Re-invention of Direct Modeling

This evening I spend two and a half hours with Matt Carr (Sr. Technical Manager) and Jason Bassi (VP Sales & Marketing) of Kubotek USA. They gave me a demo of KeyCreator 8.5, their direct modeling solution and discussed the “re-invention of direct modeling” as they like to call it. Apparently they were the ones who invented it years before the likes of SpaceClaim appeared on the scene.

This is not a review of KeyCreator. For that I would need to fiddle around with the software, and for that I would need to find the time to do so. But here is are a few things worth noting from the GoToMeeting web conference.

KeyCreator does Direct Modeling, but lacks the push-pull interface. You need to key in parameter values like fillet radius, chamfer length, etc. Kubotek believes that the jazzy push-pull user interface in some of the other direct modeling systems poses significant performance problems for large data sets and is something that is not terribly important. “After all, if you want to apply a fillet you know exactly what the radius should be and you are going to key it in anyways“, said Matt.

From the little that I understood, KeyCreator depends heavily on feature recognition. The software understands features like holes, fillets, chamfers, ribs, pockets and even patterns in dumb solids. I was quite surprised to see that you could even “supress” features, just like you can in history based parametric modeling systems. For example, if a fillet is bothering you, simply supress it and it goes into hiding. Go ahead and model all you want and when you are done simply unsupress it. The feature will come back and sit where it previously was. Of course, there are far more useful things that you can do with feature supression, but I think you get the point.

Apart from Direct Modeling, where you alter the topology of the solid model as you please, KeyCreator also offers Dimension Driven Modeling. Just like in a history based parametric modeling system you create dimensions, which when edited later, alter the model. However, it does not offer a way to modeling by means of formulae and equations. Meaning, you cannot set the height of a box to be twice its length.  I asked if Kubotek was working on it. I got a rather cryptic reply from Jason, “We are not free to disclose what we are currently working on, but I can say that there are no technical barriers that prevent us from offerring this.

KeyCreator is not only a solid modeler. It offers a neat set of tools for surface modeling as well. However, Matt admits, “Our surfaces are not good enough to design modern day cars. They are G1 continuous and in some cases G2, which is pretty much good for most consumer goods.” Another thing, I noticed that in order to model in KeyCreator the model does not need to be watertight. I made Matt remove a couple of faces from the solid model he was creating and asked him to do all kinds of stuff to the remaining faces of the model. As it turns out, even Matt was quite surprised with what KeyCreator could do.

KeyCreator uses the ACIS modeling kernel but has developed a layer over it to do their fancy stuff. There some history to it as well. Three of their top developers had previously helped create the ACIS modeling kernel while they were at Spatial.

KeyCreator comes with complete part and assembly modeling but stores parts and assemblies in a single file format (.CKD). Kubotek also comes with translators for various proprietary file formats like SolidWorks, Inventor, Pro/ENGINEER, UG and (ahem!) CATIA V4 and V5, thanks to 3D InterOp from Spatial, I am assuming with blessings from Dassault Systemes. Sorry, I couldn’t resist.

It appears that Kubotek is more focussed on the geometry creation as opposed to the analysis and post processing. Although they have a 2.5 to 3 axis CAM system, they partner with Algor for FEA, Bunkspeed for advanced rendering, among others. I asked them what they thought about the notion that geometry was a solved problem. Matt said, “Geometry is far from being a solved problem. History based parametric modeling systems may have pretty much stretched their limites, but as far as direct modeling is concerned there is a lot more to be done as far as geometry is concerned.” Actually, I tend to agree. While most of the modeling errors that solid modeling systems spit out may be due to users trying to do the impossible, I believe quite a few errors occur due to improvements waiting to be made to modeling techniques and algorithms. Otherwise people making modeling kernels should have closed shop and gone home right?

I asked Jason about the spread of Kubotek’s customer base. He said that their main presence was in the aerospace and automotive industries. He added, “We have a pretty loyal customer base. Many of our customers resisted the move to history based parametric modeling and are glad that they did so.” Apparently, a few years ago Kubotek did try a few things with the history approach, but soon realized that that was not the right way to go.

I asked Matt and Jason a simple question, “What sells engineering software? Mathematics or Marketing?“. Both agreed that marketing helps bring a product to the attention of a prospect, but ultimately it was mathematics that actually helps a user make a wise decision. Matt quipped, “Mathematics solves customer’s problems, not marketing. And we are interested in solving customer’s problems“. However, they tell me that there was a major restructuring at Kubotek a few months ago which included a new marketing head. So I guess we can expect some more marketing noise from the company from now on. Something tells me that this post is part of that noise. And this brought me to the question about bloggers and their role in CAD software marketing. Kubotek’s opinion about bloggers closely resembles that of Alibre’s. Jason said, “We realize that an increasing number of people are tuning in to what people are saying on blogs and other social networks like Twitter and Facebook. This is a good thing because it levels the playing field. Smaller companies with their limited resources find it difficult to match larger companies that use traditional expensive marketing avenues. The internet changes all that.”

KeyCreator starts at $3700. So I asked Jason if KeyCreator could be considered as a mid-range MCAD system, in the league of SolidWorks, Inventor and Solid Edge which sit at arout $5000. He replied, “We do come close to the mid-range in terms of functionality as well as price. However, we understand that users work in a multi-CAD environment. Instead of locking their data using proprietary formats our direct modeling approach makes it easy for them to exchange data with whoever they need do.” To drive the point in, he opened the CATIA model of a 757 landing gear, edited it as if it was created in KeyCreator itself and saved it back to CATIA. Too bad SolidWorks cannot do that.

A fully functional trial can be downloaded here. However, note that the CATIA translators along with those of Pro/ENGINEER and UG cost extra.

  • http://www.cadcam-e.com/ Debankan Chattopadhyay

    First:
    >> However, Matt admits, “Our surfaces are not good enough to design >> modern day cars. They are G1 continuous and in some cases G2,
    >> which is pretty much good for most consumer goods.”

    Then:
    >> I asked Jason about the spread of Kubotek’s customer base. He said
    >> that their main presence was in the aerospace and automotive
    >> industries

    What am I missing here?

  • http://www.cadcam-e.com Debankan Chattopadhyay

    First:
    >> However, Matt admits, “Our surfaces are not good enough to design >> modern day cars. They are G1 continuous and in some cases G2,
    >> which is pretty much good for most consumer goods.”

    Then:
    >> I asked Jason about the spread of Kubotek’s customer base. He said
    >> that their main presence was in the aerospace and automotive
    >> industries

    What am I missing here?

  • http://www.deelip.com/ Deelip Menezes

    Debankan,

    Styling is just one of the many aspects of automobile design. Most of the parts that make an automobile tick are actually prismatic and can be designed in just about any CAD system that knows what to do with a solid.

  • http://www.deelip.com Deelip Menezes

    Debankan,

    Styling is just one of the many aspects of automobile design. Most of the parts that make an automobile tick are actually prismatic and can be designed in just about any CAD system that knows what to do with a solid.

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com/ Jason Bassi

    Deelip – Thanks for the taking the time to talk about KeyCreator.

    In response to Debankan, a large portion of our customer base are automotive and aerospace suppliers, not necessarily OEM’s. In this case we are dealing with data as it moves down stream for manufacturing or analysis and not necessarily responsible for the styling aspect. Make no mistake, our surfacing package is quite robust and powerful.

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com Jason Bassi

    Deelip – Thanks for the taking the time to talk about KeyCreator.

    In response to Debankan, a large portion of our customer base are automotive and aerospace suppliers, not necessarily OEM’s. In this case we are dealing with data as it moves down stream for manufacturing or analysis and not necessarily responsible for the styling aspect. Make no mistake, our surfacing package is quite robust and powerful.

  • Ed

    This is a good article, I think KeyCreator has always gone unnoticed in the open CAD world, or at least on blogs, engineering media, etc., probably I assume their marketing strategy has not been agressive enough to be noticed and the fact that they were late to make their transition from the original Cadkey wireframe product into Solid modeling is probably a reason why they lost a sizeble market share at
    a time when many capable solid modelers were making good strides in industry and engineering over all and magazines were advertising software like Helix, SolidDesigner, MicroStation Modeler,Cadra, I-DEAS, etc with much more functionality, etc. and then other factors over the years, like the arrival of newcomers SolidWorks, Inventor, SolidEdge, etc, helped keep KCreator sort of in the shadows, even when it’s a very respectable product now, specially when working with other modelers’ geometry, but again their transition from wireframe to solids and decent
    surfaces took too long.

    Aside from that, they tried the parametrics route before with Cadkey and parametrics, I think they were headed in the right direction, but somehow let the ball drop and got out of that path.
    To me personally, Cadkey needs to also incorporate the parametrics functionality to be more appealing to the engineering/design crowd that is “hooked” on all things parametric while keeping the direct modeling approach running too side by side. Also the one thing they haven’t implemented like Deelip said is the push-pull approach and basically that is one thing that they never has had, DYNAMIC of anything, I am refering to moving parts, assemblies, etc in real time because of the lack of mating constrains, mates of what have you, every move or transformation needs to be input on your keyboard and that limits the work when you are just conceptualizing or proving out a mechanism for example.

    I hope they get it right this time with features and a robust product marketing, etc, but still I think that they absolutely need to have a sheetmetal modeler, parametrics and a true assembly modeler, not that trick of turning layers on and off of back in the days.

    I don’t know all of the capablities of the current version of KCreator, but I assume most serious users of cad would agree with me that these days to compete in the cad market you need to provide all of those features and sometimes more, depending on the type of work you do, to bring your business to compete and be profitable and create great products.

    On the positive side their cad package is one of the best hybrid modelers based on the fact that you are working on one single model file session at the same time mixing wireframe, surface and solid and even drafting layout, not like some modelers that keep you going back and forth to complete one design.

    I wish good luck to Kubotek in the future, they deserve some recognition for their accomplishment so far in the the direct modeling arena, hopefully they will use that same success to improve in other areas of cad/cae/cam to take KC to the next leve.

    My $.002 cents.

  • http://yahoo Ed

    This is a good article, I think KeyCreator has always gone unnoticed in the open CAD world, or at least on blogs, engineering media, etc., probably I assume their marketing strategy has not been agressive enough to be noticed and the fact that they were late to make their transition from the original Cadkey wireframe product into Solid modeling is probably a reason why they lost a sizeble market share at
    a time when many capable solid modelers were making good strides in industry and engineering over all and magazines were advertising software like Helix, SolidDesigner, MicroStation Modeler,Cadra, I-DEAS, etc with much more functionality, etc. and then other factors over the years, like the arrival of newcomers SolidWorks, Inventor, SolidEdge, etc, helped keep KCreator sort of in the shadows, even when it’s a very respectable product now, specially when working with other modelers’ geometry, but again their transition from wireframe to solids and decent
    surfaces took too long.

    Aside from that, they tried the parametrics route before with Cadkey and parametrics, I think they were headed in the right direction, but somehow let the ball drop and got out of that path.
    To me personally, Cadkey needs to also incorporate the parametrics functionality to be more appealing to the engineering/design crowd that is “hooked” on all things parametric while keeping the direct modeling approach running too side by side. Also the one thing they haven’t implemented like Deelip said is the push-pull approach and basically that is one thing that they never has had, DYNAMIC of anything, I am refering to moving parts, assemblies, etc in real time because of the lack of mating constrains, mates of what have you, every move or transformation needs to be input on your keyboard and that limits the work when you are just conceptualizing or proving out a mechanism for example.

    I hope they get it right this time with features and a robust product marketing, etc, but still I think that they absolutely need to have a sheetmetal modeler, parametrics and a true assembly modeler, not that trick of turning layers on and off of back in the days.

    I don’t know all of the capablities of the current version of KCreator, but I assume most serious users of cad would agree with me that these days to compete in the cad market you need to provide all of those features and sometimes more, depending on the type of work you do, to bring your business to compete and be profitable and create great products.

    On the positive side their cad package is one of the best hybrid modelers based on the fact that you are working on one single model file session at the same time mixing wireframe, surface and solid and even drafting layout, not like some modelers that keep you going back and forth to complete one design.

    I wish good luck to Kubotek in the future, they deserve some recognition for their accomplishment so far in the the direct modeling arena, hopefully they will use that same success to improve in other areas of cad/cae/cam to take KC to the next leve.

    My $.002 cents.

  • http://www.cadcam-e.com/ Debankan Chattopadhyay

    @Deelip & @ Jason:

    Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I do understand that all parts in automobile design need not deal with surfacing but then when you say “our surfaces are not good enough…” and then “…pretty much good for most consumer goods” and later follow it up with “main presence in aerospace and automotive industries” it can be a tad confusing. I’m glad Jason took the time to clarify “…make no mistake, our surfacing package is quite powerful”. Thanks gentlemen.

  • http://www.cadcam-e.com Debankan Chattopadhyay

    @Deelip & @ Jason:

    Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I do understand that all parts in automobile design need not deal with surfacing but then when you say “our surfaces are not good enough…” and then “…pretty much good for most consumer goods” and later follow it up with “main presence in aerospace and automotive industries” it can be a tad confusing. I’m glad Jason took the time to clarify “…make no mistake, our surfacing package is quite powerful”. Thanks gentlemen.

  • Ken

    It’s one thing to be able to create and manipulate geometry, it’s completely another thing to do that in concert with other parts, assemblies and drawings covering several product lines. This is where the likes of Solid Works, Solid Edge, Inventor and those “enterprise” CAD systems have always had an edge and continue to do so (we will leave the surfacing out of this comment). Many manufacturers want a “process” capable CAD system (not just “geometry” capable) and I think THAT one point is what keeps the likes of Alibre and KeyCreator in the shadows. That’s why no one cares that Direct Modeling has been done before in CAD systems that that remain in a niche market. They care about it when it comes to the products capable of process driven “production” modeling.

  • Ken

    It’s one thing to be able to create and manipulate geometry, it’s completely another thing to do that in concert with other parts, assemblies and drawings covering several product lines. This is where the likes of Solid Works, Solid Edge, Inventor and those “enterprise” CAD systems have always had an edge and continue to do so (we will leave the surfacing out of this comment). Many manufacturers want a “process” capable CAD system (not just “geometry” capable) and I think THAT one point is what keeps the likes of Alibre and KeyCreator in the shadows. That’s why no one cares that Direct Modeling has been done before in CAD systems that that remain in a niche market. They care about it when it comes to the products capable of process driven “production” modeling.

  • Anonymous

    The parametric modelers like SW/Inv/UG/ProE assume that the customer’s data gets created, edited, analyzed, prepped for Manufacturing and communicated(drawings, process sheets) in some kind of closed system where everyone uses their proprietary CAD packages. As much as these companies would like nothing more that to have all of the members of the supply chain in their CAD system. This is clearly not reality,(in some cases the OEM is even subcontracting the initial design!). This thinking and the proprietary nature of the parametric companies causes problems for many companies. Kubotek, I can’t speak for other companies, but Kubotek KeyCreator has an open, flexible and robust CAD system, that imports files from most other CAD systems, which can then be edited, using solids, surfaces, 3D wireframe and 2D. Our technology also recognizes features and patterns of features across assemblies from this imported or native data, and allows one click editing of patterns or individual features. Models and drawings are associative. Kubotek plays nice with other packages and gives the OEMs, and those downstream in the supply chain the freedom and precision necessary to produce and change products quickly.

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com Scott Sweeney

    The parametric modelers like SW/Inv/UG/ProE assume that the customer’s data gets created, edited, analyzed, prepped for Manufacturing and communicated(drawings, process sheets) in some kind of closed system where everyone uses their proprietary CAD packages. As much as these companies would like nothing more that to have all of the members of the supply chain in their CAD system. This is clearly not reality,(in some cases the OEM is even subcontracting the initial design!). This thinking and the proprietary nature of the parametric companies causes problems for many companies. Kubotek, I can’t speak for other companies, but Kubotek KeyCreator has an open, flexible and robust CAD system, that imports files from most other CAD systems, which can then be edited, using solids, surfaces, 3D wireframe and 2D. Our technology also recognizes features and patterns of features across assemblies from this imported or native data, and allows one click editing of patterns or individual features. Models and drawings are associative. Kubotek plays nice with other packages and gives the OEMs, and those downstream in the supply chain the freedom and precision necessary to produce and change products quickly.

  • http://yahoo Ed

    Scott,
    I guess when you said “Kubotek plays nice with other packages and gives the OEMs, and those downstream in the supply chain the freedom and precision necessary to produce and change products quickly.”

    With that statement you are also saying that Kubotek is happy and
    satisfied with selling their flagship product “KeyCreator” as a good “second best” add-on to any much superior “first” CAD program from another vendor.

    Kubotek should really be working on addidng more of the same functionality of the other main stream cad products to try narrow the gap and gain market share and credibility in the industry, direct modeling along and manipulation of other cad system data is not enough this days, you need more that taht to entice the engineers and designers that are faced with more diverse tasks everyday, case in point KeyCreator does not read .IDF files from electronic board designs packages like Mentor, etc. so someone trying to create an enclosure would be limited to work at the assembly level t check interferences, etc.
    There is not finite element analysis included, back in the DOS days Cadkey included an Analysis application and machining(CuttingEdge).
    My advice is to you and the Kubotek company as a whole is add more development to the product besides direct modeling, ad more CDL applications, macros, etc that integrate with the core modeler to support more task that are not there now and then you will have a winning product. Your company should have all that by now, being a pioneer of CAD.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for commenting. It looks like you have some experience with our older products. A lot has happened in the last 5 years! Playing nice with other packages simply means Kubotek does not lock you into any one file format to be productive. Many of our customers deal with data from multiple systems like Catia, UG, Pro E, SolidWorks or Inventor and need tools that allow them to mine data from the models and allow for the freedom for model creation and editing in one simple unconstrained environment. This does not imply a second rate package, quite contrary for many companies this is a huge advantage. I think the assumption here is that all users of CAD fit one profile. It may be that the many users fall into the paradigm your are describing, but with the insurgence of interest and productivity gains demonstrated by using packages like KeyCreator, SpaceClaim, CoCreate and IronCad, it seems like there is room for more than a one size fits all approach.

    By the way the cutting edge product has been continued under the name of KeyMachinist. By the sounds of it, you may not be aware of many of the other changes that have taken place since Kubotek purchased CADKEY. It is interesting even after 20+ years, many people feel passionate one way or another about a powerful CAD system with its origins dating back to CADKEY Corp. We thank our many loyal customers who continue to support our efforts.

    Feel free to come and check our our CAD products and productivity tools – which have free trials by visiting us at: http://www.kubotekusa.com/products.html

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com Scott Sweeney

    Thanks for commenting. It looks like you have some experience with our older products. A lot has happened in the last 5 years! Playing nice with other packages simply means Kubotek does not lock you into any one file format to be productive. Many of our customers deal with data from multiple systems like Catia, UG, Pro E, SolidWorks or Inventor and need tools that allow them to mine data from the models and allow for the freedom for model creation and editing in one simple unconstrained environment. This does not imply a second rate package, quite contrary for many companies this is a huge advantage. I think the assumption here is that all users of CAD fit one profile. It may be that the many users fall into the paradigm your are describing, but with the insurgence of interest and productivity gains demonstrated by using packages like KeyCreator, SpaceClaim, CoCreate and IronCad, it seems like there is room for more than a one size fits all approach.

    By the way the cutting edge product has been continued under the name of KeyMachinist. By the sounds of it, you may not be aware of many of the other changes that have taken place since Kubotek purchased CADKEY. It is interesting even after 20+ years, many people feel passionate one way or another about a powerful CAD system with its origins dating back to CADKEY Corp. We thank our many loyal customers who continue to support our efforts.

    Feel free to come and check our our CAD products and productivity tools – which have free trials by visiting us at: http://www.kubotekusa.com/products.html

  • Ed

    Scott,
    Thanks for your input on the subject, what I was really refering to is that Kubotek has demonstrated great capabilities when working with foreign geometry and I’m glad there is a cnc milling package also available from the same company, what I would like to see is other useful modeling capabilities like assembly constraints, sheetmetal modeling, etc.
    Believe me many years ago, I started on cadkey DOS 6.0 and then transitioned to Catia on UNIX and it was difficult but necessary, however I enjoyed cadkey for being user friendly and flexible. Do not know much about KeyCreator, I’m waiting to see if Kubotek follows the Alibre path and comes out with a nice discount on KeyCreator, then I may purchase it for hobby or to do some work on the side, Any chance to get a discount for KeyCreator, Scott?

  • http://yahoo Ed

    Scott,
    Thanks for your input on the subject, what I was really refering to is that Kubotek has demonstrated great capabilities when working with foreign geometry and I’m glad there is a cnc milling package also available from the same company, what I would like to see is other useful modeling capabilities like assembly constraints, sheetmetal modeling, etc.
    Believe me many years ago, I started on cadkey DOS 6.0 and then transitioned to Catia on UNIX and it was difficult but necessary, however I enjoyed cadkey for being user friendly and flexible. Do not know much about KeyCreator, I’m waiting to see if Kubotek follows the Alibre path and comes out with a nice discount on KeyCreator, then I may purchase it for hobby or to do some work on the side, Any chance to get a discount for KeyCreator, Scott?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Ed:
    You’ll be happy to know that we have also added many sheet metal capabilities including bend and unbend (automatic!). And we have some mating capabilities in assemblies. (And adding more.) Why don’t you download the free trial and take a look at it? http://www.kubotekusa.com/products/keycreator_sub/tdemo/index.asp

    Make sure to make a note somewhere that you are Ed from the Deelip blog and we can chat. (Or just send me an email if you like at ssweeney@kubotekusa.com)

    Thanks for the input! It is very valuable to us.

    Scott

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com Scott Sweeney

    Hi Ed:
    You’ll be happy to know that we have also added many sheet metal capabilities including bend and unbend (automatic!). And we have some mating capabilities in assemblies. (And adding more.) Why don’t you download the free trial and take a look at it? http://www.kubotekusa.com/products/keycreator_sub/tdemo/index.asp

    Make sure to make a note somewhere that you are Ed from the Deelip blog and we can chat. (Or just send me an email if you like at ssweeney@kubotekusa.com)

    Thanks for the input! It is very valuable to us.

    Scott

  • Anonymous

    Here is a better link for the 30 day trial of KeyCreator – look for the large box on the left.
    http://www.kubotekusa.com/products.html

  • http://www.kubotekusa.com Scott Sweeney

    Here is a better link for the 30 day trial of KeyCreator – look for the large box on the left.
    http://www.kubotekusa.com/products.html

  • Ed

    Scott,
    I guess when you said “Kubotek plays nice with other packages and gives the OEMs, and those downstream in the supply chain the freedom and precision necessary to produce and change products quickly.”

    With that statement you are also saying that Kubotek is happy and
    satisfied with selling their flagship product “KeyCreator” as a good “second best” add-on to any much superior “first” CAD program from another vendor.

    Kubotek should really be working on addidng more of the same functionality of the other main stream cad products to try narrow the gap and gain market share and credibility in the industry, direct modeling along and manipulation of other cad system data is not enough this days, you need more that taht to entice the engineers and designers that are faced with more diverse tasks everyday, case in point KeyCreator does not read .IDF files from electronic board designs packages like Mentor, etc. so someone trying to create an enclosure would be limited to work at the assembly level t check interferences, etc.
    There is not finite element analysis included, back in the DOS days Cadkey included an Analysis application and machining(CuttingEdge).
    My advice is to you and the Kubotek company as a whole is add more development to the product besides direct modeling, ad more CDL applications, macros, etc that integrate with the core modeler to support more task that are not there now and then you will have a winning product. Your company should have all that by now, being a pioneer of CAD.




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