Like a growing number of his colleagues, designer Al Ball, of Somerville, MA-based design firm Altitude, Inc., is a switch hitter when it comes to computer platforms: On any given project, he uses both the UNIX and NT versions of Pro/ENGINEER CAD software.
"Oh, sure, there is some difference in functionality between the two versions," he says. But, apparently the differences he mentions aren't what you might think.
Ball designs consumer products, bar-code scanners, and computer peripherals. Occasionally, when he takes a Pro/ENGINEER part he built with the UNIX version and puts it on NT, it might not generate the same way.
"But," Ball claims, "when I run the NT version of the software on Alpha stations it's actually faster!
"And, the NT stations are less expensive."
Less expensive is not surprising, given the cost differential between PCs and engineering workstations, but faster? That assertion goes against the conventional wisdom about UNIX, which holds that the higher-power platform outperforms its Windows and NT cousins, especially for complex, math-intensive tasks such as graphics and finite element analysis.
Yet, Ball is not alone in his experience.
"We've done several benchmarks and found that NT is about 15% faster in graphics," says engineer Tony Welsh, who uses SDRC's I-DEAS Master Series at Ball Aerospace. His hardware: Hewlett-Packard Pentium Pro 200 with 128 Mbytes of memory, and a four-gigabyte hard drive.
Welsh has also been testing the NT version of MacNeal-Schwendler Corp.'s MSC/NASTRAN finite element analysis software, and finds it works very well. "We'll be 100% NT by mid 1998, even for FEA," he says.
|Both UNIX and NT are growing, but UNIX market share is slipping as NT grows at a faster rate.|
MPC Corp. has already switched to the NT version of I-DEAS Master Series. The reason: cost.
"A couple of years ago, a license for the UNIX version of I-DEAS was about $20,000, and the workstations to run it were another $20,000," says Bob Stack, a design engineer at the Illinois manufacturer of electromechanical actuators. "Today, the Master Series NT version is about $9,000 and the hardware to run it is about $7,000. That's a big savings."
It's just that kind of savings, and the increase in functionality that Al Ball and Tony Welsh have found, that prompt some industry observers to predict rapid growth in NT. "UNIX is alive, but NT-based CAD is coming up, so users should be prepared to take advantage of the full capabilities of NT," cautions Bruce Jenkins, of Daratech, the Cambridge, MA-based CAD research firm.
Gradual migration has already begun. In the early 90s, Microsoft introduced Windows NT. Analyst Stephen Wolfe, publisher of the Computer Aided Design Report, said it could be the most important computing development since UNIX--giving engineers the 32-bit addressing and multitasking benefits of UNIX on low-cost personal computers. More than two years ago, SolidWorks and Solid Edge hit the streets, the former introduced by SolidWorks Corp., Concord, MA, and the latter from Huntsville, AL-based Intergraph. Both promised high-end functionality in a native Windows environment, and both have won many converts. Dassault Systemes, developer of CATIA, recently acquired SolidWorks.
Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) had ported Pro/ENGINEER to NT a year before NT's official release, and gave that version the same functionality as the UNIX version, says John Snow, who manages core design products at the Waltham, MA software developer. Virtually all other developers of high-end CAD software have both UNIX and NT versions of their products, and claim the functionality is the same for both. And, all statistics show that their NT business growing.
"In 1995, the NT version of Master Series was only 1% of our sales," asserts John Kundrat, manager of business partner relations for SDRC. "But, in 1996, it was 11%, and this year so far it's 30%."
What kind of manufacturers are making the move? "Mostly, it's smaller companies that don't have big infrastructures with a lot of UNIX-oriented custom-software programs," says Bob Brandenstein, platform manager at EDS Unigraphics.
Adds Salahuddin Khan, vice president of product development at Computervision: "Those companies that aren't sensitive to shared product-model access, but can work in small groups, will adopt NT comfortably for CAD/CAM and data management."
For large companies with a lot of legacy data, analysts say, it's easier to stay with UNIX. But that doesn't mean they won't experiment with NT. Two years ago, Ford Motor Company adopted SDRC's I-DEAS Master Series as its core CAD product. Richard Riff, who heads Ford's C3P (CAD/CAM/CAE/PDM) program, says the car maker uses the UNIX version of I-DEAS but is "examining" the NT version. Some of Ford's suppliers are already using the NT version. "There is no difference in functionality," Riff says.
The imminent availability of the next-generation Intel chip will determine the speed of the migration to NT. To be dubbed the "Merced," that chip should be out by the end of this decade, says Intel, and it reportedly will solve any performance shortcomings of the NT platform. Hewlett-Packard is collaborating with Intel on the instruction set for Merced. The chip maker is also cooperating with Microsoft and SCO (Santa Cruz Operations).
What follows is a brief summary of some of the latest CAD products for NT from traditional UNIX vendors:
An easy-to-use 'Idea'
A new technology called VGX, which reportedly cuts in half the menu picks engineers have to click through during design, is part of SDRC's latest version of its I-DEAS Master Series, Release 5. The software developer says it's an extension of the variational product architecture that allows real-time direct manipulation of a 3-D model, including geometry, history, features, and constraints.
The latest version of I-DEAS also includes added capabilities for finite element modeling, sound quality engineering, and durability analysis.
SDRC made Release 5 available on NT and UNIX simultaneously, the first time it has done so.
The company's new I-DEAS Artisan SeriesTM software is available on NT only. It's a mid-range CAD product that includes solid modeling, assembly design, drafting, and interface capabilities. Additional modules include advanced surfacing, stand-alone drafting, sheet metal design, and a fastener catalog.
Parametric Technology Corp. has released several enhancements to version 18 of its flagship Pro/ENGINEER CAD software. All available on NT as well as UNIX, they include:
Pro/INTRALINK, a Concurrent Development Management System (CDMS) that gives users up-to-date information on design changes.
Pro/FLY-THROUGH, a stand-alone VRML viewer for browsing of large, complex assemblies. While browsing, users can determine which components they would like to bring into Pro/ENGINEER.
Pro/TOOLKIT, software for customizing the Pro/ENGINEER user interface, automating repetitive processes, and integrating proprietary or other applications.
Pro/WEB PUBLISH, an interface for putting Pro/ENGINER assemblies and assembly process plans on the Web for access by others, including the shop floor.
Pro/PROCESS for MFG, which provides tools to generate complete process plans for machined components.
Pro/INTERFACE for CATIA, for the exchange of geometry between Pro/ENGINEER and CATIA, from IBM/Dassault Systemes.
Up and down the scale
EDS Unigraphics is bundling several of its software products in what it calls a "scalability" strategy that offers varying levels of technology and price for different users. Among the bundled products: UG/Creator, UG/Designer, UG/Advanced Designer, and UG/Advanced Manufacturing.
Additionally, the company recently announced Version 13 of its flagship UG product, on both NT and UNIX. Beyond new virtual mockup modules, Web server and publishing capabilities, and high-speed machining, UG 13 includes a technology called WAVE ("What-if Alternative Value Engineering").
The company says WAVE enables teams from different disciplines to collaboratively evaluate multiple design criteria early in the design process.
Additionally, Version 13 includes a Visual Editor that captures graphical representations of various design variables for editing.
Quantum leaps on NT
Matra Datavision has just released version 1.2 of EUCLID QUANTUM CAD/CAM/CAE/ and PDM system. Available on both NT and UNIX, this version of QUANTUM includes two new products, EUCLID Styler, for industrial de-sign and styling, and EUCLID Drafter, for professional drafting.
Drafter uses a "pick and click" approach that reportedly reduces mouse movement by 75% from other systems. It also standardizes styles and drafting parameters.
Other application modules within EUCLID QUANTUM include Designer, Analyst, Machinist, and Design Manager.
Computervision will soon announce DesignWave, a new native Windows product to run on NT. Based on the Parasolid kernel modeler from EDS Unigraphics, the new software package will be assembly centric. That means, says one Computervision spokesman, that setting up assemblies with the product will require no extra effort by engineers.
Other features of the product include a derived-model capability whereby users can build similar parts from a base part, with full associativity among all parts. There will also be a feature-based drafting subsystem that will warn users of errors they are making and result in drawings with high drafting integrity.
Production-modeling features will enable inserting, replacing, and changing the order of modeling steps without the necessity of reworking the model.
Five reasons to choose UNIX
Performance. UNIX platforms have higher floating-point performance than NT. That means finite element analysis, machining, and tool-path calculation programs are likely to run faster on a UNIX system. The exception may be a Digital Equipment Corp. Alpha-based machine, which some analysts say can offer performance equal to UNIX.
Graphics. Generally, high-powered 3-D graphics processors outperform an NT-based graphics board. So, the math behind crash simulation and fluid dynamics may be better represented on UNIX.
Remote management. UNIX servers in a big network are reportedly more robust than NT.
Legacy data. Companies with large installed bases of UNIX software and systems, and with customized software may find it too costly and complex to switch to NT.
Price drops. Many UNIX vendors are lowering their prices to compete with NT. Bob Brandenstein, EDS UG's platform marketing manager, says the price difference between a high-end NT system and a UNIX system could be as little as $3,000.
Five reasons to choose NT
Price. NT systems are less expensive. Technology changes so rapidly, many think the best strategy is to buy a lower-cost system so it will be easier to change as new technology comes along.
Single desktop. With an NT system, engineers who use Microsoft products can use all their applications on one machine, rather than doing design on a workstation and then turning to a PC to do spreadsheets or word processing to accompany the design.
Recycling. When engineers buy new hardware, they can pass their PCs to others in the organization, such as administrative staff, rather than throw it away.
Ease of use. Generally, many users say NT is easier to use because it is so PC-like. UNIX, conversely, is perceived as complex.
Migration. Engineers can migrate applications more easily with NT. UNIX comes in several flavors (HP, Sun, Silicon Graphics, IBM).
EDS, Intergraph join hands
EDS and Intergraph will form a new company to expand both their roles in the mechanical CAD market. The announcement came as Design News went to press.
The as-yet-unnamed company will combine the mechanical CAD products of Intergraph, including Solid Edge and EMS, under the same umbrella as EDS' Unigraphics, Parasolid, and IMAN products.
Solid Edge 4, to be introduced at Autofact the week of November 3, will be based on the ACIS kernal, as previous editions were. Solid Edge 5, due for shipment in the second quarter of 1998, will be based on EDS' Parasolid kernal.
|Pick Your Platform For Mechanical CAD (does not include FEA)|
|Adra Systems||Cadra 10.2||N||Y||Y||N|
|Cadra Design Drafting||Y||Y||Y||N|
|American Small Business Computers||DesignCAD||N||Y||Y||N|
(To be released in Q1 98)
|AutoCAD IGES Translator||N||Y||Y||N|
|PartSpec On Line||N||Y||Y||N|
|Baystate Technologies||Cadkey 97||N||Y||Y||N|
|Bentley Systems||MicroStation Modeler||Y||Y||Y||Y|
|Solid Designer (3-D)||Y||Y||Y||N|
|CATIA/CADAM Hybrid Raster||Y||Y||N||N|
|EUCLID Design Manager||Y||Y||N||N|
|Helix Parametric Parts||N||Y||Y||N|
|Helix STEP Translator||N||Y||Y||N|
|Helix 2-D IGES and STEP||N||Y||Y||N|
|Helix Parametric Drafting||N||Y||Y||N|
|Parametric Technology Corp.||Pro/ENGINEER|
|SDRC||I-DEAS Master Series||Y||Y||Y||N|
|SolidWorks||SolidWorks '97 Plus||N||Y||Y||N|