Machine Design

Smart modeler guides designers and makes changes fast

It's not uncommon for designers to need to know how a model was constructed before altering it.

The Sheet Advisor module in SolidDesigner shows a progressive die in operation. The step-by-step manufacturing operations appear in the tree to the left. A cost analysis (not shown) considers materials, thickness, and the number of bends for several part quantities.

Without such information, making major changes can be time consuming or worse, force designers to almost start over. The shortcoming exacerbates with every design project because each review can change its direction.

SolidDesigner 2001, a solid-modeling program, simplifies extensive model changes by letting users make quick changes at any stage in the design process. Most importantly, it lets designers work creatively without being constrained by earlier design decisions. Designers can extensively change geometry without knowing its history. This so-called dynamic modeling can lift enterprises to a higher level of collaborative product design by letting product-development teams share and explore ideas, and make faster decisions. The ultimate payoff? Quicker buy-in by management and reduced time to market.

The program imports geometry from any source using a simple drag-and-drop operation. With this kind of performance, I can usually import a part from Pro/Engineer and make changes to it faster than the original designer making the same changes in Pro/E.

As a test, try this with your modeler: When a design project falls behind schedule, break its model into several smaller tasks and delegate them to different engineers. Chances are, it's not possible. But SolidDesigner lets us divide an existing model in several subsections and dole them out to team members. Later, we simply reassemble the sections. Another tactic has been to copy a section, for example, the complex geometry of a useful feature, from another project and incorporate it into a separate design.

We also play "hot potato" with designs. Someone working on a project may be pulled away to work on a different project. With this modeler, another engineer can step in without missing a beat.

The gas-valve manifold was modeled in another CAD package but without the green fillets necessary for production. SolidDesigner imported the model and added them without difficulty.

Optional modules extend the dynamic modeler's capabilities. The integrated analysis package, Design Advisor, for example, lets designers investigate how a part will behave under load, or in extreme temperatures. The database in the analysis program holds 900 different materials, and users can add more.

The Sheet Advisor module for sheet-metal work helps ensure 3D designs will unfold and can be manufactured. The module works with the modeler to bridge the gap between CAD modeling and sheet-metal manufacturing. We also successfully pass 3D geometry to third-party analysis packages like MSC.Working model and Pro/Mechanica.

Rewriting the formerly Unix program for Windows greatly improved the user interface. For example, to move a face in our previous CAD system, you had to select Modify 3D, then Move Face, pick the face, and make several more selections. With the new system, just click on the face and arrows appear. Drag an arrow as far as needed in any direction or type in a number to specify an exact distance. It's obvious what to do.

All this contributes to the ease of use. On several occasions after hiring engineers, we decided to omit their formal CAD training after they showed proficiency gained from a week or two of experimenting with the software.

Although the documentation has improved substantially over the years, there's still room for improvement. The Help function, while better than the previous version's, still assumes a certain amount of knowledge about the program and tools. The good news is, however, that the modeler is so intuitive the Help function isn't that important. And the developer is generally available and responsive online.

The Mold Design Advisor module for SolidDesigner provides guidance when designing plastic parts. The user has selected the ribs on the side of the part. After picking Apply, the advisor will resize the ribs to user requirements.

The 2D-annotation package could also use more attention. Annotation comes from ME10 running behind a SolidDesigner front end. It has improved over the years but lacks the finesse of the rest of the program.

These issues are mostly minor inconveniences. When people choose a solid modeler, they should focus on finding a powerful tool that gives them the freedom to explore design alternatives and the power to work quickly and efficiently. SolidDesigner shines in both respects. It comes from CoCreate Inc., 3801 Automation Way, Suite 110, Fort Collins, CO 80525, (970) 267-8000, -- Daniel White

Daniel White, a design engineer at Xerox Engineering Systems in East Rochester, N.Y., has been doing mechanical design for 21 years. He develops engineering printers, copiers, and scanners.

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