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Spring .


Future Applications of Geometry and Graphics

Eric N. Wiebe
North Carolina State University

Definitions of geometry and graphics are developed based on a panel discussion held at the 8th
International Conference on Engineering Computer Graphics and Descriptive Geometry
(ICECGDG) held in Austin, Texas (Baker, et al., 1998). These definitions are used as a starting point
for discussion of the future applications of geometry and graphics in engineering graphics educa-
tion. Past, present, and future applications in graphical analysis, descriptive geometry, and engi-
neering documentation are used as examples.

Introduction Geometry is, at its essence, a way of think-

This paper started as part of a panel discus- ing as much as any tangible artifact. Any
sion on the taxonomy of geometry and taxonomy of geometry must note that it is
graphics at the 8th International Conference not a single monolithic field of study, but is
on Engineering Computer Graphics and divided into numerous branches. Branches
Descriptive Geometry (ICECGDG) held in of geometry include Euclidean, non-
Austin, TX (Baker, et al., 1998). Whereas Euclidean, projective, descriptive, hyperbol-
the panel was primarily concerned with a ic, topological, fractal, analytic, differential,
larger, theoretical discussion of geometry and so on. Each area will have its own
and graphics and how this dialogue could axioms and theorems as its basis and have
help guide the structure of future ICECGDG varying degrees of overlap with each other
conferences, the goal here is to try and bring or with other branches of mathematics. In a
these issues to bear specifically on the future similar vein, different professions will apply
of engineering and technical graphics different branches of geometry in different
instruction. The paper will open with a sum- ways. Even though geometry has at its roots
mary of how the panel attempted to define the study of spatial entities, it does not mean
geometry and graphics and then discuss how that these entities must be represented
these definitions apply to specific instruc- graphically. Purely geometric concepts can
tional issues in engineering and technical be modeled without objects such as points,
graphics. lines, and planes.

Definitions of Geometry and Graphics A definition of graphics becomes harder to

Most of the panel members agreed that bring into common ground. One panel
geometry is a branch of mathematics con- member, L. Cocchiarella, traced the term
cerning itself with the properties, relation- back to an etymological root meaning 'to
ships, and measurements of spatial entities. engrave1. This follows right in line with
The practice of geometry originally focused other panel members' contention that graph-
on measuring and only later made use of ics are inherently two-dimensional represen-
relations and operations. In this way, geom- tations. To ground graphics in the physical
etry evolved into a deductive system found- world even more, a number of the panelists
ed upon agreed axioms and concepts. state that graphics is a tool rather than a

deductive system or way of
thinking. Still, as a physical rep- VELOCITY OF FREE FALLING BODY
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Many of the panelists brought

Figure 1 - A nomograph for calculating a physics
up the inherent synergy of geom-
problem. (From Giesecke et al. (1991), p880).
etry and graphics. Whereas
graphics are based on the laws of
geometry, graphics also plays a key role in electronic calculators, graphical methods
communicating geometric concepts, ideas, were widely used as an appropriately accu-
and representations. Graphics are useful to rate method of solving mathematically based
students and researchers alike for under- engineering problems. Graphical charts,
standing geometrical relations in space intu- such as nomographs, were constructed to
itively. As a number of researchers associat- rapidly calculate commonly used equations
ed with the Engineering Design Graphics (Figure 1). The widespread availability of
Division have noted, a better understanding calculators and computers with robust
of the psychological basis of the perception graphical and numeric output has all but
of graphics and its application in education done away with the need to manually con-
and professional communication is key to its struct and use graphical analysis tools such
effective use. as these. Descriptive geometry has also
been impacted by these technological trends
(Figure 2). At what point does it make sense
This panel certainly did not pretend to come
to manually construct solutions with instru-
up with the definitive statements on geome-
ments for problems that can be mathemati-
try and graphics. Instead they reaffirmed the
cally calculated on computers? For that mat-
belief in the interrelationship of these two
ter, when does it make sense to use the same
fields of study and the importance of inves-
techniques used in manual drafting with a 3-
tigatigating and discussing these issues so
D CAD system to solve these problems
that our professions will continue to be vital
and expand. (Croft Jr., 1998)? None of these changes in
technology, however, has relieved teachers
of the responsibility of instructing on the
Past and Current Geometry and Graphics use
by Engineers and Technologists proper use of analytic tools (whether they be
Prior to the widespread use of computers and manual or computer-based) nor on the
Figure 2 - A descriptive geometry approach to determining the true measure of a
dihedral angle. (From Bertoline et al. (1997), p546).

appropriate interpretation of the answers at rounded engineers and technologists from

the appropriate level of accuracy (Ferguson, mechanistic practices which were purely an
1993). outgrowth of the technology available when
they first developed. Graphical techniques
Concurrent with the decreased emphasis on are an excellent applied activity for reinforc-
graphical analysis methods was the ing and teaching key concepts of geometry
increased focus on the use of computer- and related branches of mathematics. It is
based 2-D CAD systems for documentation clear that traditional analytic graphical tech-
(Figure 3). In this application, 2-D is used niques help students to think 'geometrically'.
primarily as an automated drafting tool for As it was pointed out in the panel summary
documenting engineering designs for com- above, graphics are not needed to apply
municating design, manufacturing, and geometry to solving problems, but is a pow-
assembly information. Though there is still erful means for doing so. Are there ways of
the opportunity to use 2-D CAD based mul- applying contemporary technology to find
tiview and pictorial techniques as an analyt- new ways of helping students to think 'geo-
ic tool, the primary focus in most engineer- metrically'? Numerous researchers in the
ing and technical graphics curriculums con- Engineering Design Graphics Division have
tinues to be on the appropriate application of realized the important role graphical activi-
ANSI/ISO documentation standards. ties play in the development of spatial visu-
alization skills (cf., Branoff, 1998; McWhorter
Where do these traditional methods of using & et al, 1990; Miller, 1996; Nowacki, 1991;
geometry and graphics in analysis and docu- Rooney, 1989; Ross & Aukstakalnis, 1993;
mentation fit into contemporary engineering Sorby & Baartmans, 1994). A number of
and technical graphics? A starting point is to studies by these and other researchers point
attempt to separate the underlying concepts to the important role 3-D modeling tools can
and processes which help develop well play in enhancing visualization ability. Still,
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Figure 3 - Example CAD multiview drawing for documentation (From

Bertoline et al. (1997), p400).

it is clear that we are just beginning to under- es (and develop new ones) while discarding
stand this relationship. drawing and documentation techniques
which are no longer appropriate in the 3-D
An Evolving Role of Geometry and Graphics modeling environment. For example, Figure
Looking at the new generation of technolo- 4 shows an exercise where the student has to
gies used by engineering and technical fields pin the pivot arm at a 60 degree angle to the
leads to some ideas of where we as a profes- base, then pin the rod to the pivot arm and
sion may be going. It is going to be critical have it pass through the center of the width
to continue to address core goals of develop- and thickness dimensions of the plate.
ing spatial visualization, graphically based Finally, the student has to calculate the angle
problem-solving, and effective communica- of the bore in the plate needed for the rod to
tion skills in future engineers and technolo- pass through. For this problem, there is no
gists. What must be done, however, is for need for the student to manually construct
technical and engineering graphics profes- various projections of the assembly nor is it
sionals to be leaders in applying new, 3-D necessary for them to physically measure
modeling technologies to achieving these lengths and angles. On the other hand, they
goals. This approach serves two critical must be able to generate a systematic strate-
educational goals, developing graphics liter- gy of how they are going to create the nec-
acy and giving students experience with essary 3-D construction geometry and then
state-of-the-art technology. assemble the parts. This strategic activity
requires spatial visualization skills, a knowl-
Instruction in how to 'think geometrically' edge of how to limit degrees of freedom
has to evolve towards the use of virtual 3-D through geometric constraints, a knowledge
models in modeling systems. The challenge of how to define points, lines, and planes in
will be how to preserve key analytic process- three-space, and a knowledge of how the
Figure 4 - A graphical analysis problem using 3-D modeling software.

software creates and manipulates these enti- between intra-part features and features on
ties. mating parts. With 3-D modeling, graphic
representation of the model database contin-
The use of virtual 3-D models of engineering ues to be a powerful tool to represent geom-
designs means that much of the information etry. The student's understanding of the
which was explicitly documented in tradi- geometry he/she is representing and how
tional working drawings is now implicitly that geometry addresses a design problem is
embedded in the model database. Though central to successful model database con-
proper application of ANSI/ISO standards to struction. The new tools being used, howev-
working drawings is still an important skill; er, create documentation as just one repre-
the structuring of the 3-D model database to sentation of the database late in the con-
properly represent the design intent of the struction process. As many companies do
engineer/technologist now requires a whole away with traditional working drawings,
new set of skills. For example, the efficient documentation should be used increasingly
application of GD&T notation to drawing as a tool for demonstrating to the instructor
views extracted from a 3-D model requires the robustness of the dynamic model data-
planning at the earliest stages of model con- base the student has created, not as a static
struction (Figure 5) (Wiebe & Branoff, graphic end in and of itself.
1999). For the model in this figure, the GD&T
notation - representing the size, location, and Finally, graphical techniques can continue to
form of geometric features - is based on how play a role in engineering problem solving
these features are constrained to theoretical using empirical and theoretical data (Wiebe,
datums established early in the modeling 1998). The difference is likely to be that
process. These datums, in turn, are placed these new graphical techniques are not like-
based on how the part geometry interacts ly to be used to find unitary 'solutions' to

Wiebe • 17
a. Model datum placement

0.02 A B
— 20
b. GD&T Notation 30

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LO 0.02 ABC

kill 0.02 A B C 2X 0 5.0
-^ 3 0.1 @)|A B C

c. Sample assembly

Figure 5 - The interrelationship of model construction, GD&T documentation, and actu-

al part assembly (from Wiebe & Branoff (1999).
Spring • 1999

Figure 6 - Using color to code the results of a finite element analysis of a part model.

equations as they are to represent large data References

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20 • Engineering Design Graphics Journal