Cadalyst Labs Review: ICEM Surf 4.531 Oct, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth Cadalyst
Design with Dynamic Surfaces
ICEM SURF 4.5 is a high-end surfacing program used to create the wonderful class A surfaces we've come to expect in stylish products such as vehicles and consumer goods. It's designed to be used in conjunction with high-end solid modeling packages such as Pro/ENGINEER and Unigraphics NX. ICEM Surf 4.5 can be used by anyone who needs surfacing capabilities, from industrial designers to toolmakers (figure 1). It can build fast visualizations to quickly show the impact of what is being designed. ICEM Surf 4.5 has tools to reverse engineer surfaces from point cloud data, so users can opt to build a model and then scan it in. Users can build cross sections that are linked to points that will be used to create controllable surfaces. With dynamic modeling, surfaces update on the fly as they are changed.
Class A Surface Modeler
With ICEM Surf 4.5's global modeling, users can make changes to the entire model to tweak it into just the shape wanted. Objects stretch to maintain their continuity. It's similar to working with clay, except without the dirty hands. With real-time analysis, such as zebra stripes and reflection maps, users can track how surfaces flow (figure 2). ICEM Surf 4.5 can be set to dynamically tell how much deviation there is between a surface and the point cloud data so it's easier to balance between the original design and what can be produced.
ICEM Surf 4.5 provides tools for real-time rendering and high-quality photorealistic image generation to give users a chance to judge the visual impact of the materials and textures while designing models. How handy is that? The photorealistic rendering isn't as dynamic as the real-time rendering option. An especially complex scene can take a little while to render, though not nearly as long as in the past. The good news is that users can continue to model while waiting for an image to render. ICEM Surf 4.5 renders in the background, completely separate from the modeler. Alternatively, renderings can be run on a network, although I didn't investigate that.
Figure 1. ICEM Surf 4.5 can be used at almost every stage of product development.
To build a surface in ICEM Surf 4.5, users work on the surface directly. Construction curves aren't necessary, and everything is done in real time. It's like taking a rubber sheet and stretching it into shape. Users can add curves but instead of controlling the surface, they just show what's going on with it. It's a different way to think.
ICEM Surf 4.5 isn't just about getting a pristine surface. The program is equipped with common engineering functionality such as fillets, trims, offsets, profiles, flanges and the like (figure 3). Users can work with models in much the same way they would with a solid modeler, taking a lot of work out of using a surface modeler. In the old days, users had to create the surfaces to fillet, create the fillet surface, trim each surface to each other and then tweak them for continuity. Now, users just create the surfaces to fillet, select the edges and type in the radius of the fillet. Just like a solid modeler, ICEM Surf 4.5 trims everything and tweaks each surface to the set defaults. There's no more tedious trimming. Speeding up the modeling process increases productivity.
Figure 2. With real-time analysis, ICEM Surf shows surfaces as they change, so it takes fewer iterations to home in on the perfect surface.
When given the ability to design anything, fine control is needed. This translates into more controls to handle smaller and smaller levels of detail. More controls means more functions, which makes the interface a major issue. ICEM Surf 4.5 doesn't have a difficult interface, but it's not a program that can be mastered in a day (figure 4). The interface is proprietary and doesn't adhere to standards for any given operating system.
Figure 3. ICEM Surf 4.5 offers engineering functionality such as fillets.
Hardware requirements are fairly low. According to the company, users need an Intel Pentium II 350MHz or higher running Windows 2000 Professional. ICEM Surf also runs on other operating systems such as UNIX and Linux. See ICEM's Web site for the complete list. Most computers today have a good deal more horsepower than this minimum requirement. To run the program properly, users also need a graphics card with at least 128MB memory. It'll run with less, but not quickly. ICEM also recommends setting screen resolution at a minimum of 1280X1024. Considering the photorealistic output of ICEM Surf 4.5, that's a given.
Figure 4. ICEM Surf's interface does not follow a particular operating system's setup and packs in a great deal of functionality, so it may take some getting used to.
I can see why ICEM Surf 4.5 is popular in the automotive industry. ICEM Surf 4.5 is a series of integrated modules that pass data directly between each other without any hassle. Few surface modelers on the market can do everything it can, as well as it can. It's not as simple to use as other modelers, but it's not that difficult. Users will need some extra time to get used to it. It isn't cheap, but high-end software isn't. Various discounts and bundles make it difficult to estimate the price, but the least expensive module I found was $2,300. In this case, you get what you pay for—the ability to model just about anything you can imagine.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.