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Live from LA: Behind the scenes at BMW DesignWorks

Published 26 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: design, catia, rhino, proengineer, bmw designworks, aliasstudio, tebis

I’ve just spent an incredibly interesting few hours with BMW DesignWorks in its headquarters in Los Angeles. Owned by BMW, the design consultancy has a hand in the development of BMW and Mini cars, but I didn’t realise that as much as 50% of its work is carried out for third parties.

With projects ranging from sunglasses and shavers to yachts and aircraft interiors the work is diverse to the say the least. But what makes the company so interesting is the way that it encourages its design teams to draw influence from each other regardless of the projects they are working on.

The new Saeco Xsmall by BMW DesignWorks

Housed in a light airy open plan office, and naturally lit, making the most of the seemingly endless Californian sunshine, projects are constantly on show on giant LCD monitors and designers are encouraged to print out their work so everyone is exposed to the widest range of projects beyond those within their own remit. And with 10-15 different projects on the go at any one time, this creates an extremely interesting environment for cross market influences.

In terms of technology BMW DesignWorks uses a huge range of digital tools, including Catia V5 for automotive, Pro/E for industrial design and Alias and Rhino for conceptual work, but designers are also encouraged to use physical models for product development.

For ergonomics testing this is essential, which in the case of a recent electric shaver project, was not only used to test out applicability for left and right hand users but also to test out innovative designs to help making shaving easier for men who wear glasses.

In automotive, clay sculpting still rules, and a whole range of rapid prototyping technologies are also used, but much of BMW DesignWorks’ physical output comes from a giant gantry CNC machine, the largest on the west coast I was told.

On any given week this can be used for carving out foam models of full size cars, or mobile phones. The CNC machine, driven by Tebis CAM software, takes IGES data from the wide range of digital design applications it uses, starting out with soft foam for conceptual studies and then as the design develops and detail increases stepping up to harder materials and finer tools.

Design for a new ThermalTake gaming tower, developed by BMW DesignWorks

As I’m sure you can appreciate, many of the projects at BMW DesignWorks are top secret, and a rather expressionless security guard enforces a strict no camera policy inside the design office. However, I will get to talk about one specific project next week as it comes out of embargo, so check back here next week.

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HP Workstation Event: touch screens could have health implications

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: hp, hp workstation event, touch-based displays, multi-touch, labs

Multi-Touch screens running applications such as Autodesk Mudbox, as demonstrated at Autodesk University last December, may be more for show than practical use due to concerns over ergonomics.

#1: Ergonomics could hinder the adoption of multi touch technologies for CAD/CAM, says HP. Speaking at The company’s workstation media event in sunny Los Angeles today, Phil McKinney, Chief Technology Office, HP Personal Systems Group, said that desktop touch screens, such as those featured in its TouchSmart PC, are not designed to be used day in day out. Leaning across a desk to touch a screen can put stresses on elbows and shoulders, and finger joints can also be tested by repeatedly tapping a glass screen.

Instead, McKinney said that the future of interaction with CAD/CAM could be with gestures where users don’t have to physically touch the screen. The company’s labs division in India, which has been carrying out research into multi-touch technologies, is currently concentrating on using arm and hand gestures to interact with 3D models. HP also discussed the possibility of multi-trigger interactions, where the user could combine gestures with voice commands such as ’scale’ to offer increased control over interaction with 3D datasets.

While picturing a design office packed with flailing arms and harmonies of ‘fillet’, ‘extrude’ and ‘boolean operation’ may bring a smile to your face, the future of gesture-based CAD-model interaction is more likely to lie in design review or presentation. Whatever the outcome it’s going to be extremely interesting to see where this technology takes us, hopefully without too many cases of multi-touch elbow along the way!

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Inventor 2010 partner bandwagon starts a rolling

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: simulation, autodesk, visualisation, autodesk inventor, cfdesign, blue ridge numerics, traceparts, inventor 2010, standard parts, polytrans

Things have started gearing in the add-on application space this week, following Autodesk’s launch of Inventor 2010, with several partner developers already issuing details of what they’ve got coming up for users.

TraceParts Software just announced that its eponymously titled library of suppliers and standard parts catalogs has successfully passed the challenging Autodesk Inventor 2010 certification. For those unaware of the developer, TraceParts has been developing its range of 3d component libraries for decades now, so its no wonder that the company now has 100+ million 3D models and 2D drawings at hand. This includes both industry standard components, as well as a hell of a lot of manufacturer specific catalogs.

While I’m not a huge fan of quoting software company executives, I did like a comment on the announcement by Autodesk’s vice president of Manufacturing Solutions Division, Buzz Kross, who commented that “The Inventor Community can concentrate on designing and innovating new products instead of wasting time and effort modeling parts they don’t manufacture.

Elsewhere, Blue Ridge Numerics, developer of CFdesign, announced details of the work its done to integrate its Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) system into the new look, feel and functioanlity of Inventor 2010. What I found interesting is how the company has jumped all over technology initially availabel on Autodesk Labs (such as shrinkwrap) which has now been built into the system proper. I could go on, but as ever, Derrek Cooper at Blue Ridge, has the details for you in a quick video (seriously, I should hire the Coop, he’s a whiz with this stuff)..

Finally, Okino Computer Graphics, a CGI and visualisation data translation specialist, is now shipping software products which have received “Autodesk Inventor 2010 Certification”. This will allow the “crack-free geometry, hierarchy (assembly data) and materials to be transferred cleanly and robustly from native disk-based Autodesk Inventor files or from a running copy of the Autodesk Inventor directly into any Okino data-conversion-compliant program.” those include systems like 3ds Max and Maya, EON Reality software, Cinema-4D, Visual Components’ 3DCreate to name but a few.

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Lenovo unveils new workstations

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: amd, nvidia, workstations, intel, tesla, lenovo, gpgpu

Today Lenovo became the first of the dedicated workstation manufacturers to announce its new generation Intel Xeon (Nehalem) based workstation range. Pipping Dell and HP to the post, Lenovo’s new ThinkStation S20 and D20 feature single socket and dual socket versions of Intel’s new Core i7-based Xeon chip.

In addition to offering both AMD (ATI) and Nvidia graphics cards, the big news is that Lenovo is pushing Nvidia’s Tesla GPU platform to supplement the jaw dropping performance of Intel’s new chips. For those that don’t know, Nvidia’s Tesla cards look like a graphics card and feature virtually the same technology as a graphics card, but are designed specifically to carry out compute tasks usually done on the CPU. Like all new technologies though, we are still waiting for the applications to come, most likely in the areas of simulation and rendering.

Elsewhere, Lenovo is boasting some pretty impressive green credentials, claiming that both workstations use 50% recycled content.

Look out for a full review review soon.

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