TechniCom test-Part 8 shows how Inventor and SolidWorks compare for Mechatronics

Mechatronics

This blog series and the tests reported herein is designed to show some of the key differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows. This final part of our 8 part blog series examines Mechatronics – the ability to perform cable and harness design in an existing design from an imported electrical wiring diagram.

We test the ability of the mechanical CAD system (MCAD) to leverage data from an electrical CAD system (ECAD). The ECAD system specifies the appropriate connectors, wires, and their connection points while the MCAD system specifies the physical location of those wires and connectors within a product.

Electrical schematic to be imported into mechanical assembly on the right

Autodesk supplied an Inventor video of their solution, a net list in Excel format, a STEP file of the enclosure assembly, and a schematic drawing (.dwg) of the connections.

What’s Important in Mechatronics Design

  • Leverage the data stored in schematic drawing files to design wire harnesses in the mechanical system. Such data can be stored exported from an electrical design file using various techniques. At its most basic, the electrical design software sends a net list to the mechanical package containing connector information for each wire, wire types, and a list of pin-to-pin connections.
  • Generate correct wire lengths
  • Generate output to enable manufacturing of the wire harness
  • Not tested were two-way associativity between the electrical and mechanical software, nor were any tests designed to simulate electromechanical interconnections such as activating switches or sensors based on mechanical actions.

Autodesk supplied us with an Inventor video of their solution, a net list in Excel format, a STEP file of the enclosure assembly, and a schematic drawing (.dwg) of the connections.

What we found out

The two software packages (Inventor and SolidWorks) are comparable. Inventor has a tight connection to AutoCAD Electrical with the xml file transfer. SolidWorks has similar tight coupling with some third party software such as Zuken’s E3. Both systems use added cost electrical software to generate the net-list. SolidWorks was not able to read the AutoCAD Electrical generated xml list, and instead used an Excel file with similar data that needed manual cleanup in Excel.

It appears that there are a few more interactions with SolidWorks, but this may be due to the operator-preferred method. Both systems effectively produced the required output. There appears to be no real operational advantage to either package when used with tightly integrated electrical schematics software. Since AutoCAD Electrical is one of the most widely used electrical schematic packages, the advantage goes to Inventor.

Observations

For this test, on the AutoCAD side, AutoCAD Electrical exports an XML file to Inventor. Inventor reads this file and generates the 3D wiring and, under user control, assigns wires to cables. It can then generates wire lengths, a flat wire harness diagram and a pin board for manufacturing.

Inventor opens the 3D model and then the xml file of the net-list from AutoCAD Electrical. This designates the pin-to-pin connections where the wires are to be placed. Different than SolidWorks, the Inventor user placed the harnesses in anticipation of the wiring to be imported. The wire import could also have been done first, as seen in the SolidWorks video. The names of the connectors and the number of pins on each connector are stored in coordinated libraries in both the electrical and mechanical systems.

Importing the wires in Inventor

Importing the wires in SolidWorks

After the import, the imported wires appear as direct point-to-point connections between the pins without using any harnesses. 19 wires were imported and identified as un-routed. Then Inventor asks for an auto-route of all un-routed wires. It then places all 19 wires into the predesigned harness, we guess by using closest entry and exit points. Then Inventor builds (and reports) a pin board payout of the harness showing the 3D derived wire lengths. The video below shows an Inventor user performing the test. 

SolidWorks takes a slightly different, albeit very similar approach. After importing the net-list, the operator builds a 3D representation of the harness and then places the wires into the harness, with the software computing the wire lengths. This took more manual interaction than the Inventor solution, but yielded the same end result. The video below shows a SolidWorks user performing the test. 

This is the final blog in this series. Users can review a summary of these tests, published as Part 1 of this series by clicking here. We have also published a pdf file of the complete report here. The pdf file does not contain any videos. To see them you have to revisit this blog series at raykurland.com.

About the author

Raymond Kurland is president of TechniCom Group LLC and its principal consultant and editor. His firm, founded in 1989, specializes in analyzing MCAD and PLM systems and has been involved in reviewing and comparing such software since 1987. Ray frequently consults with both vendors and users. Ray has degrees in Engineering from Rutgers University and from NYU. His career included stints with Bell Telephone Laboratories, IBM, and Dassault Systemes. Ray can be reached at rayk@technicom.com.

For more information about TechniCom Group and other software reviews please visit http://www.cad‑portal.com and Ray’s blog at www.raykurland.com. You can also follow Ray on twitter using the id technicom.

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TechniCom tests Part 7 reveal key differences between Inventor and SolidWorks Design Automation Solutions

Design Automation

Continuing on with part 7 of our 8 part blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to automate the design process by automating the creation of drawings for part families, creation of parts from parameters, and creating copies of an assembly constrained along a variable path.

This test looks at simplified automation examples, yet it provides a glimpse of this capability in both products.

  • Create a simple piece of stock lumber (2×4 board) and examine how a user can make that same part file represent several variations of lumber that could be used in a project.
  • Automate the variation of individual drawing views, scales, and annotations.
  • Automate assembly variations that vary by size and position.

Autodesk provided us with three movies showing Inventor completing the tasks. They also provided three STEP files of the frame, the assembly, and the curves to follow for the frame assembly resizing.

Key differences you will see in this test

SolidWorks has some of the same capabilities built into the core modeling system and by using DriveWorks Xpress, a 3rd party add-in delivered with SolidWorks. It can handle configuring a part when placed into an assembly, but updating it in the part model on the fly is not possible. It was able to create the multiple configurations of an assembly – although it required more steps than Inventor to achieve the same solution. SolidWorks Premium was unable to automate the creation of drawings for part families, which requires users to go through the manual process of creating a drawing for each instance of the family. SolidWorks’ third party partner, DriveWorks, offers software that can perform this process, although at additional cost. The no-charge version was not able to control the final drawings, as desired. We did not evaluate DriveWorks, although the extra cost versions of DriveWorks Solo and DriveWorks Pro appear able to perform this task, again, at added cost.

Autodesk Inventor includes iLogic and iCopy technologies that use rules to control the parameters of the part, assembly, or drawing and these capabilities were used to complete this test. Inventor created the lumber workflow, the frame resizing and the drawing scaling without flaws.

What’s Important for Design Automation

  • Engineers can capture design intelligence by using rules to embed design intelligence into parts, assemblies, and even drawings
  • Such design intelligence, in the case where repetitive designs or portions of repetitive designs are used, can radically reduce design time and produce more repeatable results.
  • What techniques are used to build the design intelligence (often programmatic)
  • How easy is it used to create new designs once the rules have been built
  • How such design intelligence is accessible and how it can be maintained in the future

Observations

Autodesk Inventor includes iLogic and iCopy technologies that use rules to control the parameters of the part, assembly, or drawing. Inventor controls the parameters of a part through a single dialog box that updates the model on the fly. It is also able to automate the process of creating unique assembly configurations by modifying the parts and sub-assemblies automatically for the user. iLogic also can use rules to drive drawings – from view placement to scales and annotations – for a family of parts or assemblies, which can save significant amounts of time in large scale projects.

SolidWorks has some of the same capabilities built into the modeler. It can handle configuring a part when placed into an assembly, but updating it in the part model on the fly is not possible. It was also able to create the multiple configurations of an assembly – although it required more steps. Without using extra cost third party software, SolidWorks is unable to automate the creation of drawings for part families, which requires users to create a drawing for each instance of the family.

For the stock lumber workflow, both Inventor and SolidWorks were able to capture all the variations within a single part file.

A family of parts or assemblies also requires a family of drawings to document their design intent. Recreating essentially the same drawing, which only varies by a few critical dimensions wastes time and effort. Inventor allows the user to easily automate drawings using iLogic functionality. Inventor drawings can be set up to automatically vary view placement, scale, and annotations for a family of parts or assemblies. SolidWorks, without extra cost third party software, is unable to automate the creation of drawings for part families.

Creating copies of a frame along a path using Inventor

Creating copies of a frame along a path using SolidWorks

For the frame variation example, Inventor allows the user to automate complete assemblies that vary along specified paths. SolidWorks was able to manually model the frames along a path, but took substantially longer.

See how an Inventor user solved the problems in this 3 part video series:

  

See how a SolidWorks user solved the problems in this 2 part video series – automating the drawing was unable to be done without additional cost software:

 

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The next, and final, blog in this series will examine Mechatronics – the ability to perform cable and harness design from an imported electrical wiring diagram. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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Ray Kurland interviews Blake Courter, co-founder of SpaceClaim, about the LG Electronics win

On 22 Feb 2011 SpaceClaim announced that LG Electronics “is optimizing their engineering processes by using SpaceClaim to modify and manipulate CAD models.” This piqued my interest because LG Electronics is one of the largest electronics consumer companies in the world. I immediately placed a call to Blake Courter, co-founder of SpaceClaim, to find out more details. I was warned by their PR firm that they could probably not discuss any more details about the win, but I went ahead with the interview anyway to get Courter’s opinion of what drove the win and where SpaceClaim is finding success.

Q. SpaceClaim seems to have invented, or at least popularized direct modeling. Now everyone is trying to get in the game.

A. SpaceClaim did not invent direct modeling. It predated feature based modeling. We just realized that if we were going to get the rest of the world using CAD, it was not going to be with feature based CAD. We recognized that there was a market for the right tools [direct modeling] for specific users in specific markets and that was the way to go.

Direct modeling is the right way for most of the world to do 3D. Clearly the vendors have bought into this. Every one has a direct modeling strategy.

It’s great for all users to have these capabilities that are much easier to use than a feature based CAD system. For engineers doing certain jobs that do not require a history based or feature based system, such as simulation, manufacturing, sales engineers doing bid modeling, we have the best tool for the job. Rational companies are using SpaceClaim because we figured out how to make the right tool for this class of users. We are looking forward to having the opportunity to have that conversation with more customers as more users are introduced to direct modeling technology. This will be great for us.

Q. Clearly the market is agreeing with you and the vendors as well, considering that they are all introducing products in this area. Why did LG select SpaceClaim and where in their business do they intend to use it?

A. Can’t speak to anything outside the details shown in the press release, but I understand that they are using it for general use cases around manufacturing model preparation and manufacturing engineering.

Q. Was it a reseller closing the sale? Why can you not discuss any more details?

A. It was a direct sale. LG only agreed to let SpaceClaim disclose what was stated in the release.

Q. What is their current CAD system?

A. They have a CAD system; I think they have several and obviously have had and used CAD systems for a long time. For certain use cases they claim that SpaceClaim is a better tool for the job.

Q. Do you foresee that after they manipulate the models they would be brought back into the CAD model?

A. I cannot speak about LG, but can discuss how in general how customers use SpaceClaim as compared to how they use a detailed design CAD system. In general we see two workflows. One is doing concept models up front of traditional CAD. This uses existing CAD data plus new requirements. Users would bring all this together to create a new design. This is hard using history based systems because feature based constraints limit design flexibility. In SpaceClaim it’s a piece of cake. Users can sketch in SpaceClaim’s 3D environment to get a clear idea of what the new design might look like. Then they will release the SpaceClaim model to detailed design to develop all of the final details using a feature based design system.

Q Do you expect that detailed CAD design might directly read the SpaceClaim model or remodel the design?

A. It depends on the use case. For example, if the new design is heavily based on an existing design, SpaceClaim provides what might be needed for redesign or remodel. It is up to the user to make that decision. Dumb solids (non history based) are not so dumb anymore. Many detailed CAD systems can use non-history based solids as a starting point, can recognize features, and can even directly edit these models within the CAD system. In addition, many companies now outsource detailed designs, and thus do not even work with the detailed CAD model. Thus SpaceClaim is easier to use in many cases.

Q. What was the size of the LG order? Was it sizeable or just a handful of seats?

A. I cannot comment, except to say that is was a decent sized order. Not just one seat. In general, companies that we do announce have done a pilot and plan to use it SpaceClaim substantially in the future. We are not claiming that such customers plan to replace all CAD; instead the seats are additive for new users. For manufacturing engineering, SpaceClaim is a better tool than a detailed CAD system.

There are a lot of big name companies that use SpaceClaim software and there is a consistent pattern of where they see SpaceClaim playing a role. The usage is a different model than the traditional CAD usage we are used to. I can point to Tyco as an example. Customers like this have done pilots and intend to deploy. We are seeing a different world than the tightly integrated CAD system world, where it is  difficult to send data from one system to the other. We saw a need for all users and their supply chain to use the same system. Not having a history based system enables easy transfer of models. Most users want to visualize models, take measurements, do some what-ifs, investigate alternate components, and change some variables in the design. Feature based models are not right because they do not allow these questions to easily be answered.

We are seeing SpaceClaim used for bid modeling by sales engineers, concept modeling, simulation both up front and used with existing CAD data, and to cleanup and prepare models for manufacturing and to create tooling. That is the kind of use our customers are making of SpaceClaim.

I think it’s pretty clear that SpaceClaim’s direct modeling tools are the best tools for these uses. It does not matter whose CAD tool is in use at a company. If you want all these other people to be empowered with 3D then SpaceClaim is the best application than any other and I would welcome the chance to prove it. We are showing it over and over again to many types of companies in industries as diverse as: automotive, aerospace, defense, consumer electronics, and medical devices.

Q. Can you tell me anything about the company today so I can share how fast SpaceClaim has grown?

A. In 2009 the business was 3.5X the size in 2008, and in 2010 it tripled again. We are hiring and there are lots of job openings. However, we are a private company and are unwilling to release number of seats or revenue.

Q How many people are in the company?

A. We have about 50 in total, including development and are hiring for Concord, MA as well as some positions worldwide.

Q. Are there any aspects of recent SpaceClaim releases that drove this kind of business?

A. We have achieved a level of maturity now, with our recently shipped 7th release of SpaceClaim 2011. It’s now robust and stable – a very important factor for customers. We think we offer a more reliable system than traditional CAD vendors, which often crash a few times a day. Our goal is to be as reliable as Microsoft’s operating system.

We have several case studies available on our website that show how customers use SpaceClaim. Particularly interesting are the ones from Emhart Glass, Batelaan Plastics, and Schramm Inc. We believe that there is a high degree of pent up demand by customers looking for a tool that lets people get their jobs done without wrestling with the complexity of feature based CAD systems. This is the primary need driving the business.

Q. Do you see significant competition from CAD vendor direct modeling solutions?

A. These big beefy products are not what the customer wants. They are not appropriate for the customers we are going after. What does direct modeling in most CAD systems get you? You can edit imported parts better and easier. Is that useful for most users? Users will still need to use beefy CAD system to do their job along with a lightweight viewer. This is not the way I see things going; eventually people are going to be creating ideas in 3D, mailing them to each other and collaborating with customers and suppliers. To enable this, we are looking to remove all the CAD friction and help customers get products to market faster. SpaceClaim is the only tool able to do that – to enable really pervasive 3D. Maybe Autodesk might understand this, but other CAD vendors don’t seem to get it.

We figured out what most users want and made the best tool.

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Click here to see the SpaceClaim – LG Electronics press release. Users can see more information on the SpaceClaim website, including case studies and self-running demos at www.spaceclaim.com.

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TechniCom tests Part 6 show why Inventor’s digital prototyping outshines SolidWorks in Interoperability

Interoperability and Direct Modeling

Continuing on with part 6 of our 8 part blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to import MCAD models from CATIA and to perform direct edits on the imported geometry. Finally we take a drawing off the final model.

As in the other blogs in this series, this blog includes videos of both systems being used to perform the test.

To examine interoperability, we tested the capabilities of the software by importing a CATIA part, modifying the imported part, and creating and validating the accuracy of a DWG drawing of the part for communication with vendors.

View of the bell housing used in this exercise

Autodesk provided a video of Inventor accomplishing this test, a DWG drawing of the bell housing, the bell housing in CATIA format and the bell housing in IGES format.

Key differences you will see in this test

Autodesk Inventor is able to import and export most common CAD formats as well as neutral formats. Working with imported data uses the direct modeling tools found in Inventor Fusion Technology Preview to make changes. Creating a fully associative drawing in DWG format requires no additional effort since Inventor uses native DWG as the file type for drawings created from the 3D model.

SolidWorks can also import and export from a variety of CAD formats but has no support for CATIA files, which must be translated into a neutral file format introducing opportunity for errors. It also has tools for modifying geometry with several functions like feature recognition and move face. Lastly, DWG drawings are not associative to the 3D model and may require a significant amount of time and effort to clean up translation errors prior to sending them to customers and vendors. In this test, the SolidWorks DWG associativity did not work, however, SolidWorks supported this capability in past releases. It did not work on TechniCom’s version of SW2011; it may work in other installations.

What’s Important in Interoperability

  • Directly reading the other systems data directly – in this case CATIA – rather than performing a multi-step and error prone process of intermediate data conversion.
  • Easily share design data with customers, vendors, suppliers, and other departments using different CAD systems.
  • Reading and writing native DWG files for production, and publishing designs in formats that customers can use in their own applications.

Observations

Importing CATIA Part

The desired result of this test was to import a CATIA V5 model into the software.

Autodesk Inventor read the CATIA data directly and was able to open the model with no issue.

SolidWorks was unable to read the model and requires a third party add-on at additional cost to import CATIA V5 models. To perform the later tests, an IGES format file was made available and was imported successfully. This is a major issue for automotive and aerospace suppliers and OEMs since there are many companies involved, many of which require data in native CATIA format! Oddly enough SolidWorks is owned by the same company as CATIA and yet cannot read the data directly.

Modifying Imported Geometry

This test examined the ability of each software system to make small modifications to the “dumb” solid created from the imported file.

Modifying the geometry in Inventor Fusion

Inventor made the necessary modifications using the free Inventor Fusion Technology Preview labs application. The changes were made successfully and then Change Manager was used to update the dumb solid in Inventor.

SolidWorks had no problem with the direct modification of the imported part. Feature recognition capabilities were used to modify the plates and the holes as required.

Modifying the geometry in SolidWorks

In this case it was easier than Inventor, which required back and forth interaction with Inventor Fusion.

Creating DWG Drawing

This test involved creating a drawing in DWG format, opening the DWG in a 2D viewer, and making a change to the 3D model and updating the DWG.

Measuring the resultant DWG created by Inventor

Measuring the resultant DWG created by SolidWorks

Note the incorrectly scaled dimension in the SolidWorks created drawing.

Inventor created the drawing in DWG format so no translation was required. The file was opened in AutoCAD and presented exactly as it was in Inventor. After making the change to the 3D model, the DWG version of the drawing updated automatically.

SolidWorks could create DWG files for export to vendors. It lacked the ability to be fully associative with the SolidWorks 3D model. Adding dimensions or taking measurements in the scaled view in the resulting DWG drawing were not scaled correctly with the view. In this case SolidWorks added a dimension that showed as 64mm instead of the correct 32mm.

See how the Inventor engineer performed the test: 

See how our SolidWorks engineer performed the test: 

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The next blog in this series will examine design automation and creating drawings from the resulting design. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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TechniCom tests (Part 5) – Inventor’s digital prototyping vs. SolidWorks for Export to BIM

Exporting BIM Ready Models

Continuing on with part 5 of our 8 part blog series dedicated to showing the differences between Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2011 for digital prototyping workflows, we examine the ability to export MCAD models to BIM. Not just the models, but models that contain smart information needed by BIM systems. Besides the images we have videos below of how our engineers used each system to perform the test objectives.

In this test, we started with a complex assembly that had already been designed in the mechanical system. The goal was to export a simplified version of the assembly for inclusion in Autodesk Revit software (BIM software). The software should allow the user to reduce the level of detail in the exported file to protect proprietary design information, to indicate to the BIM software the category (window, door, HVAC, etc.) of the exported data, to provide types and locations for plumbing and electrical connections, and to be able to control the orientation of the exported part or assembly.

View of the chiller unit used in this test

Autodesk provided a video of the chiller and the workflow performing the desired steps. Also provided was an IGES file of the chiller with all the model details.

The key differences you will see demonstrated below

Autodesk Inventor has a dedicated workflow that communicates a lightweight version of the geometry with critical information like connection points and component types while maintaining all physical and visual aspects of the design in a file format that can be easily handled by the most common BIM applications.

SolidWorks does not have a dedicated workflow. SolidWorks 2011 added the ability to exchange simplified geometry data, but with limited amounts of component information due to the use of a neutral file format. It was not able to provide connection points or carry physical and visual properties over to the BIM system.

What’s Important in exporting BIM Ready Models

  • Provide lightweight BIM-ready models which can be directly incorporated into the building design process
  • Mechanical models should include unique architectural and construction information

Observations

Model Preparation

The first step was to simplify the model by suppressing proprietary and unnecessary parts from the assembly and removing details such as small holes, grilles, etc. This eliminates exposing intellectual property and also reduces the level of detail, avoiding large file sizes.

Inventor was able to suppress all unnecessary components easily. A shrinkwrap feature simplified the assembly with native and non-native data by removing small features and patching small holes, reducing the file size.

SolidWorks was able to suppress unnecessary components without issue. Because this was imported data, SolidWorks was unable to further simplify the designs, although had it been native data it may have been possible. Readers should note that the Inventor data, however, was native and thus a somewhat unfair comparison.

Orientation for Import

The second step was to orient the part properly for use in BIM software. Ensuring that models come in with the correct orientation removes the frustrating process of reorienting every time the product is inserted into a design.

Inventor allows the user to create and assign a custom local coordinate system that can be specified on export thus eliminating this issue.

SolidWorks can create a custom user coordinate system (UCS), but cannot use it when exporting IFC files (a BIM standard file format). A new assembly needs to be created with the product placed in the correct orientation. This workaround requires additional time to create the new assembly and creates additional data to manage.

Define Connection Points

The third step was to define connection points to the assembly with sizing and connection attributes. Mechanical, electrical, and plumping (MEP) engineers need to know the location, size, and type of connections required for the product when designing piping or wiring for the building.

MEP connection definition in Inventor

Inventor allows the user to specify the location of connections along with information about pipe size, wiring, connection method, system type (i.e. hot water/cold water/120v/240v/etc.), and flow direction.

SolidWorks is unable to assign connection properties, instead requiring the data to be manually communicated, a minimally acceptable alternative.

Data Export

The final step was to export the assembly to a file format that can be read into BIM software with the necessary attributes assigned. Inventor exports file formats that can be directly read into Revit or AutoCAD and can be included in Building Information Models.

Inventor model of the Chiller as it looks in Revit

Component types assigned in Inventor were carried over so no additional categorization was required. Additional properties are carried over, such as weight, size, and appearance.

SolidWorks exports IFC 2×3 neutral format files that can also be directly read into Revit or AutoCAD. Component type can be assigned on export and are carried over into Revit. BIM designers are required to manually assign additional properties.

SolidWorks model of the Chiller as it looks in Revit

Videos of each system performing the test

Watch the video of Inventor performing this test:

Watch the video of SolidWorks performing this test:

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The next blog in this series will examine interoperability and direct modeling of an imported model, focusing on importing a CATIA model, modifying it, and creating drawings. Stay tuned or sign up to be notified of my blog updates.

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