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Hybrid modelers: Do they offer the best of both

Chris, a longtime user of a solids-only CAD system, just received a set of 3D models from a
customer who uses a hybrid surface/solid modeling CAD system. "I was able to import and sew all
but one of these parts into a solid," said Chris. "I dont understand why this one part is giving me
so much trouble."
That one part was a surface model, not a solid model. A few seemingly unimportant surfaces were
missing here and there. The part also had extra surfaces that were never cleaned up and
removed. The missing and extraneous surfaces prevent the part from being sewn back into a
"I recently attended a CAD demonstration," Chris said. "The vendors went on and on about the
new surface functionality that was now available with their system. Why would anyone want to
model with surfaces when you can use solids?"
Before we can answer Chris question directly, we
need to discuss the differences between todays
hybrid and solids-only CAD systems.
Hybrid database
Years ago, the term hybrid modeler meant that the
CAD system internally employed more than one
database representation (such as CSG and B-rep)
to define a solid. CSG (constructive solid
geometry) uses Boolean operations (union,
subtraction, and intersection) to implicitly combine Figure 1. CSG (constructive solid geometry)
simple solid shapes to form more complex shapes employs Boolean operations to combine simple
(figure 1). B-rep (boundary representation)
solid shapes into more complex shapes.
explicitly positions and relates surface elements to (Courtesy of Handbook of Solid
form an airtight boundary that encloses the
volume defined by the part (figure 2, below). Both
methods have their uses and merits.
In all of todays commercial solid modeling systems, the B-rep database structure dominates. CSG
has fallen by the wayside because it simply cant handle the complex feature requirements of
todays CAD systems. Such systems still use CSG-style Boolean operations, but the results of
each operation are explicitly defined within the B-rep structure.

Figure 2. B-rep (boundary representation) modelers explicitly

position and relate surface elements to form a boundary that
encloses the volume defined by the part. (Courtesy of Handbook
of Solid Modeling/McGraw-Hill)
So what is a hybrid solid modeler? Today its a system that lets you employ wire frame, surface,
and solid functions to define the solid while each element type is integrated explicitly within the Brep database structure. Table 1 lists a few hybrid modelers. For a more complete list of both hybrid
and solids-only CAD systems, see CADALYST, April 2000.
Solid is relative
If you can imagine yourself standing within the hybrid B-rep database structure, you find that the
part being defined and stored as a solid is in a changing state.
Because both surface and solid functions are available, the part may start out as one or more
surfaces (for example, a surface set) and then automatically become a solid when it is completely
Or it may start out and develop as a solid, but then
temporarily revert to individual surfaces when one
or more needs to be modified or replaced by a more
complex shape that the CAD system cannot create
using standard solid functions. Closure rules that
govern (and limit) other solids-only systems do not
apply to hybrid surface/solid systems.
Dont be mistaken, howeverthe closure rules
remain in place while the part is in a solid state, but
are easily removed when necessary.
Solid modeling sans solid
One of the most impressive features of hybrid
modelers is their ability to apply solid features such
as holes, pockets, bosses, and cuts to open sets of
surfaces (figure 3). The part need not be in a solid
state to perform solid modeling as long as the
feature being applied doesnt intersect one of the
parts open edges. This capability comes in handy
when you work with imported geometry.

Figure 3. Hybrid modelers can apply solid

features such as holes, pockets, bosses, and
cuts to open surface sets. (Courtesy of
Varimetrix Corp.)

Imported geometry
Hybrid solid modelers, because of their integrated surface/solid B-rep database structures, are
more able to accommodate the topological abnormalities you commonly encounter when
importing more complex models via neutral formats such as IGES and STEP. These hybrid
modelers can automatically sew imported geometry into solids.
When stitching falls short, hybrid modelers can do more with the available geometry. Generally, if
a solids-only system cannot sew an imported model back into a solid, what you can do with the
geometry within the system is severely limited.
Building assemblies in hybrid surface/solid modelers is exactly the same as with their solids-only
counterparts. The only difference is that you are not limited to just solids (figure 4, below).
Components can be wire frame objects, open surface set models, or solids. The assembly

functionality treats all geometric forms

As is the case with assemblies, hybrid
modelers can create detailed layouts of 3D
models in a similar manner as their solidsonly counterparts. You select parts or
assemblies, then extract views, sections,
and details and place them on a drawing
sheet. You then remove hidden lines and
add dimensions as desired. Unlike solidsonly systems, hybrid modelers do not limit
you to detailing solids.
If all you have is a partially defined imported
surface model, you can still perform all of Figure 4. Hybrid modelers build assemblies in exactly
the detailing functions. Some solids-only
the same way as their solids-only counterparts. The
modelers dont extract the edge geometry only difference is that you are not limited to solids.
required for layout views if the part is not a (Courtesy of think3)
A few caveats
Dont walk away thinking that hybrid surface/ solid modelers are a panacea. They can do more
than their solids-only counterparts, and in some cases do it with less available geometry (imported
or otherwise). Hybrid modelers, however, sometimes seem less friendly because of the added
With additional power comes additional responsibility. Its up to you, the designer, to complete the
part definition as a clean and valid solid (if possible) so that other solids-only systems that import
your part can sew it back into a solid without difficulty.
Last words
For mechanical design, solid models are the way to go. But getting there doesnt mean you need
to limit yourself to working with only solids. Hybrid surface/solid modelers can provide the flexibility
that some designs need, and in some cases they can even see you through to the end when other
solids-only systems cant.
Next time well answer Chriss question directly: "Why would anyone want to model with surfaces
when you can use solids?"

Table 1. A few hybrid modeling systems

Solid Master

VX Vision

Web site


June 2000


1999 August 1999

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