Direct CAD News & Views from Kubotek USA

Is Direct CAD Easy to Learn?

Posted by Matt Carr on Wed, Feb 26, 2014

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.

Topics: 3D Direct CAD, Learning Direct CAD

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

Posted by Matt Carr on Tue, Feb 18, 2014

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?

Topics: 3D Direct Modeling, Direct CAD, CAD in the Cloud

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

Posted by Matt Carr on Fri, Feb 07, 2014
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. 

Topics: 3D Direct Modeling, Direct CAD, Direct Modeling, CAD for Manufacturing, KeyCreator Direct CAD