Home / Design / Users Know Best–Part 1

Users Know Best–Part 1

By Louise Elliott

Every design- and engineering-related software developer speaks ofbasing its authoring tools upon “best practices,” often withoutdefining the term. When questioned, developers generally describe it asa mixture of capabilities users believe they most need, enhancedprocesses to help customers work more efficiently, and tools to bringthe greatest value to users on both user and vendor terms. 
What BP Means to NX, I-deas, Solid Edge

UGS prefers to look at overall PLM rather than its individual parts,and Bill McClure, now vice president for UGS’ Velocity development, andformerly head of overall MCAD development for the corporation, pointsout that the most important part of best practices “is designmanagement at both mainstream and high-end ]levels].”

‹ ‹ This image shows NX Nastran/FEMAP stress analysis capabilities added toSolid Edge as a best practices response to users’ needs. The capabilityis embedded in Solid Edge and was designed to be easily used right outof the box by design engineers.

Limited to the world of MCAD, however, he says that UGS develops bestpractices after a great deal of interaction with customers, and thatthe definition is different for mainstream and high-end users. It meanspreconfigured capabilities for mainstream Solid Edge users and adaptiveknowledge, based on users’ input of their own engineering experience,for both NX 4 and NX I-deas Series.

“What companies need from CAD is often determined by the size of theorganization,” says McClure. “Where a company has 50 or fewerdesigners, the primary desire is the least possible amount ofcustomization. They want to be able to use the software out of the box,though they’re often happy that the program enables their owncustomization.”

At the other end of the spectrum, large companies with large numbers ofdesign engineers “have often already defined value-added processes andlook for software that works with those processes, that can capturetheir own knowledge and embed it in the software—and that’s why NX hasboth geometric and engineering rules engines,” McClure says. Thelatter, he explains, is technology that defines rules and makescomputations to meet them.

“We call it design logic, and it lets customers input their ownengineering rules for the kinds of parts they need frequently. It helpsusers leverage their own value-added knowledge.”

What BP Means to CATIA Users

Dassault Systemes doesn’t like to separate MCAD from overall PLM, andnot only refuses to do so, but also recently changed its use of theterm “best practices” to “PLM practice.” The company applies that termmostly to work it does in close collaboration with very largecustomers—such as Boeing and Toyota—in very large market areas.Dominique Mathieu, vice president of PLM transformation consulting,says that PLM practices consist of “bringing our experience to themarket and working with customers to refine their own definition ofvalue and best practices.”

› ›By implementing the Exterior Trim PLM Practice, a Dassault Systemesautomotive customer accelerates the creation of a car’s body by usingknowledge-based engineering. The knowledge model enabled by the bestpractice gives the designer the ability to vastly multiply the numberof design ideas he can try in the same amount of time that one trialwould have taken in the past.  

Mathieu says that Dassault tries to find gaps between what the customerperceives to be its needs and the existing CATIA solutions in the areasof process, tools, organization, and knowledge. Dassault doesn’t surveyall customer requests, but rather focuses on key customers in such keyindustries as aerospace, automotive, and heavy industry, and implementscapabilities for them that then become available industry-wide. “We seea growth in complexity in all areas, and the software is so complexthat we need to understand our users’ processes—and that often callsfor more consulting.”

Dassault used to take a tool-centric approach, Mathieu says, but nowwants to be process-centric. “We offer building blocks of PLMsolutions, including process definition tools to support knowledge fornew processes. We accumulate knowledge through our experience with ourcustomers, and make it a heritage to customers in the field.”

What BP Means to Pro/Engineer Users

PTC defines best practices as ways to help customers meet theirchallenges based on what is happening in their current markets,explains Michelle Leeds, Pro/Engineer product manager.

‹ ‹ Within PTC’s Pro/Engineer, designers can make use of individual 2Dskeleton models—like that of the engine drive components above—asplaceholders in an overall assembly of various subassemblies.

“For example,” she says, “users are now experiencing cost pressures insales, shorter product lifecycles, global competition, demand for morepersonalized or customized products, and evolving technologies thathave users of CAD wanting to blend electronic and mechanical designrequirements. From CAD, they mostly want tools that will help themdecrease design cycle time and assist them with concurrent design ofrelated components.”
Given the complexity of many products, Leeds believes that a planningfunction is very important to the detailed design process. “Designersof different parts and subassemblies need to be able to sharerequirements,” she says,” have the CAD model readily available—and alsoavailable simultaneously to manufacturing—to weigh out concepts andshare ideas.”

› ›As the designers develop each subassembly, they can drop the completedones into a place that has already been defined. This is a planningfunction PTC believes is very important to the detailed design process.

Within Pro/Engineering, the planning process can make use of aconceptual 2D assembly layout planned by a design team. “It shows theassembly structure,” says Leeds, “and can be broken into individualskeleton models that hold the place in the overall assembly of thevarious subassemblies. Then, as the designers develop each subassembly,they can drop the completed ones into a place that has already beendefined.”

The SolidWorks Definition

“Best practices” has both external and internal definitions atSolidWorks, says Fielder Hiss, manager of product development.”Internally, it refers to the best ways to develop software andinvolves product management, RandD, QA, and planning,” Hiss says.”Externally, it refers to the best ways to help users in our focusindustries be successful; and there it’s based on hundreds ofinterviews with users and a high-level direction plan for productdevelopment designed by a product management team.”

The industries upon which SolidWorks focuses are machine design;medical products; consumer products; and mold, tool, and diemanufacturers. “All these segments have areas of common needs, and wego out to customers and prospective customers to find those commonneeds, and then focus development on them,” he adds.

‹ ‹This image shows a capability recently added to SolidWorks 2006 thatallows designers to prove their concepts by taking a 2D conceptualsketch and extruding the parts into 3D.  If the concept works, thewhole thing can be turned into a 3D model without starting over.

He points out that most companies say that what they need most areprocess and time savings, and so SolidWorks aims to find ways for themto eliminate waste in both areas. Although the company provides sometools for specific industries, overall the product development grouplooks for ways to impact a cross-section of its total customer base.

“That works together with our emphasis on efficiency internally. Wehave non-developers create detailed functional specifications andreview those with customers before development starts, so that we canapproach development from the users’ viewpoint. Our marketing peopletalk to customers and prospects to understand their businesschallenges, and we then take those challenges and work toward solvingthem. Once we know we’re on the right track, we begin developing code.The functioning code is later shown to users in an Alpha test to see ifthe goals have been met.”

Autodesk Inventor’s Version of BP

Autodesk “focuses on the problem the user encounters in getting fromwhat’s inside his head to solving specific engineering problems on thecomputer,” says Andrew Anagnost, senior director of product managementat Autodesk. He reports that users generally customize the softwarethemselves so that it works best for their specific applications, andthat Autodesk aims to solve a core set of design problems that allcustomers encounter regularly.

› › The force, pressure, and energy calculations under consideration whenengineering a brake component can be entered into the Autodesk InventorDesign Accelerator to calculate functional results and generate thegeometry of a design automatically.

 “To be able to do that,” Anagnost says, “we spend a lot of time talkingwith customers to help us be sure we deliver what they need now, and atthe same time diagnose their design practices to see how they could usethe tools better, and to create better tools as well. We want to showthem a vision for the future, and toward that goal, we have groups ofcustomers we call ‘gunslingers’ who work with the development processearly and help us make sure development meets user needs and solvesproblems.”

As part of the process of meeting current and future needs, Autodeskspends time analyzing what the customer is actually doing on typicaldays, and what problems they encounter. “The customer can’t alwaysarticulate these process problems, so it’s up to us to devise newprocesses that solve such unspoken issues,” Anagnost says.

‹ ‹The Design Accelerator in Autodesk Inventor 10 automatically generatesgeometry based on functional requirements indicated by the engineer, asshown here in this bolted connection component.

New Components to Serve MCAD Users

Part 2 of this story will look at three specific examples of howdeveloper attention to delivering the best “best practices” has led tonew functionality in three of the programs discussed here.Specifically, these are SolidWorks’ new Sketch-Blocks in the 2006release, designed to solve ]assembly] layout problems; Autodesk’s newFunctional Design, aimed at enabling conceptual design on the computerinstead of the napkin; and PTC’s behavioral modeling, which enablescomponent and subassembly optimization before time-consuming detaileddesign gets fully underway.

Contributing Editor Louise Elliott is a freelance writer based inCalifornia. Offer Louise your feedback on this article through e-mailby clicking here.

Product Information

Autodesk Inventor
San Rafael, CA

Dassault Systemes
Paris, France

Needham, MA

SolidWorks 2006
SolidWorks Corp.
Concord, MA

NX, NX I-deas Series
UGS Corp.
Plano, TX

Solid Edge
UGS Corp.
Plano, TX

About DE Editors

DE's editors contribute news and new product announcements to Digital Engineering. Press releases can be sent to them via DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.