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Addendum to Our Direct-Modeling Discussion

Some readers brought up Kobotek's KeyCreator as a pioneer direct modeler.

Some readers brought up Kobotek's KeyCreator as a pioneer direct modeler.

This month, just before he left for a fly fishing vacation in Block Islands Fishworks, Desktop Engineering‘s (DE) executive editor Steve Robbins asked me if I would pen his usual editorial in his place. So I filed the piece titled “Anticipating the Next Paradigm Shift in CAD” (published July 27, 2009).

In the article, I argued that parametric or history-based modeling seems intuitive because we have become accustomed to its protocol, so the required steps — select a feature, pick a command, define the direction of the edit along an axis, enter a numeric value, and so on — make sense to us, but this geometry-creation method isn’t so easy to grasp for someone unfamiliar with parametric CAD.

My observation prompted DE reader Denzil Hellesen, engineering manager for a fishing and recreational boats manufacturer, to write,  “I agree with your analysis of CAD software’s intuitiveness. When I heard competing claims about who’s CAD software was the most intuitive, I wondered which world they were from.  In the pre-Windows days of Pro/ENGINEER and later [Dassault’s] CATIA, the learning curve was so steep a lot of software became shelveware [that is, relegated to a shelf].”

To my observation that “The shift to direct modeling … is but a move toward a more natural way of creating 3D geometry. It’s an attempt to shed some of the complexity accumulated over time, a return to a simpler way of working with primitive shapes,” Hellesen responded, “In all fairness, the more features that are added, the more difficult the software is to learn.”

In the same piece, I cited various CAD products — Siemens PLM Software’s Solid Edge and NX with Synchronous Technology, Autodesk Inventor Fusion, and SpaceClaim among them — as examples of the rise of direct modeling.

In response, DE reader Dan P. (last name withheld per request) wrote, “You were wrong in not mentioning  (or not being aware of ) a pioneer in the field of direct shape-editing,  hybrid history-and-surface modeling,  and the only dual-kernel modeling software (that I am aware of ): IronCAD!  … I continue to wonder why this amazing software package is still a relatively unknown  underdog.”

Pete Baker, a senior mechanical designer for a global manufacturer, also felt compelled to direct my attention to what he considers “the premier direct modeler” — Kubotek’s KeyCreator. “We have found that the learning curve and the design intent required by history-based modelers are counterproductive [to] our company’s culture,” he wrote. “Much of our work is based on quick modifications to products that have been around for as much as 50 years.”

His firm at one point decided to invest in a number of SolidWorks licenses, but, he revealed, “99% of our CAD work is still being done with the easier-to-learn-and-use KeyCreator.” Baker also copied Jason Bassi, Kubotek’s VP of sales and marketing. So Bassi chimed in. “SpaceClaim, [Solid Edge or NX with] Synchronous Technology, PTC’s CoCreate, [and] Autodesk Inventor Fusion have all brought much attention to the table.  Unfortunately for us, [direct modeling] is not new [to KeyCreator’s capabilities], so we tend to be left out of the conversation.”

If I have left out certain deserving products from the discussion, it’s not because I consider them irrelevant but because I haven’t had the chance to acquaint myself with these products. I’m grateful that Dan P. and Pete Baker alerted me of my unintentional omissions. I’m taking this opportunity to initiate a more inclusive look at direct modeling.

In the next few weeks, I’ll be looking at KeyCreator and IronCAD , so look for more reports on the two, both in video and text. Have more comments on direct modeling? Keep them coming.

Update: Since writing this post, I’ve managed to produce a video review of KeyCreator 8.5, shown below:

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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. Kenneth, don’t forget PTC CoCreate. It’s still the most mature and robust direct modeling system out there! 😉 I’d enjoy giving you an update sometime.

    (by the way, I would be careful putting IronCAD in the history-free category. direct-shape editing is not direct history-free modeling)


  2. I noticed that in Deeplip Menezes’ Blog today was speaking about a Russian company that developed a kind of NX ST. It all sounded very complicated. I also have noticed that the conversion about the style of CAD modeling has evolved to History-Based-Parametric CAD versus Direct or Explicit CAD. Which style sounds simpler to you?

    Easier to learn, easier to use, more robust 3D CAD programs will benefit product and industrial designers, OEM’s and Manufacturers most in the long run.


  3. Paul: I was away on a trip, so I didn’t get to respond. But I’d welcome an update on CoCreate. Let’s work out the schedule via email.

    Scott: I agree. The discussion on terminology aside, I feel an intuitive software that’s easy to learn and pick up will better serve the engineering community. I wasn’t aware of LEDAS, the Russia-based company referenced in Deelip’s blog. I look forward to check it out to see if it is indeed a rival to NX Synchronous Technology.

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