Product Design

Transition from 2D to 3D

1 May, 2004 By: Arnie Williams

Lessons learned at PTC and manufacturer Ingersoll-Rand.


In just more than 14 years with PTC, Tom Quaglia has attained the high technical post of principal technical specialist for the company. During his tenure he has visited a large number of PTC customers all across North America, observing the makeup of their engineering departments and the battles they wage when it comes to the 2D and 3D aspects of their design work.

Ingersoll-Rand, a big player in the industrial equipment industry, uses Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire to design its machinery.
Ingersoll-Rand, a big player in the industrial equipment industry, uses Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire to design its machinery.

In Quaglia's early days with PTC, Pro/ENGINEER was the 3D leader within the companies he visited. Drawing boards, 2D CADAM, and AutoCAD carried the load on the 2D side. There was also a pronounced difference in background and training among members of the design groups. Those who carried out 3D modeling were generally engineers with advanced degrees. They worked alongside colleagues who usually were referred to as drafters and who spent their days translating the 3D work into 2D drawings. The vestiges of this division in job title, training, and responsibility can still be seen at many manufacturing companies.

This split between the 2D and 3D side of design engineering departments was also due to technology barriers, especially on the hardware side. The expense and complexity of the hardware needed for 3D modeling reinforced the division between designer and drafter. The designer's technology toolchest consisted of monumentally expensive mainframe workstations, whereas drafters worked with relatively inexpensive and also memory-poor and speed-deprived hardware. Even though people working in these departments all gradually began to be referred to as designers, the 3D side of the aisle was a technology behemoth, the 2D side a homunculus.

A Decade of Quantum Leaps

The high-tech breakthroughs of the 1990s changed the technology equation forever and set in motion a profound shift in how engineering departments would be organized a decade later. Up against the mainframes, the RISC-based workstations, and the SGI/SUN UNIX platforms-still home to engineering 3D specialists-came a David wielding a slingshot loaded with a Pentium chip. With Windows operating system technology on a Pentium platform, the mainstream user would soon have access to power that rivaled the most expensive mainframes. And software engineers would have a platform on which to develop software that didn't require a Ph.D. in engineering to master.
Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire's new user interface and tools help 2D users to learn it quickly.
Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire's new user interface and tools help 2D users to learn it quickly.

And so the state of affairs at most manufacturing companies today shows remnants of past history, but also the direction of the future. Few design departments make a clear division-at least in name-between drafters and designers anymore, but a fair amount of 2D work is still being done. While many companies still employ heavyweight hardware and software for 3D modeling, there is a marked movement to mix in more Windows-based platforms with 3D software such as Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, and the like.

There are clear advantages to modeling in 3D first and deriving 2D drawings from the 3D model at the end of the process. With the ability now to generate BOMs (bills of materials) from the 3D model, to subject a model and assembly to FEA (finite-element analysis) and other aspects of analysis early in the design process, and to execute CAM and other manufacturing and prototyping processes directly from a 3D model, why would any company stubbornly cling to the 2D drawing mindset?

Biggest Barrier-Conceptualizing in 3D

In Quaglia's experience, and this seems to hold true as a general rule of thumb, it's easier for people who have never worked in 2D-only mode to quickly get up to speed with 3D modeling. Young engineering students in colleges today, for example, have relatively little resistance to conceptualizing design problems in 3D and relatively little difficulty in learning to use programs such as Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire in short order. As they move into their first jobs in manufacturing, they come in ready to do their work in 3D from the outset.

But for 2D veterans-those more accustomed to working with lines, arcs, circles, extrudes, and entities rather than 3D objects-there is a distinct challenge. Most complain that switching to 3D modeling slows work down. In some companies, the slowdown is so profound that the need to churn out 2D documentation for the shop floor wins out at the end of the day, and designers fall back on their reliable 2D software.

Such was the initial experience of Dave Traver, an experienced design engineer working with Ingersoll-Rand. A nine-year AutoCAD user, Traver honed his 2D drawing skills to a Formula One pace that made him a valuable asset to any department that needed fast drawing documentation. He saw, though, that the future was in 3D, and he wanted to invest the time and training to build up his 3D modeling skills. To get himself started, he volunteered to be a test case for Ingersoll-Rand's custom-engineering department-one of the 2D enclaves in an otherwise largely 3D company. After taking fast-track training and drawing courses in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire through PTC-certified training partners Belcan and Enser, Traver returned to work to use his new skills on production projects. Traver relied on engineering colleagues to help him solve some of the 3D problems that arose, but also had access to a mentor at PTC to reinforce his training and build new skills.

An example of industrial machinery designed with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire.
An example of industrial machinery designed with Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire.

Traver notes that it was slow going at first compared with his typical production workflow when he designed solely in 2D. He also struggled with achieving the kind of detail in end-of-the-day drawings he could accomplish in 2D. The initial slowdown, he says, came from having to learn to conceptualize in 3D. For help with that, he relied on PTC's unique Precision Learning and frequently consulted with engineering colleagues and his PTC mentor-which all took time.

Crucial Management Support

Associated with the mining industry since 1871, Ingersoll-Rand has steadily developed brands in many sectors, including automotive, road development, drilling, portable power, industrial tools, and materials handling. The company has long been heavily weighted toward 3D, standardizing on Pro/ENGINEER historically with Unigraphics in the mix because of acquisitions. More recently, the company recently standardized on Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire for groups such as custom engineering that still use 2D.

From management's perspective, Ingersoll-Rand has compelling reasons to become a fully 3D shop, notes George Ashley, director of engineering technology. When BOMs drive ERPs (enterprise resource planning), as they do at Ingersoll-Rand, there can be a significant disconnect with what engineering is doing when someone works off a serial-process BOM taken by hand from a 2D drawing. Such a disconnect can cost millions of dollars, he says. "We need to have common 3D models for digital mockup, kinematics, engineering analysis, assembly, and integration with the supply chain.

In short, we want to be in the area of product lifecycle management."

The ease of use of desktop products such as Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire will help more mainstream designers come on board, notes Quaglia, but revamping the user interface on these products won't be enough. "Users have to think differently," he says. "There's a different thought process in making sweeps, blends, and extrudes. Users need to learn how to conceptualize objects and then build geometry."

To do all this without giving in to the temptation of falling back on 2D, says Quaglia, management can't waver. "Management has to drive this change for it to be effective." At Ingersoll-Rand and at a growing number of manufacturing companies around the country, management is doing just that.


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