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PTC ICEM Surf 4.3 (1 cd) €55 buy download
ICEM Surf 4.3

While not Windows standard, Surf’s interface is tuned for its surface-based workflow

As our Group Editor Martyn Day detailed in the March issue of MCAD, ICEM has recently broken free from the ‘confines’ of PTC following a management buyout and it would seem that the benefits of that move away from in-house competition with PTC’s other products has had an immediate impact.

The traditional stamping ground of Automotive Class A surface is, as you would expect, still the main area of focus, but the support provided for the Automotive styling and exterior surface design coverage has been expanded greatly. Also, there is a distinctly noticeable focus on bringing the benefits of such high quality surface creation tools to another market, predominately, to industrial and high-end aesthetic design. So what’s changed and what’s new?

Because of its traditional focus area, ICEM Surf has rarely been seen outside of the auto-styling studio, so many of our readers won’t be too familiar with how it works. As a quick tour, Surf shows its UNIX-based roots and greatly eschews today’s standard Windows interface guidelines. The UI has a very large modelling window as the central interaction area, with a number of pull-down menus at the top and icon driven toolbars at the bottom and right of the screen. Unlike many current systems, these icons are quite large and as they are used to control the most commonly used comments (view and model manipulation, co-ordinate editing etc), they are clearly designed and their function is pretty obvious (something that purely windows-based systems often miss out on).

Interaction with on-screen geometry is done through a mix of the ‘Unified Modelling’ dialog box, dialog boxes which adapt the process you’re working on) and direct interaction with the model geometry (either using dynamic processes or using the context sensitive right-click menu). Direct interaction is one area which has seen a great deal of work for the 4.3 release, as you can now work with geometry in a much more freeform and flexible manner. Also, some interface doodads have been built in, such as adding tabbed windows to complex dialog boxes and the inclusion of thumbwheels which make incremental adjustment of numerical values a great deal easier.

As I said at the outset, the 4.3 release of Surf has been extended to provide greater coverage of a particular workflow. That workflow is taking a physical model, scanning it, processing that scan, then building a network of curve, then surfaces and finally visualising the results. This is a process which although typically used in the Automotive design world, can be easily applied to many other areas of the design and engineering industry, so we’re going to take a look at the enhancements made to Surf while following it.

The point at which Surf enters the process is the point at which your product has been designed using physical methods and has been scanned. The system imports data from a number of scanning sources (ranging from laser scanners, CMMs etc). Naturally, the odds are that you’ll need to scan the product prototype in several sections, and the system includes a number of tools which allow you to register and merge these datasets into a single complete scan. Of course, the point cloud needs to be triangulated and as you might expect, you have control over how coarse the resultant mesh is.

At this point, you can either create curves on which your surfaces are going to be based, or create surfaces directly on the geometry. Surf also includes a number of new operations which should make life a great deal easier and much more efficient when using point cloud data. For example, a new ‘Feature Lines’ command allows you to quickly identify, as you might expect, ‘feature lines’ on the scan. These are areas where there’s an obvious change in curvature or a seam in the geometry. These are the features that would typically define where one surface meets another, a transition surface is needed or a blend should be used etc. and these can be found very quickly indeed – and of course it’s done within the limits you specify (in terms of curvature limits). These can then be used as the basis for a first pass using the Quick Surface module. This combines the feature lines created with the point cloud and creates a set of surfaces which both use the feature lines as a boundary and the point cloud to describe their internal form. Although these surfaces are never going to be the final forms you use, they do provide a very quick way of getting results, and allow you to identify potential problem areas (in terms of modelling). Another benefit of Quick Surfacing is that the results can then be passed onto other departments, so they have an idea of how the current product is going to look and can make preparations while your design team is working on the finalised design.

Of course, you going to need to rework a great deal of this first pass data and thankfully, Surf allows you to make use of its arsenal of traditional curve and surface modelling tools, along with a few new features and functions that have been added in this release. For example, you can instruct the system to create curves, not only according to the usual array of co-ordinates and workplanes, but also to sketch them directly onto the polygon mesh. While from the perspective of those using solid modelling applications this may sound a little odd, it does work fantastically well, particularly when you have a freeform set of geometry on to which you need to build well defined, explicit surfaces.

Also enhanced for this release is the ability to create parametric links between individual surfaces. One criticism of traditional surface modelling tools (particularly from the solid modelling vendors) is that once a surface has been defined, it’s typically quite difficult to modify it – this is also exacerbated when you’re working with a large number of surfaces, all of which are independently defined. ICEM has integrated parametric and dynamic linking capabilities very cleverly into its existing surfacing modelling workflow. You now have the ability to create a number of surfaces individually, and then select the type of connection that should be maintained. By connection, I’m referring to either positional, tangency and/or curvature continuity. Once your surfaces have been interlinked, modification can be made to any of the surfaces and the subsequent effects in others gauged in real time. Surf also includes a large set of surface diagnostics tools, so not only do you get real-time graphic feedback you can also see the effects of modifications in terms of surface deviation from the point cloud, radii of curvature etc.

The new Feature Design operation allows you to take existing data and repurpose it by adapting the geometry While the majority of Surf is still aimed at the traditional surface modelling workflow, there are a number of tools (based on the parametric linking described earlier) which allow much more efficient re-use of existing data. Although not a new feature in this release, Feature Designer is one such operation which allows you to take a set of existing surface and adapt them to a new form.

To use an automotive example, you may have a previously defined sunroof, the design for which you’d like to adapt to a new model. Feature Design allows you to take the set of surfaces that define the sunroof feature (along with the roof surface skin) and adapt them to the corresponding roof skin of a new model. Obviously the result depends a great deal on the amount of change involved, but in tests the system proves pretty robust - and the number of controls you have over how the geometry is adapted, allow you to get, if not to the final form you require, part way there.

Once your surface-based forms have been created, the chances are, particularly in the automotive realm, that you’ll want to add other parts, features etc to create a more complex visualisation (perhaps for review). As you might expect, the ability to also vary these other parts is going to be highly critical during design reviews. For example, if working on a new car model, you may want to try out different combinations of trim, wheels etc. While it would be entirely possible to model these parts in Surf, the chances are that you’d prefer to use existing data, perhaps from other CAD systems.

The newly enhanced reference Manager makes this a great deal easier as it not only handles the creation of different product variants and iterations, but also handles the translation of data from other systems as well (this release includes improved translators for Catia V4, IGES and VDA/FS data), even including cloud data from 3D scanning equipment. The process is also made a great deal easier when using the new Pack command, as this allows you to create your product model (which could contain all manner of variants) and package them into a single compressed file. This Pack file not only contains the geometry of each individual part, but also any materials and textures applied – which leads me rather nicely onto the one area which has, above all other, seen the most work in recent months – visualisation.


While there have been many modelling-related enhancements in this release, the biggest updates have been to the rendering tools built into the system. The last time I saw Surf, the developers had been putting in the groundwork to provide real-time rendering as standard within the system. Just a mere 16 months on and the improvements are enormous. The system now has the ability to provide photorealistic rendering, in real-time, which means that while you still have the option to fully calculate rendered output, the system now allows you to fully visualise your current product iteration (or indeed, a series of variants) dynamically. Obviously, the need for some pretty serious graphics hardware is a given, but with today’s prices, this shouldn’t be too much of a barrier. In specifics, the real-time renderer will cast shadows on the floor of the environment (either hard or soft) and will also update in real-time as you vary the position of lights in relation to the geometry within the scene. Additionally, the 4.3 release will also see the introduction of self shadows. In short, this means that the model will cast shadows on itself so that combined with the shadows cast on the floor, your scene will be a great deal more realistic.

Of course, in many cases, a static render is required, for communication, review or advance marketing materials and the static renderer in Surf will allow you to output images (and animations) to a very high quality.

In conclusion

If there’s one thing that consistently annoys me, it’s that I’ve seen many very competent products disappear or fade away following acquisition by one of the big players – and I did have the feeling that the same was going to happen to ICEM’s Surf. But thankfully, the management buyout seems to have happened in the nick of time and the system seems to have been rescued from the clutches of the evil empire…sorry, PTC.

The work that the development team has done since the buyout has been first class and the freedom that they now have is self-evident. Not only in the manner in which existing tools have been enhanced and improved, but the movements into other areas, such as ultra high-quality realtime visualisation are things that may never have happened under the control of PTC.

It should be pretty clear that while ICEM is still aiming for the automotive sector, the benefits of a system such as Surf are applicable to a wider cross section of the design and engineering community. That said, the nature of the system means that unless you’re currently using it, then I would imagine that the learning curve is quite long, as you’re dealing with not only a complex user-interface, but also the very ‘in-depth’ nature of technical surfacing. As a final point, if you’re involved in the development of high-quality products, where aesthetic characteristics are high on the list of requirements, and of course, you’re in the market for some new technology, then Surf is definitely worth a look.

Download File Size:812.14 MB

PTC ICEM Surf 4.3 (1 cd)
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