Info-tech

3 sides to IT

K. V. KURMANATH | Updated on February 06, 2011

cad

Riley Lewis, 13, is a jazz flautist, an archery instructor, a member of Discovery Charter School (US) IT Tech, and the youngest known user of SolidWorks software.

SolidWorks is a CAD (computer-aided designing) software solutions company that promotes 3D designing solutions across the globe.

Recently, Lewis stood up to claps of about 5,000 developers, engineers and industry representatives when Jeff Ray, who has just stepped down as Chief Executive Officer of SolidWorks, made a small presentation on Lewis and his creative use of CAD software. No wonder participants swarmed to the prodigy at SolidWorks World 2011 held at San Antonio (Texas) late last month.

Lewis is just a trailer to what the industry has to offer.

Rony Abovitz, co-founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Mako Surgical Corporation, has developed a robotics-assisted surgery procedure to correct hip problems, while Mike Pisani lets people design their own cars and manufacture them using his ‘micro car' production facilities in the US.

Another engineer, Timothy Prestero, Chief Executive officer of Design That Matters, has developed an incubator for newborns, using car headlights and dashboard, bringing down the cost of incubators significantly.

The one common factor in all these inventions — 3D CAD design models.

Prototypes of skeletons of motor cycles, cars and whatnot, built on 3D design tools, were lined up at the expo held on the sidelines of the SolidWorks conference. Of late, manufacturers and infrastructure players prefer to do their design in 3D as they can have a feel of things even before they are ready, giving them the opportunity to make corrections to the design at an early stage.

No wonder Captain Jim Lovell, the Apollo 13 Commander (remember the breathtaking film starring Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon that re-enacted the drama in the backyard of the moon?) wished they had had a SolidWorks-like solution that would have made their expedition less difficult.

As real as it can

What exactly do 3D technologies offer?

They allow designers and engineers to visualise, simulate and analyse a product before it is manufactured. Jon Hirschtick, who founded SolidWorks but sold it to Dassault Systemes of France, visualised that the world would love to design things in 3D and went on to build an ecosystem to develop tools.

Jayant Keswani, Head, Marketing (India & SAARC) of Autodesk, a prominent CAD solutions company, elaborates on the 3D advantage and says the foremost trend in the CAD space is the move from 2D to 3D. “3D design increases accuracy, allows designers to work on more complex models, reduces human error and helps engineers share data and thereby increase collaboration with colleagues, clients and suppliers,” he says.

The move from 2D to 3D, according to him, has been happening for some time and is, in fact, in full swing now.

Manoj Mehta, Country Manager (India and SAARC) of Dassault Systemes SolidWorks, says about 30 per cent of all designing in India is happening on 3D. “We are not saying 2D will not be there. It will co-exist as more and more CAD users choose to go for 3D tools for a good part of design needs,” he observes.

In order to reach out to the huge 2D CAD design industry in India and elsewhere, the company has launched a window called draftsight on its 3Ds portal, offering the 2D CAD software for free. “We acknowledge the cost factor. It is in the range of 1:4, meaning that 3D CAD solutions cost four times that of 2D. The idea of offering it for free is to help users save on their 2D spend. What we are telling them is that they could use those saved resources to try out 3D,” he argues.

Digital Prototyping

The next prominent trend, according to Keswani, is the adoption of the concept of Digital Prototyping. It enables the user to simulate how a product will look and behave before it is built. It becomes more and more complete as all associated conceptual, mechanical, and electrical design data are integrated.

The computer aided designing and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) segment has witnessed a surge owing to the importance of design, especially in the manufacturing, architecture, engineering and construction verticals.

“The initial push came from the design-related work being outsourced to India by companies in the West. The last few years have seen increased activity in the Indian CAD/CAM domain with design product vendors realising the importance of India as a cost-effective destination for outsourcing work,” he points out.

The new wave of jobs being outsourced include architectural design and drafting, multi-discipline engineering design and drafting, engineering drawing archival, process plant design and documentation.

Though figures for India are not available, globally, the market size for CAD-authoring tools is a bigger pie of approximately $20 billion, while collaborative product data management or process-oriented tools have a market size of close to $8-10 billion.

Local demand for design-related work has steadily increased and holds tremendous potential for the growth of the CAD business. Increasing competition is pushing many business houses to adopt CAD tools as a means of driving growth. No longer are the competitive variables limited to price and functionality; delivery time and design have become essential factors for success too.

Deelip, an analyst and prominent blogger on issues related to CAD software, feels that the momentum in shift towards to 3D is not increasing. “The push to 3D started a long ago. The people who are now moving to 3D are the (very) late adopters,” he comments.

Does that mean it is the end of the road for 2D? Keswani says it is far from truth.

“What is interesting is that most companies, and consequently software vendors such as Autodesk, have come to learn that the move to 3D does not mean that 2D will no longer have a role. We believe that 2D continues to be relevant and shall be in the future also. All our key products are in-built with AutoCAD and the vast majority of customers use AutoCAD for their 2D requirements,” he says.

Autodesk has introduced different flavours of its flagship 3D modelling software. The idea is to enable customers to pay for what they need. Not every user needs all the features that are available. “We encourage our customers to move from 2D to 3D at their own pace,” he tells.

Customer adoption of 3D is so fast that Dassault Systemes has announced V6, the Cloud-based offering of all its and SolidWorks solutions online. Bertrand Sicot, who replaced Ray as CEO of SolidWorks, has forecast that a good part of work would be shifted to cloud in the near term. Though the company announced its release in the earlier edition of SolidWorks, it is likely to be released next year.

Autodesk's Digital Prototyping solution brings together design data from all phases of the product development process to create a single digital model. This model simulates the complete product and gives engineers the ability to better visualise, optimise and manage their design before producing a physical prototype. Thus the development process turns out to be more cost-effective.

SMBs faster

Surprisingly, it is the small and medium businesses and not their bigger counterparts that are taking to 3D solutions much more quickly.

“They are more nimble, and sometimes more hungry for success. Today powerful 3D modelling tools are available in the market at affordable prices, that is powering the growth and adoption of 3D design tools,” sums up Keswani.

Major trends in design industry

Increase in use of CAD, analysis and simulation tools (predictive tools) as against the traditional way of drawing boards and manual, person-dependent knowledge.

Innovative design of elements that meet the fit, function, reliability and appeal, taking user feedback and wish-list as input as against solutions that are fixed and based on reverse engineering.

The role of a designer from traditional Department Culture (design, methods planning, manufacturing, assembly, prototyping and testing) is giving way to ‘Team Culture'. Designer's role extends beyond concept, to virtual validation, release of manufacturing data, to involving, additionally, in-process planning, manufacturing and even Warranty claims and field failure analysis.

Shift to 3D design happening because companies see benefits of data integrity, better visualisation and a higher reliability of predictability avoiding costly mistakes. 3D design makes it easier to modify, edit and come out fast with a new alternative shape or design and get details quickly – such as surface area to know the paint consumption or special coating cost of a complicated sheet metal.

Provided by Subhendu Ghosh, Vice-President (Global Engineering and Design), Tata Technologies.

> kurmanath@thehindu.co.in

Published on February 06, 2011

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