The goal of modern engineering software is to share the power of CAD with the masses. Collaboration, PLM (product lifecycle management), and web-based design are all methods for spreading CAD use beyond design engineers, to include management, sales, assembly, maintenance, and customers.
Main theme: The user-friendly Windows-type interface features templates, drag-and-drop utilities, and design optimization wizards.
Problem: No one's ever trained these guys in 3D solid modeling before.
Perhaps that need is what inspired EDS PLM Solutions (Plano, TX) to focus on ease-of-use in its creation of UG NX, the next-generation CAD platform that begins to combine the Unigraphics and I-DEAS platforms (both were acquired by EDS in 2001).
NX will be released in August. It's much more than a dressed-up Unigraphics version 19, says Dave Primrose, EDS' MCAD marketing director. He spoke at COFES, a conference focused on future directions in engineering software. NX takes the structure of UG19 and adds many features of I-DEAS (including interoperability), a collection of add-ons, and enhanced usability.
That usability is the main theme of NX, which combines the powerful design capabilities of high-end CAD with the user-friendly interface of mid-range CAD, Primrose says. It does that with a Windows-type interface featuring drag-and-drop utilities, wizards for dies, design optimization and validation, and a template that generates automatic views and sections when dragged over a CAD model.
And EDS will make NX even easier to use, Primrose says, by adding more process wizards, cleaning up dialog boxes, adding CAE and CAM tools, and integrating more functionality from SDRC.
This focus on usability is sweeping the industry. Both Unigraphics and I-DEAS have traditionally been compared to other "high-end" CAD platforms like
PTC's Pro/Engineer and IBM/Dassault's CATIA. But all three companies have been extending their efforts toward "mid-range" users, with UG's Solid Edge, PTC's Pro/Desktop, and IBM/Dassault's SolidWorks.
With today's powerful desktop PCs, CAE developers are also providing analysis tools with easy-to-use interfaces and libraries full of pre-tested parts.
If this trend continues, it could solve one of the greatest frustrations of the industry—why the enormous market of 2D CAD users have been so reluctant to learn 3D—and its second-most frustrating challenge—interoperability between design platforms.
Which brings us to PLM open. Launched in April, this new software package from EDS acts as a foundation for UG NX and EDS' TeamCenter collaboration products, letting them integrate data throughout the PLM environment. And since it's based on J2EE (Sun Microsystems' Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and Microsoft's .NET, it can also handle software from other providers.
"Mostly only the huge auto companies can get value out of collaboration, which is the most overused word in the world," says Primrose. He thinks this new, open platform can let many smaller companies achieve meaningful PLM. How? EDS plans to license PLM XML for the rest of the world to use.
That open platform will work with heterogenous design applications as well as the full family of EDS and TeamCenter tools. Competing software companies are suspicious of EDS' altruism in doing this, admits Christian Kelley, vice president of marketing and communications for EDS PLM Solutions.
"But the company believes it can benefit more from growing the entire market than by sniping shares of a static market from competitors," Kelley says.
EDS is not yet ready to release the code. First it must address the TeamCenter suite of collaboration products, including the former Slate, Inovie, Iman, and Metaphase. And it must forge complete interoperability between Unigraphics and I-DEAS.
"The first goal is to create a consistent interface, which should happen fairly fast because both companies were already heading toward web-standard interfaces," Kelley says. Next, they will combine common tools like user authentication, security, and login.
Only then will EDS try to create a common data structure designing with a shared BOM (bill of materials) and proceeding to full interoperability.
They have their work cut out for them, Primrose agrees: "Product structure in PLM XML is the next big piece." For more information about CAD from EDS PLM Solutions, www.eds.com: Enter 536