Congratulations to the winners of the Automotive X Prize. If you don't know, this was a competition to design, develop and build a vehicle to travel 100 miles on one gallon of fuel (or equivalent). For more details see their site here.
Hopefully, we all end up winners in the aftermath of this engineering contest. I sincerely hope that the gravity of this event is not lost in all the trivial matters the media focuses on, i.e. Tea Party nazis , Jersey Shore cast members, or some disgusting behavior of a Hollywood "star".
The true stars are the engineers and technicians whose efforts in improving transportation efficiencies will have a much greater impact on all our lives than the 9 billion dollar atom smasher at CERN. This event should be marked as one of the most important days in world history. We as consumers need to make it known to our favorite car manufacturers that we want better, more efficient vehicles and not just more bells and whistles.
You read it in all business books all the time about doing more than what is asked for, going the extra mile. Well, it really is true. I had a new inquiry call and by the time I could finally get in touch with him, he had already found someone else to help with the design work. During the conversation, he asked if I knew of good specialty vendor I could recommend. I said I'd look through my contacts and send him an email. I did compile the info and sent it to him.
Now here's the karma coming back. My client calls me a day later to ask if we can meet and discuss design project. It appears that the other guy bailed on him and guess who he calls to get help.
Its always good to go the extra mile.
SolidWorks 2010 showed some of the future plans that Dassault Systemes has for cloud computing. The thought being that CAD software would no longer be platform dependent and therefore the designer would no longer have to deal with performance problems related to drivers, OS issues, etc. Okay, I'm all for more stability and better performance. What concerns me is something far more sinister may be in the works.
Dassault Systemes is talking about how with their PLM software, CATIA users would not even have files stored on their workstation but rather, the CAD data would be stored on Dassault's remote servers. Instead of "open", there would be "search", no saving only "publish". This concept of having Dassault being in charge of maintaining my CAD data is frankly, more than a bit unnerving. But a more serious issue is related to the defense work that I do for some of my clients. I know this will "not fly" with the DoD.
But aside from security issues, the main issue I have is since we will no longer have CAD software to install on our workstations, what keeps Dassault from blocking a user from logging onto their servers? This would also force users to maintain subscriptions or jeopardize their access and use of their CAD data. I see a storm coming in the form of cloud computing.
At the recent SolidWorks world conference, the presenters showed SolidWorks running inside the Mac OS. The main point of this charade was really about computing "in the cloud". In really, the Mac was running a dual OS system.
I recently sent an email to Steve Jobs asking them to seriously look at opening discussions with the SolidWorks folks about porting to the Mac OS. The implications would be a watershed moment for the CAD community. Not that there are no other CAD systems that can run on Mac OS, its just that those few are Mickey Mouse.
Having a powerhouse like SolidWorks, running on a Mac OS would force the major players (Autodesk, PTC, Siemens) to re-think the Windows only platform for their CAD products. This could also cause Windows to start thinking about the crap they dish out and maybe, just maybe, they'll wake up and start getting back to solid, tested, and stable OS.
A number of mechanical software developers have been working on new/old method of creating solid models that us not history based. Meaning that new features (holes, cuts, etc) are not part of a parent/child relationship. Now this is nothing new. For many years, we could create solid models in Autocad which had no dependant feature history. The real difference now is that we can create them using parametric sketches. This is an enormous improvement over past methods.
Why Explicit Modeling is Important
For years the only way to work with CAD files from different developers was to export the native file (i.e. Pro/E, SolidWorks, etc) to a neutral format like IGES or STEP. Once one has imported the file into your software, editing the solid can be a chore since most modeling software don't have the tools to deal with these "dumb" solids. This is where the explicit modelers really shine. The next few years will show these types of modellers to start gaining market share. Some of the larger software developers have seen the writing on the wall, namely PTC (Pro/e - CoCreate), Autodesk Inventor Fusion, and Seimens Synchronous Technology. So far, SolidWorks and Alibre Design have not expresses interest in developing explicit tools. I truely believe this is a mistake. For those of use that need to modify customer files for stress analysis, having tools to easily de-feature a model is a must.
The "Holy Grail" of CAD
Many have thought that CAD software developers would come together to accept a unifying file format that could be read by different CAD software. For years it was IGES and more recently STEP (STandard for the Exchange of Product model data) formats. Where different CAD software can import the geometry, their really isn't much in way of "intelligence" left in the part. Meaning that all the parametric data that developed the features of the solid are lost in translation. The "Holy Grail" was thought of if a version of say STEP could have the parametric feature data inside the code of the file, to be read by whatever CAD software and the geometry would then be read in as if it were a native file. The closest any of the CAD developers have come this has been with Alibre (www.alibre.com) submitting its STEP schema to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for review. That's great, for everyone else. Until all 3D CAD software exports using this schema, all the receiver will get is a dumb solid. Its been eight (8) years since Alibre submitted this to ISO so I don't expect much came from it.
In conclusion, as I see it the best alternative to the "Holy Grail" is having really good tools for "carving up" dumb solids. That means, Explicit modeling.
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