This is a question posed often on different subjects: is Holden better than Ford, are Apple Mac’s better than PC’s, is Solid works better than Solid Edge, or even, is feature based modelling better than direct edit?
In reality, the answer given is not usually which is best, but which is most familiar! We all find reasons to justify what we know as being the best solution and because we are familiar with what we know, trying something new always feels harder or less intuitive, because it does things differently to what we are used to.
This quite often applies to upgrades too. You will pay for the latest releases under product maintenance, but then not look (or say you do not have time to look at) what is new and what could possibly make you more productive! Many people see software upgrades as purely a way of software companies making sure you keep making your annual payments, but I have seen many enhancement requests implemented in newer versions – certainly things that make you work more efficiently. So why not spend a little bit of time in the short term to save you more time in the future?
So how do you decide which style of modelling is better?
Back in 2013, Engineering.com wrote an article “Is feature-based modelling now obsolete?” They looked at three different aspects of design, clean sheet design, design re-use and working with imported geometry and the consensus was that direct edit gives you more scope to design freely and make edits more quickly, thus speeding up the design process.
I have also found a quote from a group discussion asking “Which is best, direct or history”?
I keep hearing people say that the timeline is so powerful because you can go back and edit a sketch or feature and have everything downstream auto update. I'm sorry, but that whole line is a load of crap. 9 times out of 10, changes made to upstream sketches and features breaks most of the model going downstream, unless you spend 20x more time prefiguring everything out. You’re playing the what-if game when designing. So, you spend a ton of time solving all the what-ifs to have a solid stable model.
In my view, the real answer is that both will have their own strengths and weaknesses and you will need to decide what is important to your specific needs. The most basic rule of thumb says that if you need to build complex shapes (ie lofts, sweeps or surfaces) then you are best to use history modelling, whereas for most other parts, direct edit will enable you to get the design done faster and make edits quicker.
The above quote also talks about one of the biggest drawbacks with history-based modelling - failed features after edits. Once you start modifying features high in the feature tree, you have no idea what effects it will have once the model starts to regenerate and this may leave you with a big task to fix up what has broken. Often, minor failures are left as the design changes need to be completed quickly and will add to the frustrations at a later date, especially when you have no idea what was done to cause it in the first place. How many have been there and done that?
When Synchronous Technology was first released, Siemens used a diagram to display the strengths and weaknesses of both history and direct edit modelling, and this has not changed a great deal in recent years. What it does also show is that Synchronous Technology (ST) utilises a lot of the best functionality of both design styles. Despite ST now being over ten years old, it is interesting that none of its competitors have come up with anything closely matching its capabilities.
Here is a video I have put together looking at some of the differences of both types of systems and when you learn when to use each, you can certainly become a lot more productive.
Matt Lombard published an eBook that gives a good history of the CAD industry and what brought about the feature based modelling revolution and is an interesting read.
In summary, what is best and is it possible to decide whether Solid Edge is better than Solidworks or Inventor? A lot comes down to what you base your decision making on (and this can also be skewed by what you know or favour), as all mainstream CAD programs can achieve most of whatever design work you need. Personally, I think that it should mostly come down to whether it can do the job and is it the most efficient design tool, because, let's be honest, timeframes to complete your work are not getting longer?
Ultimately, in my view, Solid Edge has to come out on top, as it offers the most flexible solution – either permanent or floating licencing, a large set of integrated tools, such as electrical, plant design, CAM, rendering and simulationbut, the biggest advantage of all, is that you are effectively getting two cad systems for the one price - feature based AND direct edit parametric modelling, meaning that you can use the best system for the job, whatever that may be and therefore get the job done faster!
Also, remember that time spent learning new skills, while costing you time in the short term, can save you a lot more time in the long term! For example, would you recommend a tyre mechanic in a Formula 1 pit-stop to use a traditional spanner, as you know it works and that is how it was done in the past or would you use pneumatic tools?
Solid Edge - Design Better.
All the features you want. All the value you need.