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Solid Edge ST6 First Looks: Modeling and Editing Parts with Synchronous Technology

By Scott Moyse, September 27, 2013

After Siemens PLM Software in July released Solid Edge ST6 with a seriously impressive number of new features, I was tasked with reviewing new features associated with Synchronous Technology in the part and assembly environments, as well as new functions in the drafting environment. I approach Solid Edge with advanced knowledge of the competing Autodesk Inventor. So while I'll describe those new functions that really grabbed my attention as productivity winners, I'll also point out some of the downsides I observed along the way.

Wherever possible, I'll demonstrate a new feature with a model of a planetary gearbox model from GrabCAD (http://grabcad.com/simon.m). See figure 1. It's a great example of a complex assembly that lets me cover a lot of the new functions in this First Look.

Figure 1: Isometric Quarter Section View of a Planetary Gearbox

Enhancing Patterning Synchronously

Solid Edge's patterning in the part environment impressed me with its varied capability. A number of times throughout my CAD career I've needed to fill an irregular shaped region with holes. I've only ever been able to do it automatically with a CAM package, but never before with a CAD package.

Solid Edge's simple rectangular and radial patterns are easy enough to apply, and contain all the functionality we need. Among the features, however, two distinct ones jumped out at me:

Both are powerful tools that let us suppress individual elements and entire regions, as I describe later.

My favorite pattern tool out of the lot, though, is the Region Fill command. It gives us the ability to adjust regions on-the-fly, and then simply watch as Solid Edge adjust and moves the pattern to suit. It is a joy to watch such clever stuff at work!

To edit the region after the feature is committed, all we need to do is highlight the pattern in either in the graphics window or the browser. Click Edit Profile, and then simply grab and drag around the profile's control points - or adjust any driving dimensions that may be in place (see figure 2).

Figure 2: Solid Edge ST6's region-based patterning tool

This tool is not, however, without its issues. A number of times I tried to fill the elliptical shape with a radial pattern centered in the location by the steering wheel (at the top of figure 2). Although the preview showed me that the holes would be created, committing the input resulted in no pattern being created, nor any error message indicating anything had gone wrong.

In addition, I found it could get cumbersome using the Suppress Instance tool on complex patterns. In figure 3, notice how the green selection nodes are offset randomly from the pattern preview of gray circles. The Suppress Region tool works extremely well, however, when I use at as part of the initial workflow.

Figure 3: It can become tricky determining which node (green dots) relates to which instance (gray circles)

When I added a region-suppress to a pattern feature after the fact, I discovered that in some circumstances I had to toggle the direction back and forth a couple of times until the internal loops (pre-existing holes) are included in the region (see figure 4).

Figure 4: An example of using the suppress region tool

Despite these bugs, the pattern tools do come in handy. Once I discovered how to use them correctly, I found myself lusting over them because they are sorely missing from Inventor.

Recognizing Hole Patterns

I'm a bit torn about the hole recognition function in Solid Edge. On the one hand, I found it a winner, and not just with third-party CAD data, but also in how it helps with certain design workflows. For instance, I inserted multiple hole features at once; hole recognition may be inefficient when compared to Boolean operations, but using hole recognition after the fact provided me with PMI (product manufacturing information) data (see figure 5).

On the other hand, the patterns tools in Solid Edge are so good that it really doesn't take that long to bang out a pattern from a single hole.

Figure 5: Successfully created synchronous hole patterns

The dataset I used appeared to challenge this new feature somewhat. At the part level, pattern recognition worked without fail most times; on occasion, it misread the pattern and created two patterns, instead of one. (I'll talk more about that in a minute.)

At the assembly level, however, it seemed a bit hit or miss. On the hit side, I loved that fact that I could perform synchronous modeling operations on parts from the assembly, without opening the part or editing it in-place. Solid Edge creates a seamless feel to the modeling workflow, and here hole and pattern recognition is no exception.

On the miss side, every now and then the pattern recognition didn't work for me. Solid Edge gave the impression it had completed the task successfully; upon inspection within the part itself, however, there wasn't a pattern feature node in Pathfinder. Curiously enough, towards the end of my review it seemed to begin to behave itself. Was this a sign of my innocence, or did it point to a UX (user experience) issue? (My ego dictates that it more likely was the latter, but it could well have been due to my newness with the software.)

Right now, let me tackle the problem I alluded to earlier, as shown in figure 4 above. While Solid Edge's hole and pattern recognition tools are easy to use, the hole recognition tool broke up identical holes into different hole features: all ten holes in the pattern were identical, but they were grouped as separate features. This misbehavior was unhappily consistent throughout most parts in this dataset.

At first, this didn't seem like much of an issue; but then I ran the pattern recognition tool on the holes. Due to the positioning and sizes of the holes, the tool ended making two patterns, one rectangular (shown red in figure 6) and a radial one. When the folks at Siemens PLM looked at the model, they found that the holes were different, and so they could not be put into a single pattern. (Four holes were slightly different than the other six.) In this case, Solid Edge's hole recognition correctly sorted them into two sets of holes.

Figure 6: Hole recognition found two sets of holes with common diameters

What this issue actually points to is the pattern recognition tool is bloody clever. That it could recognize a pattern with missing instances blew me away. This shows me that Solid Edge could us create models more intelligent than what we create ourselves in the first place. There is at this point in time nothing like this level of feature-recognition intelligence in Inventor.

An enhancement for this tool would be for it to have pattern tolerance: it would inform us of the option to tweak non-patterned geometry so a pattern is used instead.

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About the Author

Scott Moyse is the design manager for SMI Group, a super yacht interiors company in New Zealand. His background is in motorsport engineering and CNC programming. Scott has been using various Autodesk software for 9 years, most recently he has been implementing Vault Pro. More...

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