We’ve heard people say for years that CAD is a mature solution, and we’ve done most of what there is to do with this type of tool. So the implication is that the interesting conversation should move on to other areas that can be utilized in engineering, such as AI, simulation, generative design, IT delivery methods, consumer 3D print. Or is the future of CAD just about interface?
Maybe the role of the product designer is going to be automated? Replaced by artificially intelligent server banks? Relegated to maintaining the servers and power infrastructure. “You are belong to us”. The machines will learn language from the internet. Uggg. I dunno. So much of human experience is cyclical, that I don’t think it would be unreasonable for us to have a resurgence of the agrarian society.
Look at the human growth cycle. We grow bigger and stronger for the first 20 years or so, and then we keep growing, but that growth weakens us. Then we actually start shrinking before we pass on. Is it possible that we design organizations that follow this familiar pattern? Do our organizations keep growing until they begin collapsing under their own weight? Humans are obsessed with growth. Everything must grow! Is this natural or just pushed by financial concerns? Population growth is straining the planet, but the big solution is electric cars? Really? Another typical symptom of old age is apparently blindness.
Can CAD avoid bloating until it stops functioning from the non-functional inertia? Or will it simply be dissolved indistinguishably into the rest of the product design toolset?
Here are some things that might make it into mainstream CAD.
1. History is History. What’s Next?
I really believe that technology in this century has outgrown the need for incremental build of geometrical models. There is probably another method out there for building and editing product geometry. I think the whole process needs to become less technical (less about the tools) and more related to the end product. Functional Modeling, perhaps, where we specify what the product does, how it is used, and AI “designs” the product.
One way this could work would be a “body order of operations” which would still be kind of history-based, but based on boolean body operations. “Add this then subtract this”, not for every feature, but maybe for macro features, or several features combined.
Another way is obviously the Synchronous Technology method. It’s direct edit with brains. Intelligence in the software/interface rather than in the rebuild method for the features. It offers a lot of flexibility, and removes parent/child tangles and failures.
Or… Functional Modeling, anyone? Instead of building everything from geometrical sketches, you use functional building blocks, like hinge, thin wall, pin/hole, snap/catch. You start to see some of these kinds of features in CAD now, but if this takes over, designs would be faster and more generic.
This could take the form where the human establishes the location for the interfaces between parts or systems, and establishes the requirements, like “can be dropped from 2 meters without collapsing on itself”, and the AI figures it out from there. 10 hour work week.
2. Should all design be more… modular?
Do we really need CAD tools that are flexible enough to model literally anything, or do we just need a tool that through AI can link technical requirements to materials and thus to manufacturing processes, and can create geometry for just a couple dozen functional behaviors, such as slide, hinge, clamp, pivot, human interface, etc? This would greatly simplify design, and allow AI to be programmed that could handle it.
3. Combination of Data Types
In a recent interview, we heard Matt Sederberg talk about U-Splines, and how simulation data needs to be more closely related to design data to truly make them interchangeable. Not that this is low hanging fruit exactly, but it is one place where a lot of time can be taken out of the product development cycle. We spend a lot of time working on parallel models – a design model, and a simulation model. Always with this one-way conversion step between them. I think Matt has a bead on how to eliminate this bottle neck in the process.
We can extend that to include the mesh type data. Matt said in the interview,
there has been a strong trend in automotive design for several years to move away from traditional NURBS modeling and towards more flexible, form-finding technologies like subds, T-splines, and polygons. This cuts a significant amount of the modeling time during the initial form exploration stage. However, as the shape is refined to class A, it always requires being completely and tediously remodeled
4. Yeah, but… Cloud?
I think we all get by now that the Cloud is not a CAD innovation. It’s just an IT delivery method. There are some cool things happening in CAD in the cloud, but I’m not convinced that you need to be in the cloud to do them.
Anything that you can do in the cloud, you can also do locally, aside from possibly the scale, unless of course you have a huge CAD department. In the vein that “all things must centralize”, I get where the cultural drive for this is coming from, but as an individual guy who likes to develop products, I don’t think it benefits me.
They say “kids” (which I take to mean “under 30”) are the ones who really “get the cloud”. That may be true in some ways, I guess. They are the ones who have a hard time with the concept of ownership, and certainly the cloud challenges that concept. Possibly they don’t watch the news that much, because you can’t watch the news for a week without learning of some big security breach where your tightly guarded personal info, or a map of your home created by your robotic vacuum cleaner, or your web browsing habits collected by a spying browser, or any number of things has been stolen and sold to be used against you. Google and Amazon and Microsoft and the ever decreasing number of ever growing monopolistic concerns want us to believe this is ok. In 30 years, those of us who don’t believe it’s ok will be gone, and the kids whose birthright is directed advertising and corporatocracy will just succumb. Wall-E. There is nothing left for humans to do, because the robots do it all for us. We’ve got all these billions of people, but nothing for them to do except fix robots, and we’ve already got robots for that. We consume. But there no longer much value for us all to add to the system. Nations cease to exist, everything is run and owned by corporations.
Maybe I’ll just go back to farming, and mind my own business.