It didn’t go down as I expected.

There I was, sitting in the NX update session at PLM Connections in Dallas TX, listening to Jim Rusk explain what was in the latest release. He hit the point where he covered the new 2D Synchronous Technology capabilities in NX. I’m not sure what I was expecting exactly, but I thought these capabilities would earn some praise from the crowd. And certainly, there was some clapping. But I just expected… more.

Now, maybe my expectations were different because I knew what I was seeing. I had seen it before.

About six weeks before Dallas, some Siemens PLM folks visited me in Austin TX. I’d been pretty vocal in the past about 2D design and the continued prevalence of 2D drawings. They wanted my unfiltered take and unvarnished feedback on what they had done with 2D Synchronous Technology in NX. We spent about four hours together, walking through many details.

I came away impressed. Impressed to the point where I expect more of a reaction from the PLM Connections crowd in Dallas.

So, strap in. This is my take, for good or bad, on these new capabilities.

NX 2D Synchronous Technology Capabilities

First things first. What exactly does this thing do? Let me break it down into a few sections.

Using the Inherent Intelligence in 2D Stuff

When anyone looks at any 2D thing, we can pretty quickly pick up on the intent inherent in geometry. We see and recognize that a line and arc are tangent. We see and recognize that two lines are the same length. We see and recognize that two circles are concentric. There’s some intelligence already embedded in 2D geometry.

Many Direct Modeling tools today can recognize the inherent intelligence that exists within 3D geometry. Those tools make assumptions that users can accept to turn off while they are making push, pull and drag modifications. Well, 2D Synchronous Technology does the very same thing. It recognizes those existing relationships in 2D things and offers assumptions that users can turn on and off.

Assumptions Local to the Current Change

“OK. Well, big deal. Sketcher tools do that kind of thing. Right?”

Well, not really.  Let me explain the difference.

Sketching tools, which are used to create 2D sections that can be extruded, revolved, swept and whatnot, need to fully define the complete section with constraints and dimensions. Basically, sketchers use the engineering principle that the location of every single piece of geometry on a drawing must be completely located. Thus sketching tools look at the sketch globally and fully define the entire section.

That can be a problem.

Why? Well, when you start getting into sections with hundreds or thousands of entities, performance degrades significantly.

The 2D Synchronous Technology capabilities in NX actually apply assumptions local to the selection that you have made for modification. This technology has some specialized algorithm that figures out how far away from the entities you have selected for modification it should go when figuring out assumptions.

That, in turn, affects performance in a positive way.

A Mixture of Global and Local Assumptions

If you’ve ever looked at Synchronous Technology for 3D modeling, you know that you can have both features in a history tree as well as localized push, pull and drag modifications local to a selected piece of geometry. It’s an interesting twist on the Direct Modeling approach to allow both of these things to happen simultaneously.

Interestingly enough, the concept has carried over to the 2D side of things. You can define global assumptions like constraints and dimensions for the 2D stuff you’re modifying. Those are always enforced. You can then go in and make push, pull and drag modifications with the local assumptions it makes as I described above. And those global and local assumptions interact with each other as you make your changes in real time. It might seem like a nuance or subtle capability. However, it allows you to maintain global design intent while making local, intelligent and high performance modifications.

Commentary and Analysis

OK. So we now have an idea of what 2D Synchronous Technology in NX does. What is the impact? Well, there are two different areas to consider.

Application to 2D Drawings

Back in mid-August, Evan Yares of the 3D CAD World site published an article analyzing some of the findings from my 3D Collaboration and Interoperability study. I also published an article over at Cadalyst on some findings from the same study in late July. Evan’s article is a great one and worthy of your time. In general, I suggest tracking his work.

The point here, however, from these posts is that engineering documentation still frequently comes in the form of 2D drawings. That’s unlikely to change dramatically in the near term. It’s embedded in the engineering culture. And therein lies why I think 2D Synchronous Technology is so compelling.

Basically, every engineering organization wants to minimize the amount of time spent modifying engineering drawings. It’s non-value add. Engineers create these things so parts can be manufactured to spec. They don’t do it as part of their design process. This new set of capabilities in 2D Synchronous Technology in NX lets users avoid 2D drafting tools, which painstakingly force modification of 2D entities one by one, as well as sketching tools, which bog down dramatically as the number of entities on a engineering drawing increase.

Application to 2D Design

The other place where 2D Synchronous Technology is a good fit is for 2D design. I’ve been very vocal about how using 2D tools is a legitimate means of designing products, especially in concept design as well as early detailed design. The industry has been heading in that direction for a couple years now after stigmatizing the use of 2D. I’m glad for the change.

This set of capabilities are a good fit because of the nature of design. In this activity, designers and engineers need to iterate and explore new options and alternatives. If you look at feature-based 3D modeling, the ability to make modifications become more constrained as more features are added. That hinders design. In the same way, a section fully defined with constraints and dimensions can also hinder possible changes to 2D designs.

Therein lies the advantage of 2D Synchronous Technology for design. The assumptions it uses to enable intelligent change is only local to your geometry selection and starts anew when you make a new geometry selection. Furthermore, you can switch the few assumptions local to that change on and off as they are needed.

It gets back to an old but important premise. This kind of technology should enable design, not hinder it.

Summary and Questions

I know. I know. I went long on this post. But its a complicated topic. Let’s recap for the folks that skip to the end of things.

  • The addition of 2D Synchronous Technology to NX was announced in Dallas at PLM Connections.
  • It recognizes the inherent intelligence in 2D geometry, much the same way that Direct Modeling tools recognize the inherent intelligence in 3D models. Those assumptions become the enabler of intelligent change.
  • It is different from sketching tools in that the assumptions are only local the geometry selected for change. Selection of new geometry for modifications brings up an entirely new set of assumptions, replacing the last ones.
  • A combination of global and local assumptions can be used simultaneously, allowing for the capture and enforcement of design intent.
  • The 2D Synchronous Technology capabilities are a natural fit for those dealing with 2D drawings. Drafting tools only allow for entity by entity modifications. The performance of sketching tools degrade quickly as the number of 2D entities increase.
  • The technology is also a good fit for design, where users want to explore and iterate on different options and alternatives. The need for sketching tools to completely define sections with constraints and dimension can often hinder this effort. The 2D Synchronous Technology tools offer minimal constraint to changes.

Whew. That was a lot. Do you think new 2D tools like this one are needed? How much time do you deal with 2D drawing modifications today? Sound off on these questions or leave any other thoughts you might have.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.