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A moral quandary: Should we cover the weapons and defense industry?

Published 09 July 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: defense, a moral quandry, editorial direction

In the forthcoming issue of DEVELOP3D, we have a huge range of stories as ever (inlcuding a look at Vuuch, Inventor Fusion and much more). This month we also have a huge focus on hardware, how to choose it, how to maintain it and how to get the best bang for your buck. It’ll be with you shortly.

Elsewhere, we also have our monthly Product Development Gallery – and this month, it is bringing up something of a moral question that has bothered us in the office for a while now. That question is this.

Should a magazine such as ours cover the process and technology use involved in the development and manufacture of weapons, products that are intended to cause harm?

The perfect example of why this gives us nightmares is the product above, the Taser X26. To quote Stephen’s story, “The team work within AutoCAD and Solidworks to transform their original sketches and ergonomic foam models into 3D CAD data, testing it within ANSYS and CosmosWorks for drop tests. Parts are rapid prototyped in order to verify the design of parts, such as the important cartridge mechanism, before providing a pre-tooling release.” All very interesting details, but the Taser is controversial product.

The Defense industry is a huge part of the product development ecosystem and many of the most advanced users of technology are within that space. But when the end result is a product that can cause harm, should it be covered?

Part of me thinks, yes. If technology is used to improve these products, to make them more accurate, to make them less dangerous even in contradictory context of conflict or law enforcement, that’s a good thing.

The other part of me thinks No. Or should the whole thing be ignored and we carry on talking about less controversial industry sectors?

I’d like your thoughts please if you would make a comment on what you think.

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SustainabilityXpress Beta: The Benefits & Challenges of talking Green & Technology

Published 07 July 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: solidworks, sustainability, materials selection, green, materials science, tree huggers, sage

SustainabillityXpress loads up into the Browser panel to the right-hand side of the UI.

This release onto SolidWorks’ Labs web-site is something I’ve been looking forward to since the team behind gave a sneak peak at SolidWorks World back in January. What it represents is a partnership between SolidWorks and an organisation called” title=“Thinkstep”>Thinkstep, an expert in sustainability and materials science. The end result is looking to be a set of tools, starting with part-only Xpress variant, then a fuller fledged assembly analysis tools coming on stream

and presumably into the Office Premium bundle.

and sold as a seperate product.

What the tools do is interrogate your part’s form, it’s size then requests additional information such as material (if you haven’t got it set in the part file), the manufacturing process. The system filters based on your material selection – for example, selecting a plastic, you get Injection moulded and Extruded as options. It then asks for geographic information, asking for details on where your part is manufactured and where it’s in use. Rather oddly, the system currently only has three geographic “regions” – Europe, North America, Asia and Japan.

This is then used to hook into Thinkstep’s huge database (available in a system called Gabi) of materials lifecycle information and gives you all manner of results for environment issues. There are four or five panels that give you information about the environmental impact of sourcing the material, processing it, shipping it and it being in use and of course, in these Cradle to Grave times, it’s end of life disposal. The key metrics the systems gives you relate to Carbon footprint, Energy Consumed (over the complete lifecycle of the product), Air Acidification (which covers the emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides) and Water Eutrophication (pretty much the contamination of water and resultant damage to the surrounding ecology).

The four panels that show the key environmental factors and comparison between the original and new material selection.

The system has a set of baseline tools, that allow you to select your starting material, perhaps your initial guess or the material used in a previous generation of a part, zero out the values, then use the tools within the system to find alternatives and very quickly and very graphically see how the various values improve or degrade. The thing that interests me is the Find Similar tool that’s used to find those alternatives. As a massive advocate of materials science and the use of materials selection techniques in design and engineering, this tool holds some promise. In basics, it presents you with a set of selection criteria in which to search the underlying database to find alternative that have the same material characteristics.

A basic set of materials search options are available to find alternative materials.

All the usual things are there including material class (alloys, plastics etc etc), density, thermal expansion, yield strength, elastic and shear moduli, tensile and yield strengths, Poissons ratio. You can then set limits to those values such Greater than, Less than, Approximate (rather disappointingly there’s no range-based search) and search the database to find materials than match your criteria.

A list of alternatives that match your search criteria are presented and can be evaluated against your current material selection.

The tool then presents you with a list of alternative materials which you can then gauge the difference in relation to those environmental factors graphically and make a decision upon. What’s interesting of course, is that while you’re unlikely to make a material selection based on environmental factors alone, you can do so with an informed idea of how ‘green’ those alternatives are, then explore further. Using simulation to test the performance of new potential material.

The process you’ve been through can be documented and distributed using an automatically generated report (created from within the panel) that outputs to Word and gives you the basic starting point for a report proper. The report is also saved in the Design Binder and as such is associated with the part file. Personally, I think using Word to generate these things is a bad idea (preferring a HTML or PDF document) – particularly as I didn’t have Office install on my workstation.

The report is stored within the Design Binder folder within the SolidWorks part file – or can be output as a Word Doc.

What I like about this, even though it’s at a very early stage is a two fold thing. Firstly, there’s the simple fact that these issues, addressed by the tool, are going to become more and more of an issue in the coming years, as materials become more scarce, as governmental and international legislation cracks down as resources dry out and the simple fact that as designers, we have a moral obligation that the products we produce minimize the harm to the environment. By giving SolidWorks users the tools to quickly evaluate these factors, at an early stage, nothing but good can come of it.

But that’s assuming that the tool is actually used. This is perhaps the biggest challenge that this and the other tools from other vendors, face. Getting the designers and engineers to use them to their potential. Particularly in the US, I’ve often heard the idea bandied around that these things, this inevitable movement towards scarcity of materials and resources is a myth. Something which baffles me every time I hear it. It’s common sense. The planet is not a renewing resource, it’s a finite closed system and if we continue down this path, things are going to start running out. We’re used more than the planet or we can generate. continue doing that and it’ll run out. That’s common sense.

Even if this is not a common thought, you also have the simple fact that environmental factors, when discussed in the context of everyday design and engineering, are not on people’s priority lists when facing economic disaster, the drive for lower cost, higher quality more innovative products. Quite simply, are people going to have time to care about environmental factors when their job in on the line?

Perhaps behind the headline ’sustainability’ focussed nature of this tool, there lies something that everyone can gain benefit from. By giving you search and filtering tools, you can find alternative materials, alternative methods of manufacture that can make your design work more effective, save cost, save weight, add strength with less material. That’s something I think is incredibly powerful. and while it doesn’t have the richness of a material selection tool such as CES Selector 2008 (from Granta Design), it is a start.

For many years, I’ve been wondering when one of the CAD vendors would make the logical connection between material selection and 3D-based design – there’s huge syngergy (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word) there to be had. It just takes a vendor to make the leap. Perhaps this is the first of many. I do hope so.

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Inventor Fusion Part III: Plans for the future + a conclusion of sorts.

Published 01 July 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: autodesk, inventor fusion, direct modelling, direct editing, history free modelling

#3: Looking at this initial Tech Preview, Inventor Fusion has some legs to it. Yes, there are things missing or that it doesn’t do in comparison to other direct modelling systems – in fact, the system is installed with a list of things it can’t do, so if you have problems, check that first (it’s in the README_INV_FUSION.htm file).

But perhaps the real thing to consider is in the title, the word Preview. After all, this is a formative release of a new technology. So, to get an idea of where this is headed, I got on the phone to Kevin Schneider who heads up the Emerging Products and Technology Group at Autodesk, the man heading things up and pushing the system forward.

Al Dean: For me, the big question is the round tripping between Inventor and Fusion that you showed at launch. That’s not in this release is it and have you got any idea when it’ll be available?

Kevin Schneider: That is not in technology preview 1. We intend to let customers look that later this summer in an update to the Technology Preview. Not in the first Tech Preview but making it clear that we’re going to keep refining the ideas over the year, with customer feedback. As a result, the round trip with Inventor is not in this preview but we will get a chance to have customers try that soon. When we announced it, we should have been a little clearer that this wasn’t going to be there in the first release.

AD: How many releases are you looking at? Is there a specific lifetime you have for this thing on labs or are you looking at when it might ship?

KS: The technology preview you’re working with will go on to the end of the year. I can’t predict future releases or much about that but what I can specifically say is that we’re going to continue to update the Technology Preview releases as frequently as soon as we can implement ideas that come from customers. As to when it ships, that’s a bit more of a complicated question. Just like we did with Plastic Parts and the Advanced Simulation preview, ultimately the destination for these capabilities is core Inventor. What I would say is that customers need to tell us when they think what we’re previewing is ready and then we’ll move it to Inventor. That’s the whole point of doing a technology preview.

AD: It’s never going to a standalone application as it is at the minute, it’s always going to be an integral part of Inventor?

KS: I think the most wide reaching impact of the technology you see here will be when it goes into core Inventor. Whether the tool you’re using has a future – we have no comment or no commitment at this time. I think you’ll agree that if this capability was in Inventor, that would be big. Really Big.

I think the thing that’s important but is sometimes a little confusing, is the reason that we do these Technology Previews as a separate application is that customers are very reluctant to use Beta software because they have to uninstall production software, the data doesn’t migrate, they accidentally overwrite production files – all these things can be really dangerous in a production environment.

But by doing these as separate executables, you can side-by-side install, you can install it at home. We’ve found a much larger number of customers are using these things when we take the risk away from production software and we get way more feedback earlier in our ideas. It’s better for our customers, better for us, better for the industry.

AD: The one thing I’ve been thinking about is that you guys use your Labs web-site and resource a lot more than many other vendors. It’s a nice thing that you put these things out and you seem to engage with your users a lot more. is that something you’ve thought about? I’m curious about the mix up, when you’re developing something new like Fusion, do the customers that use it throw you things you didn’t expect or do you have a good idea where things are headed?

KS: I can give you some examples. We thought that some of the progressive shelling we’d done (Editor’s Note: this is found in the Plastic Part design tools) and as you know, work I’ve been doing for years. When we went to the technology preview and we got customers working with it everyday, we learned a lot and a lot of it about being not as easy to use as the benchmark we have set with Inventor. And that’s why it didn’t show up until Inventor 2010, because we needed to do more work.

In the past, that would have gone into Beta, people would have looked at it and it would have shown up in the release and users would look at it and think “What the heck is this?” – it would have been another hacked piece of functionality that customers get annoyed with. We’ve eliminated that problem by using Labs get quick feedback.

To specifically answer your question, there was a quite lengthy discussion at the last Paris press event between Roopinder, Martyn and a couple of others about how Autodesk doesn’t do enough to preview new technology, engage customers more early. “To lead” was the challenge they were giving us. Now the group I work, emerging products and technology, was a direct response to that can Autodesk do to use Labs better than any other company we’ve seen so far to get ideas and technology into customer’s hands early enough so we have solid ideas about how these need to go into our production tools.

First thoughts on the Technology Preview 1

I’m in two minds about what to write in the way of a conclusion. After all, this is very early stage software, nowhere near production ready. Autodesk has built a set of technologies (delivered as a standalone application) that’s clearly being used to knock the rough spots off the technology and usability before it gets anywhere near integration into core Inventor (which is the eventual goal). So let’s strip it back to basics and look at what Fusion represents.

The most immediate thing is that it brings a number of direct modelling tools that allow you to work with geometry in an effective manner, regardless of source. Yes, the tools available follow the conventions of other systems operating in the same, direct modelling manner and as a first pass at getting the technology out there, it’s clear there’s potential here. Great potential indeed. Direct modelling, despite what some vendors claim, is a technology that’s very nicely suited to specific tasks. Not in terms of industry or market sector, but pure, hardcore modelling operations where history-based systems fail. Whether that’s working with imported, dumb, data or whether that’s making design changes at late stages where the history of the part or assembly becomes unwieldy and prone to breakdown. It also provides an interesting way for the non-expert CAD user (but I’d stress the experienced engineer or designer) to get ideas down, play with geometry and to think, in true three dimensions and document those ideas and concepts – but without the knowledge overhead traditionally associated with history-based modelling techniques.

These have been the sweet spots for direct modelling for the last two decades and I suspect might always remain so. What’s changed is that there are larger vendors now jumping into the space that’s formerly been occupied by the likes of CoCreate, IronCAD. If you have bigger players discussing a technology, there’s a perception that something new has been discovered. Facts are that direct modelling isn’t a particularly new concept. What’s changed is market awareness, increased development resources across the industry and yes, more powerful hardware to enable those direct edits to be made with less chunking of a processor set.

But alongside the direct modelling, there’s something else afoot here and that’s an intriguing experiment or testing of waters with regards the Inventor user interface. Inventor often gets a bad name for itself amongst users moving to it from other modern systems (in all honesty, usually, SolidWorks), claiming it’s not as easy to use and my personal thoughts are that there’s one or two very fundamental sticking points that back it up – nothing major, but things that jar if you’re used to other systems. Looking at Fusion and separating the modelling technology from the user experience, it’s clear that Autodesk is testing out how users react to the new marking menu system, a much more interactive heads up way of working than is currently implemented in core, shipping Inventor. What I find intriguing is that Autodesk are doing this by release code into the public realm and letting users (whether they’re customers or not) play with it and see what it can do. That can’t do anything other than assist with making a better product.

So the two in combination makes for an interesting thing. Some new technology that’s at a very formative stage, still awaiting some of the core components (the round tripping) and which is going to extend well beyond this calendar year with updates and such, then Tech Preview 2. Let’s see where it goes.

If you fancy a play, then its there to have a go with.

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Dassault Systemes is not to shut the home of SmarTeam

Published 30 June 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: dassault systemes, office closure

OK – a little judicious editing is needed here: We got word today that Dassault Systemes is not closing its Israeli office, the birth place of SmarTeam but 86 people are losing their jobs because R&D is movng to Boston/Paris.” DS comment that:

The Tel Aviv, Israel, office is not closing nor are there any plans to close it. The Tel-Aviv location is the local market center of PLM expertise. It will be an important regional sales and sales-support office for V5 and V6 PLM, focus on the development of EST V5 and its customer base, combining superb understanding of the DS portfolio with hands-on knowledge of the local business environment. Moreover the organization will broaden its business-orientation and better serve local Value Added Resellers.

We got word today that Dassault Systemes is closing its Israelli office, the birth place of SmarTeam, allegedly “Firing 86 people today in Israel. R&D movng to Boston/Paris.” In an official statement, DS comment that:

Dassault-Systemes announced today a plan to consolidate development efforts in Velizy, France and Lowell, USA for the V6 solution portfolio. V6 provides a single integrated platform for all Brands, Industries and Channels as well as delivering on the PLM 2.0 strategy.

Following this decision the V6 related activities in DS Israel shall be ceased, and over the upcoming six months 86 employees will terminate their employment in the company.

DS-Israel continues to lead the development of the current generation PLM solutions (ENOVIA SmarTeam V5) to fully support the satisfaction of over 8,000 customers world-wide. DS-Israel will also enhance its focus on supporting the Israeli market for the entire DS portfolio.

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