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The Power of 3D Modeling and Simulation Spurs Manufacturing Process Innovations

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media
John Graham
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Ansys SpaceClaim
Ansys Inc. (Pittsburgh)

Manufacturing Engineering: How does Ansys’ SpaceClaim 3D modeling software help manufacturers streamline designs and boost manufacturing productivity?

John Graham: When you think about products that are manufactured, the starting point is typically with a 3D model. Back when 3D models did not always exist, a machinist would program a 2D model into a machine, and the various axes would move and cut the parts. But things are and continue to get more complex as we push the bounds of technologies. Geometry is almost always needed for cutting parts. But it’s been found geometry can become a bottleneck in the manufacturing of just about anything. The entire goal of SpaceClaim as it relates to the manufacturing space is to remove those geometry bottlenecks. So it doesn’t make sense if a company is spending time manipulating a 3D model when a machine is sitting idle. They’re not cutting parts. You don’t have to be a dedicated CAD user to modify or repair a file in SpaceClaim. It gives people the flexibility to edit files any way that they want. The result is that people in the shop can focus on cutting parts and getting parts out the door instead of messing around with file cleanup.

ME: Your company acquired SpaceClaim a few years ago; how has that transition gone with bringing expanded 3D modeling to Ansys’ simulation customers?

Graham: Even before Ansys’ acquisition of SpaceClaim there was a partnership that was working well. However, there wasn’t quite the synergy that there is now. There was some confusion over what products to sell, and where exactly SpaceClaim fit in. Many people saw the benefit of it, but at one time it was almost competing with another Ansys product. Ansys realized that the technology behind SpaceClaim was groundbreaking, and could relieve many geometry bottlenecks in the analysis space. The need for a technology like SpaceClaim was huge. Fast forward to today where there’s more of a unified strategy behind SpaceClaim fitting into the entire simulation space. It’s permeating more and more into simulation, and Ansys has embraced SpaceClaim as the front-end geometry technology of choice to manipulate and prepare any kind of model analysis. Because of that, more and more people are embracing SpaceClaim and embracing simulation.

ME: SpaceClaim addresses several key areas critical to manufacturers; how has it helped users in reverse engineering?

Repairing 3D models like this IGES file is easy with Ansys SpaceClaim, improving accuracy and speeding manufacturing processes.

Graham: Reverse engineering fits side by side with 3D printing. Years ago the reverse engineering capabilities in SpaceClaim were minimal. You could open up mesh files, observe, and maybe reference any given facet. To appreciate today’s capabilities though, you have to be aware of a misconception in the market that reverse engineering is a simple file transfer: click a couple of buttons, some translations happen, and out comes a clean CAD file—similar to translating a language. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes that the average person needing to reverse engineer just didn’t understand. SpaceClaim began developing some wonderful tools, where reverse engineering of files is closer to a few button clicks. Much functionality has been squeezed into one tool that essentially autosurfaces mesh data. Users can quickly create clean surfaces and solid bodies for downstream applications.

ME: What other key tools does the software provide for additive manufacturing, which is seeing an explosion in interest by manufacturing?

Graham: Roughly a decade ago when SpaceClaim emerged, it was groundbreaking. It took a new technology called direct modeling to a whole new level and made 3D modeling accessible to any engineer. Today you’re seeing some solid-modeling capabilities making their way into the faceted data sphere, much like it happened a decade ago. For example, you can grab a couple of facets and move them, or pull on what looks like a hole and increase or decrease the diameter. You can use SpaceClaim to repair or perform Boolean operations on faceted data, in a similar way to CAD files. In a way, I liken work in SpaceClaim to working in digital clay. Anybody can visualize what it is they want, and SpaceClaim is making the digitization of that a reality.

Another important aspect of SpaceClaim in the 3D printing realm is optimization. SpaceClaim has abilities to shell any kind of file and add an infill to it. This balances the strength-to-weight ratio. It can also smooth out an STL, with a tool called shrinkwrapping, by essentially wrapping a blanket over it and ignoring small irregularities or spikes in the model.

ME: The software features several tie-ins to widely used manufacturing tools, such as CAM software like Mastercam, Esprit and GibbsCAM. Can you describe how that works?

Graham: A major part of SpaceClaim’s integration with CAM tools is streamlined data flow. Translations from one system to another often cause problems. The SpaceClaim integration with CAM systems essentially eliminates data translation problems. One feature that people love about the integrations is file repair. Someone may open a customer file in a CAM and they cannot make a toolpath. Instantly through these integrations they can send the file to SpaceClaim and not just repair it, but remove small features or rounds. The integrations between these systems opens up the capabilities of what people can do with STL files. Some CAM products export STL files after various steps. With SpaceClaim you could use that file and build fixtures or use it with crash-detection systems.

ME: How critical is 3D modeling to users in the manufacturing space?

Graham: Because of where manufacturing technology is today, you generally need a 3D model. And not just any model, but a clean one to prevent garbage in/garbage out.

ME: What synergies does SpaceClaim have with the wealth of simulation offerings available from Ansys, including CAE tools with computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and even finite element analysis (FEA)?

Graham: Even before the acquisition of SpaceClaim, there was a working relationship with SpaceClaim and the CAE space. Since the acquisition it’s only increased. The backbone behind all Ansys products is called Ansys Workbench. Every single product will plug into Workbench, and that’s no exception with SpaceClaim. If you have a model from which you’re trying to extract a midsurface or extract a volume for CFD purposes, anything produced will transfer into Workbench for subsequent simulation operations.

Ansys has a relatively newer product called Ansys AIM, in which SpaceClaim is the geometry backbone. It is optimized for design engineers, and has only one user interface. You can start with any CAD tool of choice, then go straight to simulation. Or begin with a SpaceClaim file, then simulate. You can also import a model, use SpaceClaim to edit, then simulate it. This tool was built with design engineers in mind and certainly can be used in the manufacturing space. It further shows the importance of SpaceClaim to simulation in Ansys products.

ME: How does the current business climate look for the manufacturing users in your area of the software industry?

Graham: The manufacturing space has constantly been changing for years. Early in my career, I was creating detailed design representations, and was somewhat limited to making parts that would be CNC machined, but nothing too complex. But things have been evolving more and more. Think about five-axis machining. That has pushed what is being done in the manufacturing and design space. You can make parts that are much more complex and contain higher order curves. Then you add 3D printing into the mix. Because of all this, CAD software and geometry editors cannot be static. If so, they won’t meet the needs of the market. Just as the technologies change there has to be an evolution of the tools that people are using. I believe with the increased demand and technological improvements in 3D printing you are going to see additive manufacturing increase and the demand for subtractive manufacturing decrease. A steady balance will be reached at some point. And not only are people trying to just 3D print things but lightweighting is becoming more important through technologies like topology optimization. Tools have to keep up with demand. I believe SpaceClaim has done an excellent job at that, and you’re going to see more capabilities attached to SpaceClaim as market demands change. 

New Releases

Verisurf’s Quality Inspection Suite offers users a cost-effective suite of inspection tools including CAD, Measure, Automate, and Validate modules.

Inspection developer Verisurf Software Inc. (Anaheim, CA) announced availability of its Quality Inspection Suite, a combination of Verisurf application modules configured to provide an efficient quality inspection and reporting solution. Quality Inspection Suite provides a cost-effective package and flexible purchase options to match the needs of individual customers, including site license and subscription options.

Verisurf’s Quality Inspection Suite is made up of select best-in-class application modules, including Verisurf CAD, capable of reading all native CAD file formats allowing customers to work with any CAD model—solid, surface or wireframe. Model-based Definition (MBD) lets users set unique IDs, tolerances and GD&T constraints in the model for any surface, feature or other critical inspection item. Verisurf Device Interface (VDI) insures device compatibility and controls all digital measuring devices.

The suite also includes Verisurf Measure, which provides measurement of features from precise single points to scanned point clouds; Verisurf Automate, which programs and operates all types and brands of CMMs with an intuitive 3D experience, visual object-oriented programming and open standards; and Verisurf Validate, providing precise CAD model translation validation by comparing the authority CAD model to the translated CAD model, this enables customers to quickly identify any translation error.


Asset monitoring developer Smartware Group (Center Harbor, NH) and 5ME (Cincinnati) have created a partnership aimed at delivering enhanced asset visibility and automation across the manufacturing enterprise for predictive maintenance, leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

5ME’s Freedom eLog, a cloud asset monitoring system, works in conjunction with Smartware’s cloud-based Bigfoot CMMS to deliver asset condition monitoring and maintenance activity automation. By deploying Freedom eLog along with the Bigfoot Integration Suite, Bigfoot users can capture real-time asset data and value-added analytics, from individual machine performance to total production activity, using any web browser.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak.

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