I normally stick to rendering topics on this blog but today I’d like to talk surfacing. More specifically, complex organic shape creation. I’ve been a SolidWorks user since release ’99 which means I’ve been using the product for about 14 years. Over that period of time complex shape creation in SolidWorks hasn’t really come a long way. Yes, adding multibodies support to the software helped. Yes, the surfacing tools have been upgraded and refined over the years to make some things more robust. Overall however, if you want/need to create complex, free-form geometry in SolidWorks it requires a lot of time, knowledge and trial and error. Especially if you’re a user that only needs to do this on occasion.
A few years ago I began using modo for rendering. modo also has a full set of subdivision surfacing (subd or SDS) tools which I play with from time to time. SDS modeling is a much easier way to create very complex organic type shapes and geometry. Much easier than NURBS based modeling. SDS modeling is popular in the CG (gaming, film, character, etc) industry because you literally push, pull, stretch, smoosh, bend, etc geometry into any shape quickly. This “free form” ability makes it very easy to create the types of character or props you might see in an animated movie or video game. I’m guessing most SolidWorks users have little interest in creating character models but what if this SDS type of modeling could be used to create housings, containers, bottles, seats, toys, etc, etc, etc. Anything product design related that requires smooth flowing organic shapes.
Taking an SDS model from an SDS modeler into SolidWorks however is not an easy task. There are software products that allow you to do this but results vary and in the end once you bring your SDS model into SolidWorks you have limited editing abilities. We all know design is a constant process of change so limited editing capabilities is not a good thing.
What this has lead to is a workflow issue. You may have an industrial designer using Maya, modo or 3D Studio to create a beautiful shape for the next new wiz bang product but that shape then has to be recreated in a NURBS format so the engineering work can be done. Since NURBS modeling isn’t real free-form friendly the actual product shape is limited by the tools and skill of the operator and may in fact be quite different from the concepts developed by the designer.
So, we have two very different types of modeling (SDS and NURBS) that each excels in their own areas but what we really would like is the best of both worlds. What we really want is a product that can do the free form concept shape modeling and the heavy engineering modeling required to actually manufacture and document a product. Something that makes complex shape creation fun and creative for the expert and casual user.
Let me introduce you to a soon to be released product. Power Surfacing. Power Surfacing is a SolidWorks plug-in that allows the user to easily create and edit SDS models right inside of SolidWorks. Not only can you create complex geometry but you can also use all the familiar SolidWorks modeling tools to transform that geometry into an engineering model. Your SDS model becomes a feature in the tree. It’s fully editable, parametric, you can have multiple SDS features in the tree and when you’re finished with your model it’s 100% NURBS. Another bonus to Power Surfacing is it’s ability to read and right obj files. Now you can fully share and edit models between SolidWorks and SDS modelers in both directions. Power Surfacing effectively removes the workflow issues of the past. It allows the SolidWorks user to easily create complex organic geometry that can be used from the concept stage to final engineering model. I’ve been using Power Surfacing over the last few weeks and am amazed at the speed and ease at which complex geometry can be created. Shapes that required hours to create using the standard SolidWorks modeling tools can be created in minutes using Power Surfacing. The plug-in blends the more creative SDS modeling and the more rigid NURBS modeling almost seamlessly. Have a look at this short video showing Power Surfacing in action. Power Surfacing is brought to by nPower Software (a division of IntegrityWare Inc.), is currently in limited beta and will be released at SolidWorks World in January. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more information on this exciting product.
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This sounds great, but to be honest, this third party stuff is just a stop-gap. Aerohydro (SurfaceWorks) and GeometryWorks have had similar third party tools, and they haven’t gained much traction. T-splines had great potential, but we all know how that has gone. And there is nothing to prevent that from happening to modo. In fact, I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Until a CAD vendor includes these tools native, it’s a great concept, but not a great business plan for the customer.
Plus, any third party add-in to current SolidWorks is going to have a very short life.
This isn’t modo. It’s nPower, completely different company. modo/Luxology has actually merged with The Foundry. I agree with you. I’d prefer these tools be native SW as well but the integration is very good and nPower is really interested in making this the best product possible. Lots of SW functionality has been acquired from 3rd parties. Maybe at some point that will be the case here? I’m sure we all hope this product/company doesn’t go the way of tSplines and get gobbled up by AD. Hopefully SW or I should probably say DS has learned something from that experience.
I think SW V1 will be around for quite some time. DS can’t seem to get their act together on any of the V6 products (SW, Live Buildings, etc). Even when released its going to have limited functionality and this will mean current V1 customers will stay put or move to another CAD vendor. Also, when SW V1 gains this modeling ability it may give users another reason to stay on board?
Hi there – just an observation:
I’ve worked in industrial design / automotive design / product development for 10 years for various companies and I’ve never ever seen any Industrial Designer do the surfacing for a real product in either Maya, 3D Max or any other sds modeller.
It’s always Catia, Rhino, SW, Unigraphics or similar programs.
(I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule though)
In my 20+ years of working with CAD an advanced surfacing in the aerospace industry. It is my clear impression that SolidWorks powerusers haven’t got a clue about what surface modelling actually is.
Why? Because the software has never had the capabilities necessary to do advanced surfacing, which is an art in itself.
I haven’t tested the 2013 version, but in 2012 it is still a huge joke, and absolutely not suited for any serious work. The software can do complex surfaces in theory, but there is an absolute lack of tools to control your geometry.
SolidWorks is a great package, but stop using the word “surface” in the same sentence. In that respect it is a huge joke..