Can you do precision CAD, artistic design, and design for manufacturability all in a single application?
VX Corp. (Palm Bay, FL, formerly called Varimetrix) thinks it can. To learn how, it's polling its users to see how they use CAD. First it formed a focus group of mold and die makers, and now it will talk to industrial designers.
Attending the annual conference of the Industrial Designers Society of America (IDSA) here, Robert Fisher, VX's VP of sales and marketing, explained that by integrating CAM with its mid-range CAD, VX hopes to streamline the product development cycle.
The company took this approach when it saw three new trends developing:
First, design shops are being driven to take turnkey responsibility for their projects, instead of just handing off to manufacturers.
Second, to do this, they've been pushing precision design further upstream, to avoid expensive, last-minute design changes.
And, finally, the complication—by pushing precision CAD upstream, you create many casual users, who need extra training.
Put more concisely: "You don't want to wait until the hard tooling and prototypes are finished to find out it's ugly," he says. "So we're trying to provide precision engineering tools for the right-brain thinker, so he can begin to design for manufacturing."
To find answers, VX created a focus group of engineers in the mold and die business. Founded 18 months ago, the group was supplied and trained with VX CAD, and then gave feedback to the company. What did VX learn?
"We had looked only at CAD," Fischer says. "But we needed to ask overall, 'What causes you the most pain?' The answer was documentation and communication between suppliers and customers. So we figured out how to use our website as a communication tool." VX added the capability to export VX CAD files in HTML format to be published on a web site.
"Also, the mold and die makers don't want a completely automated process, they want the tools to help in their decision making," he says. "They say, 'Let the computer do things that require heavy computation, but give me the tool kit for determining the parting line, for example. Don't try to automate my job, because you'll fail.'"
Now, VX plans to use a similar technique to answer its questions about industrial designers, through a council the company will start in February, 2002. This time, the goal is to enhance a product's "shelf appeal," which is how it looks in retail, despite the corporate demand for fast time to market.
"We know we have a lot to learn, since industrial design is so different from mechanical engineering," he says.
Evidently, VX wasn't the only MCAD developer to think this way, since other IDSA booths were inhabited by familiar names like PTC, Ashlar Vellum, think3, and Unigraphics. Just as CAE tools like fatigue simulation have been pushed earlier into the mechanical design chain, so is artistic design. So as more everyday objects benefit from design (iMac, anyone?), many of the established CAD providers are trying to open their software tools to designers as well as engineers. Other efforts seen at IDSA included:
UG/Shape Studio (EDS PLM Solutions, St. Louis, MO) was used to create the MT900 sports car (seeDN 7/16/01)
PTC's (Needham, MA) Pro/ENGINEER Interactive Surfacing Design Extension (ISDX) is designed to combine the precision of parametric modeling with the flexibility of freeform surfacing.
Think3's (Santa Clara, CA) global shape modeling is applied to products as diverse as a pediatric nipple from Kablooe Design, Italian auto designers at Pininfarina, and high-end kitchen and bath appliances from Alessi.
Ashlar Vellum (Austin, TX) has recently rebranded its range of applications to allow designers to follow the trend of more design being applied to everyday appliances, says company president Robert Bou. Its levels of CAD now include Graphite (formerly called Vellum Drafting), Cobalt (formerly called Vellum Solids, now priced at $4,000 including all add-ons), Neon (a $500 product for read-only 3D publishing and limited markup), Argon (a souped-up Neon, that can also create non-history-based geometry), and Xenon (designed as an artistic compliment to a high-end CAD package like Pro/ENGINEER).