Product Design

Solid Edge v20: Where Its Power Lies

20 Jun, 2007 By: Jeffrey Rowe

A demo of the new Solid Edge release shows a mid-range application for high-end assemblies.

A few weeks ago I was shown a Web-based demo of Solid Edge v20, and I have to say that, overall, I was quite impressed with the new version. A Web-based demo is not thorough enough to convince me that it’s the best MCAD application, but it does do some things that currently have no equal from the mid-range competition. The new version of Solid Edge is touted for its new key functionality in designing plant equipment. This isn’t too surprising, now that just about every 3D CAD application in the so-called mid-range claims that machine design is a major market and source of income, just not at this magnitude.

Solid Edge takes a slightly different approach to handling what it calls “massively large equipment” -- machine assemblies with 100,000+ parts. (The company admits that this is best accomplished with the 64-bit version of the software.) Do these types of assemblies constitute the majority of what Solid Edge is used for? Well, no, but handling assemblies of this magnitude was a major focus of this release. The company even claims to have a customer designing a massive assembly consisting of some 500,000 parts -- that’s a lot of parts!

UGS doesn't usually refer to Solid Edge by itself. Just like SolidWorks has CATIA to contend with, Solid Edge’s big sibling is NX, and UGS has defined a market for Solid Edge consisting of customers requiring, say, one to 50 seats of the software. In other words, Solid Edge will continue to target small to medium businesses and NX will focus on larger enterprises. Although this was a Solid Edge launch demo, as a rule UGS would much rather talk about Solid Edge in terms of being a component of the UGS Velocity Series that includes Solid Edge, Teamcenter Express for PDM/PLM, NX CAM Express for machining, and Femap for FEA simulation.

During the demo I asked if UGS cared about Solid Edge, a product acquired from Intergraph several years ago when Intergraph decided to get out of MCAD and concentrate on other markets. Has Solid Edge suffered from neglect in favor of NX in UGS’ eyes? I have to say, no it hasn't, because the Velocity Series seems to have had a positive growth path since it was introduced. The company also says that downloads of Solid Edge trial versions continue at a brisk rate, an indication of the attention Solid Edge garners, and that UGS will remain committed to Solid Edge.

Speaking of Teamcenter, Solid Edge v20 integrates with the new Teamcenter Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) that is intended for enhancing supply chain collaboration by improving access to a central database over wide area networks. This means that Teamcenter is more efficient for remote operations when CAD models reside on a remote server. For improved performance, TeamCenter can load real or virtual parts -- virtual parts being “lightweight” graphical representations. Similar to when NX is demonstrated, Teamcenter gets quite a bit of face time during the course of a Solid Edge demo.

Still A Place For 2D
Even though Solid Edge is a 3D application, 2D still has a place in it. The presenters said that the 2D capabilities in Solid Edge v20 make it easier to lay out large plant equipment in the context of a plant floor using actual machine geometry. Solid Edge claims to be the first to offer what the company calls assembly zones for massive assembly design and shop floor layout. Zones provide a distinct separation of a working area of interest, resulting in enhanced performance thanks to less geometry. Zones are envelopes that isolate 3D parts and assemblies, and loading a zone is faster than loading an entire model because turning on an assembly zone loads its parts into memory. Zones may be a new function name for Solid Edge, but the functionality is not entirely new in the MCAD world; other competing applications, such as SolidWorks, have a roughly analogous technology.

2D still has a place in some areas and aspects of MCAD, and AutoCAD users are still major potential customers to any 3D MCAD software; therefore, it seems any new version must address some aspect of AutoCAD. Solid Edge v20 is no different. For example, this version uses the ACAD Color 7 tool that automatically inverts black/white lines depending on background sheet color. You don’t have to change colors and layers on imported AutoCAD drawings to see everything that is contained in the drawing. Although this may not seem like a big deal, if you’ve ever had to change colors and layers just to see what’s on an imported AutoCAD drawing, you know it can be a frustrating and time-consuming process.

I was told that Solid Edge v20 has more than 170 enhancements to its part design and drafting functionality, which may seem like a lot, but is about average today for major releases of MCAD software. One of the more interesting capabilities presented was Goal Seeking, which is used to solve 2D engineering problems graphically rather than with equations. For example, if you know the target value of an engineering calculation, the Goal Seeking tool allows you to set certain parameters as the system varies other factors to achieve the desired result. You can then use the results to drive 3D geometry creation. Although this is a graphical way of solving engineering problems, you still have to have a pretty good understanding of engineering principles and why you’re doing what you’re doing in the graphical environment.

As I said earlier, Solid Edge v20, at least from outward appearances, seems like a good release for those who deal with large assemblies -- meaning a lot of parts. It’s a 3D MCAD application that seems more suited for users who have a true understanding of mechanical engineering principles, terminology, and methods. It’s not that the competition is not as well suited, it’s just that Solid Edge v20 has more of a mechanical engineering feel, and Goal Seeking is a good example of this.

I’ve touched on the highlights of Solid Edge v20 because that’s all I feel comfortable doing with a new product introduced by way of a demonstration. I am eager to take a closer, hands-on look at Solid Edge v20 and experience how it really measures up to its competition, although I doubt that I’ll be trying to create an assembly of 100,000+ parts.

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