MCAD Tech News #89 (Jan. 29, 2003)29 Jan, 2003 By: Joe Greco
The fifth annual SolidWorks World was held last week (Coronado Springs Resort, Orlando, FL, Feb. 19-22). It hosted more than 1,600 attendees who browsed through scores of exhibitors' booths and attended dozens of sessions. Here's a recap of what I saw at the conference.
There seemed to be a lot of news in this area, mostly from Translation Technologies Inc. (TTI, http://www.translationtech.com); it revealed that the latest component in its Acc-u-Trans interoperability engine is SolidWorks support. This means users will be able to convert feature-based models from Pro/E, CATIA, Unigraphics, and I-DEAS in and out of SolidWorks. Another translation company, ITI TranscenData (http://www.iti-oh.com), was also present, showing the latest versions of CADFix and DEXcenter. Both products are for featureless translation of CAD files, the former for desktop applications, the latter for Web-based applications. CADFix 5.1 and DEXcenter 4.1 both add a number of improvements to translating IGES, STEP, DXF, DWG, and other types of CAD files. Other interoperability companies such as CAD/CAM-e (http://www.cadcam-e.com) and TTF (http://www.ttf-group.com) were also at the show.
The programs mentioned above and similar ones are important for communicating design ideas when someone else other than the original designer needs to use or (in the case of feature-based translators) edit the model. However, what is often needed is a way simply to view a drawing or model. There are many 2D and 3D viewers on the market, but some users only need a simple PDF file of a model. This is what Pushbutton PDF from Bluebeam (http://www.bluebeam.com) delivers. PDF files have become the industry standard for exchanging technical documents, especially since all that is needed to view them is Acrobat Reader--free software from Adobe. With a single mouse click, SolidWorks users can now create a 2D PDF file from a drawing or model. Besides being transportable, PDF files are very small. For example, a drawing that was almost 1MB was reduced to about 80KB in PDF. Many companies, I feel, will continue to use SolidWorks' own eDrawings for design communication. But eDrawings runs only on Windows. Pushbutton PDF is ideal for companies that deploy other operating systems (such as UNIX, Linux, or Macintosh) besides Windows, because the Acrobat Reader runs on all of them.
Mold and Die Design
This was another area well covered by SolidWorks World. Manusoft Technologies (http://www.corewareusa.com), the developers of IMOLD (see my review of the product in CADENCE magazine at http://www.cadenceweb.com/2003/0103/pr0103_imold.html), was demonstrating Version 2003 of its application. In the previous version, only a few tools worked inside the SolidWorks Property Manager, but now nearly all of them do. In addition, the company added two new modules called IMOLDPlus and Electrode Design. The former features more powerful draft-analysis and surfacing capabilities; the latter is for designing electrodes, as the name implies.
Before a mold is created, you want to make sure the plastic will properly flow through it. That's where products from Moldflow Corp. (http://www.moldflow.com) come into play. The company showcased the new version of Moldflow Plastics Insight, just released last month, which features improved 3D visualization and analysis. In addition, the 4.0 upgrade also contains an API, for the first time, thus allowing others to add on to the base product.
Those involved in the tool-and-die process were not ignored; Forming Technologies (http://www.forming.com) announced the release of BlankWorks V2.1. It provides SolidWorks users with tools for developing optimal blank shapes for complex sheet-metal parts. The big news is that BlankWorks is now fully integrated into SolidWorks as a Gold Partner product.
An interesting product on display was the recently released ShapeWorks from Baren-Boym Company (http://www.baren-boym.com). ShapeWorks, from the creators of other useful add-ons such as Text Effects and Picture Converter, is a freeform modeling tool that allows users to visually deform a model simply by dragging the edit points automatically created by the software. The program is not a full-fledged surfacing tool, but can be very useful to those who need to sculpt shapes. Speaking of full-fledged surfacing tools, Robert McNeel and Associates (http://www.rhino3D.com) was also at the event, showing Rhino 3.0, the latest version.
While there are a number of CAM vendors, the only major news was SolidCAM becoming the second product in its industry, after CAMWorks, to become a Certified Gold partner. CAMWorks was also present at the show, showing its soon-to-be-released Wire EDM product. This is a major step; it means users can set up and see all the toolpath operations inside the SolidWorks PropertyManager.
The big news here was NVIDIA's announcement of a pair of new graphics boards, called the Quadro FX 2000 and 1000, priced $1,995 and $1,295 respectively. The technical details of these two products can be found at http://www.nvidia.com, but I can tell you that what I saw--the ability to provide real-time, ray-traced imaging--was quite impressive. The cards are also programmable, meaning software developers can build their own shaders enabling the generation of realistic materials in real-time--a feature the upcoming SolidWorks 2004 (discussed next) will take advantage of.
The highlight of the last day was a preview of SolidWorks 2004, to be released in the late summer or early fall of this year. Those looking for more modeling tools to create the curvy shapes usually needed for consumer products will appreciate a series of new tools that allow users to deform shapes in a freeform, yet controlled, manner. There will also be a Wrapping tool that will bring SolidWorks on par with Inventor 6 as far as embossed or engraved text is concerned. In addition, assemblies will loaded quicker with the introduction of "lightweight subassemblies" and the drafting module will be improved as Excel will no longer be needed for BOMs and hole tables.
SolidWorks also announced that the event would become a regional one, with seven smaller events scattered throughout the world (three in the U.S. alone). In 1999, Autodesk tried this approach with its Autodesk University. While it saved travel for some people, it was a logistics nightmare. So Autodesk decided to make it a national event again the following year. As a company with a more vertical product line, regional shows could work better for SolidWorks, but I think some aspects--such as the global users' networking opportunity--could be lost.
Overall, SolidWorks World was very interesting. Last year's show appeared to be not only a bit bigger but also featured the introduction of more new, high-level add-ons, such as RobotWorks (http://www.robotworks-us.com), Moldex3D (http://www.moldex3D.com), MotionWorks (http://www.solid-dynamics.com) and others. Nevertheless, I would still highly recommend the show to any SolidWorks user, or to those who're just looking into the application.
During the course of the event, I also had time to attend a number of the sessions. Some of the finest SolidWorks experts in the country were on hand to give tips and advices on topics such as assembly design and management, 2D drafting, and surfacing. For any beginning or intermediate SolidWorks user, attending just a few of these sessions would probably make the cost and time of the trip worthwhile. Meanwhile, potential users would have learned about the power and depth of the software, and the strength of the SolidWorks network. Go to http://www.solidworks.com to find out about the software or the company and remember to check back again to locate the next regional event near you.
Forming Technologies: http://www.forming.com
ITI TranscenData: http://www.iti-oh.com
Manusoft Technologies: http://www.corewareusa.com
Moldflow Corp.: http://www.moldflow.com
Robert McNeel and Associates: http://www.rhino3D.com
Translation Tech. Inc.: http://www.translationtech.com