October 01, 2009

The Future of CAD 2019 as predicted by Solidworks

Guest article by Joseph Friedlander

Your occasional correspondent made a special trip to Tel Aviv (I live out in the sticks in Israel) to the Systematics ( hosted the Tel Aviv Solidworks 2010 Show. This is the one show I try to go to every year to keep up with the tools of the industrial design field. I went with a design teacher whose (30 year ago!) student gratifyingly won an award for a totally automated cable making line (a model of impressive detail, down to the fastener level, in the modeling competition)

For those unfamiliar with CAD (computer aided design) Solidworks is a leading solid modeling program. It features parametric design, which essentially gives priority to relations between features and the constraints binding them. By defining more and more qualities, the design becomes more constrained—and more detailed. (Not just a representation like a picture taken from one angle only, but a solid model of the piece part being worked on is built up in the program’s internal modelspace. Views are then generated or rendered from this for the user to see.) A comparable program is Autodesk Inventor.

The reason CAD is important to the future is that the ability to store manufacturing capability through detailed plans that can drive CAM (computer aided manufacturing) devices can be a big part of what Brian Wang has labeled the ‘Mundane Singularity’—changes that trigger cascading economic growth, doing more with less, improving economic outputs from the same inputs. In a phrase: Exponential productivity.

Those who remember seeing industrial films with about an acre of white shirted, narrow tied engineers and draftsmen drawing some of the 50 tons of blueprints it took to make a major weapons system may be surprised to learn how much is possible in house with a team of two or three people nowadays.

Someone with a big software and small hardware budget today (say the cost of a secretary for a year) can do tests on virtual prototypes, design validation tools; do motion studies, including realistic moving of links and couplings, virtual drop tests, iterative design optmization, fatigue, shape, seismic tests. fluid-flow simulation and thermal analysis (“Finite Element Analysis”) routing of wire buses and packages throughout and between major assemblies, (“Piping, Tubing, plus Wiring and Harness layout”) and considerable pre-modeled parts available for use.

“SolidWorks Toolbox is a library of predefined fasteners, gears, cams, pins and other accessories, based on information found in Machinery's Handbook.”

Other libraries are made by other vendors, but the rule is, if you don’t have to draw it, it saves time (and presumably since the model is from the vendor, always right). Carried to an extreme, in the future, for some designs one need only assemble, not draw, at least in theory…

Jeff Ray, CEO of Solidworks ( which more formally is Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks Corp, gave an entertaining talk during the show about the future of CAD in 2019. (Note that many of these features are described in my terms below owing to the darkness of the hall and the pace of the talk…)
· Touchscreen interface
· lossless data management
· seamless movement of data between mesh/nurbs ( -- Non-uniform rational B-spline (NURBS) is a mathematical model commonly used in computer graphics ) environment simulation in essence, surfaces vs solid modeling.
· Model mimics VR in many cases
· Cool range of data appliances, all wireless to move and design on—PDA/thin flatbook/and 30 inch virtual desktop (all including virtual keyboard)

Developments along ease of use lines from Solidworks Labs

Primitive beginnings: 1982 MIT CAD system --Computer Aided Design Laboratory in 1982, Department of Mechanical Engineering at MIT. Notice the monochrome screen. Yet this was future cool at the time.

A previous article by Jeff Ray about the future of CAD

· Latest and greatest tools in real time. (Seamless upgrades)
· Workflows, special techniques and master workarounds, particular to CAD software, but not to engineering 'CAD overhead' will disappear
· Every operation on every part or assembly will be automatically recorded, saved and preserved.
· Access a design from any place, from any device, at any time and do what you need to do with it
· Simulation will become one and the same as design. As you create products, CAD will run FEA, (Finite element analysis—stress testing) cost analysis, manufacturability testing, motion simulations and more.
· Large assemblies open, photorealistic images render and simulations complete in realtime as perceived by humans..."

Key predictions are similar to those in Microsoft's future vision on manufacturing---

touch pads/tables/surfaces everywhere, all wireless, all seamless, e-paper able to take sketch scans and transfer it to any device, (amazingly cleaned up, a cynic might note, into a 3D model that today would take a number of minutes to make at best, albeit in ‘sketchy’ lineforms…)

The number of licenses Solidworks has out there is over a million, of which the majority are educational, a large minority industrial.

I took a moment to meet and thank Mr. Ray after his presentation, and offered this suggestion: Make a special non-time limited version of Solidworks to generate part geometry, and allow it to save in Google Sketchup format. Forget all the features that would tempt people to try to game the system, and just allow part creation and assembly. It shouldn’t even print, or save in Solidworks format—just Sketchup.
Why? The vast user base of Sketchup— most of which are not Solidworks users, many of which are student age.
It’s hard to beat free as a cost (google sketchup)

(There is a premium version of Sketchup available, but with a comparatively tiny user base)

The vast 3d Warehouse Library

Now also parts catalogs within—over 100 million parts

"SketchUp users are now just a mouse click away from more than 100 millions of standard parts coming from leading suppliers: Asco Joucomatic Numatics, Assfalg, Atlanta, Bosch Rexroth, Boutet, Burster, Cepex, Chambrelan, Contrinex, CSR, Dirak, Drumag, Elitec, ENOMAX, Enzfelder, Euchner, Expert, Festo, Ganter, Genustech, Gerwah, GMT, Halder, Hervieu, HP Systems, Hydropa, IFM, Igus, INA/FAG, Item, ITV, Kabelschlepp, Kinetic, Legrand, Legris, L'Etoile, Mädler, Mayr, Mecalectro, Misumi, Norelem, Norgren, Normydro, Nozag, Pinet, Progressus, Quiri, Rabourdin, Rodriguez, Rohde, Römheld, Rötelmann, Rud, Sapelem, Schmalz, Schmersal, Siam-Ringspann, Sick, SNR, Socafluid, Somex, Stauffenberg, Ströter, Stüwe, Suhner, Sumer, Telemecanique, Trelleborg, Wefapress, Winkel, Zimm and more."

The idea is that students need to practice for the many hours it will take to learn construction and assembly of subcomponents into models—but this way they could be training for jobs in industry using Solidworks –at least being far more employable to manufacturers than a novice because they would be able to cut their on the job training down to the advanced commands.

Issues with the way Sketchup handles data—again, surfaces vs. modeling

In user interface lingo, SketchUp is much more "modal" than DesignWorkshop. The SketchUp user has to put the software into the correct state, by selecting the specific right tool, in order to perform any task. SketchUp provides some nifty enhancements to the classic surface modeling operations, such as connecting faces so at times they move and stretch together. But with the surface-based approach, SketchUp is playing catch up to what's almost automatic in the direct manipulation of solids.

Google SketchUp 7 wants to shape you into a 3D artist

Aside from drawing, you can also access Google's 3D warehouse, which allows you to search for 3D models while in the software and place them into your creation. The sheer number of models is impressive. You can choose from people to buildings to cities to just about anything. I searched for a dog to place in my model and the 3D warehouse returned almost 2,000 results. Simply put, you'll be able to find almost any object without much trouble… SketchUp 7 does ensure that it's easy to take and attribute credit for important creations by acknowledging the designer when the models are shared. For simple dog designs, that probably won't matter much. But for professionals creating 3D models to show to clients or to show off their ability, the credit feature becomes an important part of using the product, especially as the 3D Warehouse grows.

The incentive to tempt students into learning Solidworks would be being able to get a reputation as a great modeler for the Google 3D Warehouse. It would be something cited on the kid’s resume. It would be an on line portfolio that could get a kid hired.

The reason for Solidworks to port their student version to a free version that could not print but only save to Sketchup file format would be to increase their market share of future modelers WITHOUT cannibalizing their future sales—i.e. real corporate Solidworks users would not want to mess with file conversions of uncertain thoroughness and accuracy, and could not print or share their work as Solidworks files.

Now it is an open secret that a lot of software companies turn their gaze away from a certain amount of copying of their (expensive) product by students. It increases market share probably, and the base of future paying users, some say. My own reaction is that this posture teaches kids to be sneaks.

In The Wealth and Poverty of Nations: Why Some Are So Rich and Some So Poor, by David S. Landes. Boston: Little Brown, $55.95.

Landes gives the quotable prescription for prosperity on a micro as well as macro scale; “work, thrift, honesty, patience, tenacity.” Doing a good design on computer, as does programming inculcates all those qualities—except possibly honesty, if the price of admission is an illicit copy. Thus my suggestion.

It would be far better not to tempt people to make illegal copies to help students out. One way around this dilemma would be the solution outlined above: A free version of Solidworks but which cannot print or save but for Sketchup format.

Those who have spoken to me know my economic predictions for the current crisis, which may be briefly expressed as (for many but not all countries): Seven bad years. In times to come, kids will need as many ways to build their salable skills as possible, and cheap and universal CAD access that builds their reputation at the same time as enriching the world’s library of open source design seems a win-win solution.

Seven bad years for everyone? No, not for everyone. Those who produce a real product or service that cannot be done without—both those conditions apply—have a good chance to make it.

A real product or service—that CAN be done without-- is not enough. See the Baltic Dry Shipping Index for details.
Revealed the Ghost Fleet Recession from the Daily Mail

Design work—and the time used to generate it—can be like a craftsman making goods for the shelf during a dull market, to sell in a better one. It is a way—an imperfect way—to store time while building value—your own skills—and wealth—the open source library of designs.

During the Depression, many people waited for the world to improve by designing elements of a better world during their idle time. Many of those designs and inventions found good use in the War and post-war eras. It’s not a great solution. But it beats moaning about what can’t be changed—while preparing for what can be implemented later. Sometimes a rollout delay leads to a better product. Let’s make it so in the future we hope to build together.

A Video of Jeff Ray from Sept 2008 Where He Also Talks About Future CAD

blog comments powered by Disqus