Synchronous Technology

NX 9 Advances 2D Modeling While Delivering Industry Enhancements

Touting what it claims to be the most significant upgrade to its CAD platform since introducing Synchronous Technology several years back, Siemens PLM Software took the wraps off NX 9, which innovates in the area of 2D modeling and has features that promote the company’s turn toward an industry-specific focus.

Unlike the last few previous versions of the software, the NX development team took a step back with the 9 release to re-examine several key design workflows that have historically been a struggle for its user base, according to Paul Brown, the company’s senior marketing director of NX product engineering. One such workflow is 2D modeling, an area that has been historically neglected by the CAD companies as they shifted attention to 3D capabilities, Brown says.

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Solid Edge with Synch Tech 4: Shifting Focus from Geometry Creation to Assembly Management, Analysis, and Visuals

The premiere of Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology (SE with ST) in 2008 was a watershed moment. The ease with which the software allowed you to create and edit geometry with little or no concern for feature history challenged many conventions of mechanical modeling. It also opened the floodgate among parametric CAD vendors to pursue their own versions of history-free CAD.

The next milestone in SE with ST came in the third release, which, for the first time, allowed you to work in Ordered (history-based) mode and Synchronous (history-free) mode. The hybrid-modeling paradigm disproved the long-held belief that it’s not possible — nor is it a good idea — to mix direct edits and parametric edits.

The added functions in SE with ST4 may not make you do a double-take, like the first and third releases did. But they add up to a robust collection of interface refinements that make you significantly more productive and efficient. Most of the enhancements are in assembly treatment, analysis, and visual display, indicating the software is maturing and settling on a stable UI.

Steering a Revolution: In this release, the software introduces several new ways to use the steering wheel beyond the usual push-pull-rotate functions. If you align the steering wheel’s axis to the bottom of a 2D profile and touch the wheel (normally used to rotate faces), your active command changes to Revolve, instantly setting up an operation to revolve the profile into a 3D solid.

You may also use the same steering wheel in assembly mode, not just to drag your sub-assemblies along an axis but to position them along an arc. If you need to place a pair of identical sub-assemblies on opposite sides, facing each other (for example, two caps at both ends of a hollow cylinder), you select the part, activate the Move Copy command, reposition on the steering wheel to a midpoint between the desired distance (in this case, the mid-point of the shaft), and let the additional copy travel along a perfect arc, ending up on the opposite side in a position that mirrors the first.

Placing holes on cylindrical parts also gets easier in SE with ST4. The software gives you the option to slide holes along cylindrical surfaces in a tangent, so you don’t need to do extra work to align the hole with the center axis of the cylinder. Another minor improvement that goes along way: SE with ST has always prompted you with key-point indicators when you’re moving and positioning parts, but in this release, the indicators are a little easier to spot, thanks to the white border around the black symbols.

Straight Talk, Plane Talk: In SE’s Simulation environment (requires simulation license), you can now use two new mesh types. For sheet metal parts, or parts consisting primarily of plates, you can represent the parts using mid-surfaces — 2D planes that correspond to the 3D part’s geometry. For structural frames, you can use 1D straight lines, called Beam Elements, to represent the crisscrossing frames. So why bother? By simplifying the geometry under consideration as mid-surfaces and straight lines, you may save CPU workload in meshing and solving.

Reflecting on Graphics: SE with ST4′s modeling window gives you the option to work in a graphically richer environment, with ground plane reflections and shadows. It also let you work in a Rendering mode, which provides you with a more realistic look to represent your design’s materials and colors. To get ray-traced rendering, however, you’ll need to leave the modeling window and move into the ERA mode (Explode, Render, Animate).

Facing Relations: A new tab called Face Relate in the main ribbon bar gives you a set of tools to build — and maintain — different types of relationships among faces. In theory, it seems straightforward enough. You click a face, click a relationship type (say, parallel), then click another face you want aligned to the first. Suddenly, you have two misaligned faces realigning themselves as parallel faces. In practice, however, I find that the results are often difficult to predict, especially when it involves more than two faces. The order in which I pick the faces seems to produce different results. At times, I also get stumped by the series of choices I need to make before the command executes (for example, whether I want the resulting face modifications to be extended or trimmed, whether I should prioritize the selected set of faces or the model, and so on). I’m hoping, in a future release, the same function  can be implemented with a simpler workflow. (I’d like to hear what you think of this feature. If you have used it, please share your thoughts as comments.)

More reports and blog posts on SE with ST4 will appear as I dive deeper into the software. A print review of SE with ST4 is scheduled to appear in September issue of DE.

For a demonstration of the features discussed here, watch the video clip below.

You Gotta Have Art: Student Designs in Solid Edge with ST

A symptom of an uninspired working life: You begin to think inside the box. In design and engineering, if you’ve been repeatedly told to risk as little as possible, to always conform to a set of aesthetic standards, and to reuse as many preexisting components as possible, sooner or later you’ll lose your creative edge (most likely, sooner).

Many of us think of mechanical CAD packages as tools for designing devices with electromechanical functions. When we begin a project, we already have in mind a rough idea of the standard components we’ll be using. We draw inspiration from existing objects, from last season’s bestsellers. Naturally, we end up designing variations of the same.

That’s why my encounter with the students from professor John Devitry’s class (Utah State University, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering) served as a reminder that we should all strive to hold on to the spirit of experimentation. Devitry didn’t bother telling his students what they couldn’t do with a mechanical CAD program. Consequently, his students turned out designs that many of us wouldn’t even think of attempting in such software.

The work featured in this blog post and video report come from Elizabeth Geyerman, Alan Joseph, and McKay Nilson, all from Devitry’s CAD class. They used Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology, but their designs could easily fool untrained eyes into thinking they come from 3ds Max, Maya, and Rhino — programs better suited than mechanical CAD for form exploration.

In my interviews with them, I learned something I’d nearly forgotten: You gotta have art.

“Well, art is a big part of engineering,” said Geyerman. “I mean, if something doesn’t have aesthetic appeal, no one is going to want to use it or buy it. When I started learning this program [Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology] I thought not only is it practical, it could also be a medium of art.”

If you’re suffering from idea block (the designer’s equivalent of writer’s block), Joseph suggested, “Go to an art museum … try and feel the creativity, doodle … Yes, you can make this assembly or this faucet works, then you can take the outside of that and maybe give it a sort of sculptural look. It’s not just a faucet — it’s a piece of modern art.”

Professor John Devitry is an Adjunct Faculty of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Utah State University. He’s the CAD administrator at the Space Dynamics Lab. Previously, he worked for UGS PLM Solutions (now known as Siemens PLM Software) as the Western U.S. Regional Lead Application Engineer.

For more, watch the video report below:

Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 3: Raising the Bar on Hybrid CAD

In my view, the ideal hybrid CAD modeling experience is one in which you cease to make a distinction between direct editing and parametric editing. In other words, the two modeling methods are so well integrated that you don’t think about what mode you’re in; you simply use the command that suits you as you develop your geometry.

Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 3 (SE with ST3), released last month, takes a significant leap in that direction, putting pressure on its rival who are on the same hybrid quest. This release lets you work on models containing both types of geometry: those created parametrically (what SE calls “Ordered features”) and those created in direct editing (what SE calls “Synchronous features”).

When you launch SE with ST3, you have the option to launch the new document either in Ordered mode (history-based mode) or Synchronous mode (direct-editing mode). By default, if you’re starting a part from scratch, SE with ST3 places you in Synchronous mode. But you can change the default setting. The command is a bit hard to find, but it’s located under the application menu > Solid Edge options > Helpers tab, as check marks.

The beauty of this release is, if you feel the need to start pushing and pulling faces in the middle of an Ordered modeling session, you can simply select the stack of features you’d like to manipulate by direct editing, right-click, then select Transfer to Synchronous command. By doing so, you instantly place the selected group of geometry into the Synchronous category under the Path Finder pane (by default the pane sits on the left, where you would normally find a history tree or feature tree in a parametric CAD system).

Even if you have used classic parametric methods to build your geometry, once you transfer it to Synchronous, it becomes a collection of faces, so you can now use push-pull editing to further shape your geometry. This is not a one-way street. You can go the opposite direction too.

Suppose you’ve been working on a part in Synchronous mode, but need to add a new hole or boss that’s best created in history-based method. You can right-click and select Transition to Ordered. This gives you the ability to start adding new geometry or editing the existing shape using classic parametric modeling methods.

In essence, you can have a Path Finder pane with two stacks of features — Ordered and Synchronous — in the same modeling session. Depending on how you want to edit or shape your geometry, you can either work in Ordered or Synchronous mode–without having to launch a new program window, without having to convert the entire part to one or the other.

Another major enhancement in this release is its Create Part in Place function, which allows you to create and edit a part right within the context of an assembly. In general, CAD programs limit your ability to edit and create geometry in assembly mode. Let’s face it, almost all of them were developed to model parts, not assembly. The assembly mode is best described as the layout mode in 3D space, where you assemble the individual parts you’ve created into a fitted structure.

This presents a headache when you have the unenviable task of creating a component that must fit within a tight corner in an assembly. Traditionally, you take measurements of the space envelope, go into the Part modeling mode, create the part, place it in the assembly, find out where you have clashes, then go back to the Part mode to make adjustment … and you repeat and rinse till all the mess gets cleaned up.

Not so in SE with ST3. When you invoke the Create Part in Place command, you’ll be prompted to specify your new part’s point of origin (its XYZ intersection). Then you’ll find yourself modeling a part, right inside the assembly structure. The other parts are in a lighter shade, deactivated so they won’t interfere with your new part. This gives you a much better option to build a part that’s custom-fitted in the narrow space within an assembly–without having to leave the assembly window.

SE with ST3 also comes with a rendering and animation function. As you might expect, you can drag and drop materials, environment, and light studios to your modeling window to build your scene, then render the setup into a photo-realistic image. I’ll dig deeper into the new release in the next few months, so watch this space.

For more, watch the video demonstration below:

Introducing NX 7 with HD3D Webinar Now Online

  • What is HD3D?
  • How does it change the way you develop, design, and manufacture new products?
  • How can it help you get more out of your design data and enterprise data?

In the Webinar I co-presented with Troy Vanderhoof, Americas NX marketing director for Siemens PLM Software, we addressed these items — and more. In the 60-minute event that marks the release of NX 7 with HD3D, we covered how you might use the software to address CAD (design), CAE (simulation and analysis), and CAM (manufacturing). The presentation is now live.

Traditionally, the 3D geometry of a product lives in a CAD system, and project data, supplier information, deadlines, and the rest lives in another enterprise-level data management system. By bringing them together with NX 7′s visual reporting features, you can eliminate many of the headaches associated with product development.

According to Vanderhoof, Synchronous Technology with direct editing is the single most important improvement added to NX to speed up geometry creation, the task that occupies nearly 80% of an engineer’s time.

In addition to geometry creation, geometry reuse — turning legacy data into 3D data — also happens to be another challenge. Vanderhoof pointed out, “The Copy to 3D capability provides a streamlined path for converting 2D designs into 3D models, without recreating the geometry. This optional work flow enables you to move old 2D designs into new versions as 3D models.”

According to Vanderhoof, more and more designers have begun to perform initial stress tests, FEA tests, and simulations that used to be the exclusive domain of experts and specialists. Advanced simulation in NX 7 encompasses NX Nastran, NX Flow, NX Thermal, PCB (printed circuit board) Thermal Analysis, and other functions. These applications are expected to give designers greater confidence in their products’ stability, durability, safety, and performance.

In computer-aided manufacturing, inadvertently introducing geometry that’s impractical to produce could lead to costly errors and (in the worst case scenario) production shutdown. Vanderhoof explained, “[In NX 7], in preparation for mold making, we can check draft angles, degrees of curvature, wall thickness, and undercuts … There’s also an application called Checkmate to check your corporate standards.”

During the survey, we polled the audience on a series of questions. Here are the results from the live poll:

  • Do you spend time searching for information to support decisions? Yes: 90%; No: 10%
  • Is it common for your company to see engineering changes until release? Yes: 100%; No: 0%
  • Does your company work with CAD Data from different sources? Yes: 85.7%; No: 14.2%
  • Do your engineers spend most of their time editing existing designs? Yes: 46%; No: 53%
  • Does your company have any problems predicting product performance? Yes: 68.4%; No: 31.5%
  • Are you pressed to cut down your product development cycle times? Yes: 100%; No: 0%

Though not identical, Webinar audience responses echo what participants of another survey identified as their top concerns. According to a study conducted by Aberdeen Group, IBM, BCG, and AcuPOLL Research on behalf of Siemens PLM Software:

  • 60% of CEO’s seek better information for product decisions.
  • Less than 40% of engineering man hours add value.
  • 35% of companies continue to see engineering changes until release.
  • 166 days on average are spent building and testing physical prototypes.
  • 30% of time is spent Searching for information to support decisions.
  • 85% of product information lacks product structure.
  • 1-3 companies have problems predicting product performance.
  • 27% of executives say lack of speed is the biggest obstacle to innovation.
  • 95% of new product introductions fail.

Disclosure: I received compensation as a moderator for the Webinar.

For more on NX 7 with HD3D, also read the following blog posts: