Methodology in making solid models (a discussion)

According to some of my sources (who shall remain nameless), there was a time when SolidWorks Corp thought about making a something like a best modelling practices guide for SolidWorks users.  The idea of best practices is something of which I’ve been critical.  The main reason is that every situation, environment, company and industry is different, with different needs.  Even the same tools in SolidWorks are be used in completely different ways to achieve desired results.

An example of this can be sheet metal functionality.  Sheet metal models may be created in one way for a company that makes cabinet chassis and be used completely differently at a company that makes furniture.  Heck, even within just one industry, different methods may be employed for different scenarios.

Each company should develop their own standard or set of standards.  Depending on the environment and type of modelling, these may be rigid, they may be very general, or somewhere in-between.  Set rules can apply to the models and assemblies.  Rules may even vary from project to project, depending on business needs.  Even non-design considerations come in to play when setting up standards.  Network setup, computing power, PDM/PLM/ERP programs, etc can impact methodology.

All of these variables make it impossible to establish best practices for all of SolidWorks users.  This is likely why SolidWorks Corp has seemingly dropped the idea of providing set best practices advice.

Challenges in Transitioning from 2D to 3D

The CAD industry is so far along now that the discussion for many is no longer 2D CAD vs 3D CAD, but methodologies within the 3D CAD (such as direct modelling vs history modelling).  However, the adaption of 3D CAD applications such as SolidWorks is still on-going.  Many companies are still using 2D CAD applications.  Why does it take so long for many companies to make the transition when the benefits of 3D CAD seem to be so apparent?

I think Jeff Ray, CEO of DS SolidWorks Corp, properly identified this problem in an interview for the recent article CAD Tools: Breaking Barriers by Linda L. Bell (NASA Tech Briefs, Jan 2009 issue).  In part, he states that when a company considers making the transition to 3D CAD “the pain of change has to be less than the pain of the status quo.”  3D CAD still needs to be easy to access and use.  It also needs to be robust enough to be a design tool for those users that demand more from their applications.  On speaking about how SolidWorks has answered the need to make this transition easier, Ray states, “our last two releases have included a new user interface [where] the workflow predicts which tools the users will need and makes them readily available.”

Even still, there are many challenges to making the transition.  These involve learning a whole new way of working.  For example, when one draws a square, it doesn’t stay a square.  It can become a cube, rectagular rod or a plate.  It can also become a recess or square hole in another feature. 

Once one gets a grasp on these concepts, setting up the new 3D CAD software to work within the company’s documentation system can seem even more challenging.  This is one area that seems to missed (or at least not implemented fully) by many of the 3D CAD applications.  Having the ability to make drawings isn’t the end of it.  Communication with PLM’s and ERP’s is just as important in many companies. 

As my friend Chris MacCormack has recently pointed out, management of the 3D CAD files themselves must also be addressed.  With one or two users, this matter solves itself with simple use of folders.  However, as departments expand and companies grow, solutions for the raising difficulties change.  Of course, this must also be addressed with 2D CAD applications, but it is a much more complex matter with 3D CAD applications.

Most of us first address these issues with wide-eyed innocence. Upon going through this once, that becomes innocence lost.  To consider the transition from 2D CAD to 3D CAD, all of the above must be taken into consideration, and actually other issues too.  To improperly paraphrase Uncle Ben, with the great power enjoyed with the use of 3D CAD comes great responsibility in how it is used.

Now, it is understood that 3D CAD applications are not useful to all CAD users.  But if the field is mechanical engineering, it is very likely 3D CAD going to be worth the transition from 2D.