History Based Direct Modeling Using IRONCAD – Part 5

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So in my opinion, the history based direct modeling technology that existed in IRONCAD 12 years ago is much better than the current implementation of Synchronous Technology in Solid Edge ST3. Why? In Synchronous Technology, the feature tree is split into two parts – synchronous features and ordered features. And that’s that. The user needs to manually figure out where the split should be. If the split cannot be located in the desired position then the user needs to manually reorder the features to correctly position the split.

In IRONCAD the feature tree can have ordered features and breps all over the place, in any manner. The best part is that the user does not need to be bothered with the order in which they appear in the feature tree. If he wants to add a feature, he goes ahead and adds it. If he wants to move a feature somewhere else, he goes ahead and moves it. If he wants to move, rotate, etc. a bunch of faces belonging to different features, he grabs them and goes ahead and moves or rotates them. IRONCAD will rearrange features or merge them as necessary without the user having to even look at the tree. In fact, the user might as well turn off the scene browser altogether and model in the graphics window only.

I believe this is some really fantastic technology. And it existed 12 years ago. The irony of it is that its simplicity and easy of use turned out to be its own worst enemy. People, especially the CAD press, didn’t take the time to understand the technology and give it the credit that it deserved. Just take a look at all the so called “reviews” of Solid Edge ST3 that have appeared all over the web for the past couple of days. Most of them are words simply pulled out from the press kit. I know that because Siemens PLM sent me their press kit. Look at the screen shots. They are either taken from the press kits or are screen grabs of the web meeting with some Siemens PLM marketing person. I know that because I sat in on one of those web meetings. I wonder how many of these people actually installed Solid Edge ST3. Or whether Siemens PLM gave it to them. Or whether they asked for it in the first place.

In my opinion the vast majority of the CAD press has largely abdicated its responsibility towards its readers. I don’t write about a software until I have understood and used it. My problem is that I cannot use the software for real world work because firstly, I don’t really do real world modeling. And secondly, I get the software from vendors because I am their partner and the partner license agreement prohibits me from using the software for real world projects. So I cover CAD software from the point of view of a programmer and try my best to explain the underlying technologies used in them. My hope is that my readers will get a better understanding of the products they use and maybe learn ways to get the most out of them.

This is request going out to my readers who actually use the software in the real world. Start a blog if you haven’t already. Write about your experiences with the software that you use. Share your tips and tricks. People really want to read that kind of stuff. Not press kits reworded in better prose and spat out in all kinds of different ways possible. Anyone can go to a CAD vendor’s web site and see what’s new in a new version. You don’t need a so called “in-depth” review for that. The product documentation comes with a “What’s new” section anyways. What people really want to know is how these new features can be put to use in the real world. If you don’t have the time or inclination to maintain a blog, you can use mine. Click here to learn how you can contribute to Deelip.com.

Coming back to IRONCAD, after reading this series, I guess you may be able to appreciate why IRONCAD users listen to all this noise from other CAD vendors about mixing direct modeling with history based parametric modeling and wonder what the fuss is all about.

IRONCAD is priced at $3995 with a  software only maintenance of $895 a year. You can get software and support maintenance for $1295 a year. INOVATE is priced at $1295 with a software only maintenance of $295 a year. Software and support maintenance sits at $495 a year. You can find a product comparison chart of IRONCAD and INOVATE here. 30 day trials of both products can be downloaded from here.

Disclosure: My company, SYCODE, is an IronCAD software partner due to which we get free licenses of all IronCAD products. We develop add-ins for IRONCAD and INOVATE.

  • Is it possible to constrain the position of a feature in Ironcad with respect to an edge or to another feature? I saw some videos on youtube and there were some dimensions to edit features, but I didn’t uderstand if these dimensions are persistent or disappear after the editing is finished. If yes, what happens to these constrains when the feature tree is re-arranged?

    P.S. disclaimer: I’m a long-term Solid Edge user! 🙂

    • Cary OConnor

      Yes. In IRONCAD you can add a SmartDimension from a Feature to an Edge or other geometry. The interesting thing is that is can go across parents. Let me explain. You can place a dimension on a feature to control its position where the other end of the dimension is on a different part for example. Same for a part (dimension one part position to a part in another assembly). These SmartDimension are stored and maintained. When the system or user changes the structure the dimensions are maintained. Since these dimensions are stored, they can be used in parametric equations as well to drive the features. Note: The dimension you may have noticed in the videos are what we call the Feature SizeBox dimensions that allow you to change the size/shape of the features with a dimension value as well as the simple push pull. Hope that helps explain it.

  • Paul Munford

    Another great article Deelip. Keep up the good work.

    I’m sure I’m not just speaking for myself when I say that I really appreciate the effort you put into these articles.

    Not only is it good to understand the underlying technology in these products, but I just wouldn’t get the chance to try out all these different modellers. You are in a fairly unique position, and I’m glad you generously share your findings with us all.

    • Glad you liked it. There’s a lot more to IRONCAD. I only mentioned a couple of its features. If I get some time later, maybe I’ll dig a little deeper.

  • ProePro

    IronCAD was what I thought of the first time I saw ST.

    The IronCAD guys have allays said that the rest of the world was going to copy them. I am glad someone finally gave them some credit.

  • chad

    This is impressive. What I saw with ST3 was silly and presents all kinds of problems with workflow.

    • Chad, can you give some examples of problems you see with the ST3 workflow?

      • chad

        I don’t have any examples other than the fact that it appears to have a dual workflow. What was presented with ironcad shows only one specific worklfow.

        • Cary OConnor

          I think Chad is pointing to the way IRONCAD collects features to move into the Direct Editing Mode. It seemed in ST that the user was required to find out the specific features needed and move them manually (where as IRONCAD does it for the user). Also, as Deelip pointed out, you have to move many features to the ST (all features prior in the history on the feature you really need to move). This seems that it could hinder some of the knowledge in the features since they move to Direct Editing when they don’t necessarily need to. Also, it seems that it is not a mixed structure. ST features are at the top and history at the bottom of the tree. This can hinder the workflow. For example: Say you have a U block made up of a solid block and a negative extrude to make the U. Next you add a thru hole on the side of the U. Last you add a feature on the top of the leg of the U. Now there is a design rule that the thru hole is always a thru hole and needs to cut anything in that area. Now say we take the last feature and use direct editing to move it into the U. ST will merge all the features into a single ST feature (since we are working on the last feature in the tree). When you move it inside the U and into the area where the thru hole is, the thru hole will no longer cut it because you lost the information when you converted it to a ST Feature (it is not just geometry). In IRONCAD, the move of the Last Feature would not affect any of the other features and it would mix it in the history to maintain the rules of the thru hole. So it seems you spend a little more time in ST trying to figure what to move into a ST feature. Hopefully, that helps explain why IronCAD more specific workflow that Chad was referring too.

  • D3print

    I clap my hands! Good works Deelip.
    (I see to the future where you compare MCad`s with same part or parts and counting mouse klicks how fast and easy you can do some features and edits….)

  • D3print

    Seems that IRONCAD`s website crashed down…, too many
    visitors perhaps?

    • I just checked ironcad.com with http://downforeveryoneorjustme.com

      Yeah, its down.

      • Anonymous

        Just checked it, and the website still down.
        You make a good online marketing Deelip…

        In few months ago, I have download IronCAD and try several feature. I feel the workflow not easy to use especially for me that come from parametric modeler ( swx ). Also the tutorial on their website not update yet to the latest version.

        Thanks for your sharing Deelip…

        • Cary OConnor

          I notified our IT department and they are looking into the issue now. When you need it, it’s down..go figure. Thanks for letting us know.

          • Anonymous

            Hi Carry,

            Better if you can add more “fresh” tutorial of IronCAD. As I remember, the tutorial on IronCAD website not update to latest version.

            BTW, the website still down…

          • Cary OConnor

            We are updating them for our 2011 release which is set to go out in early November. Visit the Learning Center on our site after the launch for the update tutorials in the newer interface.

            BTW – Website is up and running now.

  • Have a play with the kernel switching tools in IronCAD.. that has some interesting tricks in it.. oh and i might be wrong, but I’m not entirely sure the history thing has been in IronCAD since day one. For some reason i have it in mind that it was introduced about 5 years ago maybe… dunno – might be wrong..

    it IS a good system, always has been and not all of us have been ignoring it, have been pointing out the strengths of the system – but as you know as well as I do, a good system and good coverage don’t a successful system make. In the UK, the sales channel has been rife with problems – a lot of problems and if I’m honest a shady character or two..


    • Cary O’Connor

      Hi Al,

      Yes the history bit has been there since day one with IRONCAD. We were never a direct editing system only. The difference was that we were never restricted by rigid history (as Deelip pointed out). Due to that, I think a lot of people considered it as a direct modeling only. But everything Deelip demonstrated has been in IC since day 1 with the exception of what he mentioned at the start about the Structured Part mode that was added in 2009. About the sales channel, we hired a new sales manager in the U.K. a few years back and have hopefully addressed the concerns you raised. Please let me know if you have more information on that specific issue.

  • Domcm

    Deelip, thanks for the great article. I have used IronCAD off and on since the very first version when it was called TriSpectives. While it has always been a very innovative CAD package, and I still really want to use it, I have found that it is too buggy for production work (and that includes the most recent IronCAD 2009 version). What also really frustrates me, is that you have to pay maintenance to post anything to their user forum. I think this is very short sited by today’s social networking standards. If you check their forum, it is not very active. Consequently, I think the company has limited valuable feedback from many users which could lead to a much better and stable product.

    • Anonymous

      The feedback from users should be the most important information for software developers, but in most cases the money shows the way.

    • “What also really frustrates me, is that you have to pay maintenance to post anything to their user forum.”

      If this is true I’d love to know the reason why. I mean if I download the 30 day trial and have a question about something I can’t post it to the forum?

      • Cary OConnor

        When you download the product, we give support to the trial users (we inform the trial users of the support email and phone number). We have tried multiple times to open the forums but we get spam constantly. We even tried to have an admin control the post and it still is a spam nightmare. We are looking into new community tools to help resolve this so we can open it up where it can be useful. One thing we do notice is that many of our international users work directly with the resellers instead of the community due to the language (so we get direct feedback on reports from the partners). Hopefully we can find a good community tool to auto-translate the post on the fly (instead of having to use a google-translate for example). So we do hear the requests for an open-community and are actively looking into improving it. Domcm, please feel free to email me directly with stability issues you have found. Most of our feedback on the 2009 version was very good since our focus on that release was specifically stability reports.

        • Domcm

          Maybe you need to look at the forum tools that other CAD companies are using. They seem to have figured out a way to control spam. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of one that charges money to use their forum. There may be some out there that do, but in this day and age of social networking, I do not think it is a very good business model. Maybe Deelip has some suggestions?

          • I recently started using Akismet to block comment spam on this blog. So far it has blocked more than a thousand spam comments.

  • murray

    The dual kernel thing is interesting. Is it real or a paper advantage? Do third-party convertors give better, worse, or comparable results?

    • Cary OConnor

      The dual kernels serve two purposes. One is for translation in both native read and translation options. Since we have the native kernels, there is no translation for ACIS and Parasolid unlink other third party translators (they may have to translate depending on the native kernel). We also use the interop translators from Spatial for standard formats (IGES, STEP, UG, Catia). In addition, we have the Granite kernel from PTC for reading in native Pro/E data. When translating standard formats, the native kernels can yield different results. So having both kernels gives you a better chance in many cases. The second use for the dual kernels is in the modeling process. In some cases, a modeling operation may fail in a particular kernel (such as a blend or shell). IRONCAD uses kernel collaboration to solve these conditions. Basically if the operation fails, we allow the other kernel to try to complete the operation. It is important to note that we are not converting the entire part to a different kernel but just the modeling operation result (we are using both kernels in a single part to solve modeling conditions). The main thing is that this is transparent to the users. It performs this without the user having to request this on failures. From my experience, most users would not be able to tell if this has actually happened unless the turn off the option and regenerate the model to detect a single kernel failure. Both kernels are strong now days, but there are still cases where one can solve conditions that the other may not. I believe this second capability of the dual kernels is often overlooked. Hopefully this helps explain the dual kernel support in IRONCAD a bit better.

  • Martin leeson

    I have some questions on the possible reuse of CAD drawings and the possibility of moving data from one CAD platform to another if you are thinking of making that move. I read in the ST3 review in the October issue of Develop3D magazine that going from 2D to 3D, Solid Edge (SE) now allows users to take 2D drawings and 3D models from another system and to transfer design intent from 2D drawings, apparently allowing manufacturing dimensions become the driver and not the model dimensions or sketch, I don’t understand this description, but wondered if this was the beginnings of a move by any MCAD system towards extending CAD interoperability and data Independence to drawings. For example if you were considering moving from say Pro-e to SE and have years of legacy data of assemblies and parts – many with their associated dimensioned drawings, can you now do more than read in the assembly or parts models, could you also open the drawings and their respective CAD models and re-associate as many dimensions as you wish so as to capture the drawing details and so avoid having to recreate new drawings from scratch on your new CAD platform from what was presumably before dumb imported data. I guess that you may have also have to pay extra for any data translators for your new CAD platform to read in the data in native form from your previous CAD platform. If it was starting to become easier to transfer drawings as well as import models from your current/previous M CAD system and without too much difficulty to also re associate detail dimensions with the imported models then moving CAD platforms would become a much easier proposition to consider. If you don’t have to maintain a licence for the original CAD just so as to look at your earlier work as you can be sure to migrate all your data (with some effort) to your chosen CAD platform then migrating gets a whole lot more interesting and perhaps some backward CAD compatibility issues may also go away for users thinking of having to upgrade to the latest systems of their CAD platform as they could perhaps have a license of say SE to read in a clients data instead of maintaining another CAD platform.
    I think it was achieved it could be a deciding factor in making a move to either upgrade your current system or migrate to one that you could move your old work to if it became necessary to modify earlier work from an earlier CAD platform, and did not want to have to maintain two CAD subscriptions.
    Am I reading too much into the article statement, or is full CAD data transfer including any drawings just wishful thinking on my part? Are some MCAD providers moving in that direction?

  • Kinglife

    Any chance IRONCAD will integrate other renderer like Vray?
    1) The end result of IC’s renderer is far from satisfying.
    2) For more than 10+years, there isn’t any in-dept help on rendering.
    3) There is nil ready made texture provided over the net (excluding the catalog one, which looks bad after rendering).

    On the bright side, IC can export to almost any 3d platform to get the job done, but thats a lot of extra work.

    • Cary O’Connor

      In IRONCAD V10, we integrated the Yafray rendering core into IRONCAD’s environment with some additional tweaks. There is a Rendering Catalog set that is built for that rendering environment. I agree there needs to be more in-depth documentation on this newer environment, but it has significant improvements over the earlier versions of the rendering capabilities. We are looking at other options moving forward to make it easier and more productive for users. In otherwords, it is on our radar.