If you want to glimpse one intriguing direction CAD could take in the next few years, open your browser and click on www.cosmicblobs.com. There you'll find Cosmic Blobs, a software program developed by Dassault Systemes (parent of CATIA and SolidWorks) that lets kids 7-to-14 years old build and manipulate 3-D models. Instead of using menus, the kids can intuitively apply 3D processes like sketching, squeezing, and rotating through a user interface that resembles a chemistry lab.
Okay, so CAD for grownups will probably never be quite that simple. But, the Cosmic Blobs user interface represents a general concern many engineering-software companies and their customers have: Software is too hard to use. While they'll certainly continue to add features and functionality, software companies over the next year will continue to place emphasis on making their products more user friendly.
Here is a brief list of ease-of-use enhancements to watch:
to incorporate a "functional-design approach" in its Inventor product. Says
Robert "Buzz" Kross, who leads the company's efforts in the mechanical arena,
the feature is like a configurator. Designing for function rather than form is
easier because it's more direct. For example, Kross says, you can design a
shaft, gear, or spring according to the engineering values it will see in use,
such as torque, rather than having geometry uppermost in mind. Wizards
generate the shape of the part.
Solid Edge will continue to refine its hybrid 2D/3D features that allow users to go back and forth between the two modes of design. It's one of many steps the company is taking to make the transition from 2D to 3D easier, including simulating 2D tools engineers use. www.solidedge.com
SolidWorks is enhancing ease-of-use features it incorporated in its current release. Among them is a method for getting directly to the part in a model you want to change. Right click on the part or face and the software peels away other faces so you have an unobstructed view of what you want to work on. www.solidworks.com
SolidWorks' Select Other command provides a list of
possible faces on a model to concentrate on. The software allows engineers
to focus on the face most important to their design
Alibre, known for its user-friendly approach, is making its software even easier to use by, among other things, enhancing its collaborative architecture. The Alibre Assistant (actually a group of engineers at the company's facility) will engage engineers in a collaborative session and guide them through a modeling step. www.alibre.com
CATIA is incorporating 3DXML (Extensible Marking Language) for product lifecycle management (PLM). It should facilitate the sharing of 3D data by enabling engineers to drag and drop files into email and other applications. www.3DS.com
PTC will be embedding rich collaboration tools within its CAD offerings for real-time conferencing. www.ptc.com
Unigraphics has built a knowledge-capture feature into NX so engineers can re-use what they already know. www.ugs.com
Implicit in all these activities is the trend toward moving engineers to 3D CAD technology for more design flexibility. The major roadblock, of course: ease of use. "CAD may be easier than it used to be," says SolidWorks Marketing Vice President Ilya Mirman, "but it's still hard to put what's in your head on the computer." Maybe 2005 will be the year that changes.