Software pushes engineering information almost everywhere

Aug. 23, 2007
Your company undoubtedly feels the effects of globalization in the form of shorter product-development cycles and cost pressures.

Edited by Leslie Gordon

Your company undoubtedly feels the effects of globalization in the form of shorter product-development cycles and cost pressures. Electromechanical products, one driver in particular, have steadily increased in complexity, continuously challenging our ability to keep pace and improve against our competition.

Because best-in-class companies have good communication throughout their extended organizations and with their suppliers, we use Seemage software to help make design information available when, where, and however stakeholders require it. This fosters better communication which, in turn, helps boost our ROI.

The well-thought-out suite of Seemage programs lets users manipulate complex multi-CAD models and the various collaborative elements on a PC or laptop without having to know CAD. The authoring tools let users turn product data into meaningful information that can be communicated to the enterprise. And a free viewer lets everyone see the information.

Of the authoring programs, Viz is the most frequently used and, at $2,600, the least expensive. Viz contains essentials for 3D visualization including measurements, sectioning, markups, moving components, bill of materials, ballooning, and even lighting and texture mapping. Viz lets users create marketing images, generatemanufacturing instruction sheets, and share the digital 3D model as executable files (compact, self-contained, and self-playing) or embedded in Microsoft Office documents.

Mockup ($5,200) targets engineering and manufacturing. It expands on Viz, adding kinematics, alignment tools, and interference and clearance checking, as well as geometry updatablity and animations. Unlike other keyframebased visualization software, Mockup lets nearly every property be driven by events. An event is any trigger such as a timer, user interaction, or animation start-stop. Further, animations are highly interactive, integrating software links internally to Seemage, or to external data.

I recently used Mockup to generate interactive assembly instructions that replaced dozens of pages of technical documentation. Eliminating the text also eliminated doing translations for overseas facilities. Best yet, it took only a few seconds to use a supplier's CAD model and update the existing content to reflect the most recent changes.

Seemage Publisher ($10,300) is aimed at those requiring the greatest creative control over content generation and access to nearly every conceivable element property such as color, scale, textures, or meta-data. Publisher has all the features of Viz and Mockup and lets users generate technical publications and export high-resolution images as well. A notable strength is the capability to update and reuse older technical-publication data. New parts and assemblies take on the characteristics of their predecessors for a quick update of changed documents. BOMs, ballooning, measurements, and explode lines are also associative.

The three packages handle CAD translations through the Spatial translator and individually licensed add-ons that support file formats including SolidWorks, Catia, Pro/Engineer, ACIS, STEP, and IGES. Like many CAD-based translators, it has limitations. For example, when a CAD system such as Pro/Egenerates welds or flexible components, the converter requires that CAD modeling package to reconstruct the geometries. We got around the cost of having to purchase the CAD program with some simple Pro/E Toolkit scripting.

The XML-based file format has proven itself a big advantage. Even though it's flexible and easy to work with, XML provides a powerful way to integrate model meta-data such as cost, materials, and revisions that allow applying it to individual part or assembly levels. The format also lets the software scale easily. That means companies can use it on a stand-alone desktop or throughout the company linked to PLM, ERP, or CRM systems.

Another plus: the Seemage file format lets users subdivide assemblies by their parent-child relationships. CAD users are familiar with this file-structure concept. Instead of having assembly information embedded in one file, the assembly file dynamically references subassemblies.

To understand the significance, consider a simple part change in a monolithic system in which assemblies that use a part have its information embedded in the assembly file. Subassemblies in the assembly also contain copies of the information. Changing one component copy necessitates converting the part version in every assembly to maintain accuracy in the monolithic structure. This makes for long processing times. Also, large assemblies might require multiple servers running concurrently to update data.

In contrast, Seemage lets a parent search multiple prioritized locations for updated children. A user might have a top-level file on their local system, but when loaded, children are taken from a central file server, ensuring upto-date information.

Another big plus is that Web, PDF, and Office plug-ins are built on the same core technology as Publisher. This capability let me put a complete digital vehicle with nearly 2,000 parts (1.5 million triangles) into Excel without loss of performance. My IBM T43 laptop (Model 2668-R1U) with 1-Gbyte RAM and ATI Mobility X300 graphics gets a respectable average of 4 frames/sec, with the Seemage application using a modest 400 Mbyte of system RAM. And the size of the Seemage file was a reasonable 10 Mbyte. With the program's decimation and occlusion tools, I further reduced this to a compact 1.7 Mbyte without the model looking like postmodern art.

Lastly, when it comes to the viewer, users can open Seemage files, navigate the assembly tree, mark up, dimension, section, play interactive animations, changerendering modes, and update stored views. The viewer lets users see Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and HTML documents, e-mail attachments, and stand-alone executables. This allows sending design information in the way most convenient to the intended audience.

The software comes from Seemage Inc., 275 Grove St., Suite 2-400, Newton, MA 02466, (617) 663-4947,

— Gordon Benson

Gordon Benson is Senior Engineer at NACCO Materials Handling Group, 4000 N.E. Blue Lake Rd., Fairview, OR 97024, (503) 721-6803, [email protected]

A product log created in Seemage Publisher and displayed in a Web browser shows manufacturing how to prep the weldment.

A 3D digital model of a complete vehicle with nearly 2,000 parts inserted in Excel shows no loss of performance when it comes to interacting with and animating the model.

The viewer displays a 3D digital model.

A technical publication created in Publisher contains a BOM and balloons that are associative with the model. This means that when a user changes the part, the balloons are updated.

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