CAD: For Design or Just Documentation?

Tech4PD: Episode 4

In this episode of Tech4PD, Jim Brown and Chad Jackson discuss whether CAD tools can be used for both design and documentation. They debate whether it’s the advancements in 2D or 3D CAD tools that help enable engineers to design products more easily and with less re-work. Are advances in 3D design technologies with abilities to use direct modeling and manipulation the more critical capability or are the developments in the 2D realm more relevant with sketching and diagramming?

PTC’s View

We at PTC believe that designers should be able to choose the best approach and tool that matches their needs for different stages of design. A direct modeling approach might be more appropriate for concept development, while a parametric model is just right for creating data-rich 3D detailed models with built-in intelligence to optimize downstream processes. PTC Creo offers multiple modeling approaches in one platform. Users can choose from whatever CAD approach is most comfortable or appropriate for them. When moving data from one modeling approach to another, you won’t lose intelligence or design intent. PTC Creo offers people the ability to freely mix and match 2D, 3D direct, or 3D parametric modes, working together on a common data model.

Video Transcript

Jim: Hi, and welcome to this episode of Tech4PD, the web show for technology about product development. I'm Jim Brown, and I'm one of your hosts today.

Chad: And I'm Chad Jackson. I'm your other host, and today we're going to be talking about CAD, and whether or not it can be used for design as well as documentation.

Jim: Great. So here's how the show works. First, we're going to start with a little bit of background. We're going to set the stage for the conversation. Then Chad and I are going to have a debate.

Chad: You, as the viewer, get to determine who the winner of the debate is, but what that means is for the loser there is actually some very real consequences. So, for example, the loser of today's debate will have to do a polar bear swim.

Jim: It's going to be cold.

Chad: [laughs]

Jim: I hope you like it. Let's get started.

Chad: So next, it's time to get the stage. We want to offer a little context before we dive into the debate. So years ago, when parametrics and features first came out, it really revolutionized the CAD industry. It really changed the way that engineering organizations not only develop 3D models, but also how they made changes to their drawings as well.

Jim: Yeah. Absolutely, and even recently some research that I've been doing has been talking about the benefits of rule space design, and building intelligence into models, modular approaches and others as well, that really provide a lot of power, and help automate a lot of the engineering process.

Chad: Yeah, absolutely, but it hasn't all been positive. The way these features work is they often have references that they use against each other, and that can empower a lot of intelligence in a design, and in a model. However, it's kind of like a Jenga Game. So you've got the tower of pieces, and a change to a feature very early on in the model can have a dramatic effect on the features that happen later on, that occur later on in that model. Sometimes unintended, sometimes unknown, sometimes they can cause a failure.

Jim: Right. Absolutely, and the real challenge with that is the essence of designing. Sometimes, you follow some very strict rules and known paths, but other times you really want to innovate, iterate, explore new territory, and new ideas, and those same features and power can then turn into constraints that can slow down the innovation process, or in fact, cause people to have to go back and recreate them.

Chad: Yeah. That's a great point. So, however, in recent years there have been some big changes. So, you see the emergence of direct modeling as another great way to create 3D models that's very easy to pick up. Also, there’s been a lot of advances in terms of sketching and 2D capabilities. So, there have been changes.

Jim: Well, the big vendors have been all over this. Right? I mean, you've seen PTC with Creo. You've seen Siemens with Synchronous Technology. Autodesk has been working on this quite a bit. There are a lot of new capabilities that some of the established players have really brought to market.

Chad: However, it's not just the big guys. I mean, you have folks like SpaceClaim out there, and CUBO Tech that have been really, in some cases, real innovators in the industry, in bringing direct modeling and other modeling techniques to the force. So, there has been change for the smaller guys, too.

Jim: Absolutely.

Chad: All right. So, let's go ahead and get started with the debate. Jim, so today, can engineers use these tools to design products?

Jim: Yeah. I do think so. I think the advances in technology and in design tools really has allowed us to move from having to have specialty drafters documenting designs, and really allow engineers to be the ones that are documenting their own innovations and own designs as they go.

Chad: OK. All right. I actually agree with you there. I agree that engineers can use these tools today to design. I don't know if those specialty roles will go away. I think there might still be folks that focus on drawings, and the engineers focus on the models to actually do their design work. But I agree with you there. So let me ask you this, though. What do you think is the most critical capability that has enabled this type of change?

Jim: Oh, I think the advances in 3D design technologies. The ability to use direct modeling, but also to use it not just on “dumb geometry” if you want to call it that, but being able to use manipulation techniques where you actually address and understand the intelligence in the model, and be able to use that to enable changes.

Chad: I think that a lot of advances in the 2D realm have been actually more relevant. So, when you look at their activities, engineers activities around sketching, and diagramming, really that starts to cut right to the core of what design is all about, and that often is very, very important for engineers. That's important as well as the ability to transition from 2D to 3D. So not just throw the 2D work away, but actually bring it forward, and use it as the basis for a 3D model.

Jim: Oh, absolutely, and I wouldn't disagree with the importance of 2D at all, but in terms of which is more important, and which has made the bigger advances I would definitely say it's 3D, and so why. 3D really gives you the ability to design for the enterprise. When you've got a 3D model, there's so much more you can do with it. You can design for, you know, interrogate for weight. You can interrogate for the materials. You can use the design for manufacturability and serviceability. There is so much more that is accessible in a 3D model, and usable, and even outside of engineering. When you look at a 3D model, and you use that as sort of a visual prototype, that gives something that other people can actually access, and get input outside of just engineering. So, I think that's just more important.

Chad: So I'll concede that there is actually a lot of value there, and I agree that that can make an impact. However, I think engineers use these 2D types of tools often very early on in the process. And often, they use graph paper and napkins. That's kind of what they're doing today.

So I think, you know, getting the 3D model, which often can occur a little bit later in the design cycle can have all those benefits, but I think that the 2D capabilities let them explore, iterate, look at options, alternatives. That has a huge impact.

Jim: Right, and I think the more they be moving that into a 3D world, the more it's accessible by the enterprise. So just to be clear, in terms of what it is that we're saying, I'm saying that I think 3D has made the biggest impact in terms of making design tools accessible to the engineer, as opposed to having somebody else document it after the fact. And you're saying?

Chad: 2D tools, 2D advances, and the ability to take 2D representations into 3D are more important.

Jim: So now, we come to the segment that we call the crystal ball, and we talk a little bit about what we see happening in the future. First of all, as much as we've talked about some of the new changes, and direct modeling we don't see the power of parametrics going away. There is some situations that it's absolutely the best solution. I think we'll start to see more companies using not one or the other, but maybe a hybrid approach, and maybe even in different areas of the business using different capabilities. But I think we'll definitely see a lot more of that going forward.

Chad: Yeah. I absolutely agree, if you can't tell from me shaking my head vigorously, but I think another interesting thing to watch is, you and I have seen this in the industry for a long time. There has been a big push to try and get 3D out to the enterprise, and it's met limited success over time. I think now with these changes, it stands a very good chance of success, and it makes nothing but sense. There is a lot of value to be gained by getting 3D models pushed out to all those other organizations.

Jim: Yeah. Absolutely, and I think one of the things that we definitely agree on is that there has been a tremendous amount of innovation, and will continue to be a tremendous amount of investment in core CAD technology. So, for anybody that thought that CAD was either a boring technology space, or a mature market, there is a lot going on. It is not a boring space at all, and so it's going to be fun to stay tuned to and understand how things are moving forward.

Chad: It's been quite a turnaround, but what's interesting is that a few areas that CAD could invest in to really make a big leap forward. There are several opportunities. So you've got mobility platforms. You can almost see every kind of application moving to those types of platforms, but also Haptics. So using your hands as a means to manipulate designs, not just for visualization. We're talking about things like the Connect, and similar types of devices, but actually using that for design work as well. It's more intuitive. You can get past, kind of the barrier that the UI presents.

Jim: Right.

Chad: You know, with usability, and ease of use. So I think those are two areas that represent opportunities for growth for this space.

Jim: So, a lot to look forward to in the future, but more importantly, perhaps, now is the time in the show that we get into the consequence phase, and this is where we get to share with you who got the most votes on their opinion in the debate last time. So don't forget to vote for this debate today, but for right now let's see what happened last time.

Chad: Yeah. All right, Jim. The last episode we debated on whether or not social technologies were ready for product development.

Jim: Now it's time for the consequences.

Chad: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Do you still think that social's not ready for product development?

Chad: I do. I don't think it's ready.

Jim: All right. Let's see what the audience had to say.

Chad: OK. One, two, three.

Jim: Ooh!

Chad: Thanks for tuning in today. We'd also like to take this opportunity to thank PTC, our sponsor, for making this episode real.

Jim: And thank you for watching. We hope you gain something valuable out of this. We look forward to talking to you again on the next episode.