Six ways to choose the right CAD for you
Knowing what questions to ask before you buy can take the hassle out of purchasing software
The CAD market today is bewildering to say the least. "There are too many brands out there making the same claims" says Kenneth Kornbluh, president of Sci-Tech International (Chicago), an engineering and scientific computer software mail-order company. "No doubt the market will soon shake itself out," but until then, it can be difficult choosing the right CAD package. The following highlights a few suggestions that Kornbluh offers to help engineers sort through the plethora of software offerings.
Check around to see what your co-workers are using. Then ask: "Who in the company is doing a similar job? What software are they using? Does it do what I want to do?" If so, stop there. Why drive yourself crazy? Having someone on-site who knows the program and can help trouble shoot when problems arise will save money and time in terms of training and associated productivity downtime.
Do not buy based on price. "I urge people not to focus on price," says Kornbluh. If you are in the $1,000 range, look at everything from $800 to $1,400. "There is no relationship between price and value," he says. If you have an unlimited budget, often consumers will buy high figuring that the higher price tag means more functionality. This is the wrong assumption because then people buy a package that is too much for their needs. In other words-overkill. "We caution people not to overlook the product that sells for $500 or $1,000. Today, these lower-priced packages have almost as much functionality and are often easier to use than the high-priced ones."
Define how often you will use the software. Will you use the product every day or once a week? If you use the product only occasionally, you will want a program that is easy to learn and whose operating functions are fairly easy to retain, with a familiar working environment, i.e. Windows or Mac. If you plan to use the software everyday, you may want to examine a more sophisticated level of tools.
Narrow software selections. "There are dozens of CAD systems out there with hundreds of add-ons and enhancement products," says Kornbluh. At the start, narrow your selection to a few, say 10 to 15 different programs. Often people choose ONLY brand names. Pick a couple of lesser-known ones as well. All products are different. One CAD engine may be stronger for plastic, one for assembly, one for CAM, one for metal. A single package won't be good for everything, despite what venders tell you. Decide what feature is the most important for your job and narrow your search to programs that are strong in that area.
Check out vendor demos. Potential buyers can usually download free program demonstrations from a vender's web site or else call for a limited-version trail CD. If this fails, visit the SciTech International web site, www.scite chint.com. "This will quickly give you a feeling for the program," says Kornbluh. Demos should also give you an idea of the package's compatibility with the rest of your software.
After the demonstrations, narrow the choice down to two or three. Spend time using each one and try to make a basic design. You'll know which one is best for you: It's the one that gets you closest to the desired end result.
Today, "power" CAD users have more than enough tools available to them, says Kornbluh. They sometimes use two different programs to complete one design. Thanks to standardized file formats and increased attention to interoperability, there is better file compatibility between many of the available CAD systems. This is especially helpful, if down the road, you find that you need a different kind of CAD tool. You will no longer be "stuck" with your current system for fear of losing access to legacy data. More and more programs come with built-in translators, making it easier to share data between products.
In the end, don't be intimidated. Have fun trying the various options and choose what you are most comfortable with. Only in this way will you be the most productive and satisfied with your purchase.
Vendors offer these suggestions for potential buyers
Design News approached several CAD manufacturers to get their thoughts on what people should consider when attempting to make sense of the CAD market. Here are their recommendations:
Mike Paludan, Solid Edge (Huntsville, AL):
Analyze the system's lifecycle. Measure the total cost of ownership, including software and add-on cost, hardware, maintenance, and training cost (in both dollars and time employees are away from their jobs) and the length of time it takes for users to become productive.
Make sure everyone in the product development process is comfortable using the system, especially those engineers who are not in a dedicated CAD department. To make an organization most productive, CAD work needs to be done on the desktop where other work is done, not off in the CAD lab.
Dan Starr, Parametric Technology Corp. (Waltham, MA):
Can the system model meet specifications at the feature-level and use those to automatically optimize and adapt the design geometry to meet multiple objectives (e.g. keep the engine crank in balance and minimize the moments of inertia)?
Will the software expand as your company grows? Features to look for include add-ons for sheet-metal, tool-design, large assembly management, routed systems and fully integrated data management?
John McEleney, Solid Works (Concord, MA):
Ask three fundamental, high-level questions:
What are you trying to accomplish?
Why are you trying to accomplish it?
In what time frame do you want accomplish it?
After you've answered these, then ask:
How well does a package integrate with other desktop equipment? That is:
Is the software compatible with that used by your suppliers?
How tightly coupled do you and your supplier need to be?
Do you exchange data once in a while or constantly?
Do you want to do analysis, CAM, or just use as a stand-alone program?
How will the program be supported?
Jim Phelan, Unigraphics Solutions (St. Louis, MO):
Make a business and not a technology decision. Forget features and functions. Don't be fooled by vendors who demonstrate their hot new technology and try to convince you that your company cannot live without it.
Identify three to five vendors to evaluate that have products in your budget range. More than five is probably a waste of time. If you can't find what you are looking for out of your top five choices, then it may not exist.
Invite your vendors in and tell them your business goals. They will ask you lots of questions. Answer them, but make sure they are focused on your goals and not theirs.
Ask for customer reference lists and then call them. Ask about the quality of the CAD software, service, support, and training. Challenge each vendor to prove how their product will help you achieve your goals.
Thomas Roser and Jim Jackson, CoCreate (Fort Collins, CO):
Ease-of-use is critical, but people limit ease-of-use to the user interface. It is so much more. Ease-of-use includes the ability to access data from other CAD systems, making use of designs created either in house or outside, as well as interfacing with other engineers.
A system that does not require an understanding of previous modeling steps and constraints can make an engineer's life easier.
The ability to import and export data seamlessly and work on that data as if it were a native model is key.
Tight integration with your company's data management system is needed. This way designers can leverage data from previous, present, or future designs.
Measure the value of a new system independent of subcontractors because these may change.
Wheels burn rubber with integrated software
La Mirada, CA-Engineers at Optima Wheel Inc. design and manufacture custom, after-market wheels for almost any type of automotive use-from cars to off-road vehicles and light-duty trucks.
"Wheels are much more complex than they seem to be due to the shapes that consumers want-such as swooping surfaces," says engineer Todd Himes. Plus, the wheel has to carry the full weight of the car. So engineers must design a shape that is aesthetically appealing, but also functionally precise. "If it's not functional it can result in loss of life-a critical factor to keep in mind while designing," says Himes.
"We rely heavily on free-form surfacing design to obtain the manufacturable shapes we need," he continues. Himes and associates use the tightly integrated CAD products SurfaceWorks and SolidWorks. "They provide me with a full 3D electronic database that I use to manufacture all our products. I know that what I design on-screen will be exactly what I obtain from our manufacturing operation."
This "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" approach is critical and has enabled Optima Wheel to cut lead times in half. "The technology has allowed us to eliminate 50% of the product development cycle," says Himes. This is key to the company's competitive edge, where shelf lives of products may only be two years.
Before Optima implemented SurfaceWorks from AeroHydro (Southwest Harbor, ME), engineers created and manipulated physical models. Now, "I can conduct multiple what-if design iterations on-screen, determine what model best suits my needs, and obtain what I want faster and more efficiently."
"Before we ever go to market or sink hundreds of thousands of dollars into the product, we keenly focus in the conceptualization stage to see what we will obtain before going too far with planning," he continues.
And this conceptualization is realistic. In the company catalog, Optima shows the actual rendering of a wheel created with SurfaceWorks, SolidWorks, and PhotoWorks instead of a photograph. They designed the wheel and used the CAD drawing to represent the physical product. "Customers couldn't tell the difference," says Himes.
That particular wheel has a scoop in the spoke. "There's no way to design that surface using SolidWorks. I tried and tried but was unable to obtain the shape I needed," he continues. So he used SurfaceWorks, created his sketch geometry and manipulated it to the shape he wanted. "It was fast, easy, and accurate. I sent that model to the mold maker and told him to cut that shape. He integrated it with his CAM system and two days later I had the mold. The process accelerated twofold. It was unbelievable. The picture in the catalog is exactly the same wheel. Using SurfaceWorks, the design took me about 12 hours. Before then, using SolidWorks, I fought for nearly two weeks with no results."
Another critical advantage is the full integration between SolidWorks and SurfaceWorks. "I can model not only the part but also the mold tooling and any other tooling that is necessary for manufacturing. I know all the geometry is integrated and related. The combination of the two packages is a real time saver."
And Himes should know. He evaluated high-priced and other mid-range priced systems such as I-DEAS, Pro/E, Solid Edge, and Mechanical Desktop, sometimes for as long as six to eight months. "Out of all the products, the combination of SolidWorks/SurfaceWorks is the best bang for the buck," he concluded. "For SurfaceWorks, I spent approximately two and one-half weeks going through the tutorial and learning how to use the technology. It was very easy."
E-commerce for the engineer
Los Angeles-Finally, a market-based web site with products dedicated entirely to engineers. MacNeal-Schwendler went live recently with www.Engineering-e.com. -an on-line commerce marketplace that combines products, services, and information dedicated to the engineering community.
In the SoftwareMart, engineers can download free demos from participating software developers. The ServicesMart offers members access to consultants and experts who provide solutions or advice. Looking for a book on CAE? Visit the BooksMart, where in association with Amazon.com, Engineering-e.com offers a variety of books on CAE and finite element analysis. EventsMart is a calender of events and conferences such as the first Worldwide MSC Automotive Users' Conference.
Then there is Kaleidoscope, a compilation of online resources such as links to job postings, technology news, and publications such as Design News, mechanical design engineering resources on the web, and off-the-wall diversions such as, "You might be an engineer if your spouse sends you an e-mail instead of calling you to dinner."
"Engineering-e.com is designed for the 10 million engineers worldwide who use or specify over one billion dollars in engineering products and services every year," says Frank Perna, Jr., chairman and CEO, MSC.
MSC Engineering-e.com's growth will be driven by site participant feedback. Input from a beta site preview already led to plans for additional "marts" that will offer direct sales of products and resources for engineering.
Injection mold simulation reduces tool start-up, sizing times
Cincinnati, OH-Are these custom designs suitable for the injection-molding process? This is a question Plastic Moldings Corp. (PMC) engineers face almost everyday. To help answer it, PMC turns to mold simulation software products from C-MOLD (Louisville, KY) to evaluate mold performance and part quality.
The 70-year-old company manufactures custom injection molds for thermoset/thermoplastic parts. "Typically, engineers design for function. But most aren't experienced in considering how the parts will react in a mold," says Tim Noel, simulation analysis, CAD designer, and process engineer for PMC.
Noel recalls one project where a company approached PMC to develop the injection molding process parameters for six customized tools for the telecommunications market. These would be used for prototype injection mold start- ups. Initially, the parts stuck to the mold.
PMC used C-MOLD to rework the tool and create a process that would make the quoted cycle time as well as reduce the part warpage. "We optimized a cycle by using fill time, hold time, cooling time, and mold and melt temps. Then we reviewed the results and made the proper changes to the process. Only then we forwarded our process to the mold maker to run on his injection press," Noel says. In this way, PMC decreased tool start-up time by 15% and reduced tool sizing by 10%.
PMC found C-MOLD helps with a number of tasks. The company uses it to run analyses, to finalize gate locations, decide where water lines will be located, and determine how the part will react to the water lines and gate locations. "C-MOLD allows us to see how successful we will be molding the part as it is currently designed," says Noel.
Once molds are in production, PMC uses C-MOLD to analyze suggested engineering changes or other modifications prior to cutting. "The biggest benefit is using the software to develop initial processing parameters and predicting cycle times," says Noel. This proves to be extremely helpful in sampling tools at outside mold makers. "C-MOLD allows us to ensure a check-and-balance system for tools sampled at our mold makers."
C-MOLD will soon unveil its Knowledge Management System-an integrated, Intranet-based program that merges CAE and web technology so corporations can publish and manage engineering data throughout the company.
In addition to reviewing individual web sites, people can turn to the following resources for guidance:
CAD/CAM, CAE: Survey, Review and Buyers' Guide Organized in three-ring bound volumes and updated monthly, this reference provides in-depth profiles of more than 500 CAD/CAM, CAE solutions and vendors, plus more than 200 pages of market statistics, including revenues, installed base, growth forecasts, market share, and market segments, market share within segment, market penetration and saturation. It also supplies an overview of the industry, in-depth company profiles, detailed product descriptions, as well as expert analysis and comment. Published by: Daratech, Inc., 255 Bent Street, Cambridge, MA 02141-2001, (617) 354-2339; FAX: (617) 354-7822.
CoCreate's Engineering Solution: The Foundation for Innovation This whitepaper from CoCreate explains the importance of focusing on innovation to maintain market leadership and how software, particularly CoCreate's Dynamic Modeling technology, can help companies do just this. For a copy of the paper, visit the Design News CAD/CAM channel at www.designnews.com
The CAD Rating Guide 5th Edition by W. Bradley Holtz "The CAD Rating Guide" offers a comprehensive comparison of more than 120 computer-aided design systems. It navigates the reader past statistics, benchmarks, buzzwords, and canned demonstrations to get to-what difference does it make if I decide to use system A rather than system B and will it make sense if I am already using system C? The Guide covers traditional Mechanical and AEC CAD areas, GIS, FEM, and animation systems for those that generate their own models. Available from ZEM Press. Fax: (301) 365-4586, or e-mail: email@example.com
Computer Technology Solutions '99 Conference & Exhibition Sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, the conference will co-locate with SME's Detroit Advanced Productivity Exposition (APEX) from Sept. 14-16, 1999 at Detroit's Cobo Convention Center. For more information, contact SME Customer Service, One SME Drive, P.O. Box 930, Dearborn, MI, 48121; 1-800-733-4763 (US only) or (313) 271-1500; FAX: (313) 271-2861; or visit www.ctsme.org.
CAD/CAM, CAE Product Process Management Strategy Workshops 2000 Sponsored by Daratech, Inc. (Cambridge, MA), these workshops bring together CEOs of the CAD/CAM, CAE, and EDM/PDM software and hardware providers to share their vision of their companies' technologies and discuss their business strategies and direction with manufacturers, engineering firms, and construction companies. A good forum for users to voice their software needs as well as discover upcoming industry trends. March 2000. Visit: www.daratech.com.
Products to watch
Engineering in the rain For those who do reverse engineering, Raindrop Geomagic offers three convenient solutions: geometricWrapcreates digital models from scanned physical parts automatically; Decimator compresses the 3D model up to 95% without losing surface data to aid in viewing; and the company's newest product, ShapeTM, helps manufacture these parts. Shape completely focuses on converting polygon information to NURBS automatically. By working with the form of an object and not pure mathematics, Shape develops digital inventories and template-based designs so difficult parts can be manufactured. Designers can mold in clay or whatever medium they wish, scan this, turn their ideas into 3D CAD models, and have these viewed and manufactured quickly, easily, and inexpensively, says Ping Fu, Raindrop chairman, CTO, and founder. She says, "We can take a several-week design process down to hours." Raindrop Geomagic, P.O. Bx. 12216, RTP, NC, 27709; FAX (919) 474-0129.
Add parameters at any time SolidDesigner 7.0 introduces new technology that allows users to modify designs irrespective of design history. CoCreate engineers developed its dynamic-modeling functionality to support users faced with extensive design changes without requiring an understanding of previous modeling steps. Engineers can attach parameters to a model, even those from other systems, at any time. Relations between geometrical entities such as holes, bosses, and ribs can be specified, modified, and deleted at any time, even between different parts. New adaptive meshing features in the existing Design Adviser model, allow even those who are not experts in FEA to predict model behavior. A tolerance adviser module offering guidance to optimize assembly tolerances that reduce defect rates as well as an improved data-management integration to WorkManager 5.1 has also been added. CoCreate, 3801 Automation Way, Suite 110, Fort Collins, CO 80525; FAX (970) 206-8068.
Seventh Heaven I-DEAS Master Series Release 7 builds on its Team Data Manager software by offering I-DEAS Web Access with a Java-based, thin-client server to connect the engineering team and its product development process with manufacturing, marketing, management, and others. In addition, its CAM applications are enhanced with I-DEAS Generative Machining-a new toolpath engine 10 to 50 times faster for surface finishing operations. Other improvements include surface-based milling operations, copymill, flowline, projection, volume clear, and profile. Developed to take full advantage of the solid model, this release will be of interest to companies with 3-axis milling requirements. The company's VGS technology is extended to I-DEAS Variational Analysis, available with Release 7, VGX surfacing extensions, and VGX for Moldbase Design. SDRC, 2000 Eastman Drive, Milford, OH 45150; FAX (513) 576-2135.
Information at your fingertips The Knowledge and Innovation Server provides organizations with access to a large knowledge base of 3D animated scientific effects and technical examples via the desktop. With a user name and password, engineers can search through more than 6,000 scientific effects and engineering examples for possible solutions or alternatives to problems. It also enables users to capture and add their own knowledge to the server's knowledge base, providing innovation for both process and product. The IM-Internet AssistantTM module searches the web for related technical information. The IM-Patent AnalyzerTM module provides a comprehensive patent analysis by searching the U.S. and Japanese patent office databases and compares trends in technology investments. It can be deployed from the local Intranet server and accessed using Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator. Invention Machine Corp., 200 Portland St., Boston, MA 02114; FAX: (617) 305-9255.
View 3D models without CAD Share and exchange Autodesk's Mechanical Desktop CAD models between CAD designers and non-CAD professionals such as managers, suppliers, customers, sales, marketing, and other engineers with 3D ViewTM. The viewer software runs as a stand alone desktop application on Windows 95/98/NT with no CAD system or server required. 3D View already includes IGES, STL, VDA, VRML, ISO G-Code, Solidworks, CATIA, and Parasolid sharing capabilities. Now, Actify added Mechanical Desktop 3D parts and assemblies, DWG, DXF, SAT, and 3DStudio. Support for Mechanical Desktop was an obvious step, says Mark Gisi, Actify's director of marketing, because of the widespread popularity of Autodesk software. And it is inexpensive. For $240, users can visualize, measure, and markup 3D Autodesk CAD/CAM models without owning a full-featured CAD system or server. Download a full-feature trial at: www.Actify.com. Actify, 486 Clipper St., San Francisco, CA 94114; FAX (415) 647-6506.
New CAD/CAM takes to the streets VX Vision, a CAD/CAM software program from Varimetrix Corp., offers fully integrated hybrid-solid and advanced surface modeling, 3-5 axis NC programming, ray-trace rendering, and a comprehensive set of translators. "VX Vision is the culmination of our commitment to make uncompromised CAD/ CAM affordable," says Mark Vorwaller, president and co-founder of Varimetrix. The company developed its own hybrid geometric modeling kernel, the UPG2. An object-oriented database supports efficient assembly modeling. In the CAM arena, VX Vision offers milling, turning, wire EDM, and part nesting. Full modeling of in-process workpiece is supported for advanced material removal analysis. Albert-Battaglin Consulting says, "Some of the very difficult aspects of NC are implemented in VX Vision. These include 5-axis swarf-cutting, bi-tangent machining, pencil tracing, and automatically cleaning out remaining material." Varimetrix Corp., 2350 Commerce Pk. Dr., No. 4, Palm Bay, FL 32905; FAX (407) 723-4388.
T-Flex turns 10 Designed by engineers for engineers, T-FLEX Parametric ProTM, Version 6.2, is the 20th major release since 1989 of one of the world's first parametric CAD products designed specifically for the PC desktop. T-FLEX 6.2 is a stand-alone, feature-based, parametric 2D and 3D modeling program designed for the Windows 95/98/NT platforms. It utilizes the ACIS 5.0 3D solid modeling kernel from Spatial Technology. T-FLEX engineers kept the 2D issues at the forefront while incorporating 3D solid modeling. T-FLEX eliminates redundant design tasks by using parametric features to reduce drawing, editing, and checking. Well within the mid-range price point, T-FLEX sells two licenses for $3,495. Top Systems Ltd., P.O. Box 133, 103055 Moscow, Russia; FAX (7-095) 978-97-48; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro/ENGINEER gets ready for 2000 Pro/ENGINEER 2000i introduces behavioral modeling, including smart models or completely captured intelligent designs that adapt to their environment. Also objective-driven design turns models into designs based on specific product requirements. The tool functions within an open, extensible environment that is connected to the entire engineering process. Pro/ ENGINEER 2000i also includes a new module for mechanism design and more than 500 other enhancements such as: functionality and applications for large assemblies; adaptive process features; design animation and feature-based production manufacturing tools; a better designed Windows graphical user interface; and Internet sharing capabilities. Parametric Technology Corp