Manufacturing

PTC Pro/Engineer Wildfire

16 Aug, 2004 By: Jeffrey Rowe

New user interface makes powerful capabilities more accessible.


WAY BACK IN 1994, I RAN Pro/ENGINEER on a DEC high-performance Alpha workstation—I can't remember what the specs were—under some flavor of UNIX. On one hand, I was impressed with the program's features and what it could do, but on the other hand I felt overwhelmed and frustrated by the sheer number of options and the strict rules that I had follow to design anything remotely complex. At that time, it was a one-way street—the design engineer was forced to adapt to the design tool, not the other way around. I wondered then if Pro/ENGINEER would ever become a design tool for mere mortals.

Ten years later, the product is called Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire and it's well on its way to being an approachable program for all designers. We thought it was time to see if today's Wildfire is treading water or spreading its wings with regard to its features, capabilities, and future. The product I review here is the Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 Foundation Advantage package.

Before we get into the nuts and bolts of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, I must say that the installation procedure is more difficult than is necessary. Before you install the software, you have to obtain a license pack that permits installation and loads a setup utility. I installed Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 and a couple of other modules on a stand-alone machine and was somewhat taken aback at the number of codes, IDs, and numbers I had to supply for installation. I can understand PTC's concern with piracy, but this procedure took me hours instead of the minutes I've become accustomed to with most other MCAD products. I'd almost prefer a hardware dongle. Once installed, the program said my license was lost whenever I left it idle for a few minutes. It hiccupped the first couple of times during simple procedures when sketching and adding features. And it automatically shut down and rebooted my machine. Fortunately, this didn't occur too often. Although they were a bit disconcerting, once these few glitches were resolved, I was able get down to business and build some parts.

Figure 1. PTC continues to improve Pro/ENGINEER Wildfires user interface with enhancements such as the Dashboard and visual feedback as you create model components and assemblies.
Figure 1. PTC continues to improve Pro/ENGINEER Wildfires user interface with enhancements such as the Dashboard and visual feedback as you create model components and assemblies.

What's New With The Interface?

In the past, one of the most intimidating aspects of learning and using Pro/ENGINEER was its user interface, namely the layers upon layers of cascading menus. Although those are mostly gone and the user interface has made great strides, it's not fully Windows compliant. Because of its legacy, it still has a UNIX-like feel and behavior in some areas. This version, however, supports multiple undo and redo for all operations with features, components, and drawings, as well as comprehensive feature and geometry cut and paste.

One of the hardest things that confronts a user new to CAD or to a certain program is, "Where do I begin?" When you start Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, a browser displays in the main part of the graphics window labeled Resource Center. Here you find a number of tools to help get you started, such as productivity tools, tutorials, and Help tools (including a quick-reference card that is invaluable for new users). Although I found the context-sensitive online Help system and Help Center somewhat quirky, incomplete, and inconsistent, they proved adequate once I had some practice in navigation. The Help Center is categorized by Pro/ENGINEER functional areas, such as fundamentals, detailing, assembly, and welding.

What most other CAD systems call a history tree PTC now calls the Navigator. Found on the left side of your graphics window, it has four tabs across the top to access various groups of data sources and capabilities, both locally and across a network. You can minimize it to maximize your workspace. The Navigator is quite handy—think of it as Windows Explorer on steroids.

Figure 2. To create custom sheet-metal  shapes, start with predefined shapes, such as rectangular and trapezoid, for the walls. You use drag handles to manipulate the standard shapes and types of wall relief.
Figure 2. To create custom sheet-metal shapes, start with predefined shapes, such as rectangular and trapezoid, for the walls. You use drag handles to manipulate the standard shapes and types of wall relief.

At the bottom of the screen is the Dashboard (figure 1, p. 30), first introduced in the previous version of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire. It was meant to replace the clunky Menu Manager and has, for the most part, although it still shows up periodically when you don't really want it to in some editing and drawing situations. You use the Dashboard for one of two modeling approaches in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, and it guides you through the process with menus and dialog boxes.

With the Dashboard approach, you execute an action first, then select references where you want to apply the action. For more advanced users, the direct modeling approach lets you work directly on the model by selecting the references first and then applying an action. With a little practice, you'll come to prefer the direct modeling approach more than the Dashboard because it's a lot quicker. However, you can combine and use either approach to fit your particular design style. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 also supports top-down modeling, which is best suited for designs that undergo frequent modifications or for diverse types of designs, and bottom-up modeling, best suited for designing similar products or those that don't require frequent modifications.

Figure 3. With the new 3D drawings capability in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, you can clearly document 3D models in accordance with the ASME Y14.41 standard. New annotation features let you add text and symbolic information, such as dimensions, notes, GD&T, and surface finishes.
Figure 3. With the new 3D drawings capability in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, you can clearly document 3D models in accordance with the ASME Y14.41 standard. New annotation features let you add text and symbolic information, such as dimensions, notes, GD&T, and surface finishes.

Modeling Parts

When you start a new part or open an existing one, the graphics window replaces the browser window. In some instances, creating a feature-based, parametric part in Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 takes a few more steps than in other MCAD packages, but the result is basically the same. You start with a 2D conceptual layout sketch, add basic geometric entities, and dimension and constrain the geometry. To build a 3D parametric part from the 2D sketch, add features such as extrusions, sweep, cuts, holes, and the like. Finally, modify and resolve problem part features to suit your design.

Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 features several modeling enhancements, but I'll focus on improvements to the warp feature—the Spine and Sculpt commands. The Spine command deforms a part model when you use control points, tangents, and so forth to edit a spine, which then affects the model adjacent to it. A spine can act in a linear, cylindrical, or radial direction, and you can apply damping regions to localize and limit the deformation. The Sculpt command deforms a part or set of surfaces using a control mesh default grid of 3X3 points, although you can increase the number of points for more precise control. Once you individually pick the points using <Ctrl>-Click, you drag them to deform the part. In the future, I'd like to see the ability to deform a face by direct selection and not just by selecting a deformation workplane.

Figure 4. Using tools such as AutobuildZ (a plug-in application for Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire) and DWG/ DXF import wizards, you can bring in existing 2D drawings and convert them to parametric, feature-based 3D models.
Figure 4. Using tools such as AutobuildZ (a plug-in application for Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire) and DWG/ DXF import wizards, you can bring in existing 2D drawings and convert them to parametric, feature-based 3D models.

If you work with sheet metal, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire offers three different ways to create parts: sheet-metal mode, where you create individual parts; assembly mode, where you create sheet-metal parts in a top-down approach; and conversion, where you convert an existing solid part to a sheet-metal part (figure 2, p. 30). Sheet-metal parts are easy to create and understand because they consist of two types of surfaces or sides: driving and offset. By default, the driving side is green and the offset side (indicating thickness) is white.

Works Well With Others

Because Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 is now Web-centric, it's well connected on many levels and fairly well suited for collaborative practices right out of the box. For example, in the browser, a Connections tab provides access to parts libraries and catalogs from several different sources. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 also offers a peer-to-peer Conference Center for design collaboration. Finally, for those users on annual maintenance programs, the base package comes with Pro/COLLABORATE, a PTC-hosted, Web-based project management and collaboration service.

Like it or not, drawings are still a major means of communicating a design, and this version of Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 creates 3D drawings that adhere to the recent ASME Y14.41 and the emerging ISO 1672 standards (figure 3, p. 32). These 3D drawings take traditional 2D drawing information, such as dimensions, tolerances, and surface finishes, and present it in a 3D context with the model. The 3D representation and accompanying information, also known as annotation features, present a design clearly to those who might not understand the information presented in traditional 2D orthographic views.

Figure 5. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 lets you perform kinematic component dragging in assemblies at any time.
Figure 5. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 lets you perform kinematic component dragging in assemblies at any time.

You can also easily perform kinematic component dragging in assemblies (figure 5). All you do is click on and drag a component in an assembly. If you want to ensure that a component cannot be moved, you can restrain it by adding a Fix constraint in the Component Placement dialog box.

For data exchange and interoperability, Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0, via its ATB (associative topology bus), now bidirectionally supports Unigraphics R18/NX, CATIA V5, and I-DEAS data import.

Deep Capabilities

So what types of design engineers does Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 suit? I'd have to say two basic groups—those who currently use a previous version of Pro/ENGINEER and those still contemplating the move from 2D to 3D. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 is a deep product. Not only does it have a lot to offer in the base package, it supports many add-on modules that handle just about any mechanical design and manufacturing problem. For example, the optional ISDX (Interactive Surfacing Design Extension) module is a good choice for industrial design and styling complex surfaces with a high degree of free-form control over the surfaces (figure 6). Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 is analogous to an onion, and we've peeled off only the first few layers in this review. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 demonstrates that PTC is committed to the mechanical CAD market for the long haul with a product development and release strategy and schedule that should carry it well into the future.
Figure 6. Although Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 has some good surfacing capabilities, the optional ISDX module is the way to go for advanced surfacing and styling.
Figure 6. Although Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 2.0 has some good surfacing capabilities, the optional ISDX module is the way to go for advanced surfacing and styling.


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