As powerful and feature-rich as CAD programs have become, you can argue that there’s a missing element to the design experience. Even augmented reality does not deliver the needed experience, yet.
The experience is actually touching a physical, three-dimensional model of the designed object.
The digital world is working hard to replicate such an experience as best as it can, but nothing quite succeeds like holding the object in your hands and examining and testing it. Simulations are great, and quite mature, but something is still lacking.
That is one of the reasons behind the trend to offer a fabrication lab experience to CAD designers. Dassault Systemes in Waltham, Mass., recently gave a tour of its new fab lab within the headquarters building. Noted Abhishek Bali, 3DExperience Lab manager, this facility helps CAD software designers, as well as customers, test and play with equipment to learn more about how a design could or should be manufactured and what future features to include in SOLIDWORKS to make the process more efficient. Part of the focus of the new features in SOLIDWORKS 2018 is on shrinking the steps it takes to go from design to actual product production.
This lab has a range of equipment, notably several versions of desktop 3D printers, such as Formlabs and Ultimaker, a Tormach mini CNC mill, a Roland SRM-20 for circuit design and test, a Shopbot CNC router, and even a small robot arm.
Said Bali, “Engineers are doing more physical prototyping, rather than just working with software.”
The trend for design engineers is to become multi-faceted, performing a range of tasks more involved with physical product development. So in a sense, everyone is becoming a “maker.”
Some of this shift into making is due to 3D printing / additive manufacturing. “3D printing has made a lot more engineers think about manufacturing,” said Craig Therrien, senior product manager for SOLIDWORKS.
With this increase in skills, comes the need for better communications between design and manufacturing. The two groups still often speak in different “languages.” Dassault hopes to change that by promoting SOLIDWORKS 2018 as a common language between manufacturing and design, even across the enterprise.
One takeaway from the meeting is that everything—from design through manufacturing through use—is connected; we just need to figure out how to fully benefit from this connectivity. This is where future advances lie.