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Direct modeling 101 (3)

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CAD Freedom and Precision - Views and News from KubotekUSA

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Free CAD Viewer Downloads - Think Before You Click


Problem:  You need to view a CAD file. 

More problems:  You need to view various CAD files. 

Problem magnified:  You need to view various CAD files day in and day out, but you can’t remember which program views which file. You have several to choose from, one for each file type. 

Okay, we get it. Most of those viewer programs you have were free downloads.  Everyone likes free, me included. Even Kubotek offers a free viewer called Spectrum Lite. In fact, our Spectrum Lite download page has been viewed 42,225 times in the last couple of years. It gets downloaded close to 3,500 times a year. In the last six weeks alone, it’s been downloaded 422 times.

What those numbers tell me is that a lot of people are looking for CAD file viewers.  It also tells me a lot of people are looking for a bargain - something cheap, preferably free.  But even though you aren’t spending money, you are spending something else just as valuable: time. While you might get your KeyCreator/CADKEY viewer for free (because that’s all Spectrum Lite will view), I have to make the assumption that you’re also searching for, and downloading, CAD viewers for all the other files that cross your desktop. Hour glass on computer keyboard

Using the hunt and peck strategy to find the appropriate CAD viewer can be disruptive to your productivity mojo. You have to shift gears from the work you were currently focused on to search for, download, install and then run your free CAD viewer software. By the time that was all done, good luck figuring out why you needed the viewer in the first place.

And you know what? This all gets compounded when new file versions are released. Need to view the latest format? Start your CAD viewer hunt all over again. 

It’s also true that not all CAD software vendors even offer a viewer for their file formats. I’m not going to name names (CATIA, UG/NX, etc.), but your searching just got a whole lot more complicated if you want to view some formats for free.

Oh wait. Lest we forget!  Are other members of your team also using CAD viewers for quoting or planning purposes?  Boom – that time-suck just drained more of your resources. 

Let me point out a solution to this rapidly expanding problem. Why not own a single CAD viewer that can view, manipulate and print the most popular 2D and 3D CAD formats like SolidWorks, AutoCAD, NX, CATIA, Pro/E, IGES, STEP and many others? Think of the time and sanity you’ll save if you have a single go-to product to do all your CAD viewing dirty work, including the ability to measure and calculate mass properties. 

The pros of owning a single premier CAD Viewer are evident. So what are the cons? I can think of two.  One, you’re going to have to spend a little bit of money - but not a lot.  When you add up the cost of those hours spent looking for free software, you break even pretty quickly.

Depending on your file viewing workload, you are looking at $199 - $599. These are the costs for Kubotek Spectrum CAD viewer. The difference in cost is based purely on your need to view CATIA V5 files. The Spectrum CAD viewer with CATIA V5 read abilities retails at $599, while the base viewer product that views everything else under the sun will only set you back $199.

The second con? When file formats are updated/added, you need to repurchase the software. That isn’t so bad when you consider that file formats typically only get updated once a year. Plus, you only have to update one software product, not ten.   

Spectrum CAD Viewer does its job like no other —and it does it for a very reasonable cost. Consider Kubotek Spectrum CAD viewer for all your CAD file viewing needs. Spend a little now, save a lot later.


Phantom Steel is not a super-hero! (CAD Animation might be, though.)


Phantom Steel is not a new breed of super hero. If anything, it’s more like a villain. super hero bending steel resized 600

Phantom Steel is that area in a mold design where the lifter clears the plastic part, but hits the steel of the mold. It’s sneaky. It doesn’t show up when looking at a static image of the mold in either starting or traveled position.

So how do you know it’s even there?

You could have super-hero-like vision and see Phantom Steel without actually watching a mold travel.

Or, you could use your spidey-sense to tell you that Phantom Steel is about to happen and it needs to be stopped.

Or, you could use CAD animation to catch the caper before it causes chaos. You know, the fallout that comes from spending too much time and money creating a mold, only to find out you need to make it again to account for that itsy-bitsy problem called Phantom Steel.

Or use CAD animation to foil any other number of problems you can’t see unless you animate your CAD design.

Mold design takes many skills and talents, but being a super hero isn’t one of them.

You don’t need superhuman strength to reduce mold repair and redesign costs. You don’t need a sixth sense to get rid of manufacturing delays. And you certainly don’t need an alter-ego to stop embarrassing results at customer try-outs. Just do it right the first time and save time and money by making CAD animation part of your mold design process. 

Want to see other ways CAD animation can help with your mold design process? Check out this recorded webinar for useful hints and tips

Need a reason to upgrade to KeyCreator 2015? We got 11 of 'em.


Generous upgrade discounts are available to anyone using an old version of KeyCreator (or even CADKEY). So what are you waiting for?

Maybe saving some moolah isn't enough of a reason to upgrade you old version of KeyCreator Direct CAD? Maybe you need a few more reasons?  Like, maybe 11 of them?  We got it covered! Check it out below.  It's my debut vlog (video blog).  The good part about the vlog?  You don't have to read.  The bad part?  My cover is blown.

Some of thee reason are:

  1. Up-to-date translators
  2. CAD Compare technology (view the highlight clip)
  3. You migrated from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8
  4. to discover more!

All you really need to know about Direct CAD you learned in kindergarten.


I’m going to borrow a few ideas from Robert Fulghum’s book.  That’s because I think these words of wisdom apply not only to how you live your life, but are quite appropriate for the users of Direct CAD software. kindergarten crayons resized 600

  1. Share everything.  Direct CAD users aren’t stingy, and they expect others to share with them.   That’s why Direct CAD uses a bevy of file translators to import, and export, design geometry and manufacturing data.  Direct CAD programs aren’t out to collect the most users, get them locked in to a single system/format and then never let them go.  Nope.  They want to stay open and let everyone share whatever it is they got.

  2. Play fair.  CAD isn’t an exclusive club that only lets card-carrying members join the fun.  Or, at least it shouldn’t be.  Don’t exclude someone just because they aren’t using the same software as you.  That’s just not nice.  Direct CAD users always play fair.

  3. Don't hit people.   As in hit them up and make them over-pay for software.  CAD doesn’t have to break the bank.  And Direct CAD doesn’t, especially when you look at companies who maintain several CAD packages at once just so they can play fair, too.

  4. Put things back where you found them.  Someone hands you a file to work with.  What do you do?  Translate it? Hack it up?  Defeature? Hide entities?  Doesn’t matter what you do with them, just as long as you put them back where the original owner wanted them.  Not sure if you did that?  Use Direct CAD with integrated CAD Comparison just to make sure what you started with is what you ended up with.  You don’t want to make any unintentional changes that could have huge consequences, do you?  

  5. Clean up your own mess.  Did you make a mistake in your design?  Or royally mess it up? Direct CAD users know you can always clean up your own mess (without ever having to start over from scratch).

  6. Don't take things that aren't yours.  Or do and then make them your own.  Direct CAD users know they can start from nearly any CAD file, native or otherwise, your own or someone else’s, and make changes to it, regardless of who or what created it.

  7. Wash your hands before you eat and remember to flush.  For all sorts of reasons, okay?

  8. Live a balanced life - learn some and drink some, draw some and paint some, sing and dance and play and work every day some.  Don’t spend all your time working on a CAD model when you could have gotten the project done much faster with Direct CAD.

  9. Take a nap every afternoon.  Just don’t tell the boss. 

  10. Believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge.   With Direct CAD, you’ll be able to transfer your idea onto the screen and into a product design quicker.  And as you go, you’ll be able to improve on your design.  Think of it like sculpting, only without the clay, mess or Patrick Swayze sitting behind you making you mess up. 

  11. It doesn’t matter what you say you believe - it only matters what you do.  A lot of CAD companies say they are about increasing productivity and helping engineers.  But only Direct CAD does both by allowing engineers and designers to design and work the way they want to without needless worry.

What did you learn in kindergarten that applies to Direct CAD?

Should You Copy-cat Your Customer's CAD Software?


You're a manufacturer of turbines, medical instruments, plastic molded automobile parts, consumer packaging, left handed name it, and you have one large customer and many smaller ones.  Does this sort of kind of describe your company?  

So, it makes sense that if your one large customer uses SolidWorks (or Inventor, CATIA, NX, Pro/E...), then you should copy-cat their CAD software for your company's manufacturing engineers or CAD operators to SolidWorks, right?

On the surface this seems like a logical and sound decision.  After all the file formats are the same, so it should be really easy to open the product file(s) and begin making the necessary changes to the final part/assembly file(s) in order to manufacture the product.

You would think so, but it's not the case. Why?  Because there is this HUGE thing in most of these CAD files called History.  History is what gives SolidWorks (or the software in the previous list) the ability to create the CAD model. It is the history of the operations of the product designer/CAD Operator - every click, every feature in the exact order that they were created, which once run in the program, gives you your completed CAD model. This is the case for History-based CAD, of which most of the world is using today.

Once the Manufacturing Engineer/Manufacturing CAD Operator receives the history based (SolidWorks) model, she has two choices 

  1. Begin to search through the history of the CAD file to try to reuse the design in order to come up with the geometry necessary to make the edits required for the manufacturing operations.  And if she fails at this, she needs to resort to option 2...
  2. Redesign this prodcut from scratch - using the product file as reference geometry in order to create a CAD design that can be machined, or to design a mold, casting, fixtures, dies or whatever the manufacturing operations are necessary.

Smart manufacturers give their manufacturing engineers another option:  Import the SolidWorks file (or native history-based file) into a Direct CAD modeler.  This modeler reads and understands the geometry without the use - or even better, the need - for history.  The manufacturing engineer can then edit the CAD model as she desires in order to manufacture the product.

So, what appears to be a logical and safe deicsion: using the same, copy-cat, CAD software as your largest customer, can actually be a very large mistake that will cost you time. You will lose time with CAD operators. (Estimates say that up to 50% of CAD operators time is spent fixing files! Multiply the annual salary of your CAD operators times 50% and see how much time and money you are wasting!). You will lose time when edits are needed for manufacturability or when product revisions force changes (which could derail the entire product production schedule).

Being copy-cat when it comes to your CAD software will cost you time and money. Wise manufacturers chose direct CAD and save.

Direct CAD for Contract Manufacturers eBookThere are many other issues to consider when chosing the right CAD software for your manufacturing business.  Want to learn more?  Download Direct CAD for the Contract Manufacturer. Discover the advantages Direct CAD software can give your business.

Request the eBook Now

Contract Manufacturing Adopts Direct CAD?


Are contract manufacturers adopting Direct CAD?  You bet your boots they are.  And that means good things, especially for companies that need to gain speed and agility to remain competitive. Longtime users of history-based CAD are no longer willing to accept complex, inefficient and inflexible software.   Sticking with the status quo just isn’t cutting it anymore...

But why?

There are many factors that drive company and user decisions: comfort in the popular names, comfort in numbers, fear of dropping the status quo, basic fear of change, etc.  Even though we are 2nd and 3rd generation users, perhaps we simply cannot imagine there is a better way to do things.  After all, the tools are being produced by the financially successful vendors – how could it be wrong? But no matter, the collective blinders of the past are coming down – and users are changing in spite of the 25 years (talk about history!) of being sold variations of the same approach over and over.

Pain & Relief…Pink Piggy Bank

While they may have not realized it, many customers are in pain, sometime seriously so, and it is affecting their bottom line and viability.  For these users, particularly in the ranks of manufacturing, there is a clear frustration with the status quo, and rising concerns about stability, poor performance, lack of support, and perhaps most important - difficulty, or inability to reuse product data from customers, or even legacy files!  Thus, the motivation to seek alternatives continues to grow.   And what they are finding is there are new tools – ones that dramatically improve their overall performance!  So as they test the waters of Direct CAD more they are finding relief and the word is spreading…

Due to ever increasing competitive pressures, contract manufacturers are showing more resilience and willingness to seek alternatives.  When they evaluate solutions like KeyCreator Direct CAD, and assess the tasks they truly need to perform, they see the simplicity of Direct CAD in a new light.  They are starting to recognize how flexible direct, non-history methods are compared to tools of the past…

Making it meaningful

There are many issues all CAD developers face when they try to switch paradigms to address both direct and history methods well.  A key issue is that they simply are resisting unlocking the strangle-holds they have on their customers.  Instead of solving the data openness and usability issues many customers need, they give lip service or disguise their motives with schemes such as ‘members only’ cloud communities.   

Mature products also are larger programs with more complex code.  Their stability and overall reliability become rarer commodities.  Another issue with mature CAD products is the loss of focus on core competency; trying to ‘do it all’ often leads to average, less productive solutions over time… the bells and whistles become both smaller and less loud– and certainly less meaningful! 

The relatively recent progress of the simpler, less complex CAD products such as KeyCreator Direct CAD are proving to be a boon to certain industries - especially resourceful contract manufacturers..  Smaller CAD companies  understand the benefits of this approach, meaning they are making their design tools more accessible, not less so, which means users aren’t stuck with unnecessary complex operations (that truly only benefit software companies). 

In summary, we are seeing more and more ‘users embracing a simpler, more efficient and direct way to get this done.  By using Direct CAD to accomplish their tasks,   I hope users continue to drive all software vendors to rethink how (or if) they can better serve the end users while still being successful.  Sound too altruistic?   Perhaps, but you have to have a dream…

Is Direct CAD Easy to Learn?


So people often ask us, is this ‘Direct CAD’ stuff easy and relatively quick to learn?

To me the answer is most emphatically yes…

 To begin, if you have been involved in the engineering, design, or manufacturing fields somewhere during the last 20+ years or so there is a very good chance you have been exposed to at least some CAD principles, whether in school or on the job.  This means that you have at least seen, or used some of the tools used to work with 3D digital models on a computer screen…

Obstacles to learning Direct CAD

However one hindrance to adapting to Direct CAD (which I can speak of from my own experience) is due to the prevalence and longevity of history-based tools.  Users coming from this world may find the simplicity and resultant efficiency of Direct CAD to be quite foreign – at least at first! 

Another hindrance comes from the fact the majority of colleges and technical school limit exposure to only a few popular CAD tools resulting in an insular view and understanding of what is possible.  Students [and instructors] get locked in to one way of thinking without knowing the alternatives. In these cases the biggest challenge to learning Direct CAD is unlearning the one approach they may have been indoctrinated with.   

Designing by visualizing shapes – Only need to learn a handfull of commands

But going back to what it takes to learn Direct CAD.  Our brains and creative process tend to think of designing by visualizing shapes that will ultimately have a specific set of desired behaviors. 

With direct modeling you can perform a majority of the solids based mechanical design by learning just a handful of functions.  In the case of KeyCreator, you can create mechanical [vs. free-form surface] designs largely using just the following few commands:

  • Dynamic primitives – the ability to quickly create most analytical shapes on the fly
  • Dynamic face – a sculpting-like tool to shape solids in real-time
  • Remove face – a simple tool to remove unwanted features – as part of the creative process
  • Boolean add/subtract – like sculpting clay, the act of adding and removing material, or shapes from one another
  • Direct dimension editing – a very intuitive, simple way to shape your results with numbers, or dimensions
  • Dynamic transform – a fast, intuitive way to move things around, align and organize your data
  • Feature recognition – very fast way to perform mass edits on tradition mechanical features such as pockets, screw and bolt hole patterns, etc.

 All of these tools will allow you to create most mechanical part and assembly shapes with virtually no, or at least far less need for traditional wire frame [curve/profile] tools.

 Other considerations when learning Direct CAD:

Order of things: Direct CAD allows you the freedom to create without concern, or even paying attention to the order of the steps you take to get there.  Simply create objects and features as you go…

Sculpting: Direct CAD offers the closest thing to shaping your designs, much as people working with clay or carving wood models but using virtual, dynamic shape modification tools.  Tools like dynamic face, Direct Dimension Edit along with adding/subtracting shapes provide a natural way shape your designs into reality.


Primitive based methods: with tools like dynamic primitives and Booleans you can start with simple ‘building block’ shapes [curves, or solids], then simply add and subtract to create more complex shapes and designs - much as model makers do.


Conceptualize then get real:  Direct modeling tools allow you to ‘sketch’ your ideas quickly then allow you to ‘numerically harden’ the fit, form and function values as you go, or later after the basic concepts are complete.  This is the beauty of direct modeling design - no pressure to use a specific formula or method to get the best result!


Let’s get physical: When creating designs in Direct CAD you simply slice, dice, add and carve away material – a natural way to evolve your design ideas – all using just the tools above…. 

Reuse: Since direct modeling tools are all focused on geometry you can also start your work by reusing existing data, whether legacy, catalogue items or other imported data. 

Change anytime – no problem:  Making changes to current projects, as well as legacy, and imported ‘dumb’ files from other CAD systems using intelligent feature discovery is another major reason learning Direct CAD is easy.

Intelligent feature and face logic tools make finding and editing sets of features and faces a snap compared to cumbersome history based methods.


Direct face editing is very much like sculpting simply drag, revolve, and snap to locations as needed!


From a CAD learning perspective, there is no better or easier method than ‘direct.’  Consider picking up a design you, or one of your co-workers did 6 months ago, or even longer and simply being able to select the faces/features that need changing and simply doing so vs. searching and debugging a potentially flawed history tree?   


Is Direct CAD easy to learn?  Absolutely. 

Once you learn seven basic commands and understand Direct CAD’s intuitive design process you will be designing like a Pro.  Adding Direct CAD is not only easy to learn, it’s easy to use and can have a lower cost than history-based CAD.

Of Clouds and Men (or CAD, Direct CAD, that is...)


View Matt Carr Hang GliderAs a long time soaring enthusiast (Hang Gliding, etc.) I have a love affair with clouds – silently gliding from cloud to cloud unfettered by the burdens of the world below – to me this is the ultimate high!   

Clouds, of course can be beautiful and even freeing.  Consider soaring birds (or hang gliders) gracefully climbing, freeing themselves from the bonds of earth and gravity, gliding effortlessly from cloud to cloud under a beautiful lazy summer day.   Clouds can also be downright frightening, as witnessed when Cumulous-nimbus thunderheads make their dramatic appearance, which not only can take down virtually any flying object, but wreak all kinds of other havoc…  And in the context of cloud based CAD and file sharing, clouds may even can take on an “Orwellian nature” - consider the recent disclosures about our NSA surveillance!  But I digress; let’s look at the recent offerings from both CAD and other collaboration-driven companies and what their cloud offerings may mean to you and me.  I wonder, are we about to experience a time of openness, unfettered access to share data with our clients using the tools of our choice, all which could make us more effective than ever? Or are we looking at the creation of more exclusive clubs with restrictive membership rules and policies?

Clearly high speed internet/web performance and improvements in sharing applications have enhanced the experience and potential for design collaboration in real-time and perhaps has made design data more accessible – or has it?   Cloud-based CAD applications and related technology promise a number of benefits: simplicity of deployment and maintenance of software and unique opportunities to collaborate and share our designs, both visually and in real time to name a few.  Cloud-based CAD is being embraced by several of the larger companies and of course some smaller/newer players, as well as companies who are focusing more on crowd-sourcing/sharing/collaboration vs. the CAD app itself.  Others are choosing to offer a new/old idea of subscription services for the use of their software as an alternative to purchasing.  Simply download, install, commit to a year and pay the monthly rental fee via a web store and off you go…  (Hmm, is this really saving us money?  Read the fine print!)

But in spite of all the potential benefits, is the cloud being used as just another way for software vendors to lock users into their private communities and solutions, while selling the privileges and benefits of renting time on their respective clouds?   The idea being you can more effectively collaborate and perform at least some editing of shared designs – assuming the host allows you and only if you belong to their particular cloud…  Instead of providing a true open door policy where companies and users are truly free to use a broader selection of tools, isn’t this just another way to ensure you stay in a given vendor’s world?  

At Kubotek, we have this odd notion that one of the true benefits of direct modeling and cloud-based apps is the potential for companies, their customers and suppliers to truly engage in a mutually beneficial community – a community where design-through-manufacturing projects could be best addressed by allowing members to bring not only their considerable domain expertise, but to also use the tools of their choice

So wouldn’t a truly effective, cloud-based design and manufacturing community best be served by an open-door policy where all data, regardless of source could be shared, viewed, interrogated and editing by project members regardless of the tools they wish to use?  I have to think such an open community could really expand our potential for collaboration, design crowd sourcing, etc. while helping individual contributors to be more effective…

And as for the tools used in the cloud, Direct CAD modeling software is still the best option for open sharing and collaboration; history methods simply do not lend themselves to sharing and working with CAD models and assemblies effectively, particularly if members are working off of neutral file formats [STEP, etc.] or even mutually agreed upon “native” CAD formats.   Sharing history-based CAD data, regardless of whether it is based on web-hosting, subscription or simple file sharing, is still rife with cumbersome, difficult to understand editing tools prone to a variety of rebuild failures – and that is assuming everyone is on the same software and version!

Yet it seems doubtful the larger CAD/CAM/CAE vendors would want to offer such an open community where anyone could join and still be allowed to use the tools of their choice.  No, quite the contrary, the message so far seems to be join us or, as the Rolling Stones song said, “get off of my cloud…” 

Now before I am accused of communism (or worse), I fully acknowledge we all want to keep our customers and grow our businesses.  The question is how we go about doing this? Do we continue to strong-arm customers into using only our solutions in whatever way we deem appropriate, or by pushing what is most popular, by virtue of company size – or should we be allowing people to choose solutions simply based on what will make them most effective?

The Evolution of CAD Tools for Manufacturing - Are We Better Off Now?

Matt Carr is VP of Sales and Support at Kubotek. As a 30-plus year veteran of CAD industry, both as a user and from the vendor’s side, Matt has witnessed a fairly complete history of the CAD industry.


Why would anyone in manufacturing industry not use direct modeling CAD tools?  (Or any design discipline, for that matter?) I was thinking about this and how there are still so many shops unaware of the CAD “alternatives,” or they still struggle to open their blinders.  After all, they are already using a mainstream history-based solution and believe it to be the best and only solution.  But is it?

So this got me to thinking about the evolution of CAD tools for manufacturing, and how the “new” generation of Direct CAD is still relatively unknown.  How many people still do not realize what a highly productive alternative or even complement to the current CAD products Direct CAD can be.  In particular I wonder how many contract manufacturing firms have considered the effect on overall performance and bottom line by not having direct CAD in their arsenal.

A major reason manufacturers should consider Direct CAD is how we conceive and create Engineer at Computer with Drawingsdesigns.  Not that long ago, pencil and paper (or drafting) was the primary method of capturing such design intent. (And it still is the primary method for many!) Conceptualizing and immediately putting ideas down on paper offered a very natural way to visualize and create our designs.  This is a pretty straight forward process in that we imagine, and then simply draw our ideas - depending on our skill - to express ideas in the form of blue prints.  Of course this evolved into electronic layout drawings or 2D CAD which gave us a new ability to cleanly express our ideas (no need for good artistic skills), and perhaps, more importantly, it gave us quicker ways to edit/recreate design intent – and thus, the first “Direct CAD” modeling was born.

This ability to capture our thoughts easily in electronic form was in fact “direct” since we could interact directly with the geometry by deleting, trimming, breaking, moving, etc.  Eventually the new generation of direct dynamic editing tools allowed us to “physically” work with complex 3D design content – the ideal approach for manufacturers since it is the most intuitive approach.  This is particularly important given that manufacturing is downstream from product design and must produce tooling (and products) with never-ending pressure to do so for less money and time.

But early on, CAD technology diverged into another modeling method: history-based feature modeling.  This was not just a disruption to the current process, but it created a veritable storm in our creative process, not necessarily a good storm.  It came about when PTC finally launched Pro/Engineer, the first commercial history-based feature CAD system circa 1988.  The world was understandably awed by the seeming magic of being able to edit 3D designs without tediously having to break apart and reconstruct complex geometry – particularly 3D geometry. 

While direct geometry modeling was still evolving based on the work of a few pioneers (HP’s Solid Designer, CADKEY, etc.) no one could stem the rush to history-based methods once it got rolling. And so from a market share view, the yet unfulfilled promise of Direct CAD essentially went into hibernation for a number of years.  

From the software vendor’s side, we probably should have considered how much we were offering in the way of improved tools to create, engineer and manufacture products.  For the most part everyone blindly charged like a buffalo stampede down the path of “history” modeling, all attempting to offer similar tools, yet with all the same burdensome, costly restrictions…  

Anyway history is history (no pun intended) and as a result, I am convinced we lost significant flexibility which in turn has had significant impact on how productive we are – particularly from a manufacturing view.  And how much has this cost us?

Meanwhile the next big “change” in the CAD industry primarily involved lowering the cost of the software and offering it on relatively inexpensive PC’s – while this was a very effective business model it further put the awareness and promise of direct modeling in the background. 

But did we really understand how much we lost by unilaterally embracing what is arguably a very unnatural way to work with CAD?  To achieve the “magic” of editing complex 3D models using history-based methods, manufacturing users had to try and work with overly complex, order-dependent, formulaic, and rigid constraint-based files to build tooling assemblies and fixtures – a difficult, inflexible process at best.  Even worse, this method further locked users into fewer and fewer vendors with less opportunity to effectively share data.

Perhaps the biggest downside of this approach was the lack of effective ways to manipulate files from different CAD systems (aka “dumb” geometry) without essentially rebuilding designs from scratch.  This has proven to be much too costly whether trying to manage up-front design change, or more importantly for those manufacturers dependent on this history-constrained data.  So what were their options: purchase a number of different CAD systems, then hire and maintain all the staff/expertise to operate these different CAD systems?   Clearly not effective either.   And the notion that if most of my customer files come in one format, then I simply need to use the same system is equally false.  While the vendors love, and still very much promote this idea, it is also bad for number of reasons – it prevents the “data openness” needed for manufacturers to take on more types of work to become more productive and profitable. 

Before all the champions of history-based CAD come at me with your torches and pitchforks, telling me how your superior expertise makes you masters of your parametric universe (and BTW, I consider myself as having been such an expert once), tell me how effective are you at handling models created by co-workers, let alone projects from outside your company?  From my own experience (and for those willing to admit it) it can be challenging to manage even your own designs, particularly as the complexity grows – debugging history, constraint and mate errors often lead us to throw up our hands and start projects over.  Again, how much lost time and productivity has this cost all of us? 

The good news is since true Direct CAD works explicitly on the geometry and does not rely on any history order dependencies for recognizing and making changes, it alone offers respite from the tedious drudgery of history-based modeling’s arcane work methods.   In fact, it is the most natural transition from the aforementioned pencil and paper.   Direct CAD alone offers the industry the most open and flexible toolset to work with different CAD formats, and does so using physically intuitive tools that truly save considerable time – this is a gold mine for manufacturing. 

How is KeyCreator different from SolidWorks?


One of the most common questions that we receive when at trade shows or from prospective customers is:  How is KeyCreator different from SolidWorks?

A complete answer to this question could go on for many pages, but let me try to make the comparison as simply as possible.

First, how are they the same?

Both KeyCreator and SolidWorks are CAD software programs.  You can use either program to document the design of a product or mechanical part. Both can create drawings, both will get the end result completed. 

Notice that above I used the phrase "document the design."  In SolidWorks, you can indeed design a part, but its best if you already have a design in mind, on a napkin, in a 2D sketch or somewhere else before you begin to describe it in SolidWorks. Conceptual design, the creative process of developing your design, can be done in SolidWorks, but it can be very cumbersome and time consuming, requiring starting new designs from scratch for multiple design iterations.

Why isn't SolidWorks a good conceptual modeler?

The reason is that SolidWorks is a history-based parametric solid modeler1. (See Wikipedia's definition below).  In SolidWorks the relationships between the objects and features are programmed into the design. This is called design intent.

And with history-based parametric modeling, objects, features and their relationships are represented in a History Tree.  This keeps track of the order, location and relationships that are programmed.  Programming the design can be difficult. Determining where to start the design and how to program the relationships requires a lot of skill and practice. If changes are desired while programming of the design, or if modifications are needed in an existing design, then it is necessary search the history tree to find the objects and relationships where the changes would need to take place within the history of the design. In a complex part design, this may mean searching through 100's of features or more.

Partial History Tree in SolidWorks

Once the features are found and if the design was programmed to accommodate the changes, then the system rebuilds the design to the new specifications.  Sometimes rebuilding errors occur or the software crashes. Then the change must be made another another way, or it is necessary to reprogram the design from scratch. No programmer is going to be able to anticipate every change that may be required in a design. This is why designs get reprogrammed many times when changes are required.

If designers are working with very mature designs that need few changes and if programmers are very skilled then SolidWork's history-based parametric approach will work fine for the organization.

Why is KeyCreator a good conceptual modeler?

KeyCreator is a Direct CAD Modeler2. (See Wikipedia's explanation below)

What does this mean?  It means there is no programming involved.   There is no history tree involved in the design.  The design is strictly defined by the geometry contained in the design.  Relationships are not fixed.  They can be changed at any time in the design.  This makes KeyCreator an excellent conceptual modeler.  There is no rebuilding, because the design is always up to date.  This means that a designer can make as many changes and try as many options as their mind can conceive. This inevitably leads to superior designs in less time.

KeyCreator Direct CAD not only allow ease of conceptual design, but it also allows ease of comparison of CAD designs based on the geometry of the design.  Comparison tools graphically show differences between to similar models to check for changes in designs - intended or unintended.  This allows manufacturers in the supply chain to confidently plan for changes or to communicate suggestions for enhancing the design to improve quality or cost.

KeyCreator's Direct CAD architecture also enhances the ability to optimize designs for machining and tool making.  And with KeyCreator's integrated machining package, changing designs in KeyCreator carries through into KeyCreator Machinist.  This allows the machinist to try multiple designs and machining strategies in a seamless manner.  This leads to better design and better machining strategies.

Lastly, today's leading edge designers are optimizing their designs up front in the design cycle by using CAD simulation.  KeyCreators fully integrated KeyCreator Analysis program allows the designer to try many approaches to the design and quickly run multiple analysis without the need of exporting and importing files into another software package.

There are many other differences between KeyCreator Direct CAD and SolidWorks history-based parametric CAD.  Feel free to mention some in your comments.

Thank you for reading.



1. Computer-Aided-Design Wikipedia 3D

parametric solid modeling requires the operator to use what is referred to as "design intent". The objects and features created are adjustable. Any future modifications will be simple, difficult, or nearly impossible, depending on how the original part was created. One must think of this as being a "perfect world" representation of the component. If a feature was intended to be located from the center of the part, the operator needs to locate it from the center of the model, not, perhaps, from a more convenient edge or an arbitrary point, as he could when using "dumb" solids. Parametric solids require the operator to consider the consequences of his actions carefully.

2.Computer-Aided-Design Wikipedia 3D

Some software packages provide the ability to edit parametric and non-parametric geometry without the need to understand or undo the design intent history of the geometry by use of direct modeling functionality. This ability may also include the additional ability to infer the correct relationships between selected geometry (e.g., tangency, concentricity) which makes the editing process less time and labor intensive while still freeing the engineer from the burden of understanding the models. These kind of non-history based systems are called Explicit Modellers or Direct CAD Modelers.

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