Unigraphics NX 2—Hard to beat

31 Jul, 2003 By: Mark Huxley Cadalyst

EDS delivers flexible and scalable tools in its flagship CAD application.

At one end of the CAD spectrum is code that seems like it was written in someone’s garage, then turned loose on the masses, who in turn act as beta testers as long as they can endure it. At the other end are companies that have led the industry for decades. EDS PLM Solutions, the maker of Unigraphics NX 2, is one of those leaders (figure 1). Not only does it develop several highly compatible CAD applications (Unigraphics, I-deas, Solid Edge), it also offers a range of PLM (product lifecycle management) solutions. For those unfamiliar with this relatively new acronym, CIMdata defines PLM as "collaborative creation, management, dissemination, and use of product definition information across the extended enterprise from concept to end of life."

Figure 1. This Hermle CNC assembly comprises 1,300 unique parts—4,000 components total—yet takes up only about 600MB on disk. Unigraphics has historically performed well with larger assemblies. If you do push the envelope (say 100,000 components), several tools are available to speed your workflow. You can choose to load faceted representations instead of B-reps and use simplified geometry or shrink-wrapped versions of components and subassemblies.

Unigraphics NX 2, which is slated for release in the third quarter of 2003, represents both the continued development of Unigraphics and the next step in the integration of EDS' Unigraphics and I-deas CAD/CAE/CAM suites. NX 3, due out in just over a year, will

Figure 2. Unigraphics NX 2 CAM machines high-tolerance surfaces with complicated twists. Best-in-class solutions are available for milling, turning, wire EDM, mold, and sheet metal. Here a tool path is visualized to check for possible crashes.
complete the transition with the merging of the two products. The process began when EDS acquired both UGS (developer of Unigraphics) and I-deas developer SDRC (Structural Dynamics Research Corp.) in 2001.

EDS is one of the few companies whose software offerings address the needs of everyone involved in production (figures 2-4). The single Unigraphics application is scalable enough to assist you throughout your career, whether you're a newbie designer or a seasoned finite-element analyst with a doctorate. Users currently design everything from plastic widgets to the most advanced composite and hydroformed metal products on the planet.

Figure 3. Analysis tasks that choke other systems can be performed with relative ease in Unigraphics NX 2. Stress analysis of this automotive suspension uses both shell and solid elements.
NX 2 will specifically appeal to:
  • Designers or engineers who need to go beyond simple part design to perform tasks such as stress analysis and design optimization.
  • Organizations that need to integrate different parts of their development process, such as design and manufacturing, concept design and detailed component design, simulation and design, and so forth.
  • Organizations that need to communicate and exchange information across geographic locations, organizational barriers, suppliers, and partners.
  • Organizations that want to capture design knowledge and benefit from its reuse.

A perennial strength of Unigraphics is its vast flexibility. Unfortunately, this has traditionally been accompanied by increased training time. Unigraphics NX 2 addresses this obstacle in a unique way-by streamlining the user interface, EDS manages to offer more

Figure 4. Once you set up a scene, materials, and lights, an optional module performs photorealistic rendering of concepts or finished models.
functions in a less obtrusive manner. The previous release (NX) focused mostly on revamping the user interface. NX 2's improvements build on this trend with more intuitive, easier-to-use tools. The coordinate system is a good, simple example of the work in this area. To translate or rotate the UCS in the past, you were forced to find a menu command, use hot keys, or hunt down an icon and type in the exact numbers you wanted to use. These old methods still perform the task, but now you can simply click on the coordinate system and drag appropriate handles.

Some essentials and current improvements include:

  • The Undo list is "unlimited." Unlimited is in quotes because saving a file resets the list.
  • You can review images of files in Windows Explorer and drag and drop said files.
  • Double-clicking or right-clicking on objects provides direct interaction with feature properties.
  • The fly-out part navigator is great-it's there when you need it, unobtrusive when you don't. It displays a lot of information with minimal icons (pink parents and blue children, for example).
  • You can directly open and edit JT, CATIA, Solid Edge, I-deas, and other file types.

I was able to install both NX and NX 2 with no problems. The installation process was straightforward and Windows compliant.

The resource bar contains, among other useful tools, a built-in browser that should prove useful for tasks such as browsing standard part libraries and running training software. Tight integration like this, combined with the use of a fly-out window, is probably the best solution short of having two monitors.

As Mike Rebrukh, director of Unigraphics product management, explains, EDS is "investing heavily in both increased functionality and flexibility, as well as in improved usability and streamlined workflows. Our focus on customer-driven workflows means that we are looking at the ways in which many of our customers want to perform their work, and then making the software easier, more streamlined, and more intuitive to perform those workflows. In many cases, the real-world feedback we get from customers is that flexibility helps them do their job faster. And where that flexibility is combined with more intuitive ways of working and streamlined workflows, the net effect is positive."

Unigraphics is one of a few packages that offers features well beyond basic CAD modeling functions. Among the upper-level capabilities

Figure 5. Flexible components and management of varied assembly arrangements are now possible. The same belt, spring, or hose file can vary its geometry to conform to its proper assembled state.
that Unigraphics NX 2 offers are:

Knowledge-driven automation, in which knowledge is captured and reused to facilitate future product development (figure 5). Knowledge Fusion technology captures your design rules, standards, and process knowledge for reuse in future product development. Its capabilities are augmented by off-the-shelf process wizards and validation tools.

Integrated digital simulation. Design engineering solutions include Strength Wizard and Scenario, as well as integration with high-end analysis tools from I-deas, NX Master FEM, ANSYS, and others.

System-based modeling. WAVE technology lets you set and control product-level relationships through a product definition template (figure 6).

Figure 6. The same subassembly, using the same part number in bills of materials, can exist in different shapes and ranges of motion.

Unigraphics is also capable of managing large assemblies and integrating with the Teamcenter PLM application to capture product requirements.

Total product engineering. EDS also offers integrated, production-proven applications across the breadth of the process, from styling and industrial design to manufacturing.

Teamcenter integration provides breadth and depth of real process management, including knowledge, CAE, and CAM-not just CAD data management.

You can realize dramatic time savings by reducing the amount of repetitive calculations you need to perform. As an example, perhaps your company's products use a lot of keyed shafts. Each shaft size and keyway may need to be rated for performance. Unigraphics knowledge tools can automate the sizing and rating of these junctions. By setting up simple rules, checks, and a table of values, you can account for a range of interfaces. This is a simplified example, but think about how much time you can save by setting up the

Figure 7. Reuse of previous designs and other corporate knowledge has never been easier. You can add a splined shaft feature based on rules, such as number of teeth, hardness, torque, and speed, that were set up previously.
variables for the geometry of a variable-pitch helical feed screw in an injection molding press or by varying the wingspan of an aircraft. This technique makes it possible to create new designs, based partially on legacy data, in a fraction of the time it took to make the original (figure 7).

In addition to these benefits, knowledge fusion offers more elusive gains. As Evan Yares noted in Engineering Automation Report (July 2002), products and parts "are always designed based on functional requirements, but CAD products have historically been oriented toward designing based upon geometric requirements. Knowledge-driven automation tools provide a way for engineers to translate functional requirements into a geometric model. At least in theory. The problem is that if the tools are too hard to learn or too limited in their capabilities, the people sitting in front of the CAD system just won't use them."

Figure 8. Using the DMX (direct modeling extension), NX 2 recognizes features such as holes and rounds. The yellow surfaces indicate an imported round that was modified. You can also add dimensions to imported geometry (drafts, lengths, widths) and modify it as if it were native.
With the Unigraphics DMX (Direct Modeling Extension), you can recognize features and add parameters to imported geometry (figure 8). By selecting faces or regions, you can easily modify "dumb solids" imported into Unigraphics via IGES, STEP, and other popular formats. NX 2 offers a blend/fillet algorithm that identifies this family of features and lets you edit one or more radii in the geometry. You can also use DMX on native geometry as a quick fix for changes that in the past may have proven painfully difficult because of intertwined feature relationships or other conflicts.

Of course it takes some time to learn how to use all of these great tools. If you don't have the luxury of one-on-one tutoring or mentoring, self-paced lessons are a great option. CAST (Computer-Assisted Self Teach), offered online or for download, is an EDS offering designed to bring users up to speed on Unigraphics NX 2. EDS also offers classroom and in-house training options.

EDS PLM Solutions has made great strides in the documentation since the last time we evaluated Unigraphics, but there is always room for improvement. Though CAST lessons currently cover the entire range of Unigraphics applications, the lessons should include multiple or varied examples rather than one example for each operation. This is especially true for more involved functions, where several instances, ranging from simple to advanced, would be helpful. Also, the lessons could incorporate animated GIFs to quickly show more dynamic, realistic, and useful information.

The built-in online technical support menu is extensive. You can do everything from accessing a symptom and solution database to uploading a problematic file to tech support to retrieving licenses.

If you want to partner with a technology company that is focused on the future and that offers world-class products, Unigraphics NX 2 is a good choice. If your organization is bent solely on saving money by finding the cheapest solution, Unigraphics won't be your product of choice. Less-expensive applications are readily available, but on further investigation, a severe capability chasm is evident.

Actual products from Cadillac, Apple, and Boeing appear in the Unigraphics NX splash screen. This drives home the point that businesses throughout the world, large and small, have been and continue to quickly churn out products with this software. Continued user interface upgrades will enable further increases in functionality without inundating users with menus and unfamiliar dialog boxes.

If you're in the market for a tried-and-true CAD system that can couple with capable CAE applications or a full PLM solution, Unigraphics NX 2 should rank high on your shopping list.



About the Author: Mark Huxley

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