Computer Modeling and Visualization in Design Technology: An Instructional Model

By Guidera, Stan | Journal of Technology Studies, Winter-Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Computer Modeling and Visualization in Design Technology: An Instructional Model


Guidera, Stan, Journal of Technology Studies


Computer aided drafting (CAD) has largely supplanted manual drafting in the workplace. As new technologies and practices are adopted in industry, they should also be incorporated in academic curricula (Stephens, 1997). Consequently, CAD has also become the standard in academic environments, and coursework emphasizing manual drafting has been largely eliminated or relegated to introductory classes. However, the increasing use of 3D parametric modeling programs such as Solidworks and Mechanical Desktop is bringing about a fundamental shift to a model-centric paradigm that may ultimately have a similar impact on electronic drafting. The shift from computer drafting to computer modeling is also making it possible to extend the use of CAD beyond its role as a production tool to include analysis and communication with software emphasizing design visualization. While in the past the use of visualization software has been limited and specialized, recent enhancements in interoperability with CAD software have made its application more feasible for a wider range of disciplines. Therefore, students in design fields must be prepared to leave colleges and universities with skills in design visualization technologies as well as with CAD in order to be competitive in the marketplace.

The role of visualization technologies is to provide an efficient mechanism for communication by enabling the nontechnical person to see and understand design (Mealing, Adams, & Woolner, 1995). Disciplines such as mechanical design and architecture have traditionally utilized orthographic drawings such as plans, sections, and elevations as the primary medium for design communication as well as documentation. Orthographic views are discreet 2D images that, when perceived collectively, communicate the design as a whole (Ching, 1996). The images are projected straight or parallel to the viewing plane with only two dimensions, such as length or width, visible at one time (Ethier & Ethier, 2000). Orthographic drawings require the viewer to conceptually assemble the discreet views in order to visualize the proposed design. For the unskilled observer, orthographic views have perceptual limitations since the design elements are represented without forshortening. Mitchell (1992) noted that these parallel views inherently flatten perceptions of space and volume and that "a limitation of this parallel-- projection procedure is that it destroys all z-- coordinate information; that is, information about depth back from the picture plane. This often results in spatial ambiguity" (p. 125).

Graphic techniques such as shading and variation in line-weights have been used in drafting and technical illustration to communicate depth and distance in orthographic drawings. However, 3D drawings such as para-line drawings and perspectives have significant communication advantages in that they represent form and space in a more realistic manner (Ching, 1996). While more visually "realistic," these drawings cannot document the entire object since a single viewpoint or viewing angle must be selected. Therefore, providing informationally complete representation requires either 3D drawings to be viewed in conjunction with orthographic drawings or the creation of multiple para-line drawings to show multiple 3D views. Additionally, these drawings are also usually time consuming to create in a drafting-- centered environment and, since they must be constructed using the measurements and related information provided by the orthographic drawings, must be continually updated as the design evolves. This is why creating realistic 3D representations had been perceived as feasible only after the design was complete.

With the introduction of CAD software, little changed in this process. Modeling of any complexity required the computing power of expensive workstations, and the limited modeling capabilities available on early versions of PC-based CAD applications were often difficult to use and typically too slow on most hardware installations. …

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