Solid Edge 2024 (all images sourced from Siemens)
Turns out, for many MCAD vendors, PLM is not enough. For nearly 20 years now, they’ve known that by selling software that documents all stages of the lives of products – from conceptual design through to disassembly at end of life – they would make lot more money.
Now CAD vendors are transmogrifying PLM into digital transformation. “It’s the integration of digital technologies into all aspects of your engineering business,” explains Siemens, which calls their digital transformation software Xcelerator. It’s a collection of software, hardware, third-party vendors, and a marketplace. Forgive me if I appear skeptical, but I thought we did that 40 years ago when hand drafting became CAD.
Siemens has spent the last ten years bucking insistence by competitors Autodesk and PTC that all software must be resold annually via subscriptions, and operate from the cloud. But, the lure of a never-ending revenue stream is always there. And so for this year’s Solid Edge 2024 product launch, the company didn’t start with what’s-new, but with a survey of managers at 400 small- and medium-sized manufacturers.
Seventy-two percent of managers said digital technology levels their playing field against larger corporations. This is important, as Solid Edge is aimed at these smaller firms. Some 80% maintained or increased their digital budgets during the pandemic, although we’re not told the size of the increase. While nearly half said SaaS (software as a service, aka subscriptions) would be a priority in the coming year, fewer than 30% would make the cloud a priority [source].
NX users currently pay CAD$13,572 per year for 50 tokens [source], which is the minimum batch for NX. However, Solid Edge users can buy as few as 25 tokens at a time. (Siemens was unable to tell me the exact price for Solid Edge customers, but says it is roughly equivalent to the NX token price.) Once purchased, the tokens can be exchanged for 25 user-licenses of any combination of Solid Edge add-ons for the year. The benefit is that users can jump in and out of using the eight add-ons. The drawback is that tokens can only be purchased in groups of 25 (or 50 in the case of NX), and your firm might not ever need that many tokens at one time.Supfina uses Solid Edge to design finishing machines
Hour of Engineering
Siemens a year ago launched Hour of Engineering, a free Web site for teaching engineering topics to students. The site uses Siemens’ own Mendix low-code application development platform to provide courses that can range from ten to 40 hours long. There are teachers’ lesson plans for nine topics that cover shapes, how rockets work, and so on.
Each topic begins with a video introducing the concept, followed by screenfuls of engineering explanations, and a quiz every so often. Students earn a star for each question answered correctly. There isn’t a suggested age range, so I don’t know if “How many equal planar faces does the cube have?” is too advanced a question for the first topic, shapes.
I visited https://www.hourofengineering.com to find that most topics use a CAD-like system to illustrate concepts, but only rarely did it allow students to interact with the topic. For instance, it would have been great to turn a gear manually to see how the direction, speed, and power of other gears change, but this particular lesson is all non-interactive. In the lessons where I could interact with the CAD system, I was limited to picking points on pre-drawn parts: I could specify the location for holes, but I couldn’t actually create them: Mendix did it for me.
In an age when my elementary-age grandchildren run interactive educational software every school day on their laptops, Hour of Engineering’s limited-interaction interface is disappointing. Kids ought to be allowed to manipulate simple objects many ways in CAD, which is, after all, the toolbox of engineers.
What’s-New in Solid Edge 2024
In a decade when some CAD vendors struggle to add new functions to their software, it is good to see Solid Edge 2024 come out with new stuff that’s significant, especially ones that save time. Automatic tube trimming cuts holes in primary tubes that intersect with secondary ones, and trims secondary tubes that meet primary ones. End connections are mitered automatically.
Another time saver gets threads in assemblies ready for 3D printing: Solid Edge leaves inner or outer clearances for threads by a percentage or an absolute distance, and varies the clearance depending on the 3D printer model and the material. In regular CAM (computer-aided manufacturing), there is now 3D adaptive roughing to remove material more efficiently.
However, some new functions have already been available in other CAD systems for a time. Examples of this include importing Excel spreadsheet files; polygon and lasso selection; and searches in the settings dialog box. In sheet metal, there’s handed (mirrored) parts that remain associative to the original, and bend centerlines that have colors indicating the bend direction.
MCAD vendors are forever looking to improve the load and display time of large assemblies, and here Siemens says Solid Edge is “up to” nine times faster in rotating, panning, and zooming large ones without resorting to tricks like hiding features.
In this day and age of AI hype, Siemens says it’s added artificial intelligence to assembly relationships and when editing CAM operations. The AI in the Replace Part command shows previews of suggested alternative parts.
There is more back and forth interaction between Solid Edge and big step-brother NX. When a model is open in NX and Solid Edge at the same time, changes to PMI (product manufacturing information) in Solid Edge are automatically updated in NX. Components modeled in Solid Edge can be opened in NX without translation for further modeling and analysis.
When working with other CAD systems, you can insert models into Solid Edge assemblies (again, without translation) from ACIS, Catia, Creo, and Inventor -- in addition to JT, NX, Solidworks, and STEP from last year.
Siemens Support Center
Some of what’s-new for Solid Edge isn’t in Solid Edge. Instead, they come in the form of applets you download from Siemens Support Center. Some are free; others will cost you. The Support Center is a one-stop Web site that handles your accounts, downloads, and support requests [source].
One applet that caught my eye is preconfigured data sets for ladders, conveyers, and enclosures. The Solid Edge Design Configurator (not free) applet runs inside Solid Edge, and parametrically extends the length of ladders to reach the tops of towers, or places conveyor components over the length of a production line. It appeared to me that lengths are determined manually or by importing Excel data. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to watch the conveyor system snaking along, and it reminded me that Actrix could do some of this back in 2000.
Another applet is the new Call Subassembly command that works with Place Part Model and Loop Action commands to configure sub-assemblies right inside the main assembly.
The pandemic accelerated the use of software like Zoom to replace in-person meetings, but in CAD we also need to see drawings and 3D models. This is done through collaboration software like TeamCenter, which runs on “any” device. TeamCenter Share is now built into Solid Edge, but is available only when you pay for an annual subscription.
What Ralph Grabowski Thinks
Siemens manages to put out a new version of Solid Edge each fall with a nice set of functions. It takes a customer-oriented approach to selling its software, offering us permanent licenses, a desktop orientation, and even a “Don’t worry, [2D] drawings aren’t going away” message. The cloud is only there for when it makes sense, such as in collaboration and data access. Subscriptions, which start at US$110 for a month, are optional and a handy way to use Solid Edge for short periods of time.
Solid Edge continues to benefit from being a part of Siemens, which actually manufactures all kinds of stuff (unlike all other CAD vendors), and being a part of Xcelerator, which gives users access to advanced software like Siemens Opcenter for manufacturing operations management.
[This article was first published by Design Engineering magazine, and is reprinted with permission.]