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In-Depth Review of Solid Edge ST4, Pt 2

By John Evans, July 24, 2012

Recently I wrote about getting to know Siemens’ Solid Edge ST4 from the perspective of a new user, and roughly previewed the product highlights. I decided to look at their synchronous technology again, and dive a little deeper into the functionality of developing a product.

In the first part of my review, I reviewed specific functions of synchronous technology and then discussed part modeling and assemblies. In this second part, I look at the following areas of Solid Edge:

ERA Environment

The Explode Render Animate (ERA) Environment is where Solid Edge prepares for presentations. The name pretty much describes its functionality. I used it to prepare only an exploded view.

Once I initiated it, the Explode tool allowed me to move components to create the exploded view. It operates with a fairly standard user interaction: I picked components to offset, a stationary reference, and an offset. Additionally, components can be grouped, or spread out individually. (Auto-Explode operates with expected workflows, removing the selection process.)

To keep the flow lines directed as one would expect, the best process I found was to move groups of components and then explode them in a subsequent step.

There are a few nice features that I should point out. Drag Components simply translates the selected parts using a simple x-y-z axis tool. Exploding sections as units allowed for easier repositioning. If I needed a bit more room, I had to reposition only the reference component; all remaining components followed suit, holding their respective offsets.

Afterwards, adjusting individual positions in relation to the base component was nice. When I picked any exploded component, the offset field appeared ready for my new input. Just pick and enter an adjustment. The field stays active and focused, so that I could keep entering minor adjustments until satisfied; no need to use a mouse to reactivate the field. Thank you!!

Exploded unit is dragged. Notice how the entire explosion unit highlights when their base reference component is dragged.

During the Drag Components command, I could decide between dragging the exploded unit, or dragging a single component, as needed, using the options on the Drag Component toolbar. Additional options include rotation and reposition; the latter allowed me to shift items from one explode unit to another. This has an odd feel to it, but comes in handy in some instances.

Afterwards, I edited the flow lines as needed, and then saved the view. This is where the View Configuration tool comes in, for it saves views, including exploded ones. Later, these are imported into drawing views.

The ERA functionality took some getting used to. I felt the learning curve was a steeper than other areas of Solid Edge. Flow-line editing and multi-axis dragging left me desiring a few changes to the workflow, but the expected base functionality is there. I did not, however, like the rotational component in this environment at all.

Drawings

The Drawing Environment was the most straight forward area in Solid Edge. Once inside, I immediately set up a new sheet, and then got a feel for how things are done in this area.

Drawing sheets are divided into three layer-like editing workspaces. Each represents separate areas, as follows:

As each one is activated, sheet tabs are added for the spaces that exist, such as user-created drawing sheets, drawing sheet size templates, and one for the 2D drawing. All or none may be activated at the same time, which allowed me to move from template to drawing as needed.

Editing the Sheet Background Template

Solid Edge Background editing

After activating the Background Environment, I proceeded to modify the ANSI B-size template sheet to make a few changes. Editing the background was straight-forward and easy to understand. Add what I want and it appears on all sheets.

I went looking for separate tools with which to edit the title block, Callouts (which are the automated title and sheet numbers), and sketching, but found these are edited with the same tools as in the Working space. In fact, Callouts are the same entities that are used to identify features in the drawing views.

Once I completed changes to the template, I deactivated the Background, and then headed to the Working Sheet edits.

Working Space Views

Working with drawing view was simple. Primary drawing views are generated using the View Wizard, which contains all options related to the visible model. While numerous options were available, those that I used the most were the following:

With one exception, everything was easy to understand. All the PMI information I had established would not populate the default views, even after enabling the check boxes that are available in the view properties.

It turned out that there is a prior step necessary to enable this behavior: the view needs to be created with the PMI Model View option. This retrieves previously saved model views inside the selected component. Once I found this, the PMI information automatically appeared in the view. Views not created with this option will not retrieve PMI data.

Dimensions applied to Solid Edge drawing views.

Once the base views are created, additional view tools create the following:

              (1)  Principle projected views
              (2)  Auxiliary views
              (3)  Cutout detail views


At first glance, the list of view options seems short, and they don’t seem to permit certain view manipulations I expected. After some trial and error, I learned that most simply involve editing a view: selecting the view enables a toolbar that delivers these “missing” options, including style, caption, predefined scale, custom scale, properties, cropping region, shading, and lock. The Quick bar places views for scale, shading, and model display settings.

The Solid Edge Edit View toolbar

I found that by combining view tools, options, and properties, I could manipulate views to accomplish almost any configuration I needed, such as combining alternate view depths in a cutout with another view cropping.

Solid Edge offers a nice way to track changes that occur to a view after the model is revised. Specifically, it tracks changes applied to dimensions and annotations. For example, should the model change, the user is flagged that the view needs to be updated. When performed, the update scans for alterations to the view annotations, and then posts them in a revision tracking dialog. Each is numbered, and, if desired, adds revision numbers to the view, attached to the respective annotation.

Annotations

Almost any type of ballooning and annotation is available, including all those available in the model PMI space. Dimension and annotation styles default to that of the drawing template; however, styles can be changed individually as needed.

Parts lists are easy to configure; ballooning is configurable and automated

Connecting Base views with View Alignments

The PMI pass-through is limited to base views in ST4. Projected (principal) views can retrieve PMI data through the Retrieve Dimensions command in Draft.

It took a while for me to grasp View Properties, but after some practice I was able to get some really great view customizations. In most configurations, I was really happy with the result.

My Concluding Thoughts

This review took quite a bit of time. As I progressed through the application, I found other methods that were better workflows in some cases. There are a lot of additional tools that deserve some attention, which I could not possibly cover in this write-up. Some of the items I would find of interest include the following:

Light at the End of the Ordered and Synchronous Tunnel

I did begin to see some benefits to the ordered space. For instance, I could add finishing, such as corner rounds, without adding additional complexity to the synchronous space, where it isn’t needed. Remember, Live Rules is tracking every instance of geometric cohesion, including tangency. Adding the corner rounds would tie together two surfaces, further complicating and limiting DOF. With the corner rounds in the Ordered domain (which is calculated after synchronous Live Rules), Live Rules more easily performs its job, and I find it much easier to manipulate geometry.

Overall Improvement Requests

There were a few areas that I thought could be improved upon. Where editing conflicts with relationships and constraints, more precise reporting would be a blessing. After a warning, users are often forced to figure it out themselves.

I’d like to see more functionality in the area of PMI, such as active model application of Least and Maximum Material Content states, as well as tolerance conflict detection.

I ran into a bit of problem with the Inter-part copies, as things became disconnected, and so was left static often -- something I did not realize until later. (Inter-part copies should not lose their associativity silently, aos this may be have been a bug.) There is a lot of power in these capabilities, but I hope that some more love will be applied in future releases.

I was not satisfied with variable linking in Solid Edge. The capabilities are there in the Variable Table, but I felt the workflows were quite out of the way, and so did not lend themselves to being easily adopted. The usability model of Solid Edge is the primary reason for this (I think), as the Synchronous domain permits rapid picking from dimension to dimension during edits, thus limiting the ability to ‘pick up’ a dynamic link to the other dimension. (Siemens PLM provided me with a simpler approach: when I double-click a dimension, I can edit the formula for it and related dimensions to another. Be sure to note that I clicked on the other dimension to include its variable in the formula.)

Summary

I hope that I was able to deliver a broad understanding of the product development capabilities in Solid Edge ST4. There is much marketing spin in the engineering CAD space, what with all that talk of features developed by this company or that. While Solid Edge ST4 lacks some frills, in general it is a very sound and capable CAD platform, and so I would recommend it for any company needing a well-built mid-range CAD package.

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About the Author

John Evans

John Evans has 30 years experience in the aerospace industry, including mechanical engineering, design, fabrication, and CNC manufacturing processes. He expanded into MEP and civil engineering 18 years ago. In addition, John is certified AutoCAD Civil 3D and Autodesk Inventor.

Along with providing data management for a civil engineering firm in northwest Florida, John works as a design consultant for Autodesk digital prototyping, and has joined forces with an emerging clean tech developer. He continues to explore the Autodesk design industry on the Design & Motion blog.

John has been a regular contributor for Civil 3D and Inventor articles in AUGIWorld Magazine, and now serves as its manufacturing content editor. He has presented at Autodesk University. He speaks English and Japanese.

You can contact John at info@johnevansdesign.net.

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