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Synchronous Technology, Take Two

Solid Edge’s Live Sections are editable 2D cross sections.

Solid Edge’s Live Sections are editable 2D cross sections.

Last week, Kris Kasprzak, director of Solid Edge marketing at Siemens PLM Software, made a stop in San Francisco to see me and Ten Links‘ editor-in-chief Roopinder Tara. Kasprzak was on a roadshow to promote the upcoming release of Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 2 (SE with ST2). This marks the second release of the company’s midrange parametric CAD package outfitted with direct editing. (To use Siemens’ own description, Synchronous Technology “combines the best of constraint-driven techniques with direct modeling.”)

Notable additions in the new version include:

  • Sheet metal tools;
  • Live Section, which lets you edit your part, assembly, or sheet metal design from a cross-sectional view;
  • Mid-range finite element analysis (FEA) functions, bunched together as Solid Edge Simulation; and
  • Solid Edge Insight (a build-in data-management setup) housed in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (in addition to Windows SharePoint Services 3.0).

Adding FEA to SE with ST2 might be Siemens’ move to counter the addition of analysis features in Autodesk Inventor 2010. Siemens (UGS at the time) delivered Solid Edge Insight on SharePoint in 2001. Since SharePoint is a popular enterprise solution, especially for midsize businesses, Siemens expects Solid Edge Insight will continue to appeal to the same demograph.

Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 2 marks the introduction of Solid Edge Simulation, a collection of FEA tools.

Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 2 marks the introduction of Solid Edge Simulation, a collection of FEA tools.

The closest commercial rival to SE with ST2 might be Autodesk Inventor Fusion, set to appear as a technology preview in Autodesk Labs in the near future. Responding to Siemens’ initiative, Autodesk plans to deliver a version of its mid-range CAD package featuring both parametric and direct editing. (For more, read “Autodesk Joins the Hybride CAD Movement“).

A year after its premiere, Siemens’ Synchronous Technology continues to fuel debates about the merits of direct editing. The latest round began with blogger Deelip Menezes’ post titled “Inventor Fusion and SolidWorks Confusion.” Menezes wondered if Inventor Fusion might be “the final straw” for SolidWorks, the nudge for the company to incorporate direct-editing features into its classic parametric CAD program. The exchange heated up considerably as comments piled up.

Many consider Autodesk Inventor, Solid Edge, and SolidWorks as comparable mid-range CAD systems. Since Solid Edge had embraced direct editing and Inventor is poised to do the same, SolidWorks remains, for better or worse, the lone holdout in history-based CAD. (Currently SolidWorks offers some direct-editing functions via Instant 3D, but they’re hardly at the scale seen in Synchronous Technology.)

Sometimes I wonder if we’re too hung up on terminologies. Do engineers and designers care whether the software they’re using is parametric, direct, or freeform if it creates the bodies, profiles, curves, and blends they envision? Ultimately, wouldn’t the type of parts, assemblies, or doodads they’re designing determine the software they need to use?

Richard Williams, a Desktop Engineering reader and a retired construction electrician, wrote, “Rather than arguing about which [parametric or direct modeling] is better, faster, or easier to use, [vendors] should maybe sell each MCAD program according to [how it is intended to be used]. A designer doesn’t necessarily work or want to work like an engineer. They are looking to model their designs and concepts fast without much regard [for] how it can be made … An engineer works … in the orthographic realm … more or less in the vertical and horizontal axes. Curves and such belong mostly to designers … [Parametric and direct modeling] should not be competing at all. You should go with the one you like to enhance your job skills and creativity or the way you work.”

Williams is a frequent contributor to www.engineering.com. Find his writings under the pen name Corporal Willy.

For update, read “SolidWorks’ Stance on Direct Modeling.”

[Note: Post revised to correct info on Solid Edge Insight’s availability on Microsoft SharePoint.]

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. This is also in regards to the article regarding Direct Modeling. Please, do a follow up article on the company that actually did the groundwork for Synchronous Technology, Kubotech. I have talked with one employee there. It appears this company actually does direct modeling better and that because they published there ideas on the web, via white papers, without patenting them companies like SpaceClaim and Seimens were able to easily mimic what they had created.

    I have seen their’s and Siemens in action and think Kubotech’s implementation is better.

    Now, if the MCAD companies would start implementing across the industry ASME Y14.41-2003, so that companies can save more time by eliminating / reducing the need for redundant 2D drawings. In addition, make GD&T definition part of model definition with smart software automating GD&T on models based on interactions; i.e. mating, between parts.

  2. Jim: Thanks for writing! I must admit I’ve never used Kubotech’s software. I promise to look into it and post a follow up.

  3. A small correction concerning Insight. Insight has always been based on SharePoint. What has changed in ST2 is that it now runs on Sharepoint 2007. Previous versions ran on Sharepoint 2003, and Sharepoint 2001.

  4. Ken: Thanks for the input. I just revised the post after consulting Siemens’ online specs on Solid Edge Insight.

  5. I believe this is going to be a very healthy discussion. Nothing might be accomplish in the realm of leadership or direction in this talk. There is a natural prejudice for what we use most. However, let us agree to disagree and stand on some basic points. For instance, we do know that their are many MCAD programs out there and they each have good and bad points. Some exhibit fine traits when doing some particular kinds of work. Some are more intuitive and easier to use than others are. Some can do FEA and others cannot do that yet. This discussion will not find any clear winners but the vocalization of good and bad of each, will not bring about any losers either. Most things get better with time like fine wines. But would you pour out a large glass and just gobble it down? Each program that I have ever tried was confusing to me at first. Then magically as I used that program more and more it became smarter about how I work and do things. 🙂 HHhhmmm! Isn’t that the best point to consider here. Whatever program we use, does it enhance the way we create our ideas with it? I would also ask, does it matter so much if I finish something before someone else in the department working on a different part or are we actually in a horserace and do not care how we come stumbling across the finish line? I like what I see out there being developed and it encourages the other vendors to take notice but not necessarily adopt the same or similar ideas. Sooner or later you adopt or adapt to a certain one you like working with and it is only natural to be defensive and supportive of it. I like them all for their own particular traits and their users are some of the very best there are in the world of MCAD. But we all use MCAD programs to produce creative parts and assemblies and clear drawings so manufactures can make these creations. Wow, to think that I actually started out with a pencil and eraser and that eraser did not last too long. Hello to everyone contributing to this discussion. Sure wish we were talking about someting I consider even more important. The standardization of compatible formats so re-mastering doesn’t have to be done with imported files, which adds great costs to the inudutry we all serve. Okay, that is my two cents. Bye.

  6. Here are some thoughts from a buyer and user of ST in a small job shop environment. I bought SE just after the release of ST1. What sold me on it at the time was the ability to work on parts without a history. Granted there are some real quirks with what will work and what won’t here but let me give you two examples that sum it up pretty well as far as I am concerned. I machine directly off of 3d shapes with VX Cadcam, a parametric modeler/cam package. I have a simple part made of teflon for a machine that produces yeast roll dough pellets. The length of these can vary by a few hundreths of an inch depending on machine variables that can change over time. This blade has a beveled end and angled sides so it was always go through the history and redo. The demo guy took it and grabbed the front face and could drag it in either direction and was done before I could even think of really starting the editing with VX. I have a tube that is 3″ od and 10″ long with 60 rows of holes along centerline with 66 holes per row. Any work done on this before with my parametric modeler always involved a rebuild which meant on the last patterning command I needed to find something else to do for about 27 minutes as the part would rebuild. Now while I can’t build this tube YET [ this will be changing soon] in ST I can edit what is there in a tiny fraction of the time. For instance if I wanted to change the hole size for a different product from 2mm to 2.5mm the whole process from begining to end is about 3 minutes. Changing a bevel angle on a support ring for this tube assembly the same and no history to plod through. Due to lack of a good user manual for ST the first time took quite a while to figure out but the second time was an eye opener. I am a small job shop dealing with part files from others and constant changes to these part files and “direct editing” here saves me a ton of time and headaches. Where traditional parametric modeling will still do a lot in parts creation that ST will not I believe this is a temporary situation that will be resolved in future releases. This last year has not been wildly profitable but what I saw with ST was compelling enough to find the money and 9 months on I see nothing to change this viewpoint.

  7. Hello Mr. Ault,

    It seems like you have found your panacea in MCAD programs using the Synchronous Technology as found within SolidEdge. A truly fine program and it is working for you even in this tight economy which is great. This relates to what I said in “my two cents.” Everyone will and should use what best suits there purposes and you seem to have found yours. It also will only get better with more time. Granted I am a SolidWorks user and I have only used a few trial versions long ago. However, I needed to make my decision at the time with something so I could get started with something so I could help introduce it into the schools. SolidEdge at that time was going to be sold and they were not entertaining any progressive ideas back then.

    I did not fully understand the problem you said you were having with a history based modeler but a question came to mind about using different configurations on that same part or assembly you talked about. Perhaps you did try doing that but did not mention it. I know I’ve seen demonstrations on the way SolidWorks uses different configurations on differnt parts that change drastically at the click of the mouse. Maybe it did not work for what you needed to do? Thank you for describing how you use the Synchronous Technology inside of SolidEdge. You have enlighted many of us I am sure.

  8. Dave: I’d like to get a better understanding of the tube you referenced in your comment. If this is something that could be beneficial to others, perhaps we should publish it. Will you be able to email me an image of this part as a JPEG from several perspectives?

  9. Hello Mr. Ault,
    have you looked at the CoCreate Modeling tool now owned by PTC? CoCreate was the first to come out with a history free modeler back in the early 90s and has continued to enhance the tool with some great capabilities. They have mastered the art of direct modeling and have incorporated the ability to add parametrics only if you wish to do so. They offer a free Personal Edition version that you can download online at: http://www.ptc.com/offers/tryout/pe2.htm ….might be worth a look.
    Good luck,

  10. solidedge st2 very great progress, especially the live section are simulation, but the more I am still looking forward to the arrival of soliedge st5

  11. solidedge st2 very great progress, especially the live section are simulation, but the more I am still looking forward to the arrival of solidedge st5

  12. Solidedge st5 I think that would be regarded as a more complete solution for Synchronous Technology, and only after solidedge st5 can really replace the Traditional Technology, the ultimate Synchronous Technology will take over from Traditional Technology!

  13. Kevin, sorry for the delay in replying but I have really been swamped with work, a nice complaint. I would love to send you pictures of the tube. Contact me with where to send it and I will do it this coming week.
    Richard, the problem with history based modeling on the tube for instance is that the last pattern command for the 3660 holes took a healthy workstation 27 minutes to preform VS 3 minutes or less with ST. There is no real shortcut here with setting up differing parameters, it is just recomputing a ton of holes takes time. There are times where you can divide the tube into four sections and do the hole pattern in the 90 degree section and then pattern that and it saves time but a number of these tubes have odd numbers of rows of holes so it can’t work there. But all things being equal the 27 minute time is the best I could come up with and other ways took longer.
    Christina, looked a few times a couple of years ago but sheetmetal was a primary requirement no matter where I ended up and CoCreate did not cut it. I have not looked recently but I allready have spent money and I am not in the market for new stuff. I may just have a look for curiosities sake but is this a crippled version or the full version.

  14. Dave: I think I understand your dilemma with the patterned holes now. Still, I’d be interested in looking at the part and perhaps publishing it here to make a point. Can you email the before and after shots as JPEGs to Kennethwongsf[at]earthlink.net when you have a moment? Thanks!

  15. I just read that one of the Chilean miners is an electrician. I am an electrician, and I have to come clean that I complain tons about many of the crawl spaces that I have to climb into. You won’t hear that from me anymore. LOL. I can’t fathom being down there for 69 days! I’m fine being the electrician that stays clean.

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