The failed promise of parametric CAD part 3: The direct solution
Direct modeling—a syncretic melding of concepts pioneered by CoCreate, Trispectives, Kubotek (and many others)–has shown the most promise to cure the parametric curse.
Direct modeling is today’s hot CAD technology. PTC, Autodesk, Siemens PLM, Dassault (CATIA, but not so much SolidWorks), IronCAD, Kubotek, Bricsys, SpaceClaim (and certainly some other companies I’ve forgotten) all have their own unique implementations of it.
The common thread in direct modeling is to use standard construction techniques when modeling, and feature inferencing (or recognition) when editing. It’s easier said than done. It’s taken about 35 years of industry research to get to the place we are today—where you can click on a face of a model, and the system will recognize that you’re pointing to a feature that has some semantic value. And that’s not even considering the tremendous amount of work that has been required by legions of PhD mathematicians to develop the math that lets you push or pull on a model face, and have the system actually edit the geometry it in a useful manner.
For the CAD software, figuring out which way to edit a selection is almost a mind reading trick: A user clicks and drags on a part of a model. What would they like to happen? In some cases it’s easy: Drag once face of a rectangular block, and the system will just make it longer or shorter. But if the block is full of holes, bosses, and blends, it becomes a lot more complicated. What should the system do if you drag a face so far back that it consumes another feature, and then pull it back to where it was? Should the consumed feature be lost forever, or should the system remember it in some way, so it can be restored?
There are no right answers. It seems that no two direct modeling systems handle the decision of what is a “sensible” edit in the same way.
While direct modeling absolutely solves the model brittleness problem inherent with parametrics, it does it by simply not using parametrics. Even with hybrid parametric/direct CAD systems, the answer to the parametric curse is still to not use parametrics when you don’t need to.
The solution of “use direct modeling when you can, and learn to live with parametric hassles when you can’t” just isn’t very satisfying to me.
Next: Going horizontal