General Software

I-deas 10 NX Series

31 Oct, 2003 By: Joanne Green,Mark Huxley

First-class FEA tools complement design capabilities.

I-deas 10 NX, now owned by EDS, is the product’s second step in the transition toward a merged Unigraphics/I-deas NX product. Formerly developed by Structural Dynamics Research Corp., I-deas began as an analysis tool in the 1970s. It added modeling, manufacturing, and other applications throughout the 1980s and 1990s. In 1993, parametric modeling and precise solid body representations debuted as I-deas Master Series.

I-deas holds a significant market presence in the automotive, electronics, consumer product, and medical industries, including companies such as Canon, Sony, Lexmark, Lockheed-Martin, Nissan, and Abbott Laboratories (figures 1 and 2). Many companies also use other CAD systems for their modeling and assembly work and transfer the files using IGES, STEP, and Parasolid to take advantage of I-deas' FEA (finite-element analysis) capabilities.

I-deas is a capable modeling tool in its own right, especially for manufactured parts typical of the electronics and aerospace industries. The tools available are similar to those in most other 3D CAD systems, so experienced 3D users should be able to model parts and assemblies almost immediately, with the prospect of being proficient in less than a month.



Figures 1 (left) and 2 (right). I-deas 10 NX is a powerful design tool used by the automotive, aerospace, and consumer products industries.

Figure 3. Help documents include tutorials that step you through each lesson.
The integrated Help library provides a solid foundation for learning the software. The tutorials follow a logical progression of modeling, assemblies, and drafting techniques, and also branch off into surfacing, sheet metal, FEA, and manufacturing options. Workshops provide further hands-on practice with a minimal set of instructions that help reinforce the lessons (figure 3).

I-deas runs on several UNIX platforms and Windows 2000/XP. It works on Windows NT, but EDS no longer supports that platform. I-deas requires at least 256MB of RAM, and 512MB is recommended, especially for complex surfacing and large assembly management. It requires 512MB or more of swap space. The company recommends 1GB for large analysis models.

Many license options are available. A good starter license is the Product Design Package ($11,900), which includes the modeling, drafting, assemblies, and TDM (team data manager) applications that most users need. This pricing is comparable to other high-end CAD packages, especially when you consider the inclusion of the TDM module.

Moving around in I-deas is straightforward. The interface is logically organized with toolbar stacks, prompts, and information windows that surround the graphics window (figure 4).

Figure 4. The clean I-deas interface is easy to navigate.

The look of feature dialog boxes is consistent, and you access many filtering and selection tools using mouse right-button options in the graphics window. The toolbar stacks stay in a consistent location, even when you switch between applications like modeling and drafting. When this occurs, the toolbars relevant to modeling disappear and are replaced by the drafting options. This consistency across the interface lets you sit down at any session without having to hunt for commands that another user has hidden.

Part and assembly creation first requires some knowledge of the TDM, which acts as a PDM (product data management) system directly in the software. The TDM uses a workbench, bin, and library structure, which organizes parts that belong to a single user vs. parts that are shared among a project team of engineers, designers, drafters, NC programmers, and stress analysts. Libraries require a check-in and check-out process that maintains revision control. You can set permission rules for specific types of users, such as modelers, drafters, and checkers, and you can define workflows to route a model, assembly, or drawing through the appropriate authorization path.

I-deas combines solid and open (sheet) body modeling functions, including the ability to transform a solid into an open body by deleting individual faces. This can cause problems if you don't know that faces have been deleted, but fortunately these particular delete operations are logged in the feature history tree and can be removed to restore the faces and the solid body object.

I-deas modeling philosophy is rooted in sketch-based features. You use profiles to build extruded and revolved bodies, as well as detail features such as holes and slots. Most sketches are absorbed into the resulting feature, which helps eliminate clutter in the graphics window. However, this means that unless you create reference curves from the sketches, they can't be used more than once or as references for other sketches.

Because of the heavy reliance on profile geometry, I-deas offers numerous ways to create lines, arcs, circles, ellipses, and conics. The Sketcher also makes accurate constraint relationships for aligning geometry and has many on-screen commands to determine tangency, midpoint, and more. The most refreshing example is the ability to constrain to the midpoint of a face in both the x and y directions without needing to create reference geometry. The downside to the Sketcher appears when you create dimensional constraints. Unless you create the geometry to exact size, you must create dimensions, then exit the dimension tools, enter the update tools, select the dimensions, and finally enter the desired values.

Figures 5 (top) and 6. Patterns provide the ability to stagger the offset distances within a single feature.
Sketches don't have to be fully constrained to use, but they should be in order to capture true design intent. I-deas provides some nice diagnostic tools to analyze open constraints. Show Effects dynamically moves a selected geometry object based on the object's degrees of freedom. You can further capture design intent with modeling tools such as Selection Intent, where you define rules such as tangency selection for a specific feature. Any changes made to the features that affect the defined rules allow the model to update to the new geometry automatically.

All the modeling tools are easy to find in the toolbar stacks. Operations such as extrude, revolve, blending, and hollowing are intuitive, especially if you've used other 3D CAD systems. Some particularly nice options are the ability to revolve a profile to create a helical solid without having to first create the helical path, and feature patterns, which let you enter separate offset values for each row or column of the pattern (figures 5 and 6). Another useful function is the ability to create associative measurements between vertices, edges, and faces to position features while you create the features themselves. In most cases, no additional reference geometry is needed.

The new Part Component feature is an innovative solution for a prevalent engineering logjam. Instead of a single user designing a large, critical part, Part Component breaks the part into several associative parts that can be owned by different users. You then use Feature Copy to associatively piece together the final part (figure 7).

Figure 7. The ability for multiple designers to work on the same part can drastically reduce time to market.

Current surfacing capabilities are comprehensive enough to create Class A automotive surfaces and consumer product geometry, and new enhancements in NX make the surfacing capabilities even more robust. Users who use imported surfaces without recreating them in I-deas now have the ability to easily modify their models when a new surface is imported to replace the original. You can use surface, face, and edge mapping to replace the old surface with the new, and child features are reassigned based on the mapping. The history tree documents all the features used to create a model. However, reviewing the model structure can be difficult, especially once the model has more than 30 features. The stick-figure layout takes up a lot of space, and it isn't easy to show parent-child relationships outside the current feature. Pan, zoom, and fit commands are available to navigate around the tree, but these are small consolation.

Assembly creation using top-down or bottom-up techniques is similar enough to other CAD/CAM packages that the concepts are easy to pick up-it's mainly a matter of finding the correct terminology to use. As you'd expect from a high-end CAD system, you can associatively position parts relative to other parts at the assembly level. You can also create new geometry while in assembly mode-for example, to add shrink to a plastic injection-molded part or to create a final machined part from a casting. The ability to make associative copy features helps to link geometry between multiple parts, reducing the need to edit multiple parts.

Among the new assembly enhancements is the ability to reflect an entire assembly for left- and right-hand versions. This includes the flexibility to make the copied assembly editable so you can incorporate small variations to the parts or assembly configurations.

For a new user, I-deas' drafting module presents some initial challenges. The interface is different from that of the modeling and assembly modules, and it's not immediately apparent what the various icons represent. A quick read through the training materials to learn how to access the pop-up icon names gets you on your way.

The I-deas drafting module provides strong 2D geometry creation capabilities that are invaluable for creating schematics and wire harness representations. The tools are less robust when used to create drawings using the 3D part. The I-deas work view philosophy is outdated and makes view addition and dimensioning inefficient. You are limited to creating automatic orthographic views off the base view only and must create auxiliary views to get orthographic projections of any other view. You can add dimensions to the current work view only and must fit them within the view boundary. This means you are constantly updating the view boundary instead of thinking about which dimensions to add next. Section views are relatively easy to create, but can't automatically align to the parent view. Again, this requires additional steps if you need the section view aligned to its parent view.

Modeling changes to the part are reflected in the drawing, but only after you update the views. Unfortunately, the views don't indicate that they need to be updated. It's a good idea to always update the views when you first open a drawing. I-deas also doesn't indicate which dimension values are updated because of modeling changes. Even more distressing is that no indicators alert you to dimensions that are disassociated from features because of deletions or suppressions. With a complicated drawing, these dimensions can be difficult to find for deletion, particularly if different users are editing parts and updating drawings.

A hallmark of I-deas software has been its FEA capabilities, a primary reason EDS acquired the software in the first place (figure 8).

Figure 8. I-deas is the industry leader for built-in CAE capabilities.

The options include many analysis types not found in other CAD systems, such as composite lay-up analysis. Enhancements continue to be made to all aspects of I-deas FEA, including mesh creation, load case definition, and postprocessing options. The I-deas FEA tools will continue to be used after the merger with Unigraphics is complete, and many Unigraphics analysts are beginning to make the transition now to take advantage of all the tools available.

Manufacturing in I-deas is the opposite of the FEA tools-the Unigraphics software contains the industry-leading capabilities. EDS says that no further enhancements will be made to the I-deas manufacturing capability, and it recommends that you trade in existing manufacturing bundles for equivalent CAM licenses.

EDS will develop one more I-deas stand-alone release for the second quarter of 2004. Look for this release to continue to enhance existing functions based on user requests. During the past six years, I-deas has incorporated more than 70% of the Top 10 customer requests garnered from annual user group meetings.

Interoperability that began in I-deas 9 continues in I-deas 10 NX Series with the ability to save files in the XPK format, which you can open directly in Unigraphics. Unigraphics recognizes some geometry types, and the I-deas history tree is viewable (but not modifiable). Interoperability in I-deas 11 NX Series brings more geometry, feature history, assembly feature, and drawing dimension recognition.

As I-deas and Unigraphics move closer to an integrated NX product in late 2004 or early 2005, the strengths of both packages will be retained. Current users should feel comfortable that the software will improve with each release and that they could soon be using the most robust CAD/CAM/CAE software in the world.



About the Author: Joanne Green

About the Author: Mark Huxley

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