Nov 072011

The PDMA (Product Development Management Association) describes itself as “the premier advocate and comprehensive resource for the profession of product development and innovation.” The organization has been around quite a long time. Last week, I was fortunate enough to attend their 35th annual conference.

My goal in attending was to try and get a grasp of what the PDMA is about. To that end, I spent most of the first day in the New Product Development Professional (NPDP) certification preparation session. This session skimmed through a massive amount of information, derived from the PDMA’s “Body of Knowledge.”

What I discovered is that anyone who manages to get certified as a New Product Development Professional will have to demonstrate a comprehensive knowledge of the entire product development process—from the fuzzy front-end of ideation, through to product delivery. The only part of the process that doesn’t seem to be covered in detail is that bit in the middle that has to do with engineering.

Admittedly, in the session I attended, the presenters did mention a few terms such as “CAD” and “CAE” – but only in passing.

It took me a while to figure out, but the PDMA seems to focus on the parts of the product development process that are common to a large number of industries. Product engineering is not one of those common parts. While the organization does sponsor some events which discuss Product Lifecycle Management (such as one in Southern California, coming up on Tuesday, November 15), the subject isn’t core to the PDMA’s mission.

Here’s my take: If you are an experienced product designer/engineer, studying to get the PDMA’s NPDP certification will force you to learn the full gamut of product development, including strategy, teams and organizational structure, processes, tools and metrics, market research, and portfolio management. It will “connect the dots,” helping you to understand better why new product projects fail (or succeed.)


Sep 272011
“Entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
– William of Ockham
“Whenever possible, substitute constructions out of known entities for inferences to unknown entities.”
– Bertrand Russell

CAD is a complex cognitive skill, comprising a large set of interrelated constituent skills with different characteristics and different learning processes underlying their acquisition.

One of the the most effective ways of making CAD more usable is to reduce the number of constituent skills which it comprises.

I’ve never seen any even reasonably complete listing of the constituent skills required for CAD. It might be interesting to try and put together such a list, but, for the moment, let’s look at just one of the important constitutuent skills:

Knowing how to deconstruct models, assemblies and drawings in order to modify them.

This is not a trivial skill. Even when working with 2D AutoCAD drawings, it can be a challenge to make changes without knowing ahead of time how the drawings are structured. When it comes to history-based 3D (what we’ve commonly, if not a little dismissively, come to call parametric feature-based solid modeling), the problem sometimes becomes intractable.

Not a Sphere

Bet you can't edit this. (See end of article.)

There is plenty of research showing that editing history-based models is a big problem for CAD users. This is primarily because the task requires not just the skill of deconstructing model geometry (e.g.,figuring out how the geometry should be changed), but also the skill of deconstructing the history of how that geometry was originally created.

The history trees of typical models can have from dozens to hundreds of entries. In order to effectively edit one of these models, you need to dig through all (or many) of these entries, to find their dependencies—which are often unobvious. The process is no easier than trying to read through the source code of a complex computer program, to figure out how it works.

The challenge is to find a way of modifying CAD models without needing to deconstruct their history trees. Work on this has been ongoing in academia for about 20 years. In the commerical CAD industry it’s taken a bit longer to get right.

Direct (or explicit) modeling CAD systems have been around far longer than history-based systems. Ivan Sutherland’s 1963 Sketchpad was an incredibly intelligent CAD system (don’t miss watching this discussion of SketchPad by Alan Kay.), most commercial CAD systems developed from that time until the late 1980s were direct modeling systems, in which you directly edited the geometry of the model. Though Pro/E ushered in the era of history-based modeling (or, rather parametric feature-based solid modeling), it did not kill the direct-modeling business. Direct modeling CAD programs such as CADKEY, Autodesk Mechanical Desktop, ME/30 (from HP and then CoCreate) and many others continued selling in significant, if not dwindling, quantities.

IronCAD and CoCreate started to introduce intelligent editing capabilities to their direct modeling CAD programs in the mid to late 1980s, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that the game really changed, with a number of CAD programs adding feature-inference on top of direct modeling.

These products, from companies such as Siemens PLM, SpaceClaim, Kubotek USA, PTC and IronCAD are now commonly called “direct modeling” CAD programs. (I’ve pointed out that direct modeling has been around since the mid-1960s far too many times in the past, so I’ll just go with the flow for now, and use the same term everyone else does.)

What makes today’s direct-modeling CAD programs significant is their usability. With one of these programs, a CAD user doesn’t need to learn the skill of deconstructing model history to be both effective and efficient.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about whether direct modeling or history-based modeling is “better.” That’s not a discussion I really want to get into yet. It’s reasonable to mention that major aerospace and automotive companies use direct modeling software for growing number of applications. PTC, which sells both direct and history-based tools, has major customers using both types on different product development programs, apparently with great success.

What’s really interesting to me is the potential of comparing the effectiveness and efficiency direct modeling versus history-based tools. While there’s a lot of anecdotal information about this floating around, to my knowledge, there are no carefully constructed research studies available.

If you dig into Google Scholar to look for academic articles on learning CAD, you’ll find one name comes up more than any other:  Professor Ramsey F. Hamade, of the American University of Beirut.  Dr. Hamade’s research on CAD learning is published in a number of academic and technical journals, is cited by nearly all researchers in the field, and makes for really interesting reading.

I exchanged email with Dr. Hamade recently. Here’s what he had to say on the subject:

[Direct modeling] comes across as more natural and less restrictive. Therefore, I would tend to think that such modeling should be faster and less complex perhaps resulting in shifting the learning components, both declarative and procedural to faster and ‘simpler’, respectively. Unfortunately, I have not had the opportunity to perform experiments on Creo (or the like) in order to evaluate whether these ‘logical’ expectations will hold water. I teach the CAD course (where I collect data) in the Spring so it may be a while before we can make a determination.

Dr. Hamade’s research to date supports the notion that CAD is a complex cognitive skill, and points to significant differences in usability between different systems. It’ll be interesting to see what he finds when he gets a chance to formally compare the learning processes for direct modeling versus history-based modeling systems.

Note on the sphere image: It’s not a sphere. It’s a filleted cube. Here’s a challenge for you: Make a 3D model, with as many convoluted features as possible, that looks just like a sphere and has a class-A surface (G2, I think. G3 continuity wouldn’t apply to a fixed radius curve.)

Sep 292009

The Product Development and Management Association looks at the innovation process as having three distinct phases: the fuzzy front end, the new product development process, and commercialization.


Here are a couple of  questions for you to ponder:

  • At which phase of the innovation process are most engineering software tools targeted?
  • Which phase offers the greatest opportunities for improvement of the overall innovation

If the answers to these questions are important to you, and you are either a supplier or consumer of engineering software, I’d like to have a short private conversation with you.  No, not to sell you anything, but rather to get your perspective on a some research work I’m doing.  You can reach me at

Sep 042009

SVG is Scalable Vector Graphics, a W3C standard for XML graphics.  

Years ago, as part of the ODA, I worked on a project to try and start an OpenSVG consortium, to develop a set of full-function SVG libraries.  Ultimately, the effort wasn’t successful. 

LIkely the biggest impediment ot the adoption of SVG has been the lack of good support for it in Internet Explorer.  Adobe provided a basic SVG plugin for IE, but dropped support for it in favor of SWF/Flash.  Microsoft never provided any support for SVG, opting instead to go their own way with XAML.

Google has recently announced SVG Web – an open source JavaScript library which provides SVG support on many browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari.  They’re also hosting an SVG conference, in early October.

This is a big deal, or at least should be a big deal, for the CAD industry. Here’s why:

As of today, the only meaningful standard (or, rather, de-facto standard)  for 2D CAD interoperability is DWG.  Unfortunately, DWG is a dull tool, unless you’re only talking about sharing files with people using AutoCAD.  Autodesk’s implementation(s) of DWG are undocumented, and were never designed for open extensibility.  The ODA lost the ability to provide full DWG interoperability as a result of Autodesk’s 2006 lawsuit.

If there is to be a future for  2D CAD and/or BIM interoperability, there needs to be a new standard — one that is reasonably compatible with DWG, but which isn’t intimately tied into the object structures used by AutoCAD.  Whatever that standard may ultimately look like, it should be built on an open foundation, with a truly open specification, supported by a commercial software-friendly open source rendering library.

Google’s embrace of SVG gives me at least a little hope that this is possible. Of course, to really make it happen would require the support of at least a handful of major CAD vendors.  Getting that support may not be all that easy.  The politics of standards support can be really brutal, because major vendors are so focused on competitive advantage.

Aug 112009

This morning, Siemens PLM Software is announcing an in-kind grant of software to Arizona State University’s School of Engineering. With a commercial value of nearly $245 million, it is the largest in-kind grant in the university’s history.

This news especially caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, ASU’s School of Engineering is my alma mater. Second, and more importantly, the press release mentioned, and included a quote from, Dr. Jami J. Shah, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Design Automation Lab at Arizona State University.

You may not have previously heard of Professor Shah. But, if you’re in the CAD industry, he’s a person whose name you should remember. Here’s a copy of his bio, from the ASU directory:

Dr. Jami J. Shah is Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the Design Automation Lab at Arizona State University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Mechanical Design at Ohio State in 1984 and MS in Materials Engineering at University of Pittsburgh. Prior to his academic career he worked in industry for 6 years, designing and fabricating manufacturing machines. He has held visiting professorships at UC Berkeley, Helsinki University of Technology and Uni Melbourne (Australia). He has also been in residence at GE Corporate R&D, GM Tech Center, Allied Signal Aerospace, and Phillips Company (Netherlands), while serving as a consultant. Dr. Shah’s research areas include: Cognitive studies of design ideation, geometric computing, AI & Knowledge based systems and Engineering Metrology. At ASU he established research programs in Mechanical Design, CAD/CAM, and Manufacturing Automation. He developed several research and instructional labs, including the Design Imaginarium, Design Automation Lab, Prototyping Shop and the Computer aided Engineering lab. He has received research grants and contracts from National Science Foundation, DARPA, NIST, ARO, GE, TI, GM, Ford, USCAR, AlliedSignal, Boeing, HP, and others. He is the author of 2 US patents, 2 books, and 150+ peer reviewed technical papers in professional journals and conferences. He has graduated over 50 Ph.D.s and MS students at ASU. Dr. Shah is the founding chief editor of ASME Transaction, the Journal of Computing & Information Science in Engineering(JCISE). He was elected Fellow of ASME in 2001.

Now that you know a little bit about Professor Shah, I’d like to connect a few dots for you.

First, if you were to track down the people who studied under Dr. Shah, you’d find many of them teaching at major universities, or doing advanced software development at major engineering software firms.

Second, if you were to visit the ASU Design Engineering Lab website, at, and look at the areas of research engaged in, you’d find, among other things, Geometric Feature Recognition/Feature based design. (See

And, third, if your curiosity was piqued back in early 2008, when Siemens PLM Software announced Synchronous Technology (as was mine), and you started doing some research, to try and understand how it works under the covers, you’d invariably run across research papers such as these:

  • “Automatic recognition of interacting features based on MCSG”, J. Computer aided Design., V30 (9), pp 727-739, 1998.
  • “A Discourse on Geometric Feature Recognition from CAD Models”, J. of Computing & Information Science in Engineering, ASME Transactions, V 1(1), pp 41 – 51, March 2001.
  • “Recognition of Multi-axis Features: Part I – Topological and Geometric Characteristics”, ASME Transactions, Journal of Computing & Information Science, V4(3), September, 2004, pp 242-250.
  • “Recognition of Multi-axis Features: Part II – Algorithms & Implementation”, Journal of Computing & Information Science, V5(2), March 2005, pp 25-34.
  • “Recognition of Interacting Turning Features for Mill/Turn Parts”, Proc. ASME DAC conf, Long Beach, CA, Sep 2005, Paper DETC2005-85431.

Actually, many of the papers you’d find relating to feature recognition (one of the important elements of Synchronous Technology), including all of the papers listed above, would include the name “Shah J.” in their author citation.

Although I can’t draw a straight line between Dr. Shah and the development of Synchronous Technology, there are enough dotted lines to make me believe that, if you were to find the key researchers at Siemens PLM Software who were responsible for Synchronous Technology, you’d find only one or two degrees of separation between them and Dr. Shah.

If you’re interested to see what the future might bring in advanced CAD technology, I can say, from personal experience, that one of the best things you could do would be to talk to Dr. Shah.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited with him both at the Design Automation Lab, and at COFES.

If you’re interested in actually being a part of the development of the next generation of advanced CAD technology, two very good options would be either to sponsor research at the ASU Design Automation Lab, or move to Tempe, Arizona, and study under Dr. Shah.

My thanks go out to Siemens PLM Software for supporting Dr. Shah, and the students of the ASU School of Engineering.

Following is the news release about the Siemens PLM Software grant to ASU:


Siemens invests in ASU to help engineering students better prepare for joining workforce

Record-setting in-kind grant will provide state-of –the-art computer software for advanced training

TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona State University will be able to enrich its engineering education and provide students more advanced preparation to enter the workforce through an in-kind software grant from Siemens PLM Software to ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering announced today.

Siemens PLM Software is a division of the Siemens Industry Automation Division and a leading global provider of product lifecycle management (PLM) software and services.

With a commercial value of nearly $245 million, it is the largest in-kind grant in the university’s history.

The grant was made through the Siemens PLM Software Global Opportunities in Product Lifecycle Management program – called GO PLMTM – and includes engineering software, student/instructor training and specialized software certification programs.

ASU graduates with training on such industry- leading design software are more attractive to prospective employers.

“Advanced tools such as the PLM Software are essential to preparing our engineers for the challenges they will face in an increasingly complex and global economy. They will be able to meet demand for designing and analyzing systems that transcend traditional boundaries,” said Deirdre Meldrum, dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

“This gift from Siemens aligns with our vision of leading engineering education and research that sparks innovation, and enables engineers to improve the quality of life,” Meldrum said.

“Today’s leading manufacturing and technology companies compete on the basis of time to market, product cost, quality and innovation,” said Dave Shirk, executive vice president of Global Marketing for Siemens PLM Software. “It’s quite clear that today’s best students in top programs, like the program at ASU, must benefit through opportunities to gain experience with technology that supports these objectives.”

ASU now joins other leading universities with which Siemens has similar academic partnerships or has made similar in-kind gifts, including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California at Berkeley, Michigan State University, Brigham Young University, Rutgers, Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon and Purdue.

ASU Graduate student Adam Dixon said training on the Siemens PLM Software “will make ASU engineering grads more marketable. It will definitely open more doors.”

“Many companies use the software because of its superiority,” said Dixon, who is studying engineering design and works in ASU’s Design Automation Lab. “Having access to this innovative technology will give us a clear advantage in the workforce. “

Jami Shah, a professor in Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and director of the Design Automation Lab, said Siemens PLM Software “has an extremely generous academic license program. Siemens realizes the important responsibility industry has in contributing to higher education.”

“Our mechanical and aerospace engineering graduates go to work for major engineering companies that all use these kinds of high-end computer –aided design and finite element analysis software packages,” Shah explained. “This is why it’s important to instruct students with tools such as PLM Software’s NXTM.”

“We’ve used Siemens’ PLM Software’s state-of-the-art software products for nearly 25 years,” he said. The academic license program allows students to use engineering analysis packages such as NX, IDEAS and Nastran to perform critical engineering tasks such as stress and failure simulation, vibration and dynamics analyses and thermal analyses.

“The software is a great teaching tool because it makes everything transparent,” Shah said. “It clearly shows the student how the results of any design work or engineering analysis were computed. You can see and control the workings of the software packages.”

Troy Howe, a senior studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, said the computer-aided design program “has been invaluable to my progress.”

Howe uses the program at work to build three-dimensional models and drawing schematics.

“My training in class gave me the confidence and ability to complete my projects quickly and accurately,” he said. “It has helped me draw praise for the quality of my work. So I’m looking forward to next semester when I’ll take the advanced CAE class with the new Siemens software.”

# # #

GO PLM Program

Siemens PLM Software’s GO PLMTM initiative leads the industry in the commercial value of the in-kind grants it provides and brings together four complementary community involvement programs focused on academic partnership, regional productivity, youth and displaced worker development and the PACE (Partners for the Advancement of Collaborative Engineering Education) program. GO PLM provides PLM technology to more than 1,000,000 students yearly at nearly 10,200 global institutions, where it is used at every academic level – from middle schools to graduate engineering research programs.

Arizona State University
Arizona State University is creating a new model for American higher education, an unprecedented combination of academic excellence, entrepreneurial energy and broad access. This New American University is a single, unified institution comprising four differentiated campuses positively impacting the economic, social, cultural and environmental health of the communities it serves. Its research is inspired by real-world application blurring the boundaries that traditionally separate academic disciplines. A comprehensive public metropolitan research university enrolling more than 60,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students on four campuses, ASU is a federation of unique colleges, schools, departments, and research institutes that comprise close-knit but diverse academic communities that are international in scope. ASU champions intellectual and cultural diversity, and welcomes students from all fifty states and more than one hundred nations across the globe.

Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering
The Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering at Arizona State University serves more than 4,000 undergraduates and 2,000 graduate students, providing skills and knowledge for shaping careers marked by innovation and societal impact. Ranked nationally in the top 50 among engineering schools rated by US News & World Report magazine, the school engages in use-inspired research in a multidisciplinary setting for the benefit of individuals, society and the environment. Its 200-plus faculty members teach and pursue research in areas of electrical, industrial, chemical, mechanical, aerospace, civil, environmental, materials and energy engineering, as well as bioengineering, computer science and biomedical informatics.

Siemens PLM Software
Siemens PLM Software, a business unit of the Siemens Industry Automation Division, is a leading global provider of product lif

ecycle management (PLM) software and services with nearly six million licensed seats and 56,000 customers worldwide. Headquartered in Plano, Texas, Siemens PLM Software works collaboratively with companies to deliver open solutions that help them turn more ideas into successful products. For more information on Siemens PLM Software products and services, visit

Siemens Industry Automation Division
The Siemens Industry Automation Division (Nuremberg, Germany) is a worldwide leader in the fields of automation systems, low-voltage switchgear and industrial software. Its portfolio ranges from standard products for the manufacturing and process industries to solutions for whole industrial sectors that encompass the automation of entire automobile production facilities and chemical plants. As a leading software supplier, Industry Automation optimizes the entire value added chain of manufacturers – from product design and development to production, sales and a wide range of maintenance services. With around 42,900 employees worldwide Siemens Industry Automation achieved in fiscal year 2008 total sales of EUR8.7 billion.

# # #


Apr 172008

Joe Greco was a friend of mine, and of many people in the CAD industry.  He was a well-known writer and editor, covering the CAD industry for many years.  He passed away December 7, 2004, after suffering cardiac arrest a few days earlier while on vacation in Hawaii. He was 41.  At the time, he was president of the CAD Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering communication in the CAD industry.

Each year, the CAD Society gives three awards, to individuals who have distinguished themselves in the industry.  In 2005, the CAD Society’s Community Award was renamed in Joe’s honor.

I’m honored to be the recipient of the 2008 CAD Society Joe Greco Community Award.  The inscription on the award says "presented to Evan Yares in recognition of his tireless efforts to build community, improve understanding, and promote the consumer rights of CAD users worldwide."

Having Joe’s name associated with the award makes it very meaningful to me.  Instead of being a just recognition of past efforts, it’s an encouragement to do more. has a segment on the CAD Society awards in this week’s edition.  It starts at 4:41


Jan 072008

Another good read from the COFES blogs:

DickMorley.jpg An introduction. Name is Dick Morley < >. I have been hanging around the golf meeting at Scottsdale for a million years. My stick is VC, controls and Physics. Everything I know came from my dad and Joel Orr. Presently, I am into Stem cells, cancer, controls, chocolate, fusion power, and am with NCMS (the national center for manufacturing sciences). More? Search Google ( "dick morley" ). Innovation is not solving a problem; it creates problems. Engineering is generally a process to seek solutions. Faster, better, and cheaper are but a few of the engineering issues. Now, we need disruption, not standards. Standards are like consultants, a blanket over the smoking pyre. Why? We have a lack of new engineers entering the craft, and they really can’t read. So we need to somehow collapse the acronyms into a usable presentation the needs no manual. The new kids have the IQ, but are not interested in the religion of software and its history. Take the vector from Bruce Stirling and move into the human side of the equation. GUI wins. Yes, I know – I am ranting. But is that not what a blog is for?

Maybe you have to know Dick to truly appreciate his rants. When he suggests searching Google under his name, he’s just being practical. It doesn’t take long to find out that Dick’s considered the "Father of the PLC" (Programmable Logic Controller), and is the inventor of the floppy disk, among many other things. He has his own entry in Wikipedia.

I’ve known Dick since the first time he came to COFES, as the keynote speaker. Every time I get a chance to spend some time with him, I’m careful to do a lot more listening than talking. The guy’s brilliant and brutally honest.

Dick tells the story of how he invented the PLC during a New Year’s day hangover in an article in Manufacturing Automation magazine. It’s a short and worthwhile read. Here are a couple of gems from it:

When asked what I do for a living, my son once said, "He gets paid for thinking." True engineers cannot separate work from play. For them, work and play occupy the same arena. What turns engineers on? Understanding how things work.

A philosophy that sustains me is the brick concept: My job is to place a brick on the building of society; the culture may fail, but it won’t be because of my brick. The brick of my life will be well placed.


Dec 062007

My friend and colleague, Joel Orr, recently posted an intriguing essay to his blog: Natural Law and Institutional Processes, written by William Livingston.

Joel prefaced the piece, by saying "I have long admired engineer William Livingston, who has said and written some of the most lucid things about the practice of engineering that I have ever encountered." I have to agree with Joel.  Livingston’s essay reflects a depth and clarity of thought that made reading it a true pleasure.

Here is a short summary of the essay:

Natural law serves to explain much about the present state of institutional affairs. The issues causing so much turbulence and stakeholder loss are members of a set that sprawls outside of the fixed boundaries of institutional proficiency.

An equivalent system exists, competent at dealing with matters of the set that defeats institutional process. Complement to and not of the institutional template, its process has leveraged large technological gains to significantly advance its reach and grasp.

In these times of transition and for what the future promises, continued social system viability is contingent upon allocation of issue to appropriate issue-resolving system.

If you’ve had your coffee for the day, and are ready to think a bit, I recommend Livingston’s essay, at