The failed promise of parametric CAD part 4: Going horizontal
In the early 90s, Ron Andrews, a senior product designer at Dephi’s Saginaw Steering Systems Division, became fed-up with the difficulties of editing parametric CAD models. So, he and a team of his colleagues, including Pravin Khurana, Kevin Marseilles, and Diane Landers, took on a challenge of trying to find a solution.
They came up with an interesting concept that they called horizontal modeling. Here’s a description of it from their patent abstract:
“Disclosed is a horizontal structure method of CAD/CAM manufacturing where a base feature is provided and one or more form features added to it to form a model. The form features are added in an associative relationship with the base feature, preferable a parent child relationship, but are added in a way as to have substantially no associative relationships with each other. The result is a horizontally-structured Master Process Model where any one form feature can be altered or deleted without affecting the rest of the model. Extracts are then made of the Master Process Model to show the construction of the model feature by feature over time. These extracts are then used to generate manufacturing instructions that are used to machine a real-world part from a blank shaped like the base feature.”
Here’s a picture that makes it clearer:
The simplest explanation I can give for it is this: You create a base feature, and bunch of datum (working) planes. You attach all the child features to those datum planes. Viola: no parent-child problems.
I admit that I’m not going to do justice to horizontal modeling in this conversation. There’s actually quite a bit to it, and it makes a lot of sense when coupled with computer-aided process planning (CAPP.)
Horizontal modeling has a handful of problems. First, it does a pretty good job of killing the possibility of having design intent expressed in the feature tree. Next, it works better with some CAD systems than others. (When horizontal modeling was in the news, SolidWorks had a problem managing the normals on datum planes, so it didn’t work too well.) The deadliest problem is that Delphi got a bunch of patents on the process, then licensed it to some training companies. From what I can see (and I may be wrong), none of these training centers offer horizontal modeling classes any more.
While, technically, you can’t use horizontal modeling without a patent license from Delphi, the concepts at its core are fairly similar to things that CAD users have been doing for years. A few years ago, Josh Mings posted on a couple of online forums that “Horizontal Modeling is just one word for it, you may also know it as Skeleton Modeling, Tier modeling, Sketch Assembly modeling, CAD
Neutral Modeling, or Body Modeling.” (It’s actually two words for it, but I get his point.)
Horizontal modeling is not a silver bullet solution for the problems inherent in parametric feature-based CAD. It’s just a best practice—a strategy for getting around the problems. It seems to be headed in the right direction, but it suffers from the complexity that comes from trying to fix too many problems at once.
Next: A Resilient Modeling Strategy