3D Modeling Debate Spurs New Generation of CAD Tools

In some ways, it's the CAD industry's version of those
age-old debates, like the one over Coke vs. Pepsi, or republican vs. democrat.
As the discourse heats up over the merits of traditional parametric, or
history-based modeling tools compared with a new breed of direct modelers, the
only clear winner may be engineers, many of whom were previously shut out from
using CAD and who are now increasingly being presented with a range of powerful
and flexible options.

Led by the introduction of PTC
Pro/ENGINEER
more than 20 years ago, parametric or history-based modeling
has dominated the CAD scene with a handful of direct or explicit modelers
hanging out there on the fringes. Parametric modeling leverages a history tree
to bring control and intelligence to the process of building CAD models. The
approach gained traction over the flexible, but functionally-limited, direct
modeling paradigm over the years because it was viewed as a more powerful and
automated way to create complex models, especially for large assemblies that
use families of parts.

Yet in the last several years, parametric CAD modelers lost
some of their luster. Users have run into roadblocks due to the complexity of
the history tree and they often complain about the inflexibility of the tools
for doing conceptual work and last-minute design changes. Their concerns
rekindled the decades-old argument, which has come back with a vengeance this
last year as newcomers like SpaceClaim
rolled out new direct modelers that address many of the shortcomings of the
original class of tools. Following suit, history-based CAD leaders like PTC, Siemens PLM Software and Autodesk have come to market with their own
variations on the technology, including a new hybrid breed that claims to marry
the benefits of both approaches.

In addition to ease-of-use and ease-of-learning, direct
modelers also have an edge when dealing with multi-CAD environments, a
situation made all the more common today due to globalization and the influx of
extended design teams. "Most companies are partnering with companies that have
lots of different technologies and most can't afford to have a seat of NX,
Pro/E, SolidWorks or Inventor sitting around in their design shops," says Monica Schnitger, a market analyst with Schnitger Corp. "By removing the
concept of the history tree, direct modelers function as a common ground
platform."

While there is a fair share of marketing hype surrounding
the competing modeling approaches, Evan Yares, a long-time CAD industry
consultant, acknowledges that a CAD revolution has indeed arrived - one that
will make CAD experts far more productive, while opening the door to non-CAD
technicians who have previously been shut out from effectively using the
technology. "All these different approaches are coming at the same problem - making
CAD easier to use," says Yares, who claims only 30 to 40 percent of engineers
currently use CAD effectively. "What is comes down to is the modern CAD program
has become so complex, with so many commands, that a normal person can't run
them."

Separate, But Equal

That was the whole premise behind the introduction of
SpaceClaim Engineer, which was initially released

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