Redefining CAD Technology – an Analyst’s Perspective

In early 2008, the developers of Solid Edge at Siemens PLM Software afforded me the opportunity to learn and explore the details of synchronous technology, prior to its public announcement and release within their geometric modeling software. It was evident from the very first look that synchronous technology was a breakthrough advance in the underlying foundation of 3D geometric modeling, after twenty years of stagnation since the introduction of parametric design. I expected synchronous technology to have a major impact across the industry and yet at the same time produce uncertainty in users rooted to the past twenty years of history-based CAD. Today, both appear to be happening.

Synchronous technology is being introduced into a design modeling environment facing numerous issues. The number one, often discussed, problem users face centers on the difficulty of making changes to parametric, history-based models. Often the original design author must be found to unravel the model’s history so that a change does not produce unwanted downstream results. In addition, users struggle moving design data between disparate modeling applications in an increasingly multi-CAD world. They often lose the ability to work with intelligent, form-feature data lost in any conversion. Auspiciously, synchronous technology provides a solution to both of these challenges.

The power of synchronous technology is buried deep within the software algorithms used to evaluate parametric and constrained geometry. Unlike traditional history-based modelers, synchronous technology does not require full model regeneration any time a dimension or constraint change is made. The intelligence found in this technology alleviates the user from the often burdensome need to unravel and understand the ordered history of the model’s geometry construction necessary to make a needed change. In this way, synchronous-based modeling allows a designer to focus more on the product design itself than on the sequence of modeling commands used to construct the model.

CAD users coming from 2D modeling to their first use of 3D CAD say they are often frustrated by history-based CAD solutions. The need to preplan and remember the order in which models are constructed seems unwieldy. Yet if they do not, history-based CAD can produce unexpected model changes with edits made later in the design process. Users interviewed whose first exposure to 3D CAD supports synchronous technology, however, immediately focus on the product under design, and more readily explore innovative alternatives in the design with ease.

My research of design modeling techniques and the best practices found at leading edge companies over the last two decades has shown that the difficulties in making unexpected design changes, delays due to slow model regeneration, and the lack of tools to deal with imported data have often slowed or blocked advances in the design process. While experienced 3D designers continue to praise parametric and geometric constraint-based design methods, they criticize the negative aspects of history-based construction. Comments from these users, when they explore synchronous technology, range from, “The old days of being locked into a complex process are over. Siemens is breaking the walls down and establishing a far superior design approach,” to, “It takes only a third of the time typically needed to change a part. We can take on more business because we can turn designs around faster.” That is bottom line impact.

Over the past two years, I have watched Solid Edge mature synchronous technology from its first introduction in component part modeling to today’s solution in its Solid Edge ST3 release that provides a fully integrated, application-level implementation. Users can now leverage synchronous technology to accelerate initial design, speed edits to comply with engineering change orders, and better reuse imported 2D or 3D data. And they have the ability to design in ordered process steps when needed – all within a single-user interface environment.

No advance in CAD will make users throw away their current applications and switch overnight. They have time and money invested in their current tools. However, those that do take notice and make the transition will put immense pressure on their competitors. Users of 2D just now moving to 3D will have the easiest transition. Existing 3D users will need some mental “reprogramming” to break old habits.

CAD modeling has never been a boring, staid industry. Driven by a demanding marketplace, tools vendors continue to provide us with innovative new solutions. Synchronous technology from Siemens PLM Software is the latest major advance.