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AutoFact '91: news in CAD/CAM, CIM & rapid prototyping.

AutoFact '91: News in CAD/CAM, CIM & Rapid Prototyping

As befits a recession, it was a conservative AutoFact '91 show in Chicago this past November, sponsored by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Instead of introducing new-generation technology in CAD/ CAM, computer-integrated manufacturing (CIM), and rapid prototyping, exhibitors touted lower prices and incremental enhancements for existing systems.

"I think the pace of technology is still the same, but this year companies were more interested in stimulating present sales," notes marketing consultant Terry Dollhoff of French CAD developer Cisigraph Corp., which has offices in Farmington Hills, Mich. At this year's show that meant downsized, lower-cost hardware; new interfaces, ports and other software enhancements; and new ability to connect CAD data both to historic data files and to active shopfloor use. The combination of less expensive hardware and more flexible and economical software is putting state-of-the-art design power within reach of even small processors for the first time.

The other hot button at AutoFact was an environmental flap over NVP, a chemical used in liquid photopolymers for rapid prototyping. NVP vapors have been reported to cause cancer in rats. New prototype systems that use materials free of NVP got attention at the show, and makers of these systems are soon to ship the first commercial models.



In less expensive hardware, the big splash was a small, purple workstation priced under $10,000 from Silicon Graphics Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. Its Iris Indigo made its debut at some 35 AutoFact booths. Priced like a high-end Macintosh from Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, Calif., or a SPARC-station from Sun Microsystems Inc., Mountain View, Calif., Indigo runs far more advanced 3-D, 24-bit, full-color, interactive, photorealistic graphics and is much faster, the supplier says. It reportedly can run all the same software as Silicon Graphics' Personal Iris (previously its lowest-cost graphic workstation, at $15,000-20,000). Price for Indigo ranges from $7900 to $9950.

Among the exhibitors showing elegant CAD displays on Indigo (see photos) was Matra Datavision Inc., Tewksbury, Mass., which demonstrated its new Prelude low-end solids-modeling software, priced at $3995.

Thomson Digital Image America Inc., N.Y.C., a joint venture of Thomson SA of France and IBM, used Indigo to show off its new Interactive Photorealistic Rendering technology, said to greatly increase speed and detail of imaging for the company's 3-D modeling and animation software (called Explore on Silicon Graphics workstations and TDImage on IBM RISC System/6000).

And Alias Research Inc., Toronto, showed on Indigo new enhancement V2.0 for its Alias Designer software that allows users to associate surface shading or textures with any object on the screen. Alias also introduced Alias Sketch, for Macintosh, said to be the first software that allows "free, rapid sketching of 3-D forms." It costs $1995.


Other software value enhancements were less visible to users: small program changes, new ports or interface modules to unbundle previously integrated software. The new V5.0 release of Cisigraph's STRIM 100 CAD package includes a finite-element modeling enhancement said to generate meshes 10 times faster for complex shapes. For example, it generated a 5000-element shell mesh for a car door panel with 350 surfaces in only 4.5 minutes, a design task that might have taken days before, Cisigraph says. The V5.0 enhancement sells at last year's STRIM 100 price of $40,000 complete.

A lot of software companies are "breaking up wall-to-wall systems so customers can get just the piece they want" for drafting, surface modeling, NC machining, and so forth, notes engineer Mark Hotchkiss of Graftek Inc., Boulder, Colo, Graftek, for instance, intends to adopt a new "kernel" solid modeler, called ACIS, for users wanting more than wireframe, Hotchkiss says. It will enable them to utilize combined modules without "forcing them to buy modules they don't need." (ACIS was developed by Three Space Ltd. in the U.K. and marketed by Spatial Technology Inc., of Boulder, Colo.) Graftek also lowered prices 10-15% for integrated software and hardware systems.


Two new CAD introductions at AutoFact were done with outright giveaways of commercial software--a first for the show. Varimetrix Corp., Palm Bay, Fla., gave away 1000 copies of its new CAD/CAM software, including Drafting, Modeling and CAM/Strategist, valued at close to $20,000. The Varimetrix product line is the result of a three-year joint development effort with NKK Corp. of Japan and Minolta. "NKK wanted a more efficient way to design and manufacture families of parts," says Varimetrix director of CAM software development Robert Byrnes. So Varimetrix developed "a proprietary object-oriented architecture that allows each piece of data to be entered once, then efficiently manages changes and revisions," Byrnes says. "Instead of forcing CAD/CAM operators to specify parametric constraints in advance while entering design data (and be unable to change them later without losing data), operators can modify them any time."

It runs on Sun SPARC stations, but soon will also run on other workstations and PCs. Data are transportable to other CAD/CAM systems through IGES and DXF. Varimetrix drafting lists at $1900; the modeler at $3900, including wireframe, surfacing and solids modeling; and CAM Strategist at $7500.

The second CAD giveaway at AutoFact was 30 copies of DesignPlus 3D CAD/CAM software from the Solution 3000 series of Micro Engineering Solutions Inc., Novi, Mich. The programs cost $4995.



Modules to increase the connectability of CAD to other programs were also a prominent value enhancement at the show. Wisdom Systems, Pepper Pike, Ohio, announced a new integration of its Concept Modeller "knowledge-based engineering" software with two CAD programs: CADDS software from Computervision, Bedford, Mass., and Catia from IBM's Dassault Systems USA, Paramus, N.J. The integration lets users "create, query and manipulate" information in CADDS and Catia, rather than taking data out of the CAD file in order to change it - "which is absolutely unique," according to Wisdom product development manager Brooks Pollock. Using the new modules, Wisdom's Concept Modeller KBE acts directly within CADDS and Catia. The CVkey integration module for CADDS and CATkey for Catia each cost between $1500 and $5000.

Parametric Technology Corp., Waltham, Mass., announced Release 8 of Pro/Engineer, Parametric's basic family of CAD products, said to have unique ability to make changes with full associativity. The base module for Release 8 is still priced at $9500.

Schlumberger Technologies' CAD/CAM division in Ann Arbor, Mich., also introduced new information management software, BravoFrame, which supports Bravo3 CAD software. BravoFrame sorts parts by structural attributes like size, weight, material, cost, supplier, and products in which the part is used. This allows engineers to find out before designing a widget whether a similar one already exists in their product line. Or if a part is up for redesign, BravoFrame shows what other products based on that component will be affected. BravoFrame is expected to cost about $50,000, including consulting services, and is being installed at its first U.S. test site.

Micro Engineering introduced a new family of software called Checkmark, a 3-D "view, mark and check" system that allows access to a master CAD/CAM database from a desktop PC, so shopfloor operators can check current plans on a screen, not blueprints, which may not have latest changes. Checkmark modules range from $995 for PC viewing of CAD files only to $4995 with full 3-D wireframe and surface geometry.


Two new software products, believed to be the first multimedia approaches to data communication in a CIM environment, were shown at AutoFact. Linkage, introduced by CIMLINC Inc., Itasca, Ill., integrates all the standard computerized functions and programs already in use at a plant, such as CAD and process planning, but adds database interfacing, electronic mail, and design approval functions like markup and "redlining." Linkage does this in a multimedia format, with such capabilities as video and voice connection to NC operators. It then ties all these functions together in a single screen format (see photo), so a remote designer and NC milling operator can discuss work in progress while they can see the work, see and hear each other, and access CAD file as well. Linkage supersedes CIMLINC's previous Intelligent Documentation software and runs on all major UNIX-based workstations, including DEC, IBM, Silicon Graphics, Sun and Hewlett-Packard. Linkage, already in testing at several companies - including mold makers - will be available this quarter at a base price of $20,000.

A-Plan from JGI Microneering, Playa Del Rey, Calif., offers similar capabilities on all Macintosh hardware. It also incorporates sound and video, and combines them with imaging files in PICT format. A-Plan also includes material management, inspection instructions and revision coordination software. It costs $750 for a single user, or $7500 for a site license.



Which rapid prototyping technologies involve NVP, a newly suspected carcinogen, and which don't was a big topic at AutoFact. N-vinyl pyrrolidone is used to liquefy most stereolithography photopolymers. It's made by BASF Corp., Parsippany, N.J., and ISP Management Co., Wayne, N.J. (the chemical arm of GAF Corp. that recently went public as International Specialty Products). The two companies cooperated on joint health studies, and recently told customers to avoid airborne levels over 0.1 ppm, though vapor concentrations of 5-20 ppm were necessary to produce liver cancer in rats. A BASF technical paper at an occupational health conference in Switzerland last September reported that no cancerous effects have yet been found in humans.

NVP is in some photopolymers made by Ciba-Geigy in Switzerland and marketed exclusively by 3D Systems Inc., Valencia, Calif. 3D also markets one resin without NVP and says it will offer two more non-NVP-containing photopolymers early this year. Quadrax Laser Technologies Inc., Portsmouth, R.I., discontinued using NVP-containing resins in its stereolithography system last year.

Several newer rapid-prototyping technologies at the show don't use NVP and are just about to ship their first fully commercial machines. Helisys Inc., Torrance, Calif. (PT, June '91, p. 45) drew large crowds to watch models built out of nothing more toxic than ordinary butcher's paper. The price tag of its LOM (laminated object manufacturing) system was also a hit - $85,000 for the model LOM-1015 to build up to 10 x 15 x 14 in. prototypes, and $140,000 for a model LOM-2030 to build parts up to 20 x 30 x 20 in.. Helisys ships its first commercial models this month to Model One Inc., Madison Heights, Mich., and Mack Industries Inc., Troy, Mich., and has orders from Ford and GM.

Stratasys Inc., Minneapolis, whose Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) system builds small models by extruding thin coils of wax or nylon (see PT, Aug. '90, p. 50), is also shipping its first commercial machines. Five test sites already use the Stratasys modeler, including GM and 3M Co. The modeler costs $130,000 plus $50,000 for a workstation and CAD "slicing" software.

Cubital America Inc., Warren, Mich. (see PT, Jan. '91, p. 15), whose photolithography system, called Solider 5600, squeegees layers of photopolymer gel over a bed of supporting wax, uses no NVP to dilute the photopolymer "because we force-spread it," says CEO Haim Levi. Cubital, which has five operational user sites (Baxter Healthcare Corp., GM, Allied-Signal Inc., and two service bureaus), has boosted performance of the commercial model to 60 layers per hour from 35 layers/hr in the prototype model. "We hope to get to 100 layers/hr soon," Levi says. Cubital also introduced a dewaxing machine, which sprays warm water and mild critic acid. The dewaxer costs $16,000 and Solider costs $490,000.

DTM Corp., Austin, Texas, whose Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) system builds prototypes by melting and sintering thin layers of thermoplastic powder with a laser (PT, Jan. '90, p. 23; Aug. '90, p. 64; June '91, p. 46), ships its first commercial models later this year, renamed SinterStation 2000. These update the earlier prototype (called SLS 125) with easier-to-use software. Programmed for one-material use, it costs $397,000; four-material use (polycarbonate, nylon, wax, or ABS/SAN) costs $427,000.

PHOTO : Silicon Graphics' $7900 Iris Indigo workstation brings top-of-the-line graphics within reach of small processors. It was seen at AutoFact running 3-D, interactive, photorealistic CAD software like these from Thomson Digital Image, Alias, and Matra DataVision.

PHOTO : With integrated video display and voice interaction, CIMLINC's new Linkage software may be the first multimedia approach to data communication in a CIM plant.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computer integrated manufacturing
Author:Schut, Jan H.
Publication:Plastics Technology
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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