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By Ryan Reid, November 27, 2012
Kubotek’s KeyCreator Analysis software has been around for a while now, and is trying to break into the mainstream of CAD and analysis software.
While I do analysis in my line of work, I began this review with no experience in KeyCreator. I went through the lessons to learn how to interact with its version of direct modeling. A full training session would have been of greater help in some areas, but KeyCreator prides itself as being so easy that most experienced and knowledgeable engineers will be able to pick the software up without too much difficulty. While I am not sold completely on direct modeling, the way that KeyCreator goes about it seems to make sense and is fairly easy to pick up. There may very well be ways to better accomplish things that I found too difficult or I was unable to accomplish.
The user interface makes a world of difference in how easy it is to accomplish anything in a software program. Much of my review will be shaped by how easy I found it to understand and implement many of the functions that KeyCreator Analysis offers; of course, the results matter, too. With today’s technology, though, I give a lot of credit to analysis companies in that they can get consistently accurate results; if they couldn’t, they would not be in this type of business for long! To confirm that KeyCreator is a reliable product, I used exercises with results proven by the training classes given by a competitor. All of numbers from KeyCreator matched, within a very small range.
I am a big fan of analysis software that is built right into the CAD system. This workflow is more fluid for designers who want to accomplish iterations, without having to switch in and out of the CAD package. Without this ability, tasks like replacing constraints, loads, and meshes become a substantial addition of time and frustration. Re-meshing and updating designs often means lost references due to translation problems. In fact the translation problems are basically non-existent with this approach if the model was designed or modified within the KeyCreator CAD package.
To continue with the translation review, I did notice a couple of things. I have a ‘34 Plymouth hot rod that I have been working on modeling. I got some models from GrabCAD for a Mustang II front suspension, so I figured that I would see how KeyCreator translates the A-arms from an Inventor version of the file. It translated perfectly. See figure 1.
Then I used STEP as the export format from Inventor and SolidWorks; again, I had identical high quality results after importing the STEP files into KeyCreator. So, in your workflow, you can import directly translated 3D models or import STEP files. Both work with KeyCreator.
KeyCreator offers an impressive and extensive list of translators, including from NX, Pro/Engineer, and CATIA V4 & V5, plus standard neutral translators. See figure 2.
To use for comparison, I chose a fairly simplistic model, one that is similar to an engine crank rod. Working with KeyCreator, I came to appreciate that I could place forces and constraints on the geometry itself, and I don’t have to place them on meshes. Using the geometry allows a more stable design iteration process (see figure 3, below); in another program I have worked with, it was the meshing to which constraints and forces are applied, which adds an additional translation. The worry of losing work during iterations can become frustrating, and even can cause errors when I might have to re-enter data over and over again. This is a minor point, but it is one of those pet peeves that I appreciated not having to deal with in KeyCreator.
Constraints and loads are applied as expected in a fairly easy to use (not necessarily a pretty or "fun") user interface. Everything is contained in one side window, much like SolidWorks; the software keeps pop-out dialog boxes to a minimum, which I prefer. I found everything fairly easy to understand and find.
The selection of cylindrical surfaces is consistent with other programs that I have run: I had to select both halves of the cylinder to get the full cylinder. This is a result of how cylinders get created in the original CAD program. It wasn’t a big deal to me, but it is something that I would rather not do. Kubotek tech support said this can be fixed this in one of two ways: by cleaning up cylinders manually by using the merge redundant faces function; or else by turning on the Redundant Face Elimination option in the translator. They recommend manual clean up, because the translator does its work automatically, and so might fix too much, such as faces on cylinders (used for clamping areas).
The capabilities of constraints available in KeyCreator seem adequate. Loads are set up similarly to constraints. There are choices between force, pressure, acceleration, and rotation. This seems easy enough and each has its own set of options that are sufficient enough for all of the tools that I would need done from a static analysis.
As with all FEA (finite element analysis) software, terminology is one of the inconsistent items that can cause confusion for users switching among programs. One item that I felt lacking when hovering over functions was an easily displayed explanation of what each term meant. This problem was consistent throughout the KeyCreator experience. For someone just starting their experience with this software, or is returning after a couple months of not doing FEA, the availability of this quick reference would be helpful. As it is, I had to ‘google’ and help my way through these functions. I hope Kubotek adds this, particularly because this software isn’t as mainstream as many others.
Meshing is pretty straight forward. In my first model, all I had for options was the Tetra Mesh type; I could not find a way to change the type of mesh. My initial guess was that the software used a best practices approach for choosing the type, while not giving the user the ability to modify the type. But Kubotek tech support indicated that their software is limited to Tetra Mesh intentionally, because it is the easiest mesh to apply to solid models, and because it provides the fastest speed for analysis. This is acceptable to me, but the ability to modify this easily is a perk that I feel is missing.
Refinement of meshes in chosen areas is easily adjusted and created. Nothing spectacular here, but it is functional. The lack of types of meshes can, in my own opinion, be substituted with enough refinement capabilities but I am sure that many would debate that point with me.
The analysis results, however, seem to be limited, in my opinion. To the best of my ability, I was unable to find a factor-of-safety analysis, which is the one I use most often in my work. It may be called something different in KeyCreator, but I was unable to find it. The software does, however, have a substantial number of other result types that are available.
I kept getting all of my results with the mesh showing (see figure 4). I couldn’t turn it off, and it could become distracting while viewing the results. Kubotek tech support said it indeed can be turned off through the Tools menu: pick Analysis, Display Mesh, and then turn off Edges.
Figure 4: The mesh shows even during reporting.
The dynamic simulation tools are easier to access than many other programs, which I appreciated in this exponentially more complex task. Graphs are easily visible and modifiable. KeyCreator seems to have hit all of the high points that I am used to.
The three other analysis types are Modal, Buckling, and Frequency (see figure 5). These are, however, all areas in which I am not experienced enough sufficiently to make judgment. They all seem to mirror my sentiments in function and ease of use, though.
With KeyCreator, I got a large enough number of analyses types that it was hard to find anything missing that I need on a daily basis. Anything that I need to do outside of these tools, such as CFD (computational fluid dynamics) is usually found in high-priced add-ons with other packages, anyway.
The animation was lightning fast, as was the meshing and analysis – which I did on my Dell M6500 laptop with 12GB RAM and SSD disk drive.
KeyCreator Analysis seems to be a very capable and an easy-to-learn mid-market tool. I work in a large company, yet I tend to side towards software that gets the job done for the best value. That software usually has to fit into my organization’s software requirements. If I had KeyCreator as my base CAD program, I would suggest it as the best option for my company. The ability to modify on-the-fly within in the same program is a significant time saver, and provides a quality workflow that just cannot be beaten -- as long as the software has the analysis type capabilities that we require.
Even with non-KeyCreator CAD imports, the ability to modify quickly in a direct modeling platform is very desirable. At this point, the imported model acts just like it was modeled in KeyCreator anyway. This ability alone makes it well worth to take a serious look at KeyCreator Analysis as a viable solution for anybody serious about efficient FEA iterations.
Kubotek USA - Official website for KeyCreator.
Ryan Reid is a CAD administrator with over 12 years experience in mechanical design with Autodesk software. He is also certified in SolidWorks. More...