Computer Aided Design (CAD) software has always been at the leading edge of computer hardware, and for good reason. CAD is a demanding application, and seemingly there’s never quite enough memory, processing power, screen real-estate or storage available. CAD: Punishing graphics hardware since 1964. As the compactness and mobility of high performing hardware improves, certain preconceptions about CAD accessibility and portability are being challenged. Laptop machines are now commonly used where previously only a desk-devouring workstation would suffice. But now, believe it or not, one company is attempting to bring full-fledged CAD into the tablet space. Will your next CAD workstation be a beefy tablet? A CADblet? The very concept just seems impractical, perhaps even ridiculous, or is it?
Fasten all seatbelts, seal all entrances and exits, close all shops in the mall, cancel the tree ring circus, secure all animals in the zoo, prepare the ship for… an upgrade. Software upgrades should be a time of unbridled anticipation, celebration, and joy; after all upgrades bring new features, performance enhancements, improved interfaces, and don’t forget about all that bug squashing. Why then, in the world of Computer Aided Design (CAD) are upgrades met with such trepidation? More importantly, as cloud technologies continue to permeate the tools of engineering design, and the Software as a Service (SaaS) model becomes more commonplace, what does the future hold? Continuous upgradability is often quoted as one of the primary advantages of SaaS, supplanting the traditional model where upgrades must be purchased outright. Is this a welcome development, or is it time to push the self-destruct button?
Right behind Stonehenge and an improbability drive, Geometric Dimensioning and Tolerancing (GD&T) is somewhat of an engineering enigma, if there ever was one. Developed as a language for precisely communicating design intent, the ASME standard has been in existence for over half a century. The benefits of GD&T are very real, providing a reliable and verifiable means to ensure parts function and interface as intended, while reducing scrap rates normally driven by unnecessarily restrictive rectangular tolerancing schemes. Yet, at the same time, GD&T is largely not institutionalized in engineering curriculums, nor is training widely delivered to engineers at companies of all shapes and sizes. Some companies hold an utter disregard, and don’t utilize GD&T at all in their engineering. Model Based Engineering (MBE) promising to annotate GD&T directly into 3D models as Product Manufacturing Information (PMI), continues to suffer serious adoption problems. Certainly, something is wrong.
Mention The Amazon Cloud and Computer Aided Design (CAD) in the same sentence and it’s not long before the hand wringing commences and blood pressure starts to rise. The nearly simultaneous emergence of cloud storage, virtualized platforms, Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, and rental pricing models are creating a perfect storm of both possibility and confusion. At the epicenter of this explosion of technology is a developing cultural shift towards truly collaborative or crowd-sourced design, as described in All Your Engineering Are Belong to Us. Leading the charge into this by-no-means certain future are social CAD sharing sites like GrabCAD, and 3D printing options that include a growing variety of on-demand services, or perhaps your very own Makerbot printer. But some troubling legal questions remain largely unanswered, and so it’s not unreasonable ask: Is the social CAD revolution a legal time bomb? Judge Dredd is not amused.
As the Computer Aided Design (CAD) world transforms for good or ill, under the mounting pressures of The Amazon, software services, subscription models, ozone depletion and virtualized streaming, the long-held institutional definition of what constitutes CAD hardware is changing. Few these days are keenly aware of a hardware certification process – where specific workstation hardware is qualified by software vendors as a certifiable configuration ready for duty. The process is slow and methodical – not to be confused with minimum or recommended software requirements – but instead testing and documenting precise machine configurations. The practice is more common the higher up you go in the CAD marketplace, with the presumption that more expensive products are supposedly pushing the hardware performance envelope. We know that presumption is certifiably insane in itself, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. As technology has moved forward (or sideways?), even the most entry level hardware is becoming quite capable from a 3D performance standpoint. So an important question to ask: does certification really matter anymore?
Historically, evaluating and purchasing Computer Aided Design (CAD) software has been about as simple as getting your own Death Star operational. Such an ordeal often required navigation of obscure sales channels, VARs, vendor magic shows demonstrations, golf outings with salesmen of ill repute, complex licensing stipulations and annoyances like the rather dated concept of software maintenance. The so-called mid market was a bit simpler thanks to economies of scale, but generally the entire process seemed to have more in common with real estate and used car sales than engineering technology. CAD software has always been a rather complex affair, and companies were often selecting products resembling Team Fortress 2’s Heavy Weapons Guy and his chain gun – very effective in the field but costing four hundred thousand dollars to fire for twelve seconds. But soon, perhaps, buying CAD may be as simple as buying the latest PC game. я в осадке.
One of the oldest Computer Aided Design (CAD) conundrums dating back to the invention of components (or was it electricity?) is our close and dear friend, the so-called standard part. Oh MS21075 nut plate, where art thou? The days of a single designer rummaging around a dumpster (i.e. the mysterious misc directory) are arguably long gone, replaced with the relative opulence of curated standard part libraries. But is the standard part library the final word on use and availability of commoditized part models? It’s interesting that standard library concepts have remained largely unchanged in recent years, despite a completely new universe of developments including cloud and Big Data, technologies which already stand to revolutionize CAD data sharing entirely. While fervent discussion about cloud virtualization or authoring in the cloud continue, very few want to talk about poor old MS21075. No one loves him anymore.
Ah, the twin pillars of Check In and Check Out, titans in the CAD pantheon and usually in the first breath or two of any conversation about Product Data Management (PDM). Long has this technique been the lynchpin in regulating data integrity for revision controlled items in a multi user environment. Undoing such a core feature seems like utter madness. Yet, it seems the world is changing. Social engineering projects are challenging the classical tenets of revision control, and there is growing sentiment that PDM as it stands today is insufficient for the future. At the center of this changing sentiment, are the branching and merging methodologies widely used in Software Configuration Management (SCM) with rather ubiquitous tools like Git and Subversion. Guess who’s coming to dinner?