How Local Motors won the DARPA contest

A few weeks ago I published an article entitled “DS clarifies DARPA crowdsource win.” A few things, in my mind needed clarification. Dassault Systemes PR rep, Jessica Harrison from fama PR, arranged for me to speak with Alex Fiechter, Local Motors Engineer. I was curious, among other things, about how crowd-sourcing was used for the design and whether it was useful. I also wondered how they handled input from 12,000 community users and what was the process they used. Finally I wanted to find our more about Local Motors.

Here is how the process worked. Local Motors (LM) massaged the DARPA specs for the contest into a “brief,” a mission statement of what they desired, and posted it onto their website, asking their community members if they were interested in responding. Most of the community members are interested in industrial design and some helped LM design their Rally Fighter. Along the way, LM developed their concept for Local Forge, an open source web-based co-creation platform. Apparently, car lovers worldwide love to design shapes for cars of their dreams. Local Forge is a way for them to share their designs via images, with all other community members.

A key aspect of the mission statement was to use the existing Rally Fighter chassis as a base upon which to build the body. With the mission statement , eventually 150 to 180 proposal were submitted, from which the final design was chosen. The proposals could be in any electronic form, such as images or even CAD files. They had to show the 3 required views at a minimum. The community then voted on the submissions. Only the winning submitter gets paid. LM used SolidWorks for the mechanical design and Catia for the body design.

What next? Will it be produced? DARPA owns the design now that the contract is complete. A research arm of the DoD, the DoD may or may not choose to produce the design.

Has Local Motors discovered a new way of doing business that involves minimal plant investment, a way to solicit valuable (and mostly free) input from leading designers, and deliver an exciting new product? You be the judge. Visit some of the links from my previous article quoted above and provide some feedback via comments on this blog.


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.


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: 


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.


The Dassault Systemes Success Story by Francis Bernard

Francis Bernard, my former boss at Dassault Systemes, and I would like to say, a friend, sent me an article he wrote detailing the emergence of CATIA from software for analyzing wind tunnel models at Avion Marcel Dassault into Dassault Systemes. I have included it intact at my website at I think you will enjoy reading it from his perspective. I worked at IBM as a CATIA regional executive during the years 1984 to 1987 and then at DS USA in 1988 as head of North American Marketing and personally witnessed many of these events happen. Bernard was a tireless executive and a true believer in the potential of CATIA and 3D modeling to change the engineering design world – and he proved to be right!

Siemens PLM wins the CAD business at Chrysler

27 July 2010: Within a day of seeing the official announcement that Chrysler will use Siemens NX as its new digital development software, I had the opportunity to interview and speak with several Siemens PLM executives to find out more about this big win.

First some background. Currently a Dassault Systemes (DS) CATIA customer, Chrysler is bailing out of CATIA, changing it out for Siemens NX software. Chrysler’s acquisition of American Motors in 1987 netted Chrysler the first North American automotive user of CATIA. Chrysler rapidly adopted CATIA as its worldwide design system. The company was so enthusiastic about CATIA that they insisted all their primary suppliers use the same software to eliminate data transfer issues.

So what happened?

As Siemens PLM Software executive David Taylor, Sr. Director of Automotive and Machining Marketing explained, Chrysler, apparently dissatisfied with DS PLM offerings, began using Teamcenter software in 2008. The company’s failed merger with Daimler Benz, their subsequent bankruptcy, and their partnership with Italy’s Fiat further pushed the company to consider Siemens PLM software. It turns out that Fiat uses NX and Teamcenter.

Taylor further explained that in an exhaustive benchmark, Chrysler found Teamcenter to be more efficient, particularly it and NX’s role based approach. Other factors included synchronous technology, Teamcenter’s proven scalability, and its ability to serve as the PLM backbone for competitive CAD systems almost as well as it serves NX.

When asked whether he could provide some metrics on the win such as numbers of potential seats or dollars involved, Taylor refused, as did Kartsen Newbury, head of the Solid Edge business unit, in a recent interview.

Chrysler plans to implement the software for new projects. As stated in the press release, “Chrysler Group will initially use Siemens’ NX™ software engineering tool for new collaborative Chrysler-Fiat vehicle and powertrain development programs beginning with the Fiat 500, Fiat 500EV, the 1.4-liter Fully Integrated Robotized Engine (FIRE), and the new Chrysler Group C segment vehicle.” That means that CATIA will be around Chrysler for a very long time and no doubt continue to compete for Chrysler business in the future.

Asked about where Siemens stands in the Auto industry, Taylor cited its major presence in GM, Ford, VW, Nissan, Mazda, Daimler Benz, and of course – Fiat.

You can read the press releases at Siemens PLM Software and Chrysler.

Simulia’s DesignSight Structure explored

Earlier this week we had a chance to check out Dassault Systemes’ DesignSight Structure (DSS) offering from Simulia via a WebEx demo. DSS, aimed at designers rather than analysis specialists, provides a menu guided (flow based) approach to structural analysis for parts. Users follow the menu guidance to apply materials, boundary conditions and loads, achieving simulation results without even viewing a mesh of the part. DSS uses the Abaqus solver, providing for linear, non-linear solutions and large geometry effects, all hidden from the user.

We found the software easy to use, particularly within the V6, 3DLive-like user environment. Parts were easy to search for, with an easy way to break assemblies into their component parts, all visually displayed on the “turntable.” Supporting this UI is a requirement to use the underlying PDM software structure of Enovia V6. Thus, V6 rests on an Enovia base.

DSS is now Simulia’s only V6 native simulation offering for V6. Users creating models and desiring advanced simulation within V6 need to use the standalone Simulia software. Eventually, V6 expert FEA users will eventually have available a portfolio of Simulia software. No dates were given.

The example we looked at involved a plastic shell that, after the first analysis, needed additional support to eliminate too much flexibility for the simulated stress, while also keeping its weight down. Ribs were added using Catia plastic feature functions, then re-simulated. A cycle we repeated once more until we were satisfied with the results. No inherent design optimization exists yet. With the recent Engineous Software acquisition, we expect such optimization will soon be accomplished using Isight. For more information on Isight, see

In all, a very impressive and well thought out offering.