Sketching is a vital component in all computer aided design (CAD) software, being the first step in designing any new product. All commercial CAD tools have well developed sketching capabilities, yet many elements of the sketching process remain tedious and time-consuming, slowing down engineers’ workflows. For the past 30 years, the sketching processes has remained largely stagnant without any major attempts to innovative and make sketching methodologies more efficient or user friendly. That changes now, however, thanks to the team behind Siemens NX, who have developed a new Sketch Solver to make the sketching process easier, faster, and more intuitive. On the AI Spectrum podcast, Spencer Acain talks with Scott Felber, Product Marketing Manager for Siemens NX Design, and Mike Yoder, NX Product Manager, to learn more how they made sketching as intuitive as drawing on the back of a napkin.
According to Scott and Mike, there are three key aspects in sketching. There is creating curved geometry; creating geometric constraints, which fills about 30% of total sketching time; and dimensional constraining. The new Sketch Solver targets the geometric constraints by finding those constraints for the user rather than forcing the user to create them for every curve and point in a sketch. Whenever the user selects a piece of geometry, whether to drag it, create a dimension on it, or manipulate it any other way, the solver will present constraints the user is free to use at their own discretion. By finding geometric constraints for the user, the Sketch Solver reduces time sketching by 30%, allowing users to continue on with the design process.
The constraints suggested by the solver are correct in almost every case, which helps not only in reducing time, but also in producing an efficient sketch by taking away the need to constrain every piece of geometry. For example, a user had approached Mike with a sketch that behaved fine, but experienced problems when he wanted to change things. The sketch contained about forty dimensions and had over a hundred constraints placed on it. When Mike received it, he removed the persistent relations and ran the solver, which discovered only eleven necessary constraints with half the previous dimensions. This case demonstrates how traditional sketching methods like the user probably used encouraged a cumbersome “constrain everything” approach to sketching. With NX’s new Sketch Solver, users can step away from that mentality and create more efficient sketches.
The biggest challenge with the adoption of the new solver has been increasing users’ confidence in it, especially users trained in and familiar with traditional sketching methods. After all, the Sketch Solver not only presents a new approach, but it is also an automated process, which can be difficult for humans, especially engineers, to be confident in. Mike aptly describes the sensation with an analogy to self-driving cars. “It’s the wave of the future,” he says, “but not everybody wants to get into a self-driving car right now and let the car take over and drive them to a destination.” Such a novel approach also raises concerns among users, like whether they can convert new sketches back to previous sketching tools or having difficulty finding the sketch’s relations. Fortunately, Scott and Mike answer these questions and more, and assure that users can adjust to the new solver with time. Scott, for example, who was himself entrenched in older sketching methods, was able to learn the new solver within a week and a half. The Sketch Solver may be greatly different to what came before, but like any change, people can adapt.
All in all, the solver’s ability to detect geometric constraints combine with other additional features to create an intuitive, easy-to-use sketching workflow for users. These features include new dragging methods where you can drag rotationally, as well as the ability to do patterns, mirrors, and reflections associatively. Work regions can also be used for larger sketches, which will direct the solver to work on a small, selected area while ignoring the rest of the sketch. The constraint detection and these features complement each other to produce an efficient sketching process designed to be as intuitive and user-friendly as possible.
NX’s new Sketch Solver is a prime example of the innovation that comes from an increasing focus on human usability thanks to advances in computational power. Its ability to automatically find geometric constraints and reduce the length of the sketching process by 30% is a boon for any industry that relies on CAD. While it is a drastic shift from traditional sketching tools, users will be able to adapt to it like any novel technology – and begin reaping the benefits. The capabilities of the Sketch Solver are only the beginning in the development of automation-driven, human-centric design processes, with further advances just around the corner.
Be sure to catch the entire podcast episode here.
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