electrode extractions, and mold-base designs. Associativity allows updating the mold when an engineer modifies the original part. An animation opens mold models to show possible collisions and interferences.
The dies looks great, but it doesn't exist -- yet. It's a rendered model that a Wildfire user might show a prospective client. If the client works far away, DCX (Design Conferencing Extension) provides peer-to-peer collaboration so they might work interactively on this model. The strip being processed is visible at the die center.

And Pro/Intralink and PDMLink are for data-management operations. There are others. And it also has functions tuned for designing and manufacturing molds and dies, a capability often overlooked. This review looks at what tool designers can expect from the software.

The software is built on a single architecture so it works well with the developer's other offerings. And full associativity means changes to original designs are reflected in other models based on the original, as long as users remain in Pro/E.

The modeler uses inherited associativity, so copies of original models can be made as inherited models. For example, an inherited model could be modified by adding runner, gates, and holes for casting operations. An associative link connects original and casting (inherited) models. Now if the original design changes, the casting model does too.

The interface is customized for each particular application to lead users through its process. Wildfire's user interface, enhanced over earlier versions, appears easier to learn and use.

A set of rules in templates capture knowledge and best practices for each application or module so new users turn out the work of those more experienced. A database holds rules and lets users adjust them through an Excel spreadsheet. A built-in browser gives users collaboration features to make use of Internet and Web sites. Libraries and templates for machining processes can be stored on the Web, letting company programmers at different sites access them. To support this activity, the developer offers XML Import/Export for transferring files and manufacturing processes over the Web. This means non-Pro/E users can share machining strategies and information through XML files. Users can import XML files, apply their instructions to new models, and generate new toolpaths.

Wildfire includes direct translators for Catia, PDGS, AutoCAD, ACIS, and Parasolid files. It also supports industry-standard translators for IGES, STEP, SET, VDA, and more.

Pro/E Foundation, the basic Pro/E modeling and detailing package, includes Import Data Doctor. It checks imported models for manufacturability or moldability, and has the tools to repair them when necessary. The Doctor detects and repairs gaps, overlaps, and other discontinuities. Users can either fix problems, or lay toolpaths over them with Pro/NC. A Constraint Manager freezes and unfreezes surfaces, sets and unsets edge tangency, and selects intersection curves. This helps the software close gaps and sew surfaces together.

A change-management feature lets users compare original models to changed models to spot differences. They are shown in different colors to indicate material that has been added, removed, and unchanged.

The Tool Design Option (TDO) assists designing molds, dies, and castings. Its operation icons are arranged to lead users through the process. Parts imported into Pro/E are first checked for draft and undercuts. When found, it creates slider geometry to fill the void. TDO also finds parting lines for core and cavity with a shadow technique. It effectively shines a light on a model to find where the draft changes. This generates a silhouette curve between light and dark areas. Parting surfaces are created by knowing a mold's pull direction. Users can modify a parting surface, remove curves, move surfaces from core to cavity, and select tangent surfaces to the parting surface. The parting surface is then split for the core, cavity, and sliders. Uniform or non-uniform shrinkage factors are applied to each dimension when necessary.

For electrode geometry, surfaces are gathered and extended to create a solid, or a model of the electrode stock is trimmed to the mold. Associativity connects the electrode and mold geometry.

The Expert Moldbase Extension (EMX) lets users select premade parametric moldbases and mold components. As in TDO, a customized, process-oriented user interface pushes users in the right direction. EMX's GUI allows quick, real-time previewing before creating 3D components or assemblies. This lets users configure moldbases quickly in a 2D environment but produce a 3D model. EMX captures a company's standards and best practices for mold assemblies and components.

The software supports 19 different mold-base catalogs, including DME and Hasco for components such as plates, screws, and pins. Users can mix and match suppliers, and metric and English standards. Moldbases and components are easily customized either on the fly or from spreadsheets and then saved for reuse.

EMX selects, places, and trims components. It also previews components in scale before they are placed. Cooling channels can be sketched with Pro/E or predefined channels can be dragged and dropped from a library. An interference-checking function looks for problems with other objects and checks for a defined distance from an object.

As users pick and place screws on models, EMX generates their holes and threads. EMX supports multicavity mold bases, so changing the base from two to four cavities prompts the software to move pins and screws and updates the BOM.

Progressive Die Extension (PDX) provides GUIs and wizards that let users work in a 2D environment for tasks such as strip and plate layout where 2D is most efficient. PDX is also associative and parametric.

Die designs starts by unfolding the model and recording the action. Then it's rebent in stages while the software makes a process strip. Bends, punches, and formed areas are identified by colors. A wizard automates strip layout by creating, staging, and adding features to the strip. Extra stages are added to the strip at anytime, even after completing the die. Spring-back is modeled by defining its angle. Piercing-stamp profiles are created based on part geometry. Other components (screws and springs) are provided along with a GUI for each. The software also generates a drawing with live BOM and hole charts. Bills-of-material are called live because they update after adding new components to a model. Reverse-engineering operations are supplied in a module from Raindrop Geomagic Inc., Research Triangle Park, N.C. (www.geomagic.com).

Wildfire comes from PTC Inc., 140 Kendrick St., Needham, MA 02494, (781) 370-5000, www.ptc.com  --Alan Christman

Alan Christman is vice president of CIMdata and resides in Boca Rotan, Fla.

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