Exploring the Potential of AI to Revolutionize Computer-Aided Design


[Source: ENGINEERING.com]

Moribund software about to get an innovation boost from the AI tsunami.

In the early 2010s, CAD was approaching the ripe old age of 501. Everyone was calling CAD a “mature” product that was leveling off in capability, ostensibly having done all it could.

Wait a minute, demanded Jim Heppelmann at PTC’s annual user meeting in 2011, then only nine months as CEO. “Have all the problems been solved?” he asked rhetorically. “These products are fundamentally hard to use.”

“Once upon a time, we were the innovators,” added Heppelmann. “Somewhere along the way, we became complacent.”

Despite Heppelmann’s admonishment almost 13 years ago, CAD companies continued in their complacency. CAD programs were perceived as “mature,” insinuating a hard limit to further enhancement. End users, media, and analysts echoed a similar sentiment. The notion of CAD completion seemed plausible. After all, weren’t all possible ways to construct a circle, a cylinder, and similar entities already delineated? It seemed that developers were bereft of fresh ideas. The users, at ease with software that took several years to master, did not wish for additional learning. The media, with scant noteworthy updates in each new release, concurred. CAD had indeed matured.

Jim Heppelmann has since resigned from his role as CEO. CAD’s use continues to pose challenges and witnessed a dearth of innovation over the past 20 years. Solely a single firm (Shapr3D) endeavored to simplify CAD usage, but they stand out as an anomaly. Every prominent CAD program seems content with a steady state of cruising along.

A brief timeline of computer tools

Observing Shapr3D being used by specialists with a pen and tablet brings up the question of why keyboards and mice are still predominant.

The notion of utilizing a mouse to navigate on screen was proposed back in the 1960s, during times without touchscreen technology.

The adoption of the QWERTY keyboard serves as another testament to our habit of holding onto redundant things. The placement of some keys on the QWERTY keyboard, such as separating commonly paired letters like ‘th’, was designed to prevent mechanical strikers from jamming together. This clever arrangement, while preventing the jam, inevitably slowed down the typist. In addition, the Q layout was designed to put less strain on the weak left pinky. Other keys appear randomly stationed and an alphabetical layout would arguably be more logical. The Dvorak keyboard, conceived in 1932 to minimize finger movement and to place frequently used keys on the home row, never gained vast popularity. Many keyboards still fail to include a dedicated numeric keypad, much to the inconvenience of professionals in fields such as engineering or accounting. Despite the introduction of electric typewriters, which don’t require strong fingers, and the IBM Selectric that did away with the striker bar altogether, the long-standing QWERTY keyboard still accounts for creating almost all of the text we consume today.

CAD’s unfulfilled potential

From the advent of CAD, there has been an ongoing question about if it is fully exploiting the possibilities of computer-aided design. Despite the CAD revolution instigated by AutoCAD and the MCAD revolution by SolidWorks, CAD is still a manual process which only further specifies a design already thought of by a designer or engineer, instead of aiding in the process of conception.

For the last five decades, the complexity of CAD has been perfectly satisfactory for us. For those skilled in using it, CAD is as effortless as the QWERTY keyboard. However, novices will have to earn their proficiency. Over time, the original promise of CAD to assist engineers in design has been lost, and its shortcomings have been overlooked.

CAD companies might challenge this view. Didn’t they attempt to facilitate user design — only to have the users rebuff their efforts? Can we forget how poorly generative design and topology optimization were adopted?

Indeed, we have not forgotten. In truth, generative design was not immensely beneficial. The idea of achieving an optimum within a design envelope with minimal mass was appealing, but in reality, it often resulted in unutilizable parts being produced. Moreover, it was not simple to set up and operate. It was so intricate that only an analyst could handle it. Despite the good intentions, it ended up being unsatisfactory.

While technology companies and their developers might have a somewhat distant perspective on the activities manufacturing professionals are engaged with on their desktops, it doesn’t mean that they should be faulted for trying. The outcome of this disconnect has been the creation of technologies that aren’t immediately embraced, such as cloud systems pushed ahead of their time, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), with promises of eliminating in-person design reviews, 3D printing, and digital twins being a few examples of unrequested technological advancements.

Multiple software project managers, when asked about the lack of enthusiasm for these reluctantly adopted technologies, have referenced Henry Ford’s words, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” They surely have a point here.

The majority of users show reluctance in proposing fresh software technologies as they are not keen on adjusting to a brand new system. To be fair to these users, their skepticism likely stems from a lack of faith in software companies to provide a simple, easy-to-use solution. Consider the example of generative design. Industries where lightweighting is crucial have been longing for a way to reduce weight without numerous FEA iterations. However, completely automating this process and providing a frail-looking part that could be instantly shot down as a solution was quite presumptuous.

Consider a scenario where a recent graduate revamps a part and presents it in a design review to seasoned engineers. The newbie centers on a single variable, the weight, and senior engineers who have considered a myriad of variables, like worst-case load scenarios, available materials, and the manufacturing process, exchange glances.

“Nice try, kid,” says the senior engineer finally. The engineers file out of the room.

Read the rest of this story at ENGINEERING.com

Original source


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