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Productivity gains aplenty with latest Pro/ENGINEER release

01 May 2010

Amongst all the 3D design tools that are currently available, Pro/ENGINEER is legend. It kick-started the parametric modelling revolution, whereby 3D models were able to be updated using intelligent links in the geometry, and the vast majority of today's wealth of systems owe their heritage to it. We review the latest version – Wildfire 5.0 – which introduces a step change in terms of design productivity

Pro/Engineer 3D design software has seen many changes over the years and since its original release, PTC has endeavoured to bring Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire up to the standards demanded by today’s designers. Usability and user ‘experience’ have been greatly enhanced and new functionality brings significant productivity gains to the design community.

Alongside a much improved level of interactivity with the geometry, with less reliance on dialogues and forms, the Wildfire 5.0 release comes with a whole range of innovations and enhancements. For example, there's now much greater use of 3D previews with which the user can interact in order to inspect data before loading. This is combined with a more extensive search facility that allows searches not just on part names, but now on a much larger range of metadata and part attributes. There’s much more, of course, and the following will hopefully give a flavour of what Wildfire 5.0 has to offer.

Wildfire 5.0 is a big release as far as Pro/ENGINEER's modelling capabilities are concerned. The biggest news is the introduction of Dynamic Feature Editing, which allows the user to make edits and monitor the effect of those edits in real time, without waiting for the part to regenerate. This isn't to be confused with direct modelling, but rather a move to make Pro/ENGINEER's modelling tools more efficient. For those experienced with Pro/ENGINEER and other tools, making drastic edits can sometimes cause the part's history to break, as features can't update - the problem being that you have to work through each error to get the model working again. With Wildfire 5, you can choose to 'postpone' updates; the errors are flagged and you can deal with them individually.

Another big update relates to reuse of user-defined features (UDFs), specifically, the placement of those UDFs. These can now be placed using a standard co-ordinate on surface option that allows features to be positioned precisely in terms of orientation and rotation in a single operation.

Updates that will be welcomed by many users include Trajectory Rib, which makes life easier for people designing plastic and cast parts that need structural support. Once rib structure has been sketched out, the system builds these into 3D forms, extruding them to the next surface and adding fillets, rounds and draft. A further update is Sketch Point Pattern, which, unlike more structural array building tools, allows a series of points to be sketched as needed, and then have a feature inserted at each. Of course, this pattern can then be referenced by other features or parts, if needed.

On the assembly modelling front, ease of use is again the focus. Large assemblies can now be loaded as simplified representations, so product structure can be loaded without the overhead of loading the geometry into memory. Moreover, assemblies can now be rearranged as needed, with new sub-assemblies created on the fly and parts dragged and dropped into them.

The final assembly related update for Wildfire 5.0 is a complete rework of the Explode tools, typically used for assembly drawings or, indeed, assembly instructions. This has now been redeveloped to use the dashboard UI guidelines and the whole process is much more dynamic and interactive, with parts being dragged into position.

Detailing and draughting
Still a core part of many company's processes and workflows, draughting has been completely reworked for this release. It may come as a surprise, but the user interface for the drawing environment now uses the Microsoft Ribbon toolbar. While this might seem out of line with other areas of the system, the concept is to support users that are focussed on the drawing creation, documentation and detailing process and give them tools that they can assimilate much faster than would traditionally be the case. Commands are logically grouped into task-based panels, including Layout, Annotate, Sketching, Review (includes inspection and view/mark-up tools as well as comparison tools) and Publish (which covers printing and export tools.

Complex shapes
Moving onto the world of complex shape design, Pro/ENGINEER has had a rich set of surface modelling tools built directly into the system for a while now. Wildfire 5 introduces new tools for controlling how surface forms are built. There are new controls over tangency in curves (allowing the system to adjust tangency to maintain curvature along a curve), to 'nudge' curve points with the arrow keys, allowing curves to be fine-tuned with ease. New tools are also available for creating draft on surface-led forms, and new Limit Curves that allow tie curves to define surfaces - particularly useful when building parametric, yet complex, surface-led forms.

Elsewhere, the new n-sided surface operation is going to come in handy for those times when you simply can't maintain a nice neat four sided surface to close out a network. There are also tools that provide greater control over surface construction, allowing you to re-parameterise a surface on the fly, to maintain tangency to planes as well as surfaces, and to match control points between transitional surfaces.

Finally, for complex shapes, the existing renderer (LightWorks) has been replaced with Mental Ray, which brings more capabilities for advanced rendering technologies, such as caustics (the diffusion of light through transparent materials) and global illumination (a holistic way of simulating light in a scene). These changes are supported with an improved workflow for both defining and assigning materials and an easier to use scene set-up process.

Human factors
Human Factors and Ergonomics is an area that rarely gets discussed in the context of 3D CAD and those tools that do exist tend to concentrate on factory and task simulation. PTC has taken this much further with the introduction of Manikin tools included with the new release. Both a free ‘Lite’ version and a full-blown cost option module are available, according to needs. Manikin Lite, for example, allows the placement of a human form into a product model, to position it within or around the product under development.

The Pro/ENGINEER community is going to get a great deal of productivity gains from Wildfire 5.0. If you're still looking to move from 2D or considering a change of 3D system, then this new release is well worth a closer look. The updates briefly described in this review improve the workflows and processes involved in many areas, from drawings and detailing, through part and assembly design and into new areas such as the integration of human factor-based design tools. For existing users, this release will mean less waiting around - particularly for parts to regenerate following design changes. That alone is worth its weight in gold!

But don’t take our word for it. Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire 5.0 will be on show at the PTC Stand (5395), Hall 5 at MACH 2010, which takes place during the week of June 7-11 at the NEC Birmingham. If you are attending the show, we urge to give Wildfire 5.0 a test drive.

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