USB gets rolling; DSPs get cheap
Promising to be another banner year for electronics, 1997 will also usher in the proliferation of Universal Serial Bus (USB) PC peripherals and less expensive digital products powered by cheaper low-end digital signal processors (DSPs).
Get on the bus. "All of the necessary ingredients are there for OEMs to provide a PC that has USB capability. USB volumes will take off in 1997." So says Jim Pappas, chairman of the USB Implementers Forum (IF) and director for peripherals and interconnect technology at Intel.
Jointly developed by Compaq, DEC, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, NEC, and Northern Telecom, USB will allow keyboards, mice, printers, scanners, CD-ROM drives, modems, joysticks--and even telephones--to be detected and automatically configured as soon as users physically attach them to a PC. There will be no need to restart the computer or open up the box to insert a card. USB will also allow multiple devices--up to 127--to run simultaneously on a computer, with peripherals such as monitors and keyboards acting as additional plug-in sites, or hubs.
Designers who make anything that could conceivably be connected to a PC would be well advised to investigate adding a USB port.
Last year the stage was set. First, the USB IF developed an open industry standard, and Intel put USB electronics on all new PC core-logic chip sets. "Essentially, we reduced the decision for the PC designers to next to zero because the USB electronics come for little extra cost," says Pappas.
Second, silicon for peripherals became available. Companies such as Philips Semiconductor, Atmel, Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor, and Intel are introducing microcontrollers and other ICs that include USB circuitry for such devices as mice, joysticks, and monitors.
Third, Microsoft released USB drivers in November as an update to Windows 95 for OEMs. Plans call for these drivers to also make their way into Windows NT.
"There's a tremendous amount of investment going on," notes Pappas. "It really makes sense for designers to take a good hard look at USB and get going on it right away lest they be left behind."
About 400 companies are members of the USB Implementers Forum, which has logged more than 200 USB peripheral design wins. Logitech has demonstrated a USB mouse, Cherry Electrical Products has shown a USB keyboard, the new Compaq Presario line has an optional teleconferencing video camera that attaches to the PC via a USB connector, and many players expect to see USB ports on telephones in 1997.
DSPs for under $10. More low-end DSPs are available than ever before, says Tom Starnes, principal analyst for embedded microcomponents at market-research firm Dataquest. He predicts that DSPs will be in a lot of new applications that are cost-sensitive. "You've seen it already in such products as digital answering machines that are consumer oriented and don't have a lot of money to put into the electronics," says Starnes. "If you can get a $5 or $7 DSP to put in a $35 answering machine, it's doable."
Before, these products weren't available at these prices. You'd spend a lot of money to go from the traditional tape machine to the digital system--maybe $150 when the technology was introduced. In 1997, low-cost DSPs will allow digital versions of machines to be inexpensive.
By "low end," most analysts are referring to 16-bit, fixed-point DSPs. These processors are good enough for many voice-quality applications but won't produce decent-quality music.
Low-end DSPs can implement simple voice recognition--you could tell your microwave oven to go on high for 30seconds rather than punch buttons. Again, $100 microwave ovens don't have much money left over for exotic things like DSPs. But the new low-cost devices are something that cost-sensitive-appliance manufacturers can afford. Consumers aren't going to pay a premium for voice recognition. The technology is in place so that in 1997, they won't have to.
If you put a DSP in does that mean you throw out the microcontroller? Not necessarily. There are some DSPs that have enough capability so that you might be able to get rid of your microcontroller, but microcontrollers are there for a reason--they're watching the front panel, running the displays, and responding to the needs of the system. Most DSPs aren't set up for doing that.
Another trend: More 8- and 16-bit microcontrollers are adding versions that have multiply-accumulate arithmetic hardware (MACs) on the chip. MACs enable the microcontrollers to do DSP functions, but not as fast as a true DSP. As each year passes, Starnes says we'll see more and more such microcontrollers.
--Julie Anne Schofield, Associate Editor
More power, better graphics, easier connectivity
Expect to see more power on the desktop, dazzling graphics at lower prices, and easier connectivity via Internet technology this year--with 1997 the year that "intranets" come into their own and start expanding into "extranets," industry executives predict.
Software and hardware companies will continue working to boost Pentium-based performance, as the "Wintel" (Windows/Intel) juggernaut keeps attracting more engineers to the Windows NT platform. "Windows NT will begin to take off in real design, solid-modeling work," says Ty Rabe, director of technical applications at Digital Equipment Corp.'s software partners group. "It will become mainstream in the market."
Intergraph offers one glimpse into the future of high-end, Intel-based computing with the TD-610: the industry's first "personal workstation"-class machine that features four Pentium Pro processors. This type of hardware is expected to prompt software companies to develop "multithreaded" versions of engineering packages, allowing multiple Intel processors to work together to solve a single, complex problem. Such multithreading already exists in the UNIX world.
Sixty-four-bit computing may also come to "Wintel" computing, as Microsoft works on a 64-bit version of Windows NT. "Sixty-four-bit computing will be legitimized by Microsoft," Rabe predicts. As memory prices fall and engineers use larger and more complex models, he also expects workstations will typically start including more than 1 Gbyte of main memory.
UNIX vendors, meanwhile, have their own vision on how to compete for the engineering desktop. RISC processors, they maintain, will remain a step ahead of Intel's x86 architecture--particularly for floating-point operations, critical for tasks such as analysis work. The increasing power of Intel-based systems will also drive down the prices of UNIX workstations, believes Paul Bemis, marketing manager for technical systems at Hewlett-Packard.
How fast will be fast for '97? Engineers can expect systems, now running between 1 and 2 billion instructions per second (BIPS), to pass 4 BIPS on their way to 8 to 16 BIPS by the end of the year, Rabe says. "I remember in 1981, we were talking about 1 million instructions per second, a VAX 11/780, as top of the line," he notes.
Powerful new systems will offer not only raw speed, but better output, with a number of companies planning to bring high-end graphics into the mainstream. "We are going to continue to see sophisticated graphics technology more commonplace and less expensive," according to Rabe. "We expect to come out in '97 with two times the performance at half the cost." This technology will lead to "much broader use of 3-D visualization and graphics techniques," he says.
"Expect some interesting announcements in '97," adds Greg Papadopoulos, vice president and chief technology officer at Sun Microsystems. Says Anthony Levy at NEC Technologies: "Graphics is going to be a very dynamic area in 1997. What you've seen in '96 is only going to intensify in '97."
'Superhighway' technology comes in-house. So-called "intranets"--the use of Internet-type technology to share information inside a company--should hit mainstream engineering this year. Says Rabe: "I think it will have a profound impact on the way people do design work in the next few years."
Industry forecasters expect an upsurge of interest among manufacturers. "User adoption of Web technology will continue to accelerate," predicts Bruce Jenkins at the Daratech market research firm. According to Bemis at H-P, '97 should be the year that "true design collaboration" takes place using Web-browser technology for a graphical user interface.
In addition, Papadopoulos sees the rise of so-called "extranets"--in-house "intranets" expanding to include suppliers and customers. "It's the next step," he says. "If '96 was the year of the intranet, '97 will be extending the intranet out to preferred suppliers and partners."
Several executives foresee CAD packages incorporating World Wide Web browser technology, allowing engineers to jump onto intranets or the Web from within their CAD software. This would make Web or intranet surfing an integral part of the product-development process.
"Intranet is probably the most powerful technology that's surfaced in the computer industry in the past few years," Levy says. "We think intranet is one of the 'must-be-watched' technologies."
--Sharon Machlis, Senior Editor
Merger mania means more new products
Strong demand kept chemical plants humming at 81% of capacity last year. Shipments rose 8% to $369 billion, and profits 11% to $34 billion. As a result, DuPont, Dow Chemical, and Monsanto posted strong increases in profits. But there's an even more fortuitous sign for design engineers than the profits these industry giants reaped, at least when it comes to this year's materials forecast: More new materials than ever will be available.
Four key endeavors are behind this prognostication--mergers, buy outs, spin offs, and joint ventures. Who, for example, would ever think that such rivals as DuPont and Dow would join forces to increase their shares of the chemical marketplace. But that happened last year when the two companies formed a separate operating unit, DuPont Dow Elastomers, to take advantage of each firm's technology and business savvy in fluoropolymers.
Not to be outdone, 3M and Hoechst AG recently formed a joint venture in fluoropolymers called Dyneon. The new company will have estimated sales of $350 million in its first year of operation and employ about 600.
Likewise, Exxon Chemical and Union Carbide have formed a 50/50 joint venture to research, develop, market, and license process and catalyst technologies used to make polyethylene. This enterprise embodies Exxon's super-condensed technology, which can double the output of Carbide's UNIPOL process reactors.
Meanwhile, Bayer Corp. continued to expand and diversify as a result of its parent company, Bayer AG, Germany acquiring Monsanto's styrenics business. The buy out added significantly to Bayer's Polymers Div. in North America--three plants and two technical centers. Resins obtained from Monsanto include: Lustran® ABS and SAN, Triax® ABS blends, Centrex® ASA weatherable polymers, and Cadon® SMA. "The synergies created by the combination of our engineering resin business and the styrenics business will allow us to provide our customers with a wider range of materials and more efficient service," says Peter Mueller, Bayer's senior vice president, plastics.
Then there are more contemplated moves at Monsanto, which is considering spinning off or selling its flagship chemical business. The move would shift the company's focus to its agricultural biotechnology business. While the chemical unit remains Monsanto's biggest business, with 1995 sales of $3.7 billion, it isn't nearly as profitable as its agricultural arm. It could be a big moneymake for the company that buys it however.
Norton Performance Plastics Corp. also joined the buy-out binge by purchasing a group of four European silicone elastomer processing companies. Process technologies include extrusion, injection molding, compression molding, liquid injection molding, calendering, and sponge/foam production. And BASF and DuPont plan to establish a joint venture to make and sell nylon intermediates in Asia, including the construction of a 300 kiloton plant scheduled to begin production in 1998.
In another silicone maneuver, Rogers Corp. has purchased Dow Corning's Bisco Products business. Bisco makes silicone foam materials noted for their high-temperature resistance and flame-retardant properties. "This acquistion complements Rogers existing high-density urethane foam product lines, and enhances our leadership position in the high-performance elastomers market.," says Rogers President and CEO Harry H. Birkenruth.
In restructuring a big chunk of its business, Olin Corp. has agreed to sell its isocyanates business to Arco Chemical for $565 million. And it will spin off its much less profitable ordnance and aerospace divisions to shareholders as a new company.
In a similar move, Arco recently completed the sale of its plastics business to Nova Chemical Inc. for $160 million. The purchase includes Arco's Dylite® and Dylark® engineering resins product lines.
All of this shake-out/buy-out/spinoff activity should mean a bountiful harvest of new material grades coming on the scene for design engineers. Most will have familiar names. The difference will be that, thanks to the materials/technology/process tie-ins resulting from these ventures, the design engineer can order up a material tailored to a specific design project. And the specifier will have a special material at his doorstep in record time--possibly at a cost equal to or even lower than materials now on the market.
Take the DuPont Dow Elastomers venture, for example, which benefits from Dow's Insite™ metallocene technology. "This technology is one of the most advanced applications of metallocene chemistry and is unique because it allows for a very controllable molecular design--much more controllable than any used before," says Chris Pappas, vice president of DuPont Dow's Ethylene Elastomers business. "The precise control allows DuPont Dow to tailor EPDM products in ways that have not been possible before."
In the case of Dyneon, the 3M-Hoechst joint venture will make the new company one of the world's largest producers of fluoroelastomers, PTFE, fluorothermoplastics, and related products. "We believe we have everything in place to be successful and to offer each of our customers a seamless transition," says Robert A. Brullo, Dyneon president. "Our mission is to provide a comprehensive line of innovative products to the fluoropolymers industry."
Steel, aluminum, and composites also continue to mount an attack on the marketplace, particularly in the automotive world. Some of this end play could make its presence notable this year.
Sparking a lot of this activity is the design for the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles' Supercar project. PNGV is asking many materials people to contribute to the design, the objective being an automobile that can average 80 mpg.
One process that will get a close look this year by the Supercar team is the UltraLight Steel AutoBody endeavor. The project, sponsored by the worldwide consortium of 32 steel companies known as the Auto/Steel Partnership, already has shown it is possible to reduce the weight of the average steel car by 25%.
The same goes for aluminum, with the debut of the Audi A8 last fall. The luxury vehicle features a new "spaceframe" design, including extruded and cast-alumium components that reqiure one-third fewer parts than traditional unibody construction. However, the barrier that still remains to be conquered is cost, says Pete Bridenbaugh, Aloca executive vice president.
What all this competition means for the design engineer is a much bigger market-basket of materials available this year. This, in turn, should make the design of your next new product faster, less expensive, and perhaps even more exclusive.
--Gary Chamberlain, Senior Editor
Devices will be faster, more precise
Have no doubt about it, the field of motion control will rock on in 1997. Industry experts see this dynamic arena as one of constant, customer-driven change.
"If you look at hardware and motors, it's becoming very clear that the demand is always toward faster, more precise motion," says Jacob Tal, President of Galil Motion Control, Mountain View, CA. He sees the use of linear motors as one means of meeting the customers' demands. "With X-Y tables and rotary lead screws, the whole issue of backlash was always a problem. There are software methods to deal with that. But what's becoming more and more popular is just to say, to heck with the backlash, let's go to linear motors."
He sees this trend as driving the integration of motion control electronics. "With linear motors, the separation that we had between the motion controller and the amplifier is fading out, and we're seeing more and more integration of the commutation of the motor inside a controller. That's becoming especially important in the area of linear motors." Tal points out.
Other industry sources agree that integration will drive design in motion control for some time. "The obvious trend in the industry in the power end of things is more and more integration of power electronics and associated control electronics," says Ray Rosati, chief engineer-electronics products, Warner Electric, Motion Controls Div., Dana Corp. "You're seeing more and more smart power modules coming into play." Until recently, engineers typically used such equipment in applications involving higher prices and greater power levels. Now, Rosati observes, "we're starting to see integrated power modules as much more cost effective solutions at lower power levels."
In control electronics, Rosati believes the market wants higher and higher performance microcontrollers. He see a trend away from the use of the old standby microprocessors toward using highly integrated microcontrollers with all necessary functions on one chip. "And obviously surface mount is a big trend," says Rosati. "All of our new products are designed for surface mount technology. It cuts your product's size down, and cuts your cost in a number of ways."
For users of motion control equipment, changes in technology influence buying patterns and design choices. "Just a few years ago," comments Jack Wallace, marketing manager, motion products, Dana Corp., "engineers had to start with the motor when they were looking to size a motion control system. Whatever electronics you had to drive it, that was fine. Today we're being dictated to more and more based on software." And what does this development mean to suppliers of motion control equipment? "We believe the trend on the part of the customer is to get the total system solution from one source, as long as we can be interfaceable to their electronics and their software," Wallace says.
In drives, Bob Eisenbraun, vice president, drive products and systems at ABB Industrial Systems Inc., New Berlin, WI, sees significant changes coming. "Probably the most significant trend as you look at products that have come out in the last year and continue to come out, is the consolidation of different types of drives into universal drive platforms." Typical of this trend, says Eisenbraun, is ABB's ACS 600 drive. "It can be an open- or closed-loop drive without any differences in hardware."
Protocol debates. Making equipment communicate requires a common means of moving data. The search for a universal communications protocol seems more and more like the search for the Holy Grail--a knightly quest after the unattainable. "The main problem is that every communications protocol is designed to address certain needs," explains Galil's Tal. "I don't see any single protocol today that would address all of them. But across distances, the new standard Universal Serial Bus (USB) will probably take over within a year or two, because it has the potential to replace RS 232 very nicely within the same framework."
Another approach to the problem: Find a way to use whatever protocol the customer likes. "We've standardized where you connect fieldbuses in our ACS 600 drive," says Eisenbraun. "We have a fiberoptic port pretty much dedicated as the connection point for a family of DIN-rail-mounted fieldbus modules. And the whole intent here is to develop a family of fieldbus modules that don't have to migrate as the drives migrate." Pick your protocol. ABB Industrial will supply a module that can accept that protocol and control its drives.
"We're expecting a heavy increase in the use of serial networks for communication between controllers and drive systems," says Bob Cook, manager, controls engineering team, Compumotor Div., Parker Hannifin Corp., Rohnert Park, CA. "We also believe that there will be a need for being compatible with a wide variety of different fieldbuses."
Asked about winners and losers among the fieldbus candidates, Cook points to two choices as especially promising, the first being defined by the IEEE 1394 specification. "Also, USB is something that we would anticipate using." Both IEEE 1394 and USB are fairly new and, according to Cook, not fully industrialized. "As soon as they industrialize the specifications," says Cook, "We expect them to have strong potential in the marketplace, because they'll be so cost effective."
Challenges aplenty. Ease of use remains an important issue for engineers in motion control. "Our users want more and more sophisticated products, but they want products capable of being used by less and less sophisticated plant people," Dana Corp.'s Wallace observes. "We see people with less and less technical training applying more and more complicated products, and doing more programming." To meet this need, Dana Corp. recently released a programming tool that allows users to build a complicated motion program by dragging and dropping icons on the screen.
In the coming year, says Compumotor's Cook, the greatest challenge facing his company and other motion control firms will involve making the right decisions regarding serial networks. "If you were to adopt a strategy and spend a fair amount of time and money on that strategy and it turns out to not be the right way to go," says Cook, "then you could find yourself seriously behind."
Flexibility remains crucial to success, says ABB's Eisenbraun. "The key here for an intelligent actuator like a drive is to have the drive's architecture set up so that we're somewhat insulated from the dynamics of the fieldbus market and we can accommodate the changes in the market. One of our advantages is to be able to go into any factory and be able to say, yes, we can communicate with your standard system."
To that end, ABB Industrial intends to offer drives with new software-based capabilities. "Onboard the drive we'll actually have programmable control languages, the ability to basically edit the drive's application logic with off-line, more standard application development tools," he states. Intended for use by system integrators and ABB's applications engineers, these tools will give customers the ability to adapt drives to more challenging applications.
"We plan to be launching over the next six to nine months quite a strong portfolio of software tools to really improve the customer's ability to program, service and dimension our product to his application," says Eisenbraun.
--Brian J. Hogan, Managing Editor
Electrohydraulics extends its reach
Engineers have long known about the advantages of electrohydraulics. Electrohydraulic systems are simpler to use and assemble. They use fewer mechanical parts and can be easily programmed. What's more, they offer performance advantages--acceleration and deceleration profiles, for example--that can't be obtained in traditional hydraulic systems.
In 1997, however, design engineers can expect to see some new wrinkles in electrohydraulics. Among those are increased use of electrohydraulics for centralized control, proliferation of proportional valves in mobile hydraulics, and more use of digital control valves.
The most widespread of those three trends is expected to be the increased use of electrohydraulics for centralized control. By marrying electrohydraulic components to machine controllers, engineers can now automatically control machine functions that previously called for manual adjustment. Those functions include pressure and flow changes. "Users are moving to electrohydraulics and letting the machine controller take care of those parameters as part of the software program," notes Don Caputo, director of training for Parker Hannifin's hydraulic valve division.
Such changes were accomplished with electrohydraulics in the past, of course, but usually at a higher cost, says Caputo. During the last two years, however, the cost of key components has dropped dramatically. Primary among those components are analog output modules, which can now be purchased for about one-third as much as they once cost.
The ability to buy such components for lower prices opens up new design opportunities for engineers. In many designs, engineers can now eliminate specialized valves for flow control, acceleration, and deceleration. In their place, proportional valves electronically control those parameters. Machine users also reap benefits: Instead of adjusting valves with special tools, they can now pre-program the system to change on the fly.
Mobile boon. Such advantages, however, are not limited to the province of the industrial machine builder. Increasingly, mobile equipment manufacturers are replacing hand- operated valves with joysticks and proportional valves. The reason: Introduction of CAN-based bus systems in that market.
CAN-based bus systems, which have long been used in industrial and automotive applications, make electrohydraulics more practical. The CAN-based systems enable a controller to monitor an entire machine. They also enable engineers to program one joystick to perform a variety of operations that previously required several manual levers.
Cranes, for example, now are starting to use electrohydraulic valves and CAN-based controls to prevent tipping. Up to now, operators occasionally tipped cranes by extending the boom too far and lifting loads that were too heavy. But by pre-programming CAN-based controllers and employing special sensors, engineers can now eliminate such accidents. When the controller is pre-programmed, operators can't extend the boom beyond the danger point, no matter how much force they apply to the joystick.
Engineers also have begun employing electrohydraulics in aerial lifts. The reason: Electrohydraulic valves typically provide smoother performance than solenoid valves. That's particularly important for operators who must ride in aerial lift buckets that are extended as much as 200 feet above ground. "When you shift a solenoid valve, there's a lot of shock," Caputo says. "There's a sudden acceleration and deceler-ation which can be scary for the operator." The proportional valve's smoother performance eliminates sudden shocks during operation of aerial lifts, Caputo says.
Experts say that increased use of electrohydraulics can also be traced back to new cost advantages. Proportional valves, for example, have recently begun using standard solenoid valve coils, instead of traditional proportional valve coils. The result: a significant drop in the price of proportional hydraulic valves.
PLC on a valve. One of the hottest trends for 1997, however, is the use of digital control valves. Digital control valves typically employ a process controller--a miniature PLC--on a printed circuit board that attaches to the valve. Using discrete, instead of analog, logic signals, digital control valves can perform motion profiles without the use of an analog output module. Such products as Parker Hannifin's Digivalve incorporate an embedded program that reads user adjustments to perform motion profiles. Digivalve includes up to six adjustments that enable users to set velocities, accelerations, and decelerations.
Driven by miniaturization of electronic components, digital valves have exhibited increased popularity in the past two years. Many now incorporate the essential elements of a PLC on a printed circuit board measuring about three by four inches. Up until recently, such valves were not a cost effective option because the components couldn't easily fit on small board.
Primary users of the digital valve technology include designers of machine tools, shuttles, transfer lines, and conveyors. "You can use one of these digital process valves in any application where you first need to move quickly, then move slowly to your final position," Caputo says.
Caputo contends that the move to electrohydraulics--digital or otherwise--is not likely to slow down in the near future. "This trend has taken off to point where we are seeing it in applications that never used it before," he notes. "It's changing the way engineers design machinery."
--Charles J. Murray, Senior Regional Editor
CAD jumps on the Internet
Explosive adoption of Internet and intranet technologies in engineering and manufacturing enterprises around the world is forcing CAD/CAM vendors to stand up and take notice.
"The Internet is the biggest revolution in CAD/CAM since the advent of parametric solid modeling," says Bruce Jenkins, V.P. of Daratech Inc., a Cambridge, MA-based market research firm.
In response to the intranet/Web explosion, CAD/CAM vendors are rushing to support Web technologies in ways that allow users to share CAD data over intranets and the Web, says Jenkins. Many are implementing tools that allow push-button publishing of part and assembly models in VRML, he notes. Others have implemented technologies that allow transparent, real-time sharing of engineering and part data over intranets and the Web.
For example, the four application environments in the Euclid Quantum system from Matra Datavision (Andover, MA) are linked together through Euclid Desktop, which also accesses external applications and provides for data exchange. Euclid Desktop ensures system interoperability and direct Web and intranet access for all Euclid Quantum products.
Sharing the wealth. CAD systems will continue to become more open in 1997, bringing users improvements in two areas: customization and data accessability. By allowing access to system development tools, an increasing number of systems are enabling users to extend program functionality by building custom applications. And to make data access easier, many systems now feature a range of translators, such as STEP, IGES, and DXF.
Matra's Euclid Quantum exemplifies an open system. Its CAS.CADE development environment is perhaps the most transparent and open in the industry, according to Daratech's Jenkins. With access to the system's entire database, users can easily build custom add-ons and extensions.
Euclid Quantum also offers native STEP translation, allowing bi-directional communication between applications and no loss of data with models based on STEP. For other types of data exchange, the software's transfer interfaces include DXF, IGES, and VDA. Direct translators are also available for Catia, CADDS, and many other CAD systems.
Affordable functionality. Watch for mid-range modelers to appear on the scene in greater numbers, as well. Such products bring the capabilities of expensive, proprietary CAD systems down to an easy-to-use, affordable level.
The latest release from Intergraph (Huntsville, AL)--Solid Edge v2--offers concurrent assembly design tools, built-in workgroup-level data management, and feature-based solid-modeling, with a price tag of $5,995. The software implements the ACIS 2.0 modeling kernel, enabling it to handle more complex modeling tasks.
To further ease-of-use, the Microsoft Office-compatible package features expanded multimedia tutorials and interactive, self-paced learning aids. Version 2 also supports Microsoft's Intellimouse pointing device for intuitive navigation and viewing.
Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC), Waltham, MA, recently joined in with its PT/ModelerTM software, an enhanced version of its Pro/JR. product. The modeler offers parametric, feature-based solid modeling and numerous visualization and data-exchange tools. And, PTC says the software's easy-to-follow menus, on-line documentation, and tutorials will shorten the learning curve.
Additionally, Microcadam, Inc. (Los Angeles) has introduced the Helix Design System, which includes hybrid parametric and variational surface and solid modeling capabilities. Its two basic modules are Helix DraftingTM and Helix ModelingTM.
Other mid-range modelers to note: SolidWorks 96 from SolidWorks (Concord, MA), Mechanical Desktop from Autodesk (San Rafael, CA), and Microstation Modeler from Bentley Systems (Exton, PA). And don't be surprised if 1997 brings mid-range products from companies not currently in that market, says Jenkins. Among those who have yet to make a presence: Dassault Systems (Paris, France), SDRC (Milford, OH), and EDS Unigraphics (Maryland Heights, MO).
--Deana Colucci, Associate Editor