CAD Tech News (#79)

31 Jan, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: The Hidden Danger of Memory Errors in CAD Computing

They may arise infrequently, but the consequences of small memory errors can be huge. How can you reduce the chance of errors — and should you bother?

By Alex Herrera

Computers can make mistakes. No, I'm not referring to mistakes made based on bugs in an application's code, source data, or those caused by a user's erroneous keystrokes or mouse clicks. I'm talking about errors the machine's hardware itself creates, and specifically errors in memory, due to no fault of the user, the application, or the operating system.

Based on the rarity of such occurrences, many would quickly dismiss concerns about them. But there are two good reasons to minimize such errors or, at the very least, try to mitigate any potential damage caused. First, despite the rarity, it's important to consider the possible consequences; even one error can incur hefty, irreversible damages. And second, the costs and complexity of remedies are now so low that it's difficult to argue against the additional investment, regardless of how unlikely it is that errors will arise.

Memory Errors: What Kind, How Often, and How Bad?

Memory bit errors come in two basic categories, both of which are problematic: persistent ("hard") errors, caused by a hardware failure in a dynamic random-access memory (DRAM) chip or dual in-line memory module (DIMM, a small, motherboard-slotted card populated with the memory chips), and transient ("soft") errors stemming from stored bits that get flipped, either while stored in memory or during the transmission of those bits between processor and memory.

Errors might occur in processor code (instructions) read from memory, or in data that the code is attempting to process. Both types can be catastrophic, but errors in data are arguably more worrisome than errors in instructions. Why? Because a bad instruction will typically cause an exception and crash the system — something you can't help but notice — while bad data could go overlooked and provide credible, but erroneous, results.

The mechanisms producing hard and soft errors are different as well. Hard errors — those caused by deficient or flaky electrical integrity transmitting data between processor and memory — can be kept to an absolute minimum with diligent chip and motherboard design. But soft errors are theoretically unavoidable, even on the healthiest of underlying hardware. Most notably, storage bits within the DRAM chips and DIMMs themselves may flip from ones to zeros (or vice versa) due to stray radiation, such as cosmic rays. If that seems hard to believe, remember a DRAM bit is a one or zero based on the tiniest of charges on a capacitor that is constantly discharging (hence the need for DRAM "refresh"), so even a small spike of extraneous radiation — due to a solar flare, for example — can cause a soft memory error. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ With Nomad, AEC-Focused Augmented Reality Makes the Journey to Consumer-Level Devices

The addition of AR capabilities to the Vectorworks Cloud Services app highlights the fact that in-context architectural visualization is rapidly becoming more accessible — no exotic hardware required.

By Cadalyst Staff

Vectorworks, a developer of design and building information modeling (BIM) software, has announced the addition of augmented reality (AR) model-viewing capabilities to its Vectorworks Nomad mobile app. Part of Vectorworks Cloud Services, the free app enables users to view their 3D Vectorworks models on smartphones and tablets.

AR is an "obvious" fit for AEC, a realm in which there are "so many cases where you want to see a virtual model at scale in the real world," said Dave Donley, director of product technology at Vectorworks. Just as a 3D presentation can often communicate design intent more effectively than 2D, AR goes yet a step further by incorporating design elements into the viewer's actual environment, explained Alex Nicol, mobile team manager at Vectorworks.

With the new AR viewing mode, Nomad users can see full-scale Vectorworks models overlaid on their real-world settings. This perspective can help communicate the visual impact of designs to project stakeholders in an intuitive way, with no CAD or BIM experience needed. Users can position, scale, and zoom in on models with standard touchscreen gestures. As the person holding the phone or tablet walks through the space, they have the visual experience of exploring the model as if it were tangible, examining various angles and views as they reach different vantage points.

As a Vectorworks Nomad user holding a phone or tablet walks through an area, they can explore the model as if it were part of the environment, examining various angles and views as they reach different vantage points. In this example, models of office furniture are overlaid on the real-world empty office space. Image courtesy of Vectorworks.
As a Vectorworks Nomad user holding a phone or tablet walks through an area, they can explore the model as if it were part of the environment, examining various angles and views as they reach different vantage points. In this example, models of office furniture are overlaid on the real-world empty office space. Image courtesy of Vectorworks.

These aren't brand-new capabilities in the design world; what is breaking new ground, however, is the movement away from spendy, dedicated hardware for AR toward more affordable, widely available devices. "The great thing about where we're at now is, this is consumer hardware," stressed Donley. The AR experience no longer requires "exotic hardware" such as an external depth camera, he explained.

Nicol concurred: "There's a huge AR boom happening because no one needs to buy anything, or if they do, it's a $350 iPad." In addition to the ubiquitous iOS devices, Donley pointed out the affordable dedicated hardware now entering the market, including Windows AR headsets in the $300–400 range. Read more »

▶ Aras Takes On the Pain of PLM

In a marketplace plagued by customer frustration, one product lifecycle management (PLM) developer takes an unusual approach — starting with open software.

By Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Aras, developer of the Innovator product lifecycle management (PLM) solution, recently released results from its PLM Benchmark Survey for Enterprise Organizations. The survey, which ran from 2015 to 2017 and was conducted by Gatepoint Research, invited participation from select executives from "a wide variety of industries," both within and outside the manufacturing arena.

The results weren't pretty: Aras found that more than two-thirds of the 300 respondents are unsatisfied with the PLM software they have in place. Most of the surveyed companies "have more of what we would describe as a PDM [product data management] implementation, around MCAD," explained Marc Lind, senior vice-president of strategy at Aras. Only one-quarter of those surveyed reported being able to make changes quickly and easily — "they're really being handcuffed by the PDM system," he said.

Aras realized that the complexity of the modern design and development environment demands greater customizability and upgradeability, Lind explained. Aras PLM is gaining traction, he said, because "people are recognizing that just using mechanical CAD is not going to get them to the smart, connected [place] their products need to be for tomorrow's world." With the rise of smart devices and vehicles, "everything is moving in the direction of increasingly sophisticated mechanical design" — complicated by added electronics, sensors, and software. According to Lind, Aras brings all that design information together in a cross-disciplinary way, providing a unified view and bill of materials (BOM) for an entire aircraft, for example. Read more »

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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's editor in chief.


Cadalyst Publishes Guide to Top CAD Technology Trends of 2018
The new white paper provides an industry insider's perspective on which technologies matter the most at the moment — and in the months to come. Read more »

CAD Manager Column: How to Be Effective as a No-Authority CAD Manager
Even if you lack the power and budget that should come along with the responsibilities, you can still make CAD processes better by building your own authority among users. Read more »

AutoCAD Video Tips: Convert SHX Text from PDF Files to MTEXT in AutoCAD
Let's face it — we still have plenty of AutoCAD drawings with SHX fonts in them! Adobe PDF files aren't quite sure what to make of SHX text; consequently, they don't save the info needed to convert back to MTEXT when re-inserted into AutoCAD. What does that mean to you? Watch the video »

New Technologies, Lower Prices Are Reshaping Metal 3D Printing Market
Software and hardware products on display at formnext conference illustrate the forces making metal a faster, cheaper option. Read more »

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