Cadalyst MCAD Tech News #115: NDES 2004

25 Feb, 2004 By: Joe Greco

Joe Greco

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News #115 (February 26, 2004)

NDES 2004 Roundup
- Three from SolidWorks
- Autodesk Goes Shopping - Again
- Solid Edge's New Mold Capabilities
- PTC Previews New Wildfire
- Other Companies at NDES
And More

The annual NDES (National Design Engineering Show) event was held this week once again in Chicago. In case you missed it, and judging from the attendance you probably did, several important announcements involved most of the major MCAD players.

SolidWorks made a trio of announcements, and though all were important, none was spectacular. A new version of COSMOSWorks, called COSMOSWorks Designer, is positioned between COSMOSXpress - the entry-level analysis tool included and embedded in SolidWorks - and the full blown, $6,000 COSMOSWorks tool for professional analysts. COSMOSWorks Designer costs $3,500, but includes most of its big brother's engineering capabilities, except for a few high-end tools mainly involving frequency, thermal, and buckling analysis.

The company also unveiled a new version, v6, of its 3D PartStream.NET service. The most interesting aspect relates to end users of consumer products. PartStream v6 allows a product development company to place a 3D model on its Web site so everyday consumers can click on products to identify broken parts and order replacements.

Finally, SolidWorks announced capabilities to allow electromechanical engineers to create wire harnesses in their designs. This includes both enhancements to its SolidWorks Routing module and a new SolidWorks Harnessing module that flattens the harness, calculates the wire length, and provides specific details for each component and wire within the harness. Data can be imported from EDA (electronic design automation) systems such as Mentor and Cadence. The new functionality seems fairly easy to use.

Depending on pricing, these additions could provide a lot of value for SolidWorks users, especially considering that there used to be a separate $5,000 SolidWorks add-on called EMbassy for doing this. Its developer, Linius, was recently purchased by Autodesk, and much of its functionality appears in the latest version of Inventor Professional. When Autodesk purchased Linius, SolidWorks representatives told me they were not worried because EMBassy was not a big seller for them. Because of that, this SolidWorks announcement was a bit unexpected. Note that SolidWorks Harnessing contains some wiring functionality not included in Inventor Professional, such as the ability to create nailboards.

Perhaps the most interesting announcement at this year's event was Autodesk's news that it will soon complete an acquisition of MechSoft, developer of an add-on called MechSoft for Inventor and other MCAD applications. The deal covers "certain assets," which appear to be MechSoft's technology and programming team. As readers of this newsletter know, Mechsoft has always been one of my favorite products because of its ability to create models driven by engineering calculations. I noticed that MechSoft was in attendance at Autodesk University in December, but not at SolidWorks World the following month - now I know why.

So what does this acquisition mean? For starters, it could propel Inventor from its current position of offering below-par capabilities to being one of the most powerful MCAD products at any level. Much of this will depend on how tightly Autodesk integrates MechSoft's technology with Inventor. It will also depend on how much access Inventor's competitors still have to MechSoft's technology, because many of them currently license it.

I had the chance to talk with representatives of SolidWorks and Solid Edge, both partners of MechSoft. The SolidWorks representatives said they weren't really too concerned by the move-though they always saw potential in MechSoft's technology, they also had issues with it. They also recycled their Linius reasoning, saying that not many of their users employed it.
UGS PLM Solutions had a different take. For the past four years, it has resold MechSoft's technology as an add-on called The Engineering Handbook. The UGS representative I spoke to estimated that as many as 20% of Solid Edge users have the product. However, he also said that it was a known fact that Steve Vidal, president of MechSoft, has been trying to sell the company "since day one", so he was confident that the original deal that UGS worked out protected its customers rights in the event the product was ever sold.

Speaking of Solid Edge, UGS demonstrated its new integrated Mold Tooling application. Announced with Solid Edge 15 last year, the new module is scheduled to ship this quarter.

The new Mold Tooling application seems to have a fairly complete set of tools bundled into a smooth workflow. I liked its ability to automatically create the core and cavity, and the validation tools, such as checking for undercut, seemed powerful. A complete library provides standard mold bases and associated components from suppliers such as DME, Hasco, Futuba, LKM, and Misumi.

During the demonstration, I noticed several steps that were still manual, including the use of the Mirror command to lay out a series of identical parts and the use of manual drawing tools to create items such as screw holes and gates. According to representatives of UGS, these tasks will become automated in future releases.

Despite its robust capabilities, the software seems a bit pricy at $5,995. SolidWorks' new mold design tools, though less capable, are included in the base package. VX Corp.'s mold design package costs only an additional $2,000. Though further analysis is necessary, its tools are probably just as powerful as Solid Edge's, or more so. You can save about $1,500 by purchasing a UGS bundle that includes Solid Edge Classic, Feature Recognizer, and the new Mold Tooling for $9,995.

Although PTC did not show its upcoming Pro/E Wildfire 2.0 on the show floor, I did get a private viewing. One new feature I can mention is an expansion of the Warp command introduced in 1.0. It houses new tools that inflate and deflate shapes like a balloon. You also gain more detailed control when performing operations such as bending. The demonstration also emphasized how the user interface has been updated in areas such as assembly design, sheet metal, simulation, and drafting to harness the slick look and feel introduced by Wildfire 1.0.

Based on some slides I was shown, there may be exciting enhancements in the area of 2D drawings and translation capabilities in the coming months, so stay tuned.

ImpactXoft had an exiting new announcement-the introduction of its IX SPeeD V5 Suite, which incorporates its powerful functional modeling capabilities into the user interface of CATIA V5.

Based on Dassault Systemes' CAA (component application architecture), everything looks and feels like CATIA, except the program name at the top of the screen is IX SPeeD V5. The wonderful ImpactXoft tools, including Push and Pull, are available, only they are housed in a CATIA user interface. According to ImpactXoft, only a few commands, such as the Lip tool, haven't been implemented inside this new environment.

This means CATIA users can buy the IX SPeeD V5 Suite as an add-on product and take advantage of its plastic part design tools. In addition, IX SPeeD V5 works as a stand-alone application, making it ideal for firms that work with other companies that use CATIA. This saves the expense of purchasing CATIA. The cost of IX SPeeD V5 Suite is expected to be more than the average midrange MCAD product, but less than CATIA. Meanwhile, current IX users, if they choose, can run their favorite IX commands via a user interface that is more developed while benefiting from other aspects such as a more powerful sketcher. ImpactXoft will still sell and update V4 for users who wish to continue in that environment.

VX Corp. announced that v9 of its VX CAD/CAM product is shipping. Improvements appear in almost every area, including modeling, assembly design, CAM, and drafting. I had the chance to play with the 3D primitives now included with the system and found them fast and intuitive. I was also impressed with the host of CAM enhancements. These include greatly improved feature recognition, 5-axis updates, and the ability to tell the system not to machine certain holes - ideal for performing secondary machining operations. Most of v9's drafting enhancements are nice, but should have been in there already.

Scores of other companies showed great software and hardware, including Lattice Technology, Actify, Stratasys, 3D Systems, Kubotek, Blue Ridge Numerics, and more. NDES is part of five other events that drew companies from the plant design, machine tool, industrial automation, and other industries to go along with many interesting sessions. Make time in your schedule for next year's event - check out