PTC Creo 2.0
13 April 2012
Process type: Design
We take a look at what the latest version of Creo has to offer
If you’ve been following what PTC has been up to in the last year or so, you’ll be more than aware of the change in both brand and direction. Gone is the oldest name in the parametric modelling game, Pro/Engineer and this has been replaced with Creo.
Alongside the rebranding, there has also been a pretty dramatic shift in how PTC is bringing its solutions to market, how theses solutions are integrated and where things are heading in the future. There are several core concepts at play here.
E The first is that the Creo product range sees progressive merging of the Pro/E, CoCreate and ProductView (PTC’s lightweight visualisation and Digital Mock Up technology) products into a single set of applications. The second is the concept of “apps”. This sees a variety of task-specific tools split into separate applications, all built onto a single platform and common user interface. But first let’s explain how things are moving forward for users of Pro/E and Creo.
Pro/E is now known as Creo Parametric. Apart from a new ribbon style user interface (UI), most of the interaction from previous Pro/E versions remains the same. Personally, I had hoped for more modernisation of the user interface but, talking to the PTC folks, it’s clear that the company has serious concerns about making wholesale changes to the UI.
Considering that Pro/E was 20+ years old at the time of the switch, it does make sense to take a gradual approach. However, does that excuse the fact that there are still remnants of the Menu Mapper which predates the Wildfire release? No, it does not. But it’s not all bad news – in fact, far from it.
The good news is that Creo 1 and 2 bring some impressive new tools. For instance, there’s been a complete rework of both the measurement and sectioning tools available across the board. These are more flexible and, frankly, much more useful. One particular use case for the sectioning is to combine it with some of the Flex Modelling tools to enable working directly with the internals of a part while in a sectioned view.
FreeStyle - integrated Sub Division modelling
For those engaged in the creation of complex forms, Freestyle will go down a storm. Pro/E and now Creo has had the ISDX module for some time, allowing the creation of surface forms with endless amounts of control and editing potential, hence why it has such a heavy presence in key markets such as consumer electronics and motorcycle design.
FreeStyle works in a similar manner to ISDX, but brings the power of sub-divisional surface modelling found in the likes of Modo, Catia’s Imagine & Shape and Autodesk’s t-Splines. For those unfamiliar with the technology, sub-divisional modelling enables the creation of curvature continuous geometry in a very direct and freeform manner.
Within Creo, it works as an explicit self-contained feature in the history tree. Essentially, create a FreeStyle feature and then add the primitive, whether that’s a face, cylinder, sphere or cube. With a number of tools, either from the toolbar or the right click radial menu, the user can edit the form by manipulating not only the vertices of a cage surrounding the geometry, but also the edge and planes in that cage.
I’ve tried to show how this is done more graphically in the workflow below as it’s a rather difficult concept to explain. It’s worth noting that the end results are curvature continuous surfaces that can be taken into production, used with more standard design and engineering features, to flesh out a product.
There are a couple of rules to note. Firstly, that only a single freestyle primitive can be held in each feature. Although it does give the user a lot of room to add and remove geometry, it’s just from that single starting point per feature. That said, they can be stacked up, at any point in the feature history, and used just as you would any other geometry.
The second is that they can be placed at any point in the feature tree, allowing the user to work with more traditional tools, then add in the sculpted forms when needed, rather than following a prescriptive workflow.
Direct Editing & Creo Direct
In terms of CoCreate users, the current product is being maintained and developed under the name Creo Element Direct. Alongside this, there are new technologies being built into the next generation Creo products. For instance, Creo Direct will be a standalone direct modelling tool.
This adopts the same user experience as Creo Parametric, but is geared towards making direct edits to geometry, whether imported geometry or Creo native geometry.
In the forthcoming Creo 2.0, edits can be made across assemblies, allowing faces in multiple parts to be moved into position. There are new snapping tools that will make edits more precise.
In general, compared to the first release, Creo 2.0 looks and feels much more responsive. That said, there still aren’t enough tools available to allow the creation of geometry from scratch; this is much more focussed on editing existing geometry. There are, however, a few interesting tricks under the hood that are worth exploring further, specifically how the geometry and edits work in parallel with Creo Parametric.
Rather than taking the approach of other vendors where direct edits are rationalised between a direct edit engine and a parametric one, PTC has side-stepped the issue by, essentially building Creo Direct on top of the parametric modelling engine. This is perhaps best explained with an example.
In Creo Direct, a part can be opened and edited either from Creo Parametric or another system. Edits can then be made using direct modelling methods such as pushing and pulling faces, finding and editing patterns, removing features and such. It’s a pretty robust set of tools as long as the user stays within the topology and geometry rules.
Now, if that part is then saved in the native Creo format, it can then be opened in Creo Parametric. What the user will see is the base geometry, which could be an import or the pre-existing feature history, with each edit made by the Creo Direct user stored sequentially as a feature. If the user moves a boss, it shows that as an explicit feature.
This is really the crux of what PTC has done. Within Creo Direct, the same feature-level geometry modelling engine is used as within the parametric variant, but it’s hidden from the user. There might be a quick ramping up of feature count if the user is experimenting with geometry, but PTC is adding some intelligence into the process to reduce feature count and model bloat.
Now, while there’s Creo Elements Pro and Creo Direct, there’s also a bunch of tools that have been creeping into Creo for the last few releases under the name of Flex Modelling. The user has ability to work in a direct manner (think dragging and dropping geometry, editing features and patterns) without having to worry about history.
What’s interesting is that these tools are aimed at making both speedy edits to complex native Creo/legacy data or dumb, imported geometry from another system. The direct editing tools work pretty well on both types of data. If it’s native, the user can make tweaks without having to descramble a cryptic history tree. If it’s imported geometry, the user has the capability to identify complex patterns of features and make edits to them just as they might with native geometry.
Creo Options Modeller
When PTC launched the Creo product set, alongside the core changes in Pro/E and CoCreate, it also introduced the idea of AnyBOM Modelling. The core concept was that the BOM, which often describes a product built from options and variants within a company’s product range, could be used to drive the initial stages of the design process.
While AnyBOM Modelling isn’t a product per se, it has started to be delivered with the Creo Options Modeller. Built into Creo Parametric (although a standalone application is also forthcoming), this connects to the Windchill Options and Variants module. But what does it do?
Amost any large scale manufacturing endeavour these days will show that while customisation options are much wider than ever before, the standardisation and sharing of components and sub systems that support customisation have to be categorised and managed effectively.
This is the job of Windchill’s Options and Variants module. Each product range can be captured in terms of the various options available, the rules that define which components and sub systems can be used with each and which cannot.
The problem is that this tool provides no link to the actual design of the product configuration – other than guidelines by which it can be built. This is where the Options Modeller comes into play.
Creo Options Modeller connects the configuration of the product to the resultant 3D model. As Windchill is a model-based PLM system, in most cases the definition of the product is driven by the 3D model. So it makes sense for a system to be able to pull together the constituent parts and sub-assemblies required by a configuration and place them into an assembly file.
Now, if no further work is done, this will result in a pretty messy geometry model. The good news is that through preparatory work, specific common references can be created between the various constituent parts. The system can also position the components and sub-systems together automatically.
This is one of those occasions where the amount of upfront effort put in will really pay dividends. Most organisations, particularly those engaged in Engineer to Order, have a set of common components or sub-systems that connect to make up their product range. What this allows them to do is to carry out that common, repeatable work, then spend the resources of time, effort and cost to make it work together.
PTC made a huge noise about the launch of Creo, how it was promising a revolution in 3D modelling tools for design and engineering. The reality is that Creo is more an evolution of the existing Pro/E, CoCreate and ProductView products. Both are merging into a new set of tools that are based on the power of capability of Pro/E, but with some of the advantages of direct modelling from the CoCreate product set.
The Creo 2.0 release shows that the promise is being fulfilled and the work is being done to bring greater direct modelling tools, both into the core parametric environment with Flex Modelling and FreeStyle, but also in the Creo Direct standalone application.
Those looking for a complete overhaul of the existing user experiences are going to be a little disappointed. This still looks and feels like Pro/E, albeit with a ribbon-style interface. Is that a good thing? Well, that depends on your perspective.
Experienced Pro/E users will be happy with how things are progressing. The core interaction elements and workflow remain the same and the commands and operations are very neatly and sensibly organised into separate tabs. But, if you’re looking at the system from the purview of another system, then things might still look a little arcane.
This, it seems, is how things are going to be and the question becomes more about whether the power within Pro/E, in terms of large assembly modelling (and I mean very, very large assemblies), of complex shape experimentation and design, and of the ability to reuse managed data to drive product development, will offer greater benefits than a shiny and slick user interface.
Personally, the addition of sub-divisional modelling is one of the smartest things that PTC has done in a decade and, frankly, it should be making more noise about that on its own. Complex shape definition is one of the major challenges for many users and a wider percentage of the 3D design-using crowd is facing that very challenge than ever before.
The Options Modeller looks to be an intriguing mix of Windchill-based configuration management and Creo-based tools for automating days, if not weeks, of work to generate the starting point for many products. There is also talk of a non-Windchill-based version of this becoming available, which might suit those without the need for a full PLM implementation.
But to sum things up, what’s the verdict on Creo now it’s at the second release? The answer is one of mixed feelings. One part of me thinks PTC could have done a better job with tidying up the interface, finally killing the menu mapper and making it look more modern in terms of today’s user expectations – it doesn’t feel like state of the art, which I believe design and engineering software should.
The other part of me knew it would be this way. There’s too much capability, too much history in both the software and the user community to radically reinvent Pro/E and this is what we should have expected. Yes, PTC over hyped it, but if you’re realistic in your expectations (and I had to adjust my own expectations), this is a pretty satisfactory end result. The two product sets are merging and users are getting a bunch of interesting, and more importantly, eminently usable tools that can make life much easier.