Design Engineering

What’s new in Creo 4.0?

By Ralph Grabowski   

CAD/CAM/CAE 3D printing Creo PTC

PTC rediscovers its CAD roots (again) with latest release of its modular push-pull CAD suite.

The name Creo comes from the Spanish, “create.” By the late 1990s, however, it also came to mean “gang” in street language. Perhaps this is why, when PTC unveiled its new MCAD software in 2010, they adopted the jailhouse theme for the launch event. Metaphorically, Creo was intended to release inmates from the jail in which all other CAD vendors were imprisoning them, PTC executives told the assembled industry analysts and media in downtown Boston.

How might Creo release these prisoners? It turned out PTC’s plan was no different than any other CAD vendor whose software performs direct modeling: read in 3D models from lots of other CAD programs, employ feature recognition to give the newly-arrived dumb solids new smarts, and then use direct editing to edit the parts. Not exactly a new plan, as four years earlier SpaceClaim had already set the industry on fire with the same approach to direct modeling.


The new GD&T Advisor in Creo 4.0 points out suggestions and possible errors in dimensioning and tolerancing.

Creo was in fact a new name for two old programs, Pro/Engineer and ME10. Pro/Engineer is a true pioneer in that it was the very first parametric MCAD program in the late 1980s. ME10 was a direct modeling package acquired by PTC from HP, who had used it primarily in sheet metal design for its laser printers, beginning in the mid-1980s.

Today, Creo is a family of programs:

  • Creo Parametric – the full-meal deal, including direct modeling
  • Creo Direct – stand-alone direct modeling
  • Creo Illustrate – technical illustration management
  • Creo Layout – 2D drafting
  • Creo Options Modeler – product configuration
  • Creo Schematics – 2D electrical schematics
  • Creo Simulate – FEA simulation
  • Creo Sketch – 2D freehand sketching (free to use)
  • Creo View ECAD – PCB viewer
  • Creo View MCAD – 2D and 3D file viewer (free to use)

New in Creo 4.0

When you’re familiar with function sets in certain CAD packages, it can come as a surprise to learn what other ones do – or don’t do. Creo 4.0, for instance, adds some basic functions other CAD packages have had for years, even decades. For example, box selection is new, where dragging the cursor diagonally left-to-right selects enclosed objects, and right-to-left selects crossing and enclosed objects. AutoCAD and its clones have had this for ages. Other examples of not-so-new functions new to Creo include a mini toolbar that appears when objects are selected, customization of shortcut keys and full-screen editing mode.

With each Creo release, direct editing becomes stronger. In release 4.0, a new clipping mode lets us see the part we are editing within the assembly. To help draw parts, we can now snap to other parts for reference. Opposite faces of parts can be dragged at the same time, and we can make negative offsets. In the View Manager, the Appearances tab lets us changes the colors of parts.

Model-Based Design

MBD, or model-based design, is where data about how to manufacture the model is embedded in the model itself. Tooling equipment reads the data to learn how to lathe the product – 2D drawings generated from 3D models are no longer needed. It sounds futuristic, but is pretty basic: Notes are added directly to the 3D model via callouts, such as GD&Ts (geometric dimensions and tolerances), to specify tolerances and other specifications.

This isn’t new to Creo; what is new in 4.0 is the GD&T Advisor add-on that reports tolerance information that may be missing or is incorrectly constrained. For example, when we add a dimension to a hole, the advisor asks if the hole should be perpendicular or at an angle, and then requires us to specify the tolerance range for the hole.

Uniting Solids and Meshes

It’s common today for MCAD software to provide both solids and mesh modeling – solids for precise 3D models, meshes for organic shapes made from 3D laser scans, or swooshy modeling that just needs to look good, as in industrial design. The problem is that combining the two is nearly as hard as mixing oil and water.

Creo lattice  3D

Creo 4.0 filling voids with lattices made from 3D triangular cells.

Kernel vendors like Parasolid and Spatial are inching towards an integrated solution. PTC is doing the same with its Granite kernel, which the company calls “Freestyle.” After a 3D mesh (aka subdivision mesh) is in Creo – either imported or constructed natively – Freestyle builds manufacturable geometry (solids) yet retains the easily editable mesh.

Sheet Metal

Sheet metal design has become a big deal in low-cost packages like BricsCAD and Onshape, because in some ways it’s easy. These packages deal with solids of constant thickness using parametric and direct modeling. What we call direct modeling, PTC calls flexible modeling.

In 4.0, sheet metal gets flexible modeling so that we can edit bends, bend reliefs, corner reliefs and corner seams and forms. Matching the abilities of the two CAD packages mentioned previously, Creo can now import parts designed in other CAD systems, convert them to sheet metal parts, recognize their features (like bends, holes, reliefs), and then edit them – like dragging edges longer or adding bend reliefs.

3D Printing and Lattice Structures

Support for printing 3D models found its way into Creo 3, specifically by exporting STL files that recognize specific 3D-printer models of two brands, Stratasys and 3D Systems; however,  parameters for other brands can be added. With 4.0, Creo prints directly to 3D printers on the network and to remote ones over the Internet. Print validation checks if there are thin walls and other issues that do not print well, and 3D print preview confirms that support structures are in place and makes sure no parts are clipped.

Creo cells lattice

Creo 4.0 can also fill voids with 3D square, hexagonal and octagonal cells.

Lattices are used to reduce the weight of physical objects and to fill the interiors of 3D prints so that they don’t collapse. (The lattice function is only somewhat new to 4.0); before now, Creo accessed the function through a third-party add-on.) The shape of a lattice part looks like a 3D molecular structure. We select the “hole” in the model to fill, Creo arrays the lattice blocks, and then we adjust their angle and position so that they sit just right. There can’t be any dangly bits; if the finished part encounters liquids, then the lattice will also need drain holes. After the lattice is placed, we need to run the part through Creo Simulate to ensure it can still handle specified stress loads.

For the Future

For PTC, CAD has been reduced in importance, marketing-wise. In some of the 1990s, for instance, the company instead pushed its WindChill PLM software and got very excited over technical publishing. For a part of the last decade, PTC swiveled towards SLM and ALM (software lifecycle management and application lifecycle management). In recent years, it’s been concentrating on IoT, the Internet of Things. Each time it does so, PTC is looking for a way to broaden its sales beyond MCAD.

Between these flirtations with not-CAD, PTC management rediscovers its CAD roots. In its current fascination with IoT, PTC sees its CAD software providing a useful function. You may have heard about IoT in home devices like Nest thermostats and Phillips smart lightbulbs. It’s outside the home that IoT is being applied seriously, most commonly as sensors on machinery that transmit reports in real-time when parts fail or energy consumption skyrockets. PTC sees IoT as a big market, and so sees Creo 4 useful for designing IoT devices into CAD models.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, Silicon Valley is excited about what AR (augmented reality) might be able to do. This is where digital data overlays images of the physical world in real-time. PTC plans to integrate its Thingworx Studio with Creo 4.0 so that users have AR experiences of their designs. The company calls AR “a more effective, engaging and compelling design review process.”

To be sure, Creo is not software for the self-employed or small businesses. PTC targets corporations likely to also buy many more of its ancillary products and services. With 4.0, PTC expands the capabilities of Creo downward and upward. Downward to basic tasks like full-screen editing and upwards to concepts like freestyle editing and augmented reality. 

Ralph Grabowski writes on the business of CAD in his weekly upFront.eZine newsletter. He is the author of many articles and books about AutoCAD, BricsCAD, Visio and other graphics software. He also maintains the WorldCAD Access blog at


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