Hands-On with Evolve 2017

Brought to you by solidThinking

As a designer with years of experience with parametric solid modeling in engineering CAD packages my recent experience test driving the 2017 edition of Evolve from solidThinking was a back-to-basics breath of fresh air. Evolve feels largely unhampered by the constraints of popular mechanical CAD packages because of its excellent implementation of NURBS editing with parametric enhancements. This blend of pure NURBS surface modeling, with solid modeling and parametric enhancement, provides a designer with flexibility and control. A robust and easy to learn construction history further balances with familiar surface modeling capabilities allowing for on the fly adjustments of source geometry and seamless downstream updating of complex models.

To understand the versatility of Evolve it is important to recognize the effort made to centralize the construction history feature. This is a feature that is on by default but can be disregarded when necessary. To test this in practice I created a relatively simple bottle with handle concept with near perfect surface continuity as a solid shell. The construction history maintained the ability to edit the original revolved surface, locations of source geometry and many other features after layering on several iterations of surface operations. The flexible hierarchical construction tree allows edits to the source curves while automatically updating the final shelled solid model. Because it not fully hierarchical and source models may be swapped in and out of the tree, it also allowed for relatively major changes in surface geometry with only a few clicks. In practice this means a modeler or designer can create forms without consciously thinking about history, as it is on by default. 

Because the tree is not rigidly hierarchical, a designer can also iterate on most any participating geometry in the tree and swap iterations in and out for true flexibility in the final model output. This makes edits to base geometry feel like freeform sculpting or sketching in 3D, and opens the door to concept development and design iteration right in the 3D environment. It also allows for iteration on a visualization model while also maintaining technical integrity, so each tweak or iteration made on the fly can be ready for further development.

Evolve’s construction history feature is highlighted in a case study, provided by solidThinking, of the Philips OneBlade design process. According to Philips’ design lead Jens Andersson “…Its [Evolve’s] construction history features allow me to adapt my models for both business or technical reasons while development is ongoing verses starting from scratch.” After putting the construction history through some technical paces, I agree: it is a unique and powerful feature created with designers and the design process in mind. And per Darren Chilton, solidThinking’s Program Manager, this feature and the idea of Evolve as a conceptual design tool are central to the design philosophy behind the software.

Evolve supports the technical integrity of models by integrating a solid modeling mentality within the NURBS surfacing environment. Many tools with the ability to generate a surface come with a parameter that can also generate a solid. Evolve also features tools for using surface edges to create lofts, sweeps, and blends and combining disparate surfaces to create manifold solids. All this solid modeling is built seamlessly onto the NURBS editor with an eye toward surface continuity which means less time spent fiddling with stitching and joining edges to get a watertight NURBS model. In practice Evolve can create excellent “looks-like” models with less worrying about discontinuous edges and buckled surfaces while also creating solid geometry that is ready for 3D printing and other rapid prototyping process in a single workflow. In addition to its own internal features, Evolve also offers plug-ins and tools to integrate it with industry standard engineering suites like SolidWorks.

The new 2017 edition of Evolve builds on its construction history feature through two new construction history enabled tools: Planar Symmetry and Radial Symmetry. As the names suggest these new tools provide methods for working with symmetrical models as part of the construction history. This means a designer can produce a portion of a symmetrical design and pattern it within the construction history hierarchy. To change or iterate on the design one only needs to edit the source geometry and see the results on the radial or planar symmetry instantaneously. These new symmetry tools are also interactive with Evolve’s polyNURBS. An incredibly fast freeform modeling tool set with an intuitive polygonal modeling GUI at their core, PolyNURBS are already remarkably fun to work with. With the addition of real-time symmetry tools, polyNURBS allows a kind of freeform sculpting that is difficult to describe. Imagine, if you will, beginning with a simple polygonal cube mirrored across a plane. What edits you make to the original cube are reflected to the other side. But what happens if you extrude a face from one side across the plane of symmetry? Overlapping faces, vertex errors, and loss of polygonal integrity? Not with the new Planar Symmetry tool! With this new tool the geometry automatically coalesces at the plane of symmetry to create a fully joined and symmetrical model. The same applies to the Radial Symmetry tool as demonstrated by a wheel concept design video featured on the solidThinking website. The two example images here, an example of polyNURBS merging at the plane of symmetry and a 30-minute spaceship concept, show just how intuitive the symmetry tool is when used with polyNURBS objects. 

PolyNURBS have received an additional advancement in 2017 with the Advanced Selection tool. This function, built into the Edit polyNURBS tool, allows for easy selection of edge loops, face chains and other logical groups of polygonal elements. This enhances the already intuitive select, extrude, and push-pull nature of polyNURBS, providing a feeling of freedom while modeling, while also maintaining control and solid integrity. As with previous editions, Evolve also offers a seamless integration of its surface tools with the polyNURBS objects. This means working with open or closed poly-based, “nurbified” models is not limited by the polygonal toolset and a designer can use the already familiar NURBS tools with the poly-based objects. Above all, working with the PolyNURBS tools is fun and liberating because of their accessibility and fast performance. This makes these tools a creative asset that can create precise, specific forms or act like a lump of clay in the virtual workspace that can respond intuitively to a designer’s gesture and whimsy.

Finally, it is important to note that Evolve 2017 still includes the fully redesigned interactive rendering engine that premiered in 2015. Combined with all the other capabilities of the software, this fully capable rendering engine rounds out the software with high quality visualization at a designer’s fingertips. The last time I did a hands-on with Evolve the rendering was remarkable for its simplicity, quality and integration and this is still the case in the 2017 edition. As a result Evolve is a scalable solution for concept design, iteration, modeling, rendering and visualization. It was also remarkably easy to get to know the software with the getting started videos, included tutorials, intuitive help feature (F1 will automatically load the help document for the currently active tool) and some practice. In conclusion, I continue to be impressed with solidThinking Evolve and recommend taking a look the next time you are in the market for a new modeling solution.

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solidThinking Evolve allows industrial designers to develop forms faster, using either Windows or Mac OS X. It enables you to capture an initial sketch, explore styling alternatives, and visualize products with realistic renderings generated in real time. Evolve provides organic surface modeling and parametric control, with NURBS-based surfaces and solids and a unique ConstructionTree history feature. Visit our website to request a free trial of solidThinking Evolve.

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