Data Management

Expert guidance for implementing data management software and best practices in a CAD environment.

Starting a New CAD Design? Don’t Reinvent the Wheel!

20 Mar, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

Improve engineering workflow and save time using CAD search technologies.

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Cadalyst Publishes CAD Manager's Guide to Error Reduction

11 Feb, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

A collection of Robert Green's advice helps CAD managers catch more problems — and even stop some before they start.

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'CAD Trends' Survey Covers More Technologies But Yields Few Surprises

6 Feb, 2019 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

3D printing adoption continues to grow significantly, as strong growth potential is found for emerging technologies such as generative design and artificial intelligence.

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What Roles Do Graphics Play in Design and Engineering Software?

16 Jan, 2019 By: Gavin Bridgeman

Graphics work in different ways to support 2D and 3D design applications, computer-aided engineering, metrology, and more.

Design and engineering software has long catered to two primary markets, serving up a range of offerings to manufacturing and AEC professionals. These software applications help users with everything from design and analysis to creation and validation — and beyond.

But if you think graphics work the same way for all the different applications used at each of these stages, think again: Graphics take on different roles — and provide different benefits — across the engineering software spectrum. Let’s take a closer look by starting at the beginning, with design.

How Do Graphics Support 2D and 3D Design Applications?

Because we naturally perceive the world in three dimensions, 3D software provides an intuitive environment for design. However, for creation and manufacturing, 2D is the primary way we communicate dimensions and other essential information.

Over the past decade, model-based definition (MBD) and Industry 4.0 have been promoted as ways to address this discrepancy, by bringing 2D information into a 3D world. MBD refers to a 3D model that includes associative product and manufacturing information (PMI); this defines the product in a manner that can be used effectively for manufacturing without a 2D drawing graphic sheet. Industry 4.0 is a trend of manufacturing automation that leverages a digital copy of the physical world for decision-making; a master and up-to-date 3D model is critical to this initiative.

These two business strategies have had major impacts on productivity, because getting 2D and 3D to work together is always challenging, and particularly so when it comes to graphics. For example, users may require annotation text to behave like regular text part of the time, so it maintains screen alignment and specific size, regardless of zoom level; in other cases, they may want it to act like regular 3D geometry.

Improvements have been made in all aspects of the product lifecycle, including quoting, design, machine programming, planning, and quality control. The primary benefit is better decisions that result in less rework due to incorrect interpretation of design intent. (Good decision-making requires good data, and the ability to visualize it!) This in turn yields a reduction in the waste that comes from rework, and increased availability of engineering expertise for innovation (as opposed to personnel being occupied with resolving problems or sorting out confusion around design intent embodied with 2D information).

A 3D model with PMI indicating manufacturing tolerances. Image courtesy of Tech Soft 3D.

Given that the model and its associated annotations are so fundamental to the design stage, this data needs to look as good as possible. From a graphics perspective, this requires producing sharp text, as well as crisp-looking edges and lines, and supporting anti-aliasing that allows the software to work on high-resolution devices without triggering memory issues that can impair performance. Aliasing is a common problem in computer graphics: Smooth curves and other lines appear jagged because of the resolution of the graphics device. Anti-aliasing is a computationally intensive technique that diminishes these “stair-stepped” lines.

What About CAE Applications?

Computer-aided engineering (CAE) is widely used to optimize designs for manufacturing. The two primary technologies under the CAE umbrella are computational fluid dynamics (CFD), which focuses on fluid flow, and finite-element analysis (FEA), which addresses rigid structures. From a graphics standpoint, each presents its own set of challenges.

CAE software generally subdivides surfaces and solids into elements, then runs solvers on those elements (solvers simulate physical conditions and performance factors such as stress, heat distribution, and fluid flow). In a pre-process analysis context, the software needs to display both edge and facet data, and allow users to select at a very granular level as they manipulate the mesh. In the post-process phase, the software runs solvers on these elements and displays the results.

From a graphics standpoint, this is accomplished through the use of color interpolation, flow lines/vectors, and a variety of other techniques, such as ribbon paths, 3D vector fields, and isolines. The needs of each are different, depending on whether CFD or FEA results are involved. Needless to say, none of this is simple; a rich and powerful toolset for representing analysis results is a necessity.

A CFD analysis showing fluid flow through a vessel. Image courtesy of Fluent.


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A Case Study in Virtual Workstations for CAD

28 Nov, 2018 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: The experience of architecture and engineering firm Mead & Hunt presents a compelling proof point for a new CAD computing paradigm.

The virtual workstation has arrived, offering an alternative solution to traditional client-focused environments that are beginning to creak under the strain of today’s CAD IT challenges. There’s no doubt that on paper, the centralized topology in which servers host a virtual representation of a user’s workstation — i.e., the virtual workstation — presents unique advantages to companies struggling to manage increasingly scattered staff working on huge datasets with a range of computing devices. Co-locating data, compute, and graphics in one central repository — be that in the cloud or in a private virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) datacenter — works to alleviate those pain points hampering productivity for firms in architecture, construction, design, and manufacturing.

For more background on the concept of virtual workstations, including an extensive look at the technologies and specific solutions available in the market today, check out my four-part series, “Harnessing the Cloud for CAD: The Case for Virtual Workstations.”

A variety of end-user devices, including those with limited processing power, can be used with cloud-hosted virtual workstations.

It’s Here — and Steadily Picking Up Momentum

Although I used the phrase “on paper” in the opening of this column, that isn’t the slight it might sound like. Normally, it might be reserved to disparage technology that sounds nice in theory, but isn’t mature, accessible, or compelling enough to deliver the real-world benefits the paper pitch promises. But in this case, “on paper” simply reflects the reality that the concept and technologies are still in the early stages of adoption, and examples of their effective deployment are relatively scarce. But given that virtual workstations should eventually lead to a significant shift of CAD computing infrastructure, I’m paying close attention to the few real-world examples that do exist — and I suggest all providers and consumers with a vested interest do the same.

One excellent example is Mead & Hunt. A global engineering and architecture firm, Mead & Hunt’s fingers are spread both broad and deep across a wide range of industries and disciplines. Its workforce of 700 is distributed among 30 offices across the United States in all time zones, with staff out on construction or client sites nearly as often as they are in the office.

All those personnel need 24/7 access to the same project database, yet must avoid the perils of accidentally working from outdated copies of unsynchronized revisions. To compound the problem, those dataset copies aren’t measured in megabytes anymore, or even tens or hundreds of megabytes: Project teams had to wrestle with Revit files up to 3 GB in size, incurring lengthy, productivity-crushing delays in copying from site to site.

The Critical First Step: Centralizing Data in the Cloud

Problematic revision control and network delays resulting from the explosion of data and expansion of the company’s physical footprint were the first and most painful issues that came to the fore for Mead & Hunt, explained CIO Andy Knauf. Accordingly, years ago Knauf and his team pushed the company to transition project data to the cloud, choosing Amazon Web Services (AWS) to host and secure data for the company’s projects.

Architects and engineers continued to design and simulate on their client-side mobile and deskside workstations. But rather than downloading and copying files, they worked directly on cloud-resident data, accessed via virtual private networks (VPNs). The data was managed by Panzura controllers that specialize in cloud-source file services with multi-site file locking for distributed physical environments like Mead & Hunt’s.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

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3D Modeling

Autodesk Advocates Automation at AU 2018

16 Nov, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff

The design software developer is pushing generative design and other automation technologies for product development and AEC workflows, while seeking to allay concerns about the impact on jobs.

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Why Data Management Still Matters

13 Nov, 2018 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: In a modern CAD environment, procedures for organizing and preserving your company’s data sets are more important than ever.

About the Author: Robert Green

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Civil Engineering

Bentley Systems Believes Digital Twins Are 'the Future,' and Invests Accordingly

17 Oct, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

The company is committed to developing digital twin technologies for infrastructure projects and assets, including an iTwin Services cloud platform and a plant operations solution created in partnership with Siemens.

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Cloud-Based CAD

Onshape Extends Cloud-Based CAD to the Enterprise, Part 2

6 Jun, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

Onshape argues that product data management (PDM) solutions are obsolete, and rebuts competitors’ criticisms of its own efficacy in addressing CAD users’ needs.

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Data Management

Aras Takes On the Pain of PLM

26 Jan, 2018 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

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

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