I Made a Bugatti Out of a Blob. You Can, Too.
The 3DEXPERIENCE World conference (formerly known as SOLIDWORKS World) is the premier CAD conference for SOLIDWORKS users, and is attended by thousands of CAD enthusiasts each year. With the new show format, Dassault Systèmes is able to show off its next generation software known as the 3DEXPERIENCE Platform, or “the platform,” in addition to SOLIDWORKS.
In the last session on the last day of the conference, there was a session titled “The Ultimate Derby,” where a pair of engineers from Charleston, South Carolina [one of whom is this article’s author] were teaching the audience about different parts of the platform, including xDesign, xShape and several platform collaboration applications. They took the idea of the Pinewood Derby, where thousands of kids have designed, built and raced cars since its inception, to demonstrate tools in the software. One presenter would be running a Pinewood Derby for his son’s Cub Scout pack a couple of weeks after the conference. They decided to collaborate on the design of an “Outlaw” fan car.
The first third of the presentation showcased various collaboration tools on the platform. Many of these tools are similar to others that are already in the market, but a lot of the platform tools are tied into the CAD applications. The platform revolves around the 3DEXPERIENCE compass, where each quadrant holds different types of applications (see figure 1).
Figure 1. 3DEXPERIENCE Compass.
The platform does not just include SOLIDWORKS applications, but also Dassault Systèmes’ other software brands, including CATIA and SIMULIA. The duo of presenters showed various community applications (see figure 2), which can be used with any of the CAD and simulation offerings from Dassault. These tools are used to create localized design teams who can collaborate on a project with robust data management in the background.
Figure 2. Community apps.
The platform, including the modeling applications xDesign and xShape, is in the cloud. This particular presentation was a real-life example of what it’s like to work in the platform and in cloud applications. One of the presenters lost Internet connection at the beginning and could not start the presentation, but the other user was up and running and could get it started with all the same shared data. The presenters also show how easy it is to create and share dashboards to collaboration teams, which allows every stakeholder to have relevant material at any time (see figure 3).
Figure 3. Image of dashboard created during presentation.
The second section of the presentation focused on the xDesign tool, which is a mechanical design tool with features similar to SOLIDWORKS. With the presenters collaborating on this Pinewood Derby car design, they were going to use the xDesign app to reduce the weight of the fan motor mount, and xShape to design a 3D printable body for the car from a base design that they had developed. They used the 3D Play app to collaborate on what should be changed in the design (figure 4).
Figure 4. Sharing updates to base design of Pinewood Derby Car via 3D Play.
The presenters focused on a few of the differences between SOLIDWORKS and xDesign, including the Design Guidance tool. This tool allows the user to apply real-life fixtures and loads to the 3D model, and the software will determine what the optimal shape of the part should be. SOLIDWORKS Simulation Professional has a similar tool, called a topology study. The resulting model shows the optimal shape of the part after the software takes into account the mechanical parameters that the user enters into the system (see figure 5).
Figure 5. Resulting design guidance model.
The last section of the presentation might be the most interesting, because xShape is a new concept of modeling for many traditional mechanical designers. xShape utilizes a modeling method called sub-division modeling where you start with a “blob” of material that you can push and pull the surface to make specific organic shapes. The Pinewood Derby car’s body would be designed in xShape, and the inspiration for the design came from the art deco era’s Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic, from 1937 (see figure 6).
Figure 6. Inspiration for car body design.
The first thing shown was a simple demonstration of how you start with a piece of geometry and then move the surfaces and lines to transform the geometry into something totally unique and organic (see figure 7).
Figure 7. xShape demonstration.
Next, it was time to tackle the task at hand: designing the body of the car. Throughout the presentation there were several small tips and tricks given to help the audience understand how the design process with sub-division modeling can be made easier.
Some of these pointers included:
- If you need the model to be a specific size, use an underlying sketch to give a baseline for the geometry.
- If there are existing images or sketches, use them to help shape the model.
- Utilize features like symmetry.
- While using xShape, it is easier to create a model while looking at the standard orthographic views (Front, Back, Top, Bottom, Left, Right).
As the demonstration progressed, these tips and tricks were employed to help the design along. A sketch was created to keep the car within the required size constraints, then the images from figure 6 were added to the modeling environment (see figure 8).
Figure 8. Tips and tricks for xShape during demo.
As the material was added to the modeling environment, the geometry was pulled and sculpted to the contours of the car images looking at the side, top and end to create the basic shape (see figure 9). Some additional lines going around the geometry were added or removed so that the geometry could be altered in just the right way to create the shape.
Figure 9. Morphing of car geometry.
Even with the precautions and tips that were adhered to with this demonstration, there were still some hiccups along the way. It was apparent that if you were to pull a line or point in a specific way, it could make the geometry go all over the place (see figure 10). This makes the application powerful, but still requiring skill to use—like most other solid modeling software.
Figure 10. Geometry gone wrong.
As the demonstration came to an end, the presenters showed the audience how seamless it is to move the models back and forth between the two programs by simply hitting the “X” key on the keyboard. In the end, even with some of the geometry mishaps, there was a completed example of the car body that was shown, and it was 3D printed. Figure 11 shows the completed car with the updated geometry for the car body and motor mount.
Figure 11. Final Pinewood Derby fan car.
This presentation gave a broad overview of the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, with some specifics on various design collaboration applications along with demonstrations of the new solid modeling tools on the platform. With the tools being in the cloud, there are positives and negatives—with the most obvious negative showing itself during this presentation with the loss of internet connection. Positives include the additional collaboration capabilities for design groups and having all data in a single location, accessible to all stakeholders in an organization.
The design tools have some innovation to them, even though xDesign seems like a newer version of traditional modeling tools, and xShape can be revolutionary because it’s a much easier way to develop organic shapes that are difficult to construct in mechanical design programs.
If you would like to view this presentation for yourself, the full video is available here.