Al Dean takes a whirlwind tour of the latest release of the flagship
product development software from Siemens PLM Software and finds a
product maturing in all areas of design, manufacturing, simulation and
Product NX 7.5
Price on application
Siemens PLM Software’sNX has led an interesting life since the merger of Unigraphics and I-
deas some yearsback. The product assumed the natural role of the company’sflagship 3D
product modelling system, it took over from Unigraphics as one of the most important products
in the machining world and, since the introductionof NX Nastran, has also deliveredsome
seriously bulletproof simulation and analysis tools.
The new Freeform tools with Synchronous Technology allow users to manipulate not only prismatic
geometry, but to also work freely with complex freeform,geometry
Along this journey NX has been through some serious rework, on boththe underlying
architecture and the user experience. The endresult is a thoroughly modern systemthat’s not
only applicable to a huge cross sectionof industry sectors, but is available on multiple platforms
– it’s one of the few 3D systems to support Mac OS X and Linux. Thismonth saw the launch of
the latest release, NX 7.5, following on fromthe 7.0 release in October 2009. So without further
ado, let’s dig in.
Before we get into the excitingmodelling and product development updates, it’s worth a quick
look at what has been going on under the hood. Siemens developsthe JT format, which has seen
widespread adoption in the automotive industry as a format for sharing data. It has also been
used inside NX to display models in a lightweight format making it easier to load up large models
on a standard desktopworkstation.
Previously, inorder to take advantage of the technology inside NX the user needed to specifically
create JT-variantsof full geometry. Nowthe system generatesthe JT -style dataon the fly and as
a product model is opened it loads the lightweight representationas default. This means that
dramatically larger datasets can be opened and worked on in a much shorter time frame.
As with all such technologies, there will always come a point when the complete description
needs to be loaded up, but with each release this point is being pushed further away. With NX 7.5
users can load, view, crosssection/measure, create reference geometry from, andcarry out
parametric part updates, all without having to load the full heavy descriptionof the data. While
this won’t have a huge impact on those working with smaller assemblies, for those who deal with
10,000sof parts, it’ll make life much more tolerable.
The new ‘component first’ concept introduced into fastener placement sees the focus shift from hole
then part placement to one in which the user defines the fastener stack and the system generates the
correct mounting features
The entire sketchinguser interface has been streamlined to make it easier to get from an initial
idea to a feature and model. For example, now the user does not need to exit a sketchbefore
building the geometry – he or she simply sketches, performsthe 3D operation and it’s done. In
addition, the sketching processis much more fluid than in previousreleasesand dimensioning is
automatic. This allows the user to work with key inputs directly andto formalise geometry where
needed. It’s interesting to note that these dimensions aren’t constraintsas such. In order for
them to drive as parametersthey need to be added manually, but this should mean that precise
geometry canbe got down on “paper” as quickly as possible.
NX can now work with regions within sketches, so the need to create a fully trimmed boundary is
removed, which makes things much quicker. Another speed enhancement comesin the form of
the new NX Reuse Library, which lets users store profilesand sketchgeometry, thenquickly drag
them out of the library and position them very quickly indeed.
For those still unfamiliar with Sync Tech, thiswas a huge announcement from Siemens two years
ago and it arguably kick-startedthe mainstream adoption of history-lessmodelling. While
featuresremained a core part of the process, adding intelligence to models and edits and
decreasing the system’sreliance on history was seen by many as the start of a new movement.
While a great emphasis was placed on the integration of Sync Techinto Siemens PLM’s Solid
Edge product, NX also got a healthy set of tools that really took this approach to heart. Many
industry pundits missed the updates made in NX, but this couldbe attributed to the fact that this
wasn’t quite the revolutionwithin NX that it was in Edge. NX had supportedthe freeform
modificationof geometry for some time and the changes were quite subtle. Thiswas further
compoundedby the fact that the NX Sync Techimplementation allowed much more freedomto
use the new modelling techniquesas and when desired, either in a storedhistory method or not
at all. Essentially it was integrated into the existing modelling workflowand user experience,
rather than disrupting it completely.
In the first few releases, Sync Techwas applied to the creation and modification of prismatic
geometry, allowing a combination of dynamically appliedgeometry filtersand direct editing
tools. For NX 7.5 this has been extendedinto the creationand modificationof freeformshapes.
For many yearsNX has been able to work directly with surface geometry to a very fine degree.
Rather than just relyingon the traditional network of curvesto construct surface geometry, it has
allowed the user to dive in and controlthe formof surfacesin a much deeper manner, pushing
and pulling CVs, isolines and such. Thisis the type of geometry editing that traditionally
separates ‘solid modelling’ systemsfrom true surface modellers.
For the 7.5 release, these toolshave been reworkedwith SynchronousTechnology andallow
users to implement them in a flexible manner, storing history and each modificationas a
separate feature, or to work truly freeform. The toolsare built into two key operations.
Replace Face allows users to grab geometry from parts and sub-assemblies and quickly adapt it to a new
use without too many concerns about part history
xFormhas been in NX (and Unigraphics before it) for some time and uses a wireframe ‘cage’
around the surface to push and pull it into the required form. iForm is a new variant of this, but
uses the controlpoints and isolines in the surface directly. Bothapproachesare suitable for
different tasks and their use is interchangeable. What’s really impressive is how these toolscan
now be used in combinationwith a range of intelligent modelling tools, such as symmetry or the
Sync TechdrivenFace Finder and Replace Face tools, to make modificationsthat are intelligently
linked to its surrounding geometry. Also because it worksin the “free from history constraints”
way that all Sync Tech-basedtoolsdo, downstream features(such as fillets, shelled etc)remain
live and previewsshow the effect onthe whole part during edits, rather just the immediate effect
of a change to a single surface.
Replace Face–theperfect Sync Techtool
It’s not oftenthat I obsess over a single feature in a modelling system, but I’ll make an exception
here. While the direct editing, intelligent push and pull toolsof Sync Techare impressive,
perhaps the most useful tool for a designer is the Replace Face command. In its most raw form, it
allows users to take existinggeometry and quickly adapt it to their new requirements and
application. Grab the geometry, matchthe facesinto the new position and you’re done.
The new versionnow includes the ‘With Offset’option. Thisextendsthe tool and means complex
geometry cannow be brought in and the Replace Face can be used in combinationwith the Face
Finder filtersto adapt it to a new complex form. When combinedwith the new easier-to-use
Reuse Library it makes huge sense.
Reuse library andFasteners
Data Reuse is a big focusfor this release. From the more efficient 2D profile library and
positioning method, the whole systemencouragesusers to not only reuse data, but makes it
easier to create those assets. While the system comeswith a good range of standard profiles and
sections, it’s alwayshandy to be able to create your own set of commonly used profiles, whether
those are for locating featuresor profiles for building common features.
To create an item in the Reuse Library the user simply grabs the geometry (be it 2D or 3D),
copiesit into the clipboard(CTRL+C), pastes it into a new dialog, adds the required details (such
as a previewimage, locatorsfor positioning) and it’s done.
Alongside this, there’s also some work being done to change the semantics of how users work
with fasteners. In essence, instead of creating a hole in an assembly, then adding the fastener to
it, the user createsthe fastener in positionand the sub-assembly stack (with hardware such as
washers, spring clips etc)also createsthe appropriate hole to support that feature. This couldbe
a series of pass through holes or with a thread, for example. It’s a subtle change, but one which
makes perfect sense – after all, what youwant is two parts connectedwith an 8mm hex head
screw and not an 8.1mm hole.
The enhancements made to HD3D, which bring clarity and richness
to the often overwhelmingly complex and cryptic data we store in
our data management system, are impressive
High Definition 3D (or HD-3D for short) was introducedlast year with the NX 7.0 release. It
combined Siemens’ experience in lightweight data visualisation (from the JT format) and Data
Management (with Teamcenter)and createdan environment in which users could graphically
explore a product in development and discover allmanner of information. This couldbe project
status information, where supplier content was found, or where the varioussub-systemswere in
terms of the project timeline.
These Visual Reportsallowed users to add rich graphical context to what would previously be a
text-baseddata management query. Alongside Visual Reports, the systemwas also used for
Check Mate reportsto discover whether or not parts or sub-assemblies adhered to all manner of
geometry and topology-basedstandard checks(suchas using the VDA geometry quality
requirements) or internal requirements, as well as more ad hoc checks – for example, ‘has this
part passed a CAE simulation test?’
Door Handle Design using PTS Visual Rules-2: The Reuse Library enables users to quickly reuse a wide
range of data, but when combined with automation and the Product Template Studio, sub-systems which
contain a full range of knowledge and intelligence can also be created
For the 7.5 release, Siemens has extendedthe application of the HD-3D technology in two key
areas. Firstly, it now integrates directly with Teamcenter, so that the full extent of the managed
meta data can be used as the basis for queries, allowing users to pretty muchfind out where,
when and how anything is happening within a product under development. For example, data
can now be pulled fromTeamcenter Requirements(such as specific performance requirementsin
terms of weight or volume)and the systemcan run checksautomatically with each revision.
The secondis that the HD3D-based toolsare now much more flexible in the NX environment.
Whereas previously VisualReportscouldonly be used with the appropriate dialog, they can now
be interactedwith using the assembly Navigator. Thismeans users can work in the way they’re
used to, rather than having to adapt to a prescribedworkflow.
Tryingto cover the simulation updates in NX 7.5 in a single reviewis nigh on impossible, but
here’s a quick look at what’s becoming a very interestingset of toolsthat cover a huge range of
simulation tasks and industry specialism.
There are severalkey areas for this release. The first is greater support for Multi-body Dynamics.
Users can now include flexible body dynamicsin assembly simulations allowing bothrigid and
flexible bodiesto be combined in a single NX Motionsimulation. In addition, for those working
on systems levelsimulation, a dynamic link can be createdbetween NX Motion and
MATLAB/Simulink, allowing the two to pass data between them in order to create a more
The secondkey enhancement is Durability. Fatigue analysis is becoming more widespread in
many simulation tools, but for many the processof integrating cyclicalloadinginto a simulation
run is a time consuming task. Enter the Durability Wizard, which guides users through the set-up
and reportingprocessto ensure the information is in the right format, where it’s needed.
The final area I want to discuss is the introductionof better tools for combining digital simulation
with physicaltest results. Using the new toolsthe digital environment can be used to plan out
testing processes(measurement points, sensor settings and such) and physicaltest results can be
fed back in the simulation and linked to the digital model. Thisallows the user to correlate the
digital with the physicaltest results, conduct greater experimentationand for those looking to
reduce the number of physicaltests, provide greater confidence and the ability to fine tune the
Finally, it’s worth noting that the updates that have been made to the modelling environment are
also extremely relevant to simulation and SynchronousTechnology canpay huge dividends for
the simulation-focussed user. Rather than having to rely on traditional modelling techniques for
abstractionof models and de-featuring and re-parametrisation, users can dive in and make the
requirededits without having to worry about having an intimate knowledge of the construction
history of the part and assembly. This is going to make the whole processmuch more efficient.
Featuring lightweight JT viewing techniques at its core, NX allows users to work with incredibly large
datasets quickly and efficiently
Every time I look at NX I am completely blownaway and have the same realisation that while
some systemsmake a lot of noise about how they support an entire industry workflow, NX
actually fulfilsthat visionand all from within a single system.
While Siemens continuesto increase the depth of functionality, there is a constant stream of
work being done on the user experience, bothin terms of simplifying and rationalising
functionality and adding new toolsto make complex taskseasier to perform. A perfect example of
this is the manner in which SynchronousTechnology hasbeen expandedin this release to
support the creationand modificationof complex surfaces. By removingthe reliance on history
with direct editing tools, it makes light work of what should be a time consuming task.
Finally, to capthings off, the enhancements made to HD3D, which bring clarity and richness to
the often overwhelmingly complex andcryptic datawe store in our data management system, are
impressive. It makes the whole thing work fromnot only a design and productionpoint of view,
but from an organisational level, allowing anyone involvedin the product development processto
truly engage with the job at hand. In short, it’s another outstanding release.