As the founder of Axis CAD Solutions, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone more expert in CAD software than Rob Rodriguez. He was kind enough to speak with us about visualization and animation in the CAD space.
Why is animation so important when looking at CAD data?
For a couple of reasons. From the sales side, animation is a great tool to visually explain product form, fit, finish and function. This information can be used both internally for product development decision-making and externally by consumers to learn more about a product they are interested in. From the engineering side, animation is a great way to visualize the "design" at work. Do moving parts collide? Do parts interface correctly? Is the timing of component movement correct? Animations can help with all these questions.
Why is visualization in such high demand?
Time to market keeps growing shorter and shorter for the majority of companies. Typically, people associate faster product development and manufacturing with a faster time to market; but sales and marketing tools also need to be in place to sell product. Visualization tools allow companies to leverage their engineering data so the sales and marketing team can have sales tools ready before the actual product is manufactured. This helps shorten time to market. In today's world, mobile devices are everywhere, making it easy for people to consume "content." Visualization creates content business can use to explain, market and sell product.
What are some common misconceptions about CAD visualization you've run into?
A number of people believe that CAD models and/or CAD software visualization tools can't produce great results when being used for rendering and animation. This of course is not the case. CAD visualization tools do have limitations; and while I think it's fair to say they are not going to produce Avatar or Toy Expert levels of animation, it's also fair to say they do produce very nice "technical" animations and renderings — which is the type of work the software is designed for. Thinking along these same lines, CAD users have been led to believe by software marketing people that perfect animations and renderings can be achieved by adding a few materials and pushing the save button. Unfortunately, "push button rendering" does not exist. As with most things, you get what you put in; and to achieve a higher quality level of rendering and animation, the user must invest time in learning the tools and gaining experience in their usage.
At what point should engineers be thinking about visualization?
Visualization tools should be utilized from the very beginning of the design stages. On the conceptual side, visualization tools are a great way to explore form, fit and finish. These explorations help guide the conceptual product development into the next phase. In the engineering phase, visualization can help ensure moving parts work and fit as intended. FEA visualization helps engineer products that perform better and meet safety standards, and are stronger yet lightweight.
What are some uses of visualization that CAD users might not consider?
When most people think of CAD visualization, they think of rendering and/or animations used to sell or market product — something that may replace a photograph, illustration or video. While this is a very common and great use of CAD visualization, there is also a strong need for visualization in manufacturing, maintenance and assembly of products. Owners manuals, shop manuals, assembly instructions, exploded bills of material, etc. are all very important ways of providing information; and they are all enhanced using CAD visualization.
Many CAD users probably use some form of FEA simulation software in conjunction with their CAD package. The results of running the FEA tests can typically be displayed in some form of image and/or animation. This makes it easier for the user to understand the results. I don't think most CAD users would consider this to be visualization, but that's exactly what it is — and a great usage of it.
What's in the future for CAD software in your opinion?
I think CAD software is going to continue to evolve to make geometry creation and interaction faster. Better user interfaces, smarter tools and a melding of NURBS and poly modeling will come together to give users more control and ease of use. CAD, at its heart, is geometry creation and manipulation. Without the geometry, there is no FEA analysis, detail drawings, visualization, 3D printing, etc. The industry needs to continue to find ways to make geometry (especially complex geometry) easier/faster to create and work with.
For more of Rob's insight on CAD, check out his blog.