Solid Edge V12 improves on surface modeling, weld representation, and wiring and wire-harness design. The inset window over the highlighted surface suggests some of the surfacing tools available.

For data management, the software includes Microsoft SharePoint, a collaboration portal for managing text files. It provides vaulting, check-in/check-out, revision history, and data searches.

Those are generally the product-data-management features for which many companies are looking.

V12 also includes Insight.NET, Web services for collaboration and communication. It helps with product structures and other design management functions. Insight.NET works like a viewer but lets users make design data available on the Web to anyone who needs to see it, even non-Solid Edge users. It has a single window for managing and viewing parts, assemblies, drawings, and BOMs. Everything is up to-date because you're looking at the latest available or "live" data.

In the case of 3D geometry, data is a lightweight, rapid-response version. That means the part looks fully loaded but it's just a link to the file. It allows quicker graphical performance until you need to do something to the part. Then it must be loaded.

The software handles full text searches for such things as drawing titles. A new user interface, Stream XP, takes advantage of Windows XP technology for viewing and accomplishing tasks quicker. Users should have an easy time learning the XP look and feel. They won't need Windows XP to take advantage of these enhancements. For example, one feature shortens search times by showing thumbnails of models inside an Explorer window.

The software helps users transition from 2D to 3D design work. In addition to standard drafting tools, for example, V12 adds features such as automatic ballooning. In an assembly, the CAD software queries the BOM and attaches a balloon to each component on the drawing. You can move the balloons around as you like, but that's basically all the work there is. It cuts a great deal of time off making complicated drawings. And a 3D Wizard makes fully parametric models out of 2D drawings in just a few steps.

The brake-pedal mechanism appears in the recent Stream XP interface. It uses Windows XP technology for viewing and accomplishing tasks quicker than previously possible. Windows XP is not required to take advantage of these enhancements.

This wizard is certainly useful, but the only thing it really saves is the actual drawing of profiles. Model accuracy depends on precision in the 2D data. At worst, the transformation could end up perpetuating drafting errors. I don't think 2D legacy data tends to be as accurate as 3D models. Legacy drawings often have drastic errors but were tolerated because they were "close enough." Other drafting-related enhancements include shaded views on drawings, which are wonderful for visualization. Paper-thin section views hide background curves. These are curves seen in the background of a section that do not occupy the cutting plane. And enhanced coordinate dimensions are easier to work with than in previous versions. Hole tables are also quick and easy.

Another handy feature lets users work off-line with managed files. For example, users could copy assemblies to a laptop for a business trip. Upon returning home, files go back onto the desktop computer and Smart-Sync updates everything.

For those designing wire harnesses, the software creates wire bundles that go from various connections, around and through components, and end at other connections. Harness reports are more useful than previous wire-harness packages. One report tells how much wire the harness will need.The developers, however, could have done a better job on displaying wires because bundles seem to be solid cables with rounded ends. Component wires just stick out. My complaint primarily regards aesthetics. This might be an issue if you need to make high-resolution images.

Surfacing tools are another positive addition. While the previous version created surfaces, they were nothing to write home about. It just wasn't Solid Edge's focus. That's changing. V12 is still about mechanical design, but the developers realize that industrial design is just as important as more traditional mechanical design in today's marketplace.

Interoperability between Solid Edge and other EDS products such as Unigraphics and I-deas, is handy but suffers a shortcoming. For example, users can create complex surfaces with Unigraphics and I-deas, and use them in Solid Edge. Likewise, you can use Solid Edge models in UG and I-deas. The compatibility is impressive and no one else in the industry surpasses it. The shortcoming is that you can't edit imported data the way you would native data. The software only lets users add features and cut holes in imported data. Users have to go back to the creation package to make significant geometry changes. That runs the risk of making changes that invalidate the Solid Edge model. Likewise, UG and I-deas can use Solid Edge data but not control it. The data remains a sort of snapshot in time.

While I'm complaining, here's my gripe on the entire CAD software industry: There is no way to transfer model intelligence -- part trees, dimensions, and features -- from one system to another. It doesn't have to be this way. If two programs use the same kernel, they should be at least partially compatible. So one Parasolid-based program should work with another. Something not supported in one could be treated as an import in another. All it would take is programming effort on the part of a developer. Although I like the compatibility programs have now, I'd like to see full compatibility. It's the next logical step.

An off-site user of Solid Edge V12 is inspecting a drawing through Insight.NET. It works like a viewer by letting essential personnel, even non-Solid Edge users, examine data associated with a design.

There's more new technology in Solid Edge V12 than can be covered in this small space. It looks to be the best version yet. At $4,995, it's powerful and fun to drive. Solid Edge comes from EDS PLM Solutions Inc., 675 Discovery Dr., Suite 100, Huntsville, AL 35806, (256) 705-2500, www.ugs.com-- Michael Hudspeth


Michael Hudspeth (mdhudspeth@aol.com) is an industrial designer, 3D modeling consultant, and software reviewer in St. Louis.