Happy New Year! | 10 January 2022
I keep mourning the passing of CAD as a topic interesting enough to keep producing interesting articles about it. It used to be that you didn’t have to look far to find a great technical topic, or a new way to apply CAD tools. On the Solidworks (desktop — do I really have to specify what the name implies?) side of things, for instance, development has been largely uninteresting.
Developments in design technology seem currently focused on 3D printing: improvements in materials, methods, support structures, finer structures, finishes, and machines to go bigger and smaller. The surge in robotics is related to the hardware side of 3D printing, and also is going gangbusters.
Let’s take a look at what general 3D CAD development has achieved in the last decade or so, and then look forward to what we can hope for in the next decade. The big topics CAD developers have tackled include these ones:
Universal file management
Some CAD systems added file management, but others made it less accessible
Is it possible that Solidworks killed off PDM [product data management] as certain individuals were going out the door to create a new venture with built-in data management?
Alternatives to History-based Modeling
T-splines and related technology
Convergent CAD that combines sub-division meshes + NURBS in the same model
i. Sub-d push-pull
ii. 3D scan data
iii. FEA meshing
iv. 3D print meshes
v. Generative techniques for shape optimization
vi. Medical, dental meshes
Application Delivery and Data Storage Options
First, decentralizing CAD from mainframes to personal computers
Then, centralizing CAD back to cloud servers
4. CAD in a database
Much data these days is kept in a database format; it makes sense, as it provides built-in data management and turns the idea of file management on its head
5. Various 3D Print Integrations (although most 3D printing advances have been in materials and robotics)
Moving specialized functions from specialized software into CAD
Not all of these have been ubiquitous, and not all have impacted all CAD users, but most CAD users have access to these solutions when they need them.
Mechanical CAD with 3D scan-and-print has been a great success in specialty areas like medical and dental. If recent wars have an upside, it in the development of next-generation prosthetics, some strictly mechanical, some with newly developed neural interfaces. Scanning and printing have allowed us to customize attachments to individual injuries, quickly replacing and repairing limbs, and even joints.
Big Ticket Disappointments
When it comes strictly to mechanical CAD, I think we’re in a lull period right now. With all these other interesting things to do, the base technology has been forgotten for a while.
At the same time, some of the big ticket items that CAD developers put on the table haven’t really caught on.
Cloud. I think there was an assumption that cloud computing was going to be embraced in the same way that PC CAD was embraced in the 1990s. But it hasn’t. Clearly, it works for some people, but not for everyone.
Synchronous Technology. The ST push by Siemens from a decade ago also hasn’t really caught on in the way I had hoped. I really believe in this technology and its application to general mechanical design. (It is far simpler and easier to control models with ST than using history-based design.)
This tech will catch on eventually, but too many intransigent engineers have too much invested in overly-complex history-based systems, and so haven’t taken the time to understand the real advantages of synchronous modeling.
Where Do We Go Next?
I’ve made predictions about the future of CAD before. I thought engineer-to-order was the next big thing, as would be synchronous modeling. They weren’t. I predicted CAD-in-the-cloud was not going to be the next big thing; so far, this is my closest to a good guess.
And when is A.I. going to show up, or do we not have the piles of unsorted data required to make A.I. successful?
I really hope the idea of converging different types of data keeps developing, as well as mesh manipulation tools for mechanical CAD. There are so many sub-d tools out there that every big CAD developer should buy one just to understand the data type, the tools involved, their usage, and applications of this kind of modeling. We don’t have to re-develop all of this knowledge.
Another thing I hope gets some play are more specialized tools. We already have tools specific to designing sheet metal parts, frames, piping, and in medical fields. I think more needs to be done with plastic, assemblies, resilience, and local design.
Plastics Design. Plastic parts are so hard to design. The outsides are all minute, custom-made details; the insides, that you don’t even see, can be even more difficult to design. We need a series of functional features that can be applied to models. Maybe this requires a special file format just for plastic parts, as with the other specialized techniques.
Plastic designing and manufacturing need to come closer together. The design of the outside shape and mechanical details, and the manufacturing expertise to make individual plastic parts need to be centralized so that a single person can make the decisions about design and manufacturing. Throwing designs over the Great Wall is not going to be a viable solution going forward.
Assembly Design. And we have to do something about assembly design. Right now, it’s a custom approach every time. We need a tool that follows a process for assemblies, and can reuse information on how assemblies go together. Is it rules based? A.I.? Can it somehow learn about different types of joints, closures, and mechanisms?
We need tools that know how to work with horizontal modeling, resilience, top down, layouts, master models — all these are methods that design software should be able to replicate, and even guide you through. We’re at a point where forcing dumb tools to do smart things is just inadequate. Best Practice rules already exist to help people use tools in poorly structured workflows.
Sustainable Design. Beyond software, I’d like to see product development aim to be more durable and reusable, to get away from single-use products, especially in plastics and packaging. As engineers and designers (and, yes, even marketers), we need to have a conscience. Reject bad ideas.
Throw-away products have always been a bad idea, but someone other than the people for whom this is a religious cause needs to stand up and say so. We need to design stuff that endures, and when it doesn’t endure, it needs to be fixable, and when it can’t be fixed, it need to be recyclable. Not that long ago and certainly in my lifetime, we used to have less stuff, but the stuff we had was more valuable. It lasted longer, because it was built and designed with use in mind, rather than crass consumption.
Local Design. Maybe all of this heads back to more employee-owned companies. I don’t think driving the economy with a bunch of disinterested investors is good for anyone, and obviously centrally-managed economies have shown they don’t work. Globalism is a failure.
Certainly we need to learn to do things locally again. The bigger an organization gets (including government), the more corrupt it becomes, the more disconnected it is from the people who make it work, and should be benefiting from it. Stop sending product development and manufacturing to China. Manufacture molds locally again, make microelectronic chips locally again.
These are things I’d like to see in the next decade.
[Matt Lombard has been working with CAD and as an independent product development professional for 30 years. He is the author of eight books on Solidworks and Synchronous Technology. He blogs at dezignstuff.com/about.]
Reprinted with permission from dezignstuff.com/what-are-the-remaining-problems-to-solve-in-cad.
And in Other News
XVL from Lattice Technologies (part owned by Toyota) is an inbetween format that reads files from most 3D CAD programs, then displays them in an XVL viewer, and used for training and parts lists.
XVL can be exported to 3D PDF, Excel, iPads, and so on. As of 2021, it is native on 3Dexperience; back in 2005, Dassault based its 3DXML on Lattice’s XVL. lattice3d.com/company/xvl-technology
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ARES Commander 2022 from Graebert is now in beta, with an emphasis on the 2D processing of Revit and other BIM models, as well as new features for the Touch tablet and Kudo Web versions of the CAD software.
Desktop beta is downloadable initially for Windows and then later in January for MacOS. graebert.com
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Here are some of the posts that appeared recently on my WorldCAD Access blog:
You can subscribe to the WorldCAD Access blog’s RSS feed through Feed Burner at feeds.feedburner.com/WorldcadAccess.
Letters to the Editor
Re: The Complexity of Simplicity
A.I. projects that attempt to replace humans will fail. A.I. projects that attempt to augment humans have a much more likely path to success.
- Randall S. Newton (@RSN_Global on Twitter)
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I recently spent a week working with my colleagues at RIB Software improving the UX and UI in our iTWO software, trying to get a commitment between functionality and usability.
I recall Xerox Parc’s Larry Tesler with his “NO MODES” license plate. I prefer one that reads “NO OPTIONS”, as every option in software is a question to which we programmers have no answer. So we transfer the problem to the user.
I have a new car, the most modern German car, chosen on purpose for being the most digitalized model in its size. It is much more similar to my PC than to my previous car.
You must learn how to use it, as it has lots of options for adapting the car to your convenience. Otherwise, don’t buy this car! Do you really need an acoustic signal when you close the doors? Will you remember that there is a setting for entering car washes? What happens when you forget?
And, of course, it has many “MODES,” which affect my driving. After a day of driving it, I asked the salesman how to stop the car from obeying speed limits, as many of them are nonsense. His solution was completely wrong: he unchecked the “Adapt to road conditions” option; he should have turned on “Ignore speed limits,” which is found in a different menu.
The “Adapt to road conditions” option adapts the car’s speed not only to road conditions, but also to your speed setting and to the car in front. (The car knows the road conditions because it has a GPS; when I tell the car my destination, it reduces speeds in curves, and so on.) Should you think this option is turned on, but it is not, you could easily drive off the road.
Thank you for your insight, your knowledge, and your information.
- Fernando Valderrama
The editor replies: I buy old used cars to avoid the electronics shoveled into new ones, which I experienced when renting cars.
The worst was a Ford Edge, where even the heating and cooling required adjustment through a touch tablet, several menu levels deep -- followed by precise 0.5-degree temperature changes that required repeated taps while keeping an eye on the road.
Subsequently, Ford admitted they had gone too far in the digitalization of the car’s UI.
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Thanks for your excellent updates, professional dialogues, and information. Even for us non-mechanical guys, it’s valuable.
- Michael David Rubin
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Regarding knowledge: I am a huge fan of Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, from which we got the term “paradigm shift.”
Regarding interfaces: visiting one of my sons I encountered a fancy toaster with a novel (to me) interface. Push the Toast button and the bread is transported down. As I have aged, I have encountered many puzzling interfaces that were once familiar. Ten-15 years ago I could not open the car window to pay the toll.
The editor replies: I bought a T-fal toaster, because its designers were featured speakers at a CAD conference. They had slanted the top by 45 degrees, so that we could look into it and see how the toast was coming along. (Turns out I never do that.)
Well, you know the special property of 45 degrees: when the toast is released at 45-degrees, it is launched into the air in an arc to land, most times, on the kitchen floor. Not all design improvements are improvements.
Mr Schlosberg responds: Speaking, as we were, of toasters, a cartoon showed up.
“Thankfully, there are still hardware Morlocks* to clean up after the mess the Eloi have made.”
- Andrew Orlowski
*) The Time Machine, HG Wells
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