By Margaret S. Gurney
solidThinking Inc. (Troy, MI), an industrial design company whose software of the same name enables product designers to capture, explore, visualize, and present their ideas in 3D, is launching version 7.6, its latest version for Windows and Mac users. The global rollout, which follows the company’s recent acquisition by Altair Engineering, Inc. (Troy, MI), offers an updated rendering engine, a streamlined user interface, photorealistic content functionality, and user-centric tools that ultimately shorten the product-development cycle by reducing physical prototypes and avoiding the need to reinterpret designs between designers and engineers.
The company says solidThinking sets a new productivity standard for product design and presentation, as it integrates completely with CAD/CAM/CAE systems, providing editing flexibility, accuracy, and simultaneous parameter and control-point editing. Plus, it lets you produce high-quality photorealistic 3D renderings and explore colors and finishes with ease, according to the company.
|"solidThinking’s Construction Tree technology uniquely delivers unlimited fluid interactivity with the design model allowing the user to evaluate any design alternative in real time. This capability frees users from typical design constraints and even provides the ability to interactively switch from parameters manipulation to control points direct editing of an object — without worrying about breaking the model history.”
— Alessandro Mazzardo, VP of product strategy and marketing, solidThinking
solidThinking offers global illumination, allowing visualization of a virtual design, and it imparts the benefits of keyframe animation and rotation. Global illumination provides advanced technologies for calculating indirect illumination, enabling accurate lighting simulation and increased realism. It also combines hybrid radiosity with final gather technologies to render realistic images at maximum speed while maintaining image quality.
Advanced Modeling Tools
solidThinking offers such surface creation tools as curves network, n-side, blending, fillet, surface intersections, automatic Boolean operations, interactive trimming of surfaces, and rebuild of curves and surfaces. The new Round command allows you to create constant or variable radius fillets with construction history to handle complex designs. solidThinking also features an advanced polygonal modeler with support of n-side polygons. The implementation of Interactive Subdivision Surfaces with Construction History provides power for refining and smoothing polygonal meshes.
As its basic geometry, solidThinking uses NURBS (Non Uniform Rational B-Splines) modeling and embedded construction history. NURBS can represent any desired shape, analytic, or freeform, and the company says that algorithms are extremely fast and stable.
In solidThinking, variations and changes take seconds, enabling more real-time editing with full interactivity. (For more on this, see the video on YouTube — link supplied at end of article.) Plus, solidThinking allows for simultaneous parameter editing and control-point editing. It offers accuracy and flexibility for curves drawing and a complete set of advanced modeling tools.
solidThinking introduces a new advanced analysis tool to interactively control tangency and curvature continuity. Analysis tools are useful for calculating area, volume, length, and curvature, but they can also be used to evaluate and improve the quality of your design. Surface curvature display, reflection lines, and environment mapping let you visually analyze smoothness, curvature, and other important properties of your models as you edit them. With solidThinking’s advanced curve editing, you can specify position, tangent direction, curve magnitude, and curvature radius at any point on a curve, interactively or by numeric input. These values can be set equal to the values relative to a point on any other curve.
Full OpenGL support lets you work interactively as you design models, assign materials, and position lights to get superior results more quickly than ever, the company says.
Grids simplify the placement of points and objects into the scene with precision. You can define up to four grids, each with its own origin and spacing, grid type, and color, and you can choose from multiple snap options.
Concept Development Process
The Construction Tree allows you to adjust parameters while you’re creating a complex object. When a parameter changes, all the actions down the tree are notified and re-evaluated, propagating the change along the tree. There are no limitations on the number of actions or objects in the tree.
"Our goal, in developing solidThinking, has always been to exploit user creativity. It is not just a tool for developing and reproducing nice shapes and concepts," said Alessandro Mazzardo, vice president of product strategy and marketing at solidThinking. "solidThinking’s Construction Tree technology uniquely delivers unlimited fluid interactivity with the design model, allowing the user to evaluate any design alternative in real time. This capability frees users from typical design constraints and even provides the ability to interactively switch from parameters manipulation to control points direct editing of an object — without worrying about breaking the model history.”
“Together with a fully integrated visualization environment, we see solidThinking exponentially accelerating the concept development process," he adds.
Other advanced features include feature-following anti-aliasing (FFAA), which “brilliantly” performs extra anti-aliasing around features in the image, and image postprocessing, for adding effects such as lens flares and depth of field, says the company.
solidThinking also offers 2D and 3D automated dimensioning of horizontal or vertical aligned linear dimensions, arcs and circle radii, curvature radii of NURBS curves at any given point, diameters, edges, and angular dimensions.
Plus, the software’s open architecture design directly supports third-party commercial rendering systems — including Maxwell Render and PhotoRealistic RenderMan — providing seamless integration to deployed or preferred rendering applications.
Proven Speedy By Designers
While solidThinking might not be as well known in the U.S. as Altair is, the software has already proven itself in its native Italy, where brothers Alessandro and Mario Mazzardo started the company in 1991. solidThinking has been used by Italian design firms and industrial designers for everything from jewelry and electronic devices to furniture and yachts.
"solidThinking,” says Alessandro Mazzardo, “is an extremely flexible, ‘what-if’ design software that empowers the creative community — industrial designers, style centers, conceptors, design firms, and anyone who creates product concepts — to invent, explore, and evaluate new ideas easily, rapidly, and cost-effectively, without the limitations of traditional software."
"The solidThinking design community benefits from having one of the fastest, most deeply integrated rendering engines available to produce high-quality photorealistic virtual models," says Mario Mazzardo, the vice president of product strategy and management, at solidThinking. "solidThinking compresses the product-development cycle by narrowing the spectrum of viable concepts virtually, reducing the number of physical prototypes, and avoiding the need to reinterpret designs between designers and engineers."
Courtesy of Mizutani
Companies use solidThinking to develop products ranging from furniture, electronic devices, automobiles, lighting, shoes, jewelry, timepieces, sports equipment, and yachts to consumer packaging, and more. Some of the world’s designers that use solidThinking for developing products and packaging include Azimut Yachts, Bulgari, Cartier, Diesel, DuPont, Fujitsu, MacGregor Golf, Merck, Nestle, Nikon, Toshiba, Toyota, Volkswagen, and Volvo.
In the June 2008 issue of Desktop Engineering, Mike Hudspeth mentioned solidThinking as one of a couple of “popular surfacing tools … pretty popular in Europe and available for the Mac, and, as its name suggests, does solids, too.” (See “Are You Scratching the Surface? Part 2: Going beyond geometry to use MCAD applications to develop Class A surfaces.”)
It comes as no surprise then that solidThinking is available in Chinese, Chinese Traditional, Japanese, Korean, Italian, German, European Spanish, French, and Malay.
To further solidThinking’s adoption across business sectors and geographies, Altair is well positioned to develop sales channels and support expertise. Robert Little, who was previously president of Altair Engineering Canada, Ltd., and now serves as president of solidThinking, says "solidThinking 7.6 offers members of the global industrial design community an environment that will boost their ability to explore new ideas and excite their colleagues with images that are undeniably realistic, at a price point that offers excellent value and return on investment."