Architectural tools finding new home

Published 14 June 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: product design, architecture

Bentley Systems and McNeel and Associates both recently announced new modelling tools which are primarily designed for architects. This wouldn’t normally be of interest to DEVELOP3D, but there’s increasing trend of cross pollination between the product development and architectural sectors.

While major architectural firms are looking to product development technology to help generate complex models, generative parametric systems which are used for architectural form generation and dynamic conceptual modelling, are also being sought out by product designers.

With generative technology, the user scripts a framework or description of a complex shape, and the computer then generates it. Using variables and sliders, it’s also possible to drive the underlying framework to create the form.

Bentley Systems has led the field with Generative Components, which is built on top of MicroStation. However, the company has just released a Discovery Subscription that allows access to the current shipping version at a very low cost of $250.

Meanwhile Robert McNeel and Associates has also launched Grasshopper, a highly innovative visual-programming system for generating parametric, dynamic geometry which runs in its popular Rhino modelling too. Grasshopper is free to Rhino users.

Bentley recently lost its Chief Scientist and father of Generative Components to Autodesk, so expect another Generative product at some point in the future.

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Autodesk to buy Flomerics… maybe?

Published 09 June 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, autodesk, flomerics, acquisition, flotherm

It seems that Autodesk is looking to acquire Flomerics and its range of CFD-based simulation technologies. According to a statement released by Flomerics, this comes after Mentor Graphics tried to acquire the company early this quarter.

According to the statement:

Autodesk, Inc. (‘Autodesk’) and the Board of Directors of Flomerics Group PLC (‘Flomerics’ or the ‘Company’) are pleased to confirm that Autodesk is in continuing discussions with Flomerics and its advisers in respect of a possible offer for the Company.

These discussions are progressing and further announcements will be made in due course. At this stage, however, there can be no certainty that an offer from Autodesk will be forthcoming, nor as to the terms on which any offer might be made.

Unfortunately, I have no idea how these things work, but this is interesting for many reasons. If you take the MCAD market as a whole, there are a couple of missing gaps in several vendor’s offerings and they relate to simulation. Namely, PTC and Autodesk don’t have a decent Fluid Flow and Heat Transfer analysis offering.

In the world of CAD integrated CFD, PTC has always had a very strong relationship with Blue Ridge Numerics. Meanwhile Flomerics had been the outsider, until it acquired Nika last year. Nika develop the CFD code that’s the underlying base technology for SolidWorks’ FloWorks as well as its other EFD products.

What’s intriguing is that Flomerics has a very wide range of interests. From the EFD tools for CAD integrated CFD, through more specialist electronics-related simulation with the FloTherm products and into the AEC market with the HVAC-biased product, FloVent. Now, who in the CAD world covers mechanical and architectural design? Yup. Autodesk.

It appears to be early days, but this move makes a hell of a lot of sense. What will happen to FloWorks? Will SolidWorks have to go elsewhere for that technology? Would PTC buy out Blue Ridge as a result? who knows? its all speculation. But purely in terms of Product Development Technology, this is interesting. If Autodesk can bring CFD in house (it already has FEA from the PlassoTech aquisition), it is acquiring Moldflow, the company looks be building a very interesting technology base for its Digital Prototyping concept that might finally see it delivered.

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New SolidWorks Integrated mould filling analysis

Published 05 June 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: simulation, design, autodesk, moldflow, mold design, simpoeworks, mold filling

I got a release through from UK SolidWorks VAR, New Technology CADCAM about it adding SimpoeWorks to its product portfolio. I recently talked, following the Autodesk/Moldflow acquisition, about how there were limited options for those looking to perform injection moulding simulation, citing the only other code I was aware of being Vero’s VISI-Flow. It seems I was wrong and SimpoeWorks is “fully featured general purpose plastic injection simulation software for plastic injection analysis.” It’s a SolidWorks Gold Partner Product offering “complete filling, packing, cooling and part warpage simulation”

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Biggest CAD drawing in the world

Published 05 June 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: simulation, solidworks, design, nx, solid edge, spaceclaim, user interaction, ribbon, flomerics, efd.lab

They say computers stifle creative talent, but in Erik Nordenankar’s crazy little Swedish mind the computer - in this instance a GPS in a briefcase - is the driving force for design.

For his graduation project in Advertising and Graphic design Erik sent his briefcase around the world in order to create the Biggest Drawing in the World.

Erik gave DHL highly detailed instructions of where to send his briefcase and over the next 55 days tracked its journey via GPS. The information was downloaded to his computer and produced a wonderful self portrait of the man himself - his ear in Paris, hand in Papua New Guinea and student bed head tuft of hair smack bang in the middle of Iceland.

The amazing results can be seen on YouTube and Erik’s own little website. He’s not a bad looking chap.

Why use a mouse for CAD when you can use a briefcase

OK, i’ll fess up. He didn’t actually send his briefcase round the world - he is a poor student after all - but what a great concept. 700,000 viewers on YouTube to date certainly seem to think so. I wonder what kick back he got from DHL. Probably not nearly enough. You can’t pay for marketing this good.

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Acrobat 9 Unveiled

Published 04 June 2008

Posted by Martyn Day

Article tagged with:

On Monday of this week, Adobe launched its now yearly update to its Acrobat digital document tool. I have been testing out the new release for a few weeks prior to the launch and I have t say that Acrobat 9 is a significant upgrade on nearly all fronts, from basic PDF creation to the advanced CAD/3D capabilities.

There have been a few name changes, so now the Acrobat 9 family consists of Acrobat 9 Standard, Acrobat 9 Pro, and the new Acrobat 9 Pro Extended software, which has replaced the Professional 3D branding but still offers the most comprehensive suite of tools. The Extended brand harmonises its name with Adobe Photoshop Extended version but by dropping the 3D I feel it might be confusing to Engineers and Architects that associated the 3D with the CAD version of the Acrobat. The news is that Extended is the 3D CAD flavour.

The first thing you notice is that Flash technology has been incorporated into the PDF format as a front end, enabling some very slick features. At first I did not quite get why Flash would be of such a great benefit as I could not mentally link PDF documents and Flash which I always assumed was just a web technology. The incorporation of Flash has actually provided PDFs, which contain multiple files, to have a very slick cover-flow like interface, as well as the new capability to include Flash compatible video as documents.

These new PDF portfolios are really very cool indeed. It is now possible to create a single PDF file that contains all types of documents and allows the creator to produce a front-end page with title and images, which are displayed on opening. Then each file can be flicked through as if they were on a carousel (think Apple iPod Touch, or iTunes). The Flash environment radically improves the experience of wading through a multi-document PDF. The video feature is great too, as you can convert and include all sorts of video into PDFs and pause the video and mark up frames with the Redline tools. A series of marked-up frames are available for quick access and the author has considerable control to select sub-sections of video to be viewed by the PDF consumer.

The Flash-isation of PDF also means that the PDF is an environment in itself and Flash applications can be added to PDFs and sent out. For instance, it is possible to add a calculator widget, a live web map, or other web service. This mean you could open a document and use the added calculator to work on spreadsheets or engineering calculations, without leaving the PDF document. It is actually pretty hard to get your head around it, as it blows the concept of what you can include in a document, as documents can be applications! To read an Acrobat 9 document you obviously need to download the new free viewer.


So, enough about all the flashy stuff, down to what is new in engineering PDF. The formats has been updated and Inventor, B-reps, STL, Catia V5 and Siemens PLM Solutions’ NX formats are now included. For AEC users, Acrobat 9 supports Revit and Graphisoft via IFCs.

Gone is the pretty horrible Adobe 3D Toolkit and welcome to the powerful new Adobe 3D Reviewer, which came along with the TTI acquisition last year. While the interface is nowhere near as slick as Adobes other products the functionality of Reviewer goes way beyond authoring and enhancement of the 3D models, it also acts as a agnostic 3D CAD viewing and comparison tool like Cimmetry Autovision. 3D parts created in multiple CAD systems can be easily imported into the same workspace and 3D assemblies created. There are compare tools to check differences in geometry between cad revisions, so new material added, or old material lost can be quickly identified. Measurement and sectioning have been improved and it is easier to export the files as 2D vector or Raster files.

Mapping is now on the menu, as Acrobat PDFs now understanding of geospatial information, with support for accurately measuring Kilometers, Miles, longitude and Latitude. This expands PDF into a whole new vertical area as well as enhancing map data for Architecture, Engineering and Construction applications.

Share and Share alike

Collaboration and sharing has seen some cool innovation too. Acrobat 9 users can access a new web service called for storing and sharing files, use it as a central location for collecting data as part of a forms process, and to gather comments in a shared document review. includes free and paid for services, such as Adobe ConnectNow, personal web conferencing that provides desktop sharing, video and voice conferencing, and integrated chat.

Another benefit of is the opportunity to collaborate with other users while within a PDF document. Using Adobe Reader, other folks can join in a review session on a file, with the originator driving the group navigation through the PDF document in real-time. As Adobe points out, this helps ensure everyone is literally, and figuratively, on the same page.

Acrobat is really good at making digital forms, now it is great at distributing these forms and collating the returns. In the past we have used services like to do surveys, now we will be able to send PDFs out and the software gathers all the responses together and can tabulate the results. While it sounds complicated, it is all pretty straightforward using wizard-style dialogues.

Pricing and Availability

Acrobat 9 Pro Extended, Acrobat 9 Pro and Acrobat 9 Standard for Microsoft Windows, and Acrobat 9 Pro for Mac OS X, are expected to be available by July 2008. Acrobat 9 Pro Extended is expected to be available for £619 (which is a nice price cut), and registered users of qualifying earlier versions of Acrobat can upgrade to Acrobat 9 Pro Extended for £205. Acrobat 9 Pro is expected to be available for £425, and registered users of qualifying earlier versions of Acrobat can upgrade to Acrobat 9 Pro for £145. Acrobat 9 Standard is expected to be available for £265, and registered users of qualifying earlier versions of Acrobat can upgrade to Acrobat 9 Standard for £85.

We will have a fully featured review in the first edition of Develop3D.

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The Ribbon of Doom

Published 30 May 2008

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with:

Solid Edge is now fully Ribbon’ed up

I’ve spent the last ten years or so writing about the technology we use day-in-day-out. What’s interesting is that as my career transitioned from designer to writer to publisher, the software within this space also went through a transition, from the UNIX-based hardware to the more cost effective Windows platform.

With that shift brought about a transition in user interface design. When CAD software ran on SGI, IBM-AIX or Sun Solaris systems, the user interface was pretty much up the development teams, they designed it (or didn’t in some cases) to fit the purpose it was intended for; hence, I-deas looked nothing like Unigraphics which looked nothing like AliasStudio. Which definitely looked nothing like Pro/Engineer. But things changed when CAD vendors adopted the Windows platform and things started to standardise - but even still, every application retained its own look and feel.

SpaceClaim was one of the first to adopt the Ribbon UI

But now, we’re seeing an even greater process of commonisation across the software within this magazine. The Windows Vista UI style, specifically, the Ribbon toolbar, is become the de facto standard for software vendors and user interaction. Look at the images on this pages, can you tell them apart at first or even second glance.

EFD.Lab from Flomerics latest release adopts the ribbon toolbar

In there we not only have SolidWorks, Solid Edge and SpaceClaim but also Flomerics’ EFD.Lab. The Ribbon toolbar is everywhere and seemingly omnipresent. So what’s my point?

I can understand the argument that familiarity with user interaction methods is a healthy thing. That if you use Word and Excel then you have immediate familiarity with the 3D design software and it eases the learning curve. This can be argued back and forth and I’m personally not convinced. Much of it, I’m sure, is the vendor appealing to the lowest common denominator. The majority of users, particularly within our readership, have adopted 3D design tools, but the vendors are still chasing the laggards, those slowest to adopt 3D and drive forward with it - and for those, the “its just like Word” might be a good sales line.

But if you look at each application, look at the technologies they use, there are common components; many use Parasolid, many user D-cubed, many use other libraries to provide their features and functions. If UI design is also standardised, where can the vendors find the room for innovation, for differentiation and how can they truly support the 3D-based design workflow? I guess the answer is that the Devil is truly in the details. How does your system allow you to work directly, but intelligently with your geometry and parameters of design? How do you use on-model interaction and context sensitivity to its fullest. Does your design system enable that? What additional tools has your vendor developed to assist with design, to make it more fluid - are things like SpaceClaim’s direct modelling approach, Siemens Synchronous Technology, the future or is there something else required? Personally, one of the most impressive UI updates I’ve seen in some time is the forthcoming NX 6 release that Siemens has just shown off.

The new NX UI which sees no ribbon action whatsoever

Yes, it has the Sync Tech behind it, but more impressively than that, the UI is stripped down and minimised. Use of Roles allows you to have the commands you need for the task you re working, at hand and switch able, and the level of at cursor interaction and command/operation access is unbelievable and will make users way more productive.

And guess what, there’s not a ribbon in sight.

it seems that its not just me that’s been considering these things - Ralph Grabowski’s been pondering the same thing over at WorldCADaccess.

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Seize the data

Published 29 May 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: simulation, cae, slm

ESI Group is driving the industry trend to give order to the seemingly endless pit that is becoming enterprise CAE data. The simulation specialist announced today that it will enhance its VisualDSS solution with the latest technologies and product architectures from database boffins, Oracle.

For those that don’t know, ESI Group develops digital simulation software for prototyping and manufacturing processes. It’s truly high end stuff - Volkswagen uses it for crash test simulation, Boeing and Nasa for noise and vibration. If you have trouble imagining the sheer power and complexity of this software, spare a thought for the poor the guys that use it and have to keep control of their data.

That’s where VisualDSS comes in. It’s designed to enable enterprises to build and manage simulation models for multi-domain usage, automate project workflows, and manage simulation content and data. ESI Group refers to this as an ‘advanced end-to-end decision support solution for simulation’, others are calling it SLM (Simulation Lifecycle Management). Whatever label you give it, it’s destined to become the biggest thing since PLM, but try not to yawn too loud as your crumple zone and crash test dummy whiz effortlessly around your extranet.

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