2011

Industry Update: CAD and Virtual Prototyping Software

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Complexity of the software has always been a barrier to ease of use, according to Randles. “Most CAD systems are designed with all of the capabilities required to fully detail and document designs for manufacture, encompassing an extremely intimidating range of geometry creation tools and annotation tools. We’ve overcome that by creating a user interface that makes the easy part easy, while unobtrusively placing the more advanced capabilities a few clicks away.”

The importance of mastering 3D CAD is paramount, and software company executives recognize that making 3D easy to implement is essential. “The vast majority of users come from a 2D background, so it is important to present them with workflows that are very comfortable and familiar,” explained Rochelle. “No matter what application they use, everything should have a common look and feel, and be highly interoperable. It comes down to packaging and deployment. We provide users with a way to bridge easily from 2D to 3D, and then to lots of other applications.”

According to Ray, 3D CAD tools can break the ease-of-use barrier if provided in a more intuitive way on a familiar platform. “The move online is a good example of how we can break down the barriers to learning and implementing 3D CAD tools. Anytime, anywhere access to online tools will certainly help make engineering and design communication easier,” he said. “When considering how best to develop our online offering, we took into account the human factors, usability, and workflows.”

Said Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge product development for Siemens PLM Software, “The effective use of synchronous technology has provided a significant leap forward in the intuitive nature of 3D CAD design. By providing all the productivity benefits of a history-based approach with the flexibility of explicit modeling, synchronous technology removes the barriers to ease of use by freeing the user to focus on product design and innovation, and not on how the CAD tool works.”

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While he sees ease of use as a barrier to learning and implementing CAD, Shepherd also sees other issues that need to be resolved; specifically, interoperability, assembly management, and technology lock-in. Eliminating technology lock-in, for example, enables companies to use the CAD software that is best suited for their needs. “Many customers are trapped by legacy tools. The inability to easily translate data between systems makes it difficult to retire old tools and migrate to a new technology, application, or vendor,” he explained.

The New Face of CAD Users

As the economy continues to recover, more organizations are required to do more with less, which often means that design engineers are taking on more varied duties, meaning they often have to learn new skills. So, the “typical” CAD user of a few years ago has changed significantly.

“There is a significant cultural shift underway in modern economies where all workers are expected to be generalists that easily shift to new skills,” explained Grayson. “Technology-driven change is accelerating around the globe, and no worker has the luxury of learning a skill for life. The CAD industry,” he added, “is heading toward the ‘consumerization of manufacturing.’ The tools of factory production are increasingly available to individuals and small companies. As a result, the creation of physical prototypes is becoming analogous to the development of modern software — a couple of guys with laptops, an idea, and some expertise can conceive, design, test, and make physical products rapidly and at low cost.”

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Staples agrees that global competition will continue to drive companies to change the role of the design engineer. “Global competition to get products to market faster while reducing cost are some of the driving factors in demanding more from less. One way to achieve this is to use computer-aided engineering (CAE) simulation and analysis tools early in the design process to help optimize material usage and increase design efficiency.”

The ultimate key to helping today’s design engineer be more productive with increasing responsibilities is streamlining tasks and helping them get more out of their CAD tools. “It’s true that our customers are very busy,” said Randles. “The most successful are focusing on performing as much value-added work up-front as possible. They strive to understand what knowledge gaps introduce risk, and eliminate those gaps before making significant investments in time-consuming activities such as detailed design in traditional CAD systems.”