By Al Dean
The first thing anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Delcam ’s PowerSHAPE modeling system notices upon opening Version 7.0 is that the user interface (UI) has received a pretty extensive overhaul. Delcam has spent time and effort looking at the UI, rationalized and consolidated it, and has taken the already efficient and clean interface and built a fresher working environment.
This re-creation manifests itself in two ways. First, the interface has been redeveloped both functionally and aesthetically. All the icons have been reworked to not only clearly convey their functions, but to also ensure consistency throughout the various areas of operation. Second, Delcam has changed the way you access your modeling commands. Traditionally, operations were accessed via drop-down menus accessed through icons split into functional areas (i.e., lines, polygons, splines/curves, text, surfacing, solids, and features). In 7.0, the same icons exist at the top of the screen, but invoking one opens up a vertical toolbar that contains operations for that particular workflow.
Alongside the UI rework, this release is evidence of a massive focus on the surface modeling workflow. As anyone ever involved with surface-modeling processes knows, it’s pretty complex stuff, and the reasons are manifold, but in short it boils down to a simple statement. Creating explicit surface entities is always going to be a complex process, as the inputs, in terms of networks of curves and such, always mean that it’s going to be a drawn-out process. Add to that the fact that many other systems have been built without any support for explicit surface-type entities, and you’ve got an environment ripe for innovation.
While still other systems have been designed mainly to support surface modeling, PowerSHAPE is one of the leading lights. But while the system has always had a wealth of dynamic and interactive surface modeling tools, just as others have, it’s still a relatively complex process for new users when compared to other systems on the market. PowerSHAPE 7.0 shows this change with the introduction of new technology which, while not providing anything new in terms of actual surface geometry, does raise the bar for creating those forms.
This new technology is called Smart Surfacing and it intends to remove much of the pain associated with surface modeling. It allows the user to create the network of curves, lines, and arcs that are always needed to create surface entities using the dynamic tools that have always been within PowerSHAPE (using the intelligent cursor that’s always been there). But now it removes the bottleneck created when trying to select the surface type that should be used to create the required geometry—one of surfacing’s black arts. While the expert will inherently know, choosing between a patch, a loft, a sweep, a fill-in, or a surface from a network of curves can be a real headache for the new or casual user and can cause problems downstream.
Smart Surfacing lets you select the geometry you want to base the surface on—whether an explicit 3D curve, an existing surface edge, or other reference—before the system cleverly selects the most appropriate surface needed to create that form. You start by selecting the base geometry and as you add more selections to that set, the system selects the most appropriate surface type to use, whether that’s a Planar Fill-In surface, a Loft, or a Drive Curve Surface. If we take a look at an example of creating a relatively complex surface for a motorcycle seat, things should become clearer.
Smart Surfacing allows you to get closer to an ideal solution quickly and switch between potential solutions to the problem, while having PowerSHAPE readapts the preview to show you the results in full 3D. This allows you to make more informed decisions about the possible solutions. If you don’t like any of the results, you can dive in and define the surface manually. To back this up, there’s also been work done to make the process of trimming, intersecting, and connecting surface much more efficient.
Route to Market
Alongside the UI updates and the surfacing workflow programming improvements on this release, another change handles how Delcam is taking PowerSHAPE to market and getting the message out. Partly in response to today’s maturing market, Delcam has come up with PowerSHAPE E, a downloadable version that allows potential customers to experience the benefits of the new UI, the new surfacing tools, and all the existing functionality. Work can be saved and there’s no time restriction: it’s yours to use whenever you can.
PowerSHAPE E, however, saves in a proprietary, encrypted format that won’t interact with a commercial license of PowerSHAPE and includes no standard export options. Instead, Delcam has integrated its PS-Exchange data-translation tools, so if you want to use PowerSHAPE E for commercial work, you can, but only on a pay-per-use basis.
I’ve always liked PowerSHAPE. It’s one of those systems that should have sold more than it traditionally has—and the reason for that is Delcam’s concentration on its traditional Mold and Die market. PowerSHAPE has been implemented outside of that traditional sector and is being used by a wide range of organizations and for a range of different purposes–and what links them is the need to create complex forms. The mainstream modeling tools (such as SolidWorks, Inventor, etc.) have gained a great deal of market share, and while these tools are getting more surfacing tools with each release, the fact is that in many cases, there are forms you still can’t model and that’s when you’re going to need a tool like PowerSHAPE.
PowerSHAPE has the potential to sit alongside more mainstream tools, carrying out the work that those systems simply can’t handle. And now PowerSHAPE can get the job done more easily and more efficiently than ever.
Al Dean is Technology Editor of the UK’s leading product development and manufacturing journal, MCAD and is Editor of Prototype, for the rapid prototyping and direct manufacturing industry, both available by clicking here.