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Speed Enables Pushing the Boundaries of Design

By Steve Robbins

The big deal in design engineering over the past few years has been speed. Everyone is talking about it. Rendering and designing large complex models is blazingly fast on new workstations. Simulations are taking minutes instead of hours. Intel and AMD are in a race to add even more cores to their microprocessors to trim time from calculations and do more in narrower windows. During a recent conversation, an Intel executive touted a 10X speed increase over existing technology in the next two and a half years.

I keep asking myself, “how are software vendors going to keep up?” Toolsets for multicore programming are becoming more functional. Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2010 combined with Intel Parallel Studio, helps software developers to take advantage of multicore processing. All of this means better tools for design engineering teams. Still, blazing speed doesn’t improve functionality.

I use Microsoft Word in my profession. It is as instrumental to me as your CAD platform is to you. Word has evolved over 27 years and is a great word processor. I’ve been using it since 1988. Yet, in the version I currently use, I still can’t figure out how to stop the annoying help window from appearing every time I start the program. Even worse, some changes occurred during the last upgrade of our network. This change has blocked my ability to add tools to my toolbar. Even my network administrator, a genius in my opinion, can’t find the solution. I’ve even tried the help function!

I recently attended the launch of AutoCAD 2011. I was impressed with the effort Autodesk is making to add user requested features and to integrate functionally across all AutoCAD platforms. While learning CAD isn’t rocket science, rocket scientists use it, and at the beginning most of them had to learn CAD. Autodesk has created a consistent user interface across all platforms to smooth the transition between different versions of Autodesk products. A designer could start with AutoCAD LT, move to AutoCAD Mechanical, and ultimately end up using Autodesk Inventor without having to relearn menus and functions for each program.

Autodesk has also added new design tools including point cloud support, new surface modeling tools, inferred constraints and hatch command enhancements, as well as transparency for objects, multifunctional polyline grips that make editing polylines faster and easier, and the ability to select or create similar objects that use the properties of existing objects.

Inventor 2011 has included some new features that make simulation more accessible and faster for designers. Digital prototyping is enhanced with a visualization tool that renders amazingly fast. Inventor iLogic is now fully integrated, simplifying rules-based design.

Still, according to Autodesk, because of simplification and enhancements to the user interface and functionality, AutoCAD and Inventor have cut the time it takes to complete common design tasks by as much as 40%. There’s that speed thing again. We just can’t get away from it, faster is better. And that’s the beauty of design software for engineers.

Software developers will always find a way to use all that computing power and speed to amaze us, creating functionality that continues to push the boundaries of the designs you create.

Steve Robbins is the CEO of Level 5 Communications and executive editor of DE. Send comments about this subject to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.

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