In a previous blog, I took a look at the way Siemens NX implemented AI to improve user experience through its innovative Adaptive UI which learns users habits and patterns to offer them quick access to the tools they need for any situation. This helps engineers and designers cut down the amount of time they spend navigating toolbars and menus and more time actually designing. Along with the benefits for an individual user, sharing AI models trained by experienced users allows companies and groups to share efficient workflows, something that is a huge help for new and inexperienced users, letting them jump right in without needing to painstakingly learn the entire process. All fantastic benefits for veterans and new users alike. Although AI certainly make the experience of using NX smoother, fundamentally it does not change the way engineers and designers do their work. AI in NX Sketch, however, represents a real, positive change in the crucial sketching process, a process that has remained largely unchanged for the last 40 years.
At some point or another I’d wager every one of us has taken pencil to paper in an attempt to sketch something, be it furniture designs, a room layout, or the page of a home-made comic book. This hand-sketching process is largely an intuitive one, we draw lines where we want them, shade where it’s necessary, and redraw if we make a mistake. This intuitive ease of use is something notably absent in professional sketching software, creating accurate drawings requires a high degree of precision and a need to rigorously define every aspect of a sketch as you draw it so the solver can “understand” the relationships between the sketch’s lines, curves, and other features, something that is implied and that we understand simply from looking at a hand sketch. The demand for rigid definition of relationships also tends to cause issues: over-constrained sketches and conflicting constraints. This leads to a lot of wasted time as designers are forced to finesse the system to try and reach a solution that was intuitively obvious rather than just drawing naturally as they would with pen and paper.
However, in NX Sketch, part of the Xcelerator portfolio, AI overturns the rigid and sometimes unintuitive nature of parametric sketching. The constant swapping of tools to add dimensions, constraints, and actual curves is gone, replaced with the ability to just draw and trust in the AI-driven program to understand the intent of the designer. Clicking on a curve will bring up the dimensioning dialogue, adjusting one feature in a pattern will adjust all of them, even if no constraints exist between them. For me the biggest benefit is the automatic constraints. NX Sketch applies common constraints like parallel, concentric, equal, etc. automatically. All greatly streamlining the sketch process. To quote Jeff Shagena, a product manager on the NX Design Team: “So, we’ve done some independent analysis, and we’ve actually shown up to 30% reduction in time spent in capturing the users’ design ideas and design intent…” I know that when I personally sketch, beyond the act of sketching itself, I spend most of my time adding in constraints to make sure corners stay square, patterns stay lined up, and circles stay round. Reducing the amount of time spent on that part of the process would have been such a huge help when first learning mechanical design in school, and I’m sure all designers will be happy to have such a tedious task automated.
Sketching is a core part of design in the modern world, most parts and features are built as layer upon layer of sketches, each building on previous layers to create a finished design. This is time-consuming work that requires a high degree of skill, especially when even experts have to contend with misbehaving sections of a sketch or adding copious amounts of constraints to fully define a feature. But now we’re starting to see AI step up to fill this roll instead, taking over the busy work and letting us focus on the tasks only humans can do: creativity and imagination. As AI continues to grow smarter and integrate at every level of the design process, I envision a time in the near future where a drawing that’s little more than a child’s sketch by todays standards can be given to a computer to generates a full model, complete with detailed sketches and annotations. This might seem like fantasy now, but with the rapid pace of technological growth perhaps it is coming that much nearer to being a reality.
If your interested in a deeper dive on NX Sketch, check out the Next Generation Design podcast here.
Siemens Digital Industries Software is driving transformation to enable a digital enterprise where engineering, manufacturing and electronics design meet tomorrow. Xcelerator, the comprehensive and integrated portfolio of software and services from Siemens Digital Industries Software, helps companies of all sizes create and leverage a comprehensive digital twin that provides organizations with new insights, opportunities and levels of automation to drive innovation.
Siemens Digital Industries Software – Where today meets tomorrow.