A New Beginning for CAD

DN Staff

January 22, 1996

10 Min Read
A New Beginning for CAD

At the ripe old age of thirty something, CAD is getting a makeover that could make it a more attractive productivity enhancer. Microsoft's Windows operating system is helping fashion the new look. Developers say it will go a long way in satisfying engineers' growing clamor for ease of use, simplified data exchange, and customized software applications. "Windows has won the desktop war," says Kim Corbridge, product marketing manager for Intergraph Corp's Solid Edge(TM), a new 3-D solid modeling CAD package designed specifically for Windows. Ease of use and Windows have become synonymous. But, Windows also makes customization easy, adds Robert Patience, Intergraph's vice president for advanced architecture. And, that customization can enhance an individual company's product-development process. Many companies view their internal processes as a competitive advantage, says Computervision Vice President Ed Wagner, and they want to tailor CAD for their own specific needs. It's a bit of deja vu, says Bruce Boes, Matra Datavision's vice president of operations. "Ten years ago, large companies like Ford developed their own software, but then decided that effort was too expensive,'' he says. "They began looking for standard CAD systems like most of those on the market today. Now, they're saying that the standard systems aren't enough, and they want to develop their own customized versions of those systems."

Intergraph (Web, http://www.intergraph.com), Computervision (Web, http://www.cv.com), and Matra Datavision (e-mail at info@[email protected] ) are among the leaders in the emerging paradigm of Windows-based, customizable CAD. Like automakers developing new vehicle platforms, they've redesigned the architectures that underlie their respective technologies. Intergraph calls its new platform Jupiter Technology. Computervision's is Pelorus, and Matra's is Cas.Cade.

In various degrees, all three work with Windows and all are object-oriented architectures that allow the CAD companies and their customers to mass-customize their programs. Their object orientation, developers say, will result in easier-to-use, virtually bug-free software that will hack a big chunk of time out of the product-development process.

Early entry. With Solid Edge, Intergraph is first out of the chute with commercial 3-D products based on Windows and the company's new architecture. Both use OLE for Design and Modeling (OLE for D&M). That is a set of special Intergraph-developed extensions of Microsoft's Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) specification that allow creation of 3-D objects that easily integrate with other Windows applications. Microsoft calls the extensions the OLE Industry Solution for computer-aided design, and has formed the Design and Modeling Council to continue development of OLE for D&M. ANSYS, Autodesk, Ray Dream, SDRC, Spatial Technology, Intergraph, and others are members of the Council.

Billed as "plug and play" software, OLE-based Solid Edge and the new Imagineer Technicala, a 2-D drawing package, let engineers import files from other Windows applications such as AutoCAD, Microstation, and non-engineering desktop packages such as Microsoft Word and Excel, with no data translation required.

Besides Solid Edge, two other 3-D CAD packages have recently been written to run exclusively under Windows: SolidWorks, from SolidWorks Corp., Concord, MA, (e-mail, [email protected]) and TriSpectives, from 3D/Eye, Ithaca, NY (e-mail, [email protected] ). But Intergraph says Solid Edge is unique in that it's focused on assembly design.

"Most problems in design are interference problems," says Intergraph's Corbridge. "When assembly is an afterthought, you don't find those problems until the design is complete. Using an assembly focus from the start means you won't create the interference problems in the first place."

Analyst Stephen Wolfe, publisher of the newsletter Computer Aided Design Report, says that assemblies in Solid Edge consist of references to individual files. That means "designers can create assemblies from a combination of new and existing part models without copying those models and all their geometry into a single assembly file," he writes.

User-written CAD. While Intergraph is using its new Jupiter architecture primarily as a foundation for fashioning its own new Windows-based object-oriented CAD products, Computervision and Matra Datavision are also using their new architectures to enable others to develop software.

Computervision's Pelorus(TM) tool kit is an object-oriented architecture for writing CAD products that will run on both Windows and UNIX platforms. The first 2-D mechanical product, DesignPost Drafting, started shipping in May 1995. A family of Pelorus products with 3-D capabilities are on the front burner for the near future.

Mercedes-Benz, Rover, and Square D are working with Computervision to develop CAD applications based on Pelorus. The result will be a suite of packages specific to their respective industries that Computervision will bring to market under its own name.

"Pelorus helps us respond to customers' demands for quality and customized applications," says Computervision's Wagner. "And by being available on both Windows and UNIX, we let the customer pick the platform they want."

Computervision says its Pelorus-based DesignPost drafting package will shorten the traditional learning curve associated with CAD. Its menus, icons, and palettes will be completely customizable without programming, the company says. Additionally, the company says, its event-driven operation will relieve engineers of the need to follow a fixed order of operation. That means if you open a second drawing while you're in the middle of drawing a circle, the software automatically picks up where you left off when you return to the first drawing.

The company is hoping its joint effort with Mercedes will help it save at least $20 million and 150 man years in development costs as it develops what it hopes will be the most open CAD/CAM software ever.

While Computervision brings its years of experience developing CAD functionality to the joint project, Mercedes will contribute its automotive expertise. That includes the components of Syrko, its in-house CAD/CAM system, which will become part of the Pelorus architecture. Mercedes will begin testing the system this year, with full production expected in the company's car division in 1997 and the commercial vehicle division in 1998.

The software factory. Meanwhile, engineers at Volkswagen, Fiat, Framatone, Marconi Space, Nippon Steel, the University of New Orleans, and Stanford University are using Matra Datavision's Cas.Cade "software factory" to create software packages for applications as diverse as die cutting and robotics.

At Marconi Space, for example, developers are using Cas.Cade to create Systema, a satellite design system. It contains structural- and thermal-analysis models as well as specialized applications such as antenna simulation and analysis of the impact of solar rays.

With an object-oriented database and using the STEP data-exchange stan- dard, Cas.Cade runs on both UNIX and Windows platforms. Matra's first in-house-developed Cas.Cade-based 3-D solid- and surface-modeling product, Euclid Designer, will ship in the first half of 1996.

Matra has announced a working relationship with Modern Engineering, a North American automotive supplier, to use Cas.Cade to develop automotive-oriented CAD/CAM/CAE products. The company also recently announced plans to develop Euclid Design Manager, a product data management package it will build with Cas.Cade. It reportedly integrates the product model definition based on the STEP standard by keeping track of relevant data at all stages of the product cycle. The software will run on Digital, Hewlett Packard, IBM, NEC, Silicon Graphics, and Sun workstations.

In the second quarter of 1996, Matra will release Euclid Designer, Euclid Analyst, and Euclid Machinist, all also based on Cas.Cade. The Designer product will include "intelligent" objects that the company says will encapsulate all information pertinent to their utilization. The object-oriented database will allow easy creation of personalized applications, while STEP implementation for geometry and topology will guarantee data exchange with other CAD/CAM/CAE systems, the company claims.

Real-world visions. As is the case with all products developed for the OEM, customers are finding uses that go beyond the software vendors' initial visions. For example, Pat Morgan, manager of CAD support for air conditioning and humidity-control systems manufacturer Liebert Corp., Columbus, OH, will use Intergraph's Imagineer and Solid Edge to extend the life of his present hardware.

"Because they are written for Windows NT, both packages are hardware neutral," he says. "That means we will be able to run CAD on the same machines as our office automation software, so the computers won't become obsolete every time there's an advance in hardware. We'll just move the engineers' machines to a secretary's desk."

Morgan believes he will also save time and money in training. "Before, we had EMS software and we had to go to Huntsville to get training in the capabilities important to us," he recalls. Initially, he says, the training was four weeks long, at a cost of about $2000 per person per week. "But Imagineer and Solid Edge are promoted as virtually self-teaching. That could be a big benefit."

Additionally, Morgan believes the Windows interface will improve engineers' speed using the software. The Windows icons are familiar and easy, he says.

Morgan is hoping Imagineer and Solid Edge will solve another problem his engineers have: sending design files to other software packages to create technical documentation. "Now, for those other applications that conform to OLE, they'll be able to send the files without a problem," he says.

Competitive advantage. While Morgan sees Jupiter-based Imagineer and Solid Edge as tools that will help him streamline product development, J.T. Thorpe's Chris Cohn thinks they'll give his company's engineers a competitive advantage.

Engineers at the Richmond, CA-based consulting and contracting firm will use Imagineer on laptops in the field to do 2-D sketching or to show drawings to customers. Using the 3-D capabilities of Solid Edge in the design of refractory liners for heavy industry will allow them for the first time to make full use of ANSYS heat transfer and stress analysis capabilities.

"Before, all we could do was 2-D analysis by hand," he says, adding that Solid Edge will allow them to take full advantage of the close interface between Intergraph software and ANSYS.

The new dawning that all these developments are bringing to CAD are revitalizing an industry that many observers say is ready for some technical breakthroughs. And, says Bruce Jenkins, of Cambridge, MA research firm Daratech, the advanced technology coming on the market will break down the rigidity of older applications.

OLE seeks to simplify data-sharing For as long as engineers have used CAD, they've looked for efficient ways to bring design files from one package to another. IGES and STEP are the traditional translators that help them do the job. But in any translation, something important could get lost. Enter OLE (Object Linking and Embedding). It's a standard for working with application objects, including text, bitmap images, vector graphics, or other data. Intergraph helped expand OLE into the realm of 2-D and 3-D geometry through its OLE for Design and Modeling extensions. The result is data sharing, not data translating, Intergraph says. The benefit: "Unlike translated CAD data, embedded objects retain their native CAD representations," says industry analyst Donald Brown. OLE could make it possible too for engineers to use personal productivity tools such as spreadsheets on the same desktop computer that they use for CAD programs. Though Intergraph led the development of OLE for Design and Modeling, the specification is now in the public domain, and managed by the Design and Modeling Applications Council (DMAC). More than 40 CAD/CAM/ CAE vendors are on the Council, including Intergraph, Computervision, and Matra Datavision.

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