Engineers and Modelers

Today I had an interesting conversation with Shyamal Roy, Founder of GEOMATE, a company that develops GrafiCalc. GrafiCalc is basically a 2D graphical calculator meant to be used by engineers to help them come up with an optimal design before they hand it over to modelers to model in CAD. Shyamal has an interesting view on Digital Prototyping, which is a bit different from that of Autodesk. Well, not exactly different, but his idea of Digital Prototyping takes root a couple of steps before that of Autodesk does.

Autodesk’s idea of Digital Prototyping basically revolves around giving an Inventor user the ability to test his digital prototype for failure in Inventor itself before he creates a physical prototype and subjects it to actual real world testing. The idea is to minimize the number of physical prototypes, thereby reducing cost and saving time, both of which save money.

According to Shyamal, “post-modeling analysis shows how the product will fail whereas pre-modeling engineering helps to make sure the design will work“. To understand this you need to know what GrafiCalc does. Suppose I want to design a mechanism that is subjected to certain known loads and which must yield certain movement without failing. I can simply draw a 2D drawing of the mechanism in GrafiCalc, specify the loads, constraints, etc. and it will do the math to give me the dimensions of the parts in my mechanism (see demo). On the other hand Inventor needs you to model the mechanism completely and then test it for failure. There is a difference here. Inventor does not modify the mechanism for you to make it work. It simply tells you whether your model will work or not.

However, Inventor and other solid modeling systems that offer post modeling analysis can offer far more analysis features as compared to GraphiCalc, quite simple because GraphiCalc is basically a 2D system, whereas Inventor resides in the real 3D world. Which brings me to the real topic of this post. Shyamal is of the opinion that less than 5 percent of CAD users in the USA have a degree in Engineering. According to him, “Here you can get a 2 year course on how to fly a 3D CAD system and get a job as a designer without having to know anything about engineering.

Which begs the question. Is Autodesk barking up the wrong tree? For Digital Prototyping in Inventor to work, you need to be an Engineer, not just a Modeler (or CAD Operator), who knows how to come up with geometry by either cooking up a feature tree or directly moving faces around in a solid model. I wonder how much analysis you can do without knowing the basics of analysis, which is what engineering is all about. Personally, I find the figure of 5 percent rather shocking. On the other hand, Shyamal thinks that the number is actually quite generous. Thats why he is of the opinion that his 2D solution works in 90% of cases because engineers think and plan their designs in 2D and hand them over the modelers to model them in 3D. In his view the Digital Prototyping needs to start at the Engineer’s level, not at the Modeler’s level.

Recently SpaceClaim and ANSYS announced an integration that would allow “simulation driven product development”. After the announcement I had a conversation with Mike Payne, Founder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of SpaceClaim. Mike seems to share Shyamal’s view on Engineers and Modelers. This is what he told me:

“This coupling of SpaceClaim and ANSYS allows the person who owns the design (a work in process) to hand it to the analyst who can iterate the starting design in his world until he is satisfied. He can then go back and tell the design department what he needs to be done to their idea of the model. Remember that it is in the analysis area that a lot of the real engineering is done, and not by CAD operators. When a bridge sways, or a building collapses it is not the fault of the CAD operator, but rather the fault of the engineer who did not do his sums correctly. We have all been brain-washed into believing that today’s solid modeling systems are all for engineers. They are not. Engineers do not sit in front of CAD systems all day long, and have extensive training in how to use the CAD system. They deal with requirements, materials, heat transfer, disassembly for maintenance, wear, manufacturing tolerances, etc. etc. Put simply, today the aircraft companies have a pretty good idea of how a plane will perform before it makes its first flight. That is made possible by analysis, and other engineering tools, and not by CAD or PDM or PLM.”

I guess that explains why SpaceClaim has two versions of their software: SpaceClaim Style for Modelers and SpaceClaim Engineer for Engineers. So as I see it, Autodesk is helping modelers wear an engineer’s hat, whereas SpaceClaim is helping engineers wear a modeler’s hat. And Shyamal is looking that them both, shaking his head and wondering, “Engineers need to first use software that gives them a good first design instead of wasting the modeler’s time in modeling and remodeling“. Pretty interesting, I must say.

But whichever way I look at it, I still cannot come to terms with Shyamal’s 5 percent figure. Is the situation that bad in the US?