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Very Interesting Review on Pro/E 2001 :

Having come under criticism for its usability over the years, the release of Pro/E 2000 brought PTC's core MCAD program bang up to date with a brand new user interface. Now with 2001, PTC has brought Pro/E much closer into its growing family of design tools.

Pro/Engineer 2001 - PTCs Flagship MDA product

When Parametric Technology first released Pro/Engineer back in 1994/5, it turned the CAD market on its head. For the first time parametric modelling became a functional reality and many adopted the system within the first few years. As a result, its user base is still unparalleled in the 3D world - but as many know, you can't just rest on your laurels, and the explosion of the mid-range solid modelling products in the latter part of the Nineties saw the introduction of many new products which not only competed with Pro/Engineer on a functional level, but in all honestly, panned it on its price point.

Since then the company has continued its extensive programme of purchases and buy-outs with many names taken under its wing, such as digital mock-up specialist Division, Rasna and Computervision. CV, of course, brought a wealth of products to the PTC camp including the formative mid-range product, DesignWave (now Pro/Desktop) and of course, the legendary CADDS product suite.

The latter part of the Nineties saw the explosion of the Internet, not only within the consumer realm, but the business world suddenly woke up to the advantages it could bring. And with this came the re-branding and refocusing of the CAD specialist Parametric Technology Corporation to the buzz word and acronym driven PTC.

While the Windchill bandwagon rolled on, the relatively quiet release of Pro/Engineer 2000 saw the system jump a level from being a well-endowed geometry creation/modification tool to become a fully fledged player in the high-end modelling market. The addition of the Behavioural Modelling tools finally brought the capability to create functional virtual products rather than just a CAD model, and Pro/Engineer could finally be considered to be competing with the likes of Catia and Unigraphics.

Alongside these changes to the core modelling tools, the development work on in-house modules came to fruition, with the release of Pro/Mechanica, Division's visualisation and digital mock-up tools, and improved surfacing technology integration, courtesy of ICEM. In addition to these products, the wide range of modules available within the system finally started to work together using the Associative Topology Bus which allowed the developers to provide interactive links between the seemingly disparate worlds of geometry creation, analysis, simulation.

As a result, PTC finally had product range which covered all bases, not only terms of product definition, but of the management of that data throughout a product's lifespan in an enterprise-wide format. So where is the Pro/Engineer family of products at now? Let's find out.

Interface

The Pro/Engineer interface underwent a major overhaul in the 2000 release, with less concentration being placed on the cascading menus that typified the whole Pro/E experience for a number of years. While not quite resigned the great Recycle Bin in the sky just yet, the new look system was undoubtedly a great deal easier to use, for both new and existing user alike. This process of refurbishment has been expanded with the 2001 release and looks even cleaner. For a start, many of the numerous icons surrounding the screen have been reduced and many commands are now arranged into expandable icons (such as the variants of the New File command, such as New Part, New Assembly etc.).

In addition to this, the pull-down menu structure has been expanded in line with current Microsoft standards. The most prominent change is the addition of the Inset menu which now contains almost all of the commands available through the cascading menus to the right of the screen. While this may sound complex, it is definitely a great deal easier to use. In addition, much more use has been made of the right click menus and these are fully context sensitive, and allow users to interact with many features and parts directly within the interface without reference to any menus at all.

Part modelling

The part modelling features within Pro/Engineer have always been very impressive and ridiculously powerful, but sometimes a nightmare to work with. This release sees much work done on the general manner in which you interact with the system. Whereas constant reference to menus and dialogue boxes used to hamper operation, you now interact with the geometry in a very natural, freeform manner most commonly, directly interacting with the sketch or feature. This is the start of a gradual process of reworking the Pro/E working methodology, with much work being done on the addition of dynamic, drag and drop style creation and editing. The first area where this shows itself in is the creation (and subsequent mod-ification) of sketches. Although these are drawn and constrained in the traditional manner, you can now grab entities and push and pull them as required. If constraints are in place these are adhered to unless directly mani-pulated which makes an altogether more natural way of working.

This has been carried through into the creation of specific features such as protrusions, chamfers and fillets (or rounds) with dynamic previews which update as you experiment with form. As you would expect, these 'eyeballed' values can be tidied up by double clicking the particular dimension. Even this process has been improved, with the addition of 'at feature' call outs or in-place editing to give it it's official title.

In earlier releases, another of Pro/Engineer's weak areas has been the modification and subsequent regeneration of a part (or assembly), particularly those with 'tricky' features towards the start of the construction history (such as fillets etc). This was attended to with the 2000i2 release and the addition of the Intent Feature, which allowed you to define the design intent of a feature rather than purely geometric constraints. For example, a fillet would be applied to the interface between a protrusion and another solid, rather than to specific edges. This eased the regeneration errors that are common when making drastic changes in the form of a part (rather than just dimensional changes). This has been further enhanced in this release with the introduction of Selective Regeneration which allows you to regenerate specific sections of a part's construction history, rather than the entire thing - obviously speeding up the modelling and modification process particularly for complex parts.

Also related to regeneration of parts is the redesign of the Regen Info dialogue which has been replaced with the Model Player. This steps through model construction history, allowing you to modify features or fix any regeneration errors, then continue.

Behavioural modeller

The addition of the Behavioural Modelling Extension (BMX) with the 2000 release saw the system leap from being an impressive CAD system to full-blown digital product definition tool. Alongside this the integration of many of the add-on-, analysis- and simulation-related modules allowed you to create not only the form of a product, but to evaluate and optimise its behaviour in the real world, using a single data source. Some work has been done on this for the 2001 release, which now affords much tighter integration with the various tools within Microsoft Office. Before this new release an internal spreadsheet system (Pro/Table) was the only method of storing and editing result and input into such processes. Now, much work can be done using bi-directional links with the undoubtedly familiar Microsoft Excel.

This means that while results and output can be linked to Excel spreadsheets for viewing, it also means that Pro/Engineer functions can be driven directly from a non-CAD interface. This allows many more people access to Pro/E functions and if you consider the implications for non-technical people, entire e-commerce type applications can be built using these standard tools. For example, a quotation system could be driven from a simple Excel spreadsheet (operated by sales staff), which updates a Pro/E model with custom data linked to core parameters. In practice this could reconfigure an assembly model, then feed back this updated product information to Excel for processing and comm-unication to the potential customer in the form of tangible product data (such as cost, weight, dimensions) for quotation purposes etc. Another tool assisting in the examination and management of links between parts and assemblies is the new Global Reference Viewer, which allows you to explore and investigate the parent/ child dependencies of parts within either, the local model (the one that's open) or globally throughout all linked projects. These relationships are displayed using a tree like graphical form, which makes these complex relationships crystal clear.

Also assisting this linking of part parameters to both internal (other modules) and external systems is the ability to add core parameters to the Model Tree as 'Analysis Features.' This could be anything from basic feature parameters to driven dimensions, which is essential considering that the dimen-sions of a part required for manufacture and assembly are often not the same as those you use for creating the part geometry. Naturally, these are then made easily available for use in modules such as Pro/Mechanica etc. through the ATB (Associative Topology Bus).

Data reuse: Besides easy creation and editing of geometry, one of the driving factors behind the adoption of any CAD tool is the ability to re-use data from other projects/products. This is also reflected in the manufacturing industry as a whole with standardisation and platform sharing especially common in the automotive industry. To assist in this process, the 2001 release sees the extension of the Part Comparison tools (which are also available through model check). Previously this was done solely using feature analysis as a benchmark and reference point. In other words, the system searched for comparable models by looking for a matching number of features within a part. The next generation of this tool allows you to search for similar parts using topological data in plain English, those of the same shape.

Obviously, this needs some form of control, especially for those organisations with massive inventories of parts and other digital assets and it's this type of organisation, which will benefit the most. Consider that you have a need for a specific type of part. You build a rough estimate of the model's form, then search for existing products that match it. It may be the case that you only need to modify an existing model to suit a particular purpose, or you may even find a batch of products that already conform to your requirements. Whichever way it works out, it will save you a lot of time and potentially cash.

Another standardisation feature is the ability to formalise part interfaces, which allows you to define a group of mating conditions between parts. So rather than assembling a bolt to a hole with concentric and planar con-straints, you define a constraint group called bolt interface which features both, saving a great deal of time.

Pro/Detail

With all these updates to intelligent modelling tools it may seem strange that there has been quite a lot of work done with Pro/Engineers ability to create drawings. This seems to be something of a common feature with this year's releases from many of the CAD developers and it revolves around the concept of drawing - strange but true. While Pro/Detail is an excellent tool for the creation of drawings using the 3D parts and assemblies as a geometry source, the system didn't have the ability to just sketch in a 2D drawing. Despite what many vendors may claim, it isn't always quicker to model a part in 3D and sometimes you just need to ability to sketch a part or schematic using 2D tools as you used in AutoCAD etc. Well now you can in Pro/Detail but as you would expect you can build these 2D drawings parametrically, and they can even be constrained to 3D-based drawing views should you require.

In conclusion

Within any Pro/Engineer release there is always far too much to fit into a press review and what I've tried to do is cherry pick the highlights from the 2001 release. Effectively, this release brings to the table of what the previous two or three releases have been pointing at, plus the integration of many of the external applications outside of Pro/Engineer's core competency.

As a whole, the addition of many of the tools detailed above make the Pro/Engineer core product a great deal more functional, with particular reference to changes to user interaction. Intelligent models are much more achievable, particularly when integrated with the likes of Pro/Mechanica and Behavioural Modelling. This is sure to make 2001 a very popular release amongst the advanced users out there.