Pro/E Wildfire: Intuitive, scalable31 Jan, 2003 By: Mark Huxley
Parametric pioneer adopts Windows-style interface.
Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire, the latest mechanical CAD offering from PTC, represents the twenty-fourth major release of the software that shook the CAD world in the late 1980s. PTC, then known as Parametric Technology Corp., was the first vendor to offer a parametric, 3D solid, feature-based design platform. Wildfire incorporates several hundred improvements (figure 1), and its user interface is drastically updated (figure 2) to speed and ease design development. This also helps PTC stay competitive by offering a modern-style interface that Windows users are familiar with and expect in an upper-level software package. The Menu Managera text-based hierarchical menu structure to the right of the graphics area-has given way to the more popular and more familiar top-down Windows menus and dialog boxes. Icons, right-clicks, and fly-outs are far more prevalent.
Wildfire offers something for everyone. New customers will be very pleased with Wildfire, and Pro/ENGINEER gurus will grow to like the latest transformation (after the initial obligatory grumbling).
During the past 17 years, PTC has developed a suite of cohesive software offerings capable of assisting just about every product development industry. Current users work in aerospace, automotive, consumer products and electronics, defense, education, heavy equipment, industrial equipment, life sciences, plastics, shipbuilding, telecommunications, transportation, and more (figures 3-5).
Wildfire merits consideration as the platform of choice for companies that create complicated mechanical assemblies, intricate castings, and molded components that may require another level of sophistication, such as part optimization, integrated FEA or CAM,
This product now, more than ever, can morph from a more-than-adequate midrange application into a high-end tool with a simple call to PTC to request optional module licenses. Today's midrange applications can definitely solve needs for everyone-within limits. You can start with PTC's foundation package, which is every bit equal to or better than other midrange applications in function. If you need more capabilities, PTC offers an upgrade path that doesn't require a detour to yet another application.
STRENGTHS AND IMPROVEMENTS
PTC promises that it won't release Wildfire until is has been thoroughly tested. At press time, PTC planned to release it at the end of February.
Figures 35. Many different types of companies use PTCs applications to take their products to market.
A dialog box called the dashboard (figure 2 inset) is the most striking change to Wildfire's user interface. It offers a more intuitive workflow by adapting to features as you create and define them. You can edit feature definitions by using the dashboard icons. This includes switching from a solid to a thin or a surface with one click-very helpful and long overdue.
Drag handles on features allow interactive updating of sketches (without requiring you to be in sketch mode) and almost any feature, including extrusions, rounds, drafts, and surface boundaries (figure 6). It's hard to do justice to Wildfire's interactive ability with still images. For an interactive tour of its new features, go to www.ptc.com/ community/proewf/newtools/upgtools.htm.
You can connect Wildfire to PTC's Windchill for PLM (product lifecycle management) and PDM (product data management) tools.
In Pro/ENGINEER 2000i, PTC greatly improved the sketching environment by adding the Intent Manager. In each subsequent release, new functions make it faster and more intuitive to produce sketches. The more stubborn Pro/ENGINEER gurus can rest assured that, in a
Surfacing is one of Pro/ENGINEER's strongest suits. Though solid features can eventually create most geometry, surfacing lets you quickly and easily create complicated geometry. Wildfire quickly shows a concise preview of whatever you create (figures 8 and 9). This is true of initial feature creation as well as subsequent merges, trims, and cuts. Many long-time users may take niceties like this for granted. However, speaking from experience, you'll develop a renewed appreciation quickly if you spend any amount of time on a system that doesn't offer them.
The ability to create, edit, and execute keyboard macros has long been a boon to Pro/ENGINEER users-frequently used, repetitive, and complicated command sequences can be reduced to a few simple keystrokes.
Significant improvements appear in the drafting, sheet-metal, FEA, and other modules. Again, menus (figure 10), icons, and right-click drop-down menus totally replace the Menu Manager.
You can use the Not all features incorporate the new dashboard dialog box. For
example, the Swept Surface dialog box is in the old style. PTC says
that it will update all dialog boxes in the next release.
Figure 10. You can tweak virtually all of the properties of a drafted dimension via this dialog box. Right-clicking on a dimension in a drawing lets you move it, adjust its leader lines, flip its arrows, and more.
Wildfire provides acceptable general performance without the need for a Cray. Minimum system requirements are a 233MHz Pentium or Xeon processor with 128MB of RAM. Regeneration of parts and assemblies is usually quick and painless, which makes general editing and actions such as reordering features a breeze. Larger part and assembly file sizes slow down lesser PCs, but you'll be fine if you have a relatively new box with 512MB of RAM.
Not all features incorporate the new dashboard dialog box. For example, the Swept Surface dialog box is in the old style. PTC says that it will update all dialog boxes in the next release.
Wildfire offers the capability to work on large assemblies (up to tens of thousands of components) without resorting to tricks such as lightweighting and simplified representations. This definitely speeds productivity. There is still room for improvement, but PTC is definitely a top-tier performer in this realm.
Testing sponsored by PTC and performed by tool, Inc., a research and product development firm in Marblehead, Massachusetts (www.tool inc.com), compared Wildfire with SolidWorks 20011. Wildfire finished Superior in areas such as feature count, mouse clicks, mouse travel, and finished file size, for various part and assembly builds.
THINGS TO WORK ON
Pro/ENGINEER's evolving interface has changed so much that two separate revisions included a menu mapper to help you find the commands that moved. Though the changes are necessary to make Pro/ENGINEER more Windows compatible and keep it competitive with other CAD applications, expert and long-time users are frustrated because they have to relearn the software.
Good examples of this are the frequently used mouse-controlled
pan, zoom, and rotate functions. These used to be activated with
the Some new bells and whistles are Dynamic, Delayed, and Velocity
View modes-we'll see how useful they are over time.
Installation, licensing, and customization complexity are areas that Wildfire
can improve on. The Wildfire installation went smoothly, but FlexLM (a
popular license management application) still is not very user friendly. It
employs coded, arcane error messages that shed only the slightest illumination
on what the problem is, with no hint about how to fix it. My problem turned
out to be an issue related to having an old version of FlexLM loaded (not running,
mind you) in conjunction with the new version.
Like most software, some configuration after installation is necessary.
The built-in browser leads you to an interactive tour right out of
the box (figure 11). The default color scheme has a light brown background.
You can change it to black or white.
Figure 11. When you first start up Wildfire, the built-in browser directs you to an interactive tour at PTCs Web sitea refreshing alternative to release notes. If we are lucky, a brief tutorial will follow.
Some new bells and whistles are Dynamic, Delayed, and Velocity View modes-we'll see how useful they are over time.
Installation, licensing, and customization complexity are areas that Wildfire can improve on. The Wildfire installation went smoothly, but FlexLM (a popular license management application) still is not very user friendly. It employs coded, arcane error messages that shed only the slightest illumination on what the problem is, with no hint about how to fix it. My problem turned out to be an issue related to having an old version of FlexLM loaded (not running, mind you) in conjunction with the new version.
The old adage of "you get what you pay for" still holds true. Entry cost for PTC's basic foundation module has dropped significantly in an attempt to quell the midlevel software package surge. However, initial and maintenance costs are still a considerable investment.
As a mature product, Pro/ENGINEER has robust code, some of which is pushing 20 years of age. This is both a blessing and a curse. Such code can offer reliable functions yet be difficult to append. The addition of Undo/Redo capability is probably the most prominent example.
Wildfire doesn't offer it throughout the program, so inventive users have found workarounds. PTC added Undo/Redo to the Intent Manager that replaced the sketcher. Code is just like a good solid model. If it is done well the first time-modular and well-written-it will prove far easier to improve and modify later.
IS WILDFIRE FOR YOU?
PTC's software offerings cover everything from concept through development, analysis, manufacturing, PDM, and more. PTC's CAD and CAM applications now number more than 30 modules. In an effort to consolidate these, sheet metal was included in the Wildfire version I tested. If you work in product development, chances are good that PTC has software to address your challenges. Besides sheet metal, the Foundation Advantage version ($4,995) includes welding design, quality assurance, mechanism design, advanced surfacing, assembly performance with shrink wrap and simplified representations, import data doctor, and design animation.
Firms that anticipate rapid growth in their business will be better off being prepared with "too much" software power rather than hitting a ceiling later on. If this happens, productivity suffers, employee turnover increases, and the business may need to migrate to another CAD application that offers the tools that have become necessary. Although no single package can solve everyone's needs, Wildfire is a choice with few drawbacks.
Several years ago, numerous midrange MCAD packages used Pro/ENGINEER as a template and building block to improve their own products. Some would say that the midrange programmers had an advantage because prior to Pro/ENGINEER there was no solids-based, model history-laden, parametric example. The midrange sales pitch frequently included something like: "We can do that, just like Pro/ENGINEER." As more functions are built into midrange applications, the playing field is leveling out.
Wildfire builds on Pro/ENGINEER's traditional strengths to couple the
flexibility and power of a high-end mechanical CAD application with a truly
modern user interface. Highly Recommended.