There is a CAD company that has been around for many years that makes a fully integrated CAD/CAM system offering a powerful combination of solid modeling and surface modeling few others can match, with a devoted following of loyal customers. Yet only a few users of CAD will mention this company's product in the list of their top 5 most popular CAD systems. This is because at VX all the energy goes into improving their CAD system rather than into marketing. The promotion of the system is mostly left to word of mouth. While it's an old marketing tool, and slow, if you have a great product it is also very effective. The person that shaped VX, the product, and VX, the company, is Mark Vorwaller. After meeting Mark for the first time at last year's COFES, I asked him for an interview.
Mark, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your company?
blending these modeling technologies gives VX customers superior power and flexibility
I co-founded Control Automation, Inc (CAI) in 1985 while engaged in post-graduate studies at the University of Florida's center for robotics. Control Automation's first project involved development of software controls for robot workcells. An in-house PC-based solid modeler was developed to support the project. The modeler was private-labeled by several software vendors and sold directly by CAI as ModelMATE. In 1989, CAI began joint development of a hybrid surface/solid modeler with a large Japanese company. The modeler used a combination of variational and parametric geometry, resulting in a new company name "Varimetrix". I believe that blending these modeling technologies gives VX customers superior power and flexibility designing parts and assemblies. Over time, the name "Varimetrix" was contracted to "VX" by customers and resellers, which is how we are known today.
Even though VX is a very powerful system it's not yet as popular as comparable CAD systems. Can you explain what makes VX different from your competitors?
users can learn VX on their own schedule and at their own pace
In my opinion the key differentiators for VX are (1) the robustness and flexibility of its hybrid surface/solid modeling, (2) its speed and effectiveness working with large parts and assemblies, (3) its ability to immediately work with any imported part – no solids required, (4) its hybrid history and direct-edit modeling, (5) its class A surfacing for sophisticated consumer products, (6) its scaleability with fully-associative native applications for reverse engineering, mold & die design and 2-5 axis CAM, (7) its ability to work robustly with non-native geometry and (8) its Show-n-Tell built-in e-learning system that works like a 3D book. Users can learn VX on their own schedule and at their own pace. Our customers tell us that these capabilities in VX are key to giving them a competitive edge.
Your product is one of the few systems that covers almost the entire design and manufacturing process, from idea conception to machining. What are the advantages and limitations of this holistic approach?
the user can only benefit from seamless integration and associativity across applications
I can only think of advantages. I am convinced that the user can only benefit from seamless integration and associativity across applications. If you modify a product design in VX, the associated mold designs, drawings and CAM process plans can be updated automatically. Everything is built on one architecture and one database, so there is no conversion of geometry and no loss of data or accuracy between applications. VX CAM ensures VX CAD generates clean and accurate geometry for manufacturing. It also requires that VX CAD works effectively with non-native geometry. With VX CAD/CAM, the customer does not have to deal with a conglomerate of products with differing user interfaces, release schedules, support systems and integration breakdowns.
In VX solid modeling and surface modeling are equal citizens, without any discrimination. How did you obtain this integration and what are the implications for the end user?
the current VX CAD/CAM is a second generation of hybrid surface/solid modeling based on our experience with the first implementation
The product we joint-developed in the late 80's and early 90's was intended to be an alternative to a leading CAD system known for its advanced surfacing capabilities. However, we wanted our product to include the power of solid modeling, which we had learned via our ModelMATE development. Parametric and variational geometry concepts were thrown in the mix because of their usefulness and because hardware was getting powerful enough to handle them.
Because this hybrid approach was architected from the ground up, instead of cobbled together from existing technologies, I believe we achieved an excellent result. The current VX CAD/CAM is a second generation of hybrid surface/solid modeling based on our experience with the first implementation. Though VX may not be well known, it is a pioneering developer of hybrid modeling.
Hybrid modeling combines the automation of solids with the flexibility of advanced surfacing, especially for consumer product design. Solid feature operations can be applied to surfaces and vice versa. Based on my experience, it is often easier to design a complex free-form shape when you are not constrained to maintain a solids topology at all times. Hybrid modeling is very useful for mold design, including the design of parting surfaces and the creation of cores and cavities. A robust hybrid modeling kernel ensures VX can work more easily with "dirty" geometry imported from other CAD systems. VX customers know that hybrid modeling gives them a power and flexibility that is unparalleled by solid-only or surface-only systems.
What is your opinion about the new CAD trend favoring a simpler modeling process mostly based on push-pull operations (aka direct modeling)?
I've felt for years that direct edit should be implemented in conjunction with history-based or other parametric modeling techniques
I've felt for years that direct edit should be implemented in conjunction with history-based or other parametric modeling techniques. In the early 90's, some products started out doing only "direct edit" style modeling, but were totally eclipsed by history-based modelers. Computer and geometric modeling technology were not powerful enough in that time-frame to compete with history-based modeling. Ultimately, a couple of the "direct modelers" added history-based modeling in an attempt to meet end-user needs, but they were ineffective after-the-fact efforts.
My vision from the early 90's was for modeling that combined surface and solid modeling (hybrid), and that also combined history and "direct edit" capability. Our original direct edit tools were ways to edit non-feature model geometry. In the early days, these were operations performed on individual faces (deletion, extension, modification, splitting, trimming, offsetting) that were unavailable in other history-based modelers. We then worked on "Simplify", a direct edit technology for removing faces, features or edges, and automatically closing resultant gaps. In every case, our direct edit operations are logged to the history to avoid losing its benefits, but they do not rely on the history to obtain their results.
The next step of VX Direct Edit focuses on being able to move individual faces or groups of faces (including disjoint faces) while keeping part topology intact. Faces can be dynamically dragged to their new position, or placed exactly by using dynamic snapping with automatic dimensions. The dimensions can be modified by dragging arrowheads or by entering exact values.
In summary, I favor a functional combination of direct and parametric modeling techniques. This is consistent with VX's history of combining the best features of different technologies into a single usable software.
If you could wear the end-user hat for a moment, what is the major feature that is still missing in current CAD/CAM software (including VX)?
Truly powerful and easy-to-use multi-physics analysis capability seamlessly embedded in the CAD system.
VX product line goes from $995 to $10K. What is the right price for a CAD/CAM system? Is the price a major issue in the purchasing decision process?
VX pricing is right for its average customer, typically a small-to-medium size company
I believe price is more and more a consideration for end-users, even in larger organizations. Some CAD industry pundits like to say it's not factor, or that it should not be a factor, given the other costs that surround the use of a CAD/CAM system. That rhetoric has been around for years, but CAD/CAM companies big and small continue to lower prices and use discounts to attract customers big and small. I believe small-to-medium companies are more price sensitive than large companies, but in the free economy, price will always be a factor.
VX pricing is right for its average customer, typically a small-to-medium size company looking for a tool with high-end power at an affordable cost. Nearly 50% of VX customers use VX End-to-End (CAD through CAM). They desire the integration and associativity VX provides from CAD through CAM without the complications and cost of a collection of third party products or of purchasing from the large vendors that dominate the automotive and aerospace industry. There are a handful of CAD products priced lower than VX, but in my opinion they provide neither the power nor the scalability of VX CAD/CAM.
I would like to thank Mark for taking the time to answer my questions. If you have any questions for Mark or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer.
Show-n-Tell Review & Markup Video