Motion analysis becomes user-friendly

San Mateo, CA -Traditional motion-analysis tools can prove difficult to use, run only on UNIX workstations, and cost more than $20,000. With these drawbacks pitted against it, it's little wonder that motion-analysis has been closeted in large companies with the resources to create specialized analysis teams. Don't despair, however. A small company in northern California hopes to change that perception with the introduction of its Working Model software. Here's why.

Working Model v2.0 runs on a PC, features a graphical user interface, and costs less than $1,500. The program enables engineers to construct and test prototypes, explore new designs, conduct extensive "what-if" analyses, and refine simulations. It also lets users quickly and easily make physically accurate animations and export them to other applications.

Only four years ago, Knowledge Revolution was an educational software company producing high-end, physics-based programs. However, users of its Interactive Physics software tried to use the product to solve mechanical engineering problems. Realizing the need for motion analysis at the design engineer's level, the company built on its existing technology to develop what has become its second-best-selling product-after only one year on the market.

Engineers who developed Working Model v1.0 had several goals in mind: Ease of use, speed, and tight integration between dynamics and animation. The most noticeable feature is the interaction between the user and the software. For example, hitting "run" gives the user immediate feedback with no pre- or post-processing required. "The good thing about Working Model," says Dave Buszucki, president of Knowledge Revolution, "is that customers told us what they wanted."

Still, users weren't satisfied with the first version. Pete Geottner, director of marketing, explains: "We didn't realize how much people wanted to use their existing CAD drawings with our software." As a result, v1.0's interface and DXF-import capabilities were weak.

The company improved the interface and rebuilt the entire DXF import facility in v2.0. But improvements didn't stop there. The engineers turned to their technical-support database to gain a better understanding of what customers wanted. Seven of the nine major features in v2.0 were customer-driven, including:

A Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) interface that lets users tie into other programs on-the-fly.

  • Constraints, such as internal and planetary gears and slider joints.

  • Tools for CAM design and analysis, such as curved slot joints.

Making work easier. Version 2.0's interface offers automatic defaults for each property in the software. Users can design an entire system graphically-without specifying any values or equations. And to let users customize the program, the interface features a flowing windows scheme for entering properties. When a user selects an object, Working Model automatically recognizes it, provides pertinent information for the object, and lets the user modify only that information.

Working Model also features robust automatic collision detection, something many other simulation packages don't provide. And the improved collision algorithms in v2.0 allow users to solve the most difficult problems faster. Says Umberto Milletti, director of product development, "There was a dramatic improvement and we received very positive customer feedback."

Why motion analysis? Design challenges aside, one of the biggest obstacles to the success

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