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Archive for 2013

2013: The MCADCafe Year in Review

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

The MCAD industry, like in recent years past, had many interesting and significant events that took place in 2013. Below are just some of the highlights that we noted for the year.

Cloud-Based Everything

It wasn’t all that long ago that an MCAD executive referred to the cloud as “mere vapor,” but that is rapidly changing as real engineering applications become available.

In 2013, the cloud began to transition from just a giant storage device to a true platform for running applications as varied as conceptual design to simulation/analysis to rendering.


AU 2013: Something For Everyone

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Last week we were at the Venetian in Las Vegas for what has to be the biggest spectacle in the CAD business — Autodesk University. While other cities could handle the crowd and serve as venues for AU, Las Vegas has been the destination for the annual event for a long time. Vegas is big, bold, easy to get to, and just a lot of fun to be around, even if you’re not into the “Vegas Lifestyle” — gambling, smoking, etc.

AU takes place at an odd time of year because it immediately follows Thanksgiving and is about four to five months prior to the new versions of Autodesk products being released. That said, though, there are always interesting product announcements made at AU.


New Company Focusing On 3D Printing With Graphene

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

It’s not too often that a new material with incredible physical and electrical characteristics comes along, much less a process for turning it into products with endless possibilities. Well, that very thing happened recently when Lomiko Metals and Graphene Laboratories launched Graphene 3D Labs.

The company was formed primarily to focus on developing high-performance graphene-enhanced materials for 3D printing.

New developments in 3D printing will allow products with different components such as printed electronic circuits, sensors or batteries to be manufactured. High-quality graphite is a base material for producing graphene, and Lomiko will provide graphite to Graphene 3D Labs as the exclusive supplier to Graphene 3D Labs


Autodesk CAM: A Small Step and a Giant Leap

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

Over the years, and with considerable interest, we have observed the ongoing consolidation of the technical/engineering software industry, and it continues unabated today. The consolidation occurs primarily through mergers and acquisitions, whether in whole or in part, but consolidation marches on.

We’ve witnessed consolidation in CAD, CAE, and more recently, CAM, and Autodesk has been a major participant in this consolidation. Relatively recently, Autodesk has made it clear that it intends to become a major force in CAM to round out its Digital Prototyping philosophy that also includes design and simulation. As examples to this CAM commitment, in the past year or so it has acquired HSMWorks (a significant, but relatively small step in CAM), and just last week announced its intention to acquire Delcam (a relatively giant leap in CAM).


Countering the Rumors: Autodesk Inventor HSM Express 2014

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Virtually since its inception, the CAD/CAM industry has always had its proponents, detractors, champions, pundits, and naysayers, and this diverse group of industry watchers continues to flourish today.

One of the most heated and opinionated debates that I’ve seen in quite some time came when HSMWorks was acquired by Autodesk a little over a year ago. Rumors circulated that HSMWorks was toast because Autodesk was going to kill it, owing to the fact at the time that the vast majority of HSMWorks CAM customers were also using it as an integration with SolidWorks. Well, as often happens, the rumors turned out to not exactly be as disastarous as claimed (or hoped for).


Making a Case for Product and Project Data Management for SMBs

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

For many years, all of the major CAD vendors have been stressing the importance of managing the design and manufacturing data created using their software. Surprisingly though, still relatively few design and manufacturing companies, especially SMBs, have a formal PDM system of any type in place beyond Windows Explorer or Excel. Some of the reasons we hear for PDM not being employed include the perceptions (and experiences) that PDM is time consuming and expensive to implement.

While most SMBs have made the transition from 2D to 3D, many are finally exploring how to manage the mountains of CAD and associated product development and project data. These companies are seeking solutions that are more capable and scalable than just files, folders, Excel spreadsheets, and Windows Explorer.


Handheld Scanning Goes Automotive With Artec Hardware and Software

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

While 3D printing gets a lot of attention on the output side of the design process, going from digital to physical; just as important is the converse, going physical to digital, also known as 3D scanning. Like 3D printers, 3D scanners vary in object capture quality (resolution), and associated cost — ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. 3D scanners are also being used for a growing number of applications, including big-ticket industries, such as automotive and aerospace.

The automotive industry has been particularly fertile ground for 3D scanning with applications ranging from reverse engineering to inspection. I recently came across an interesting automotive 3D scanning application using Artec scanners.


Mitsubishi Reduces Lead Time from Design to Production With Concurrent Engineering

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Mitsubishi Agricultural Machinery (MAM), part of Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Group, designs, manufactures and sells agricultural machinery. To better meet the needs of a rapidly changing market, Mitsubishi adopted a strategy known as concurrent engineering, using Lattice Technology’s advanced 3D data format called XVL.

Concurrent engineering is a workflow method that promotes a parallel tasks. For example, job functions such as design engineering and manufacturing engineering are integrated, which allows workers to reduce the time needed to bring new products to market.


think3 Attempting Re-appearing Act In North America?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Although it officially launched ThinkDesign 2013 on September 9, and we didn’t receive a press release until September 27, it appears that the CAD enigma, think3, is attempting to resurrect itself — at least in Europe and Asia/Pacific anyway. As for North America, it doesn’t appear likely, at least what appears on their marginally functional website.

I thought I’d witnessed the last of think3 and ThinkDesign because I haven’t seen or heard much from the company for over two years. As a matter of fact, the last time I really thought about the company was May 2011 when we published the following article: Another One Bites the Dust: think3 Declares Bankruptcy

As I said back then and still maintain today, it’s demise was not that the company produced bad products. Rather, I felt it was the lack of focus and continual management turnover that was its ultimate undoing. think3 had developed some very innovative technologies, features, and capabilities that included advanced surfacing and even voice commands.

On the negative side, though, think3 attempted to go up against Autodesk and SolidWorks in production machine design (with thinkdesign), and Alias in the industrial design space (with thinkiD). They both failed miserably in the intended markets. Also, think3 tried to enter the PDM and other MCAD-related spaces with little or no market strategy, presence, or penetration. Again, fail.

think3 did actually play a prominent role in industrial design for a few years, but primarily in education that really didn’t translate into many commercial seats after graduation. Because of the UI, relative ease of use, and ability to generate surfaces, I always felt that the company would have been better served (and maybe ultimately survived) if it had stuck with the ID space. However, bigger minds and egos prevailed, and they felt the ID market to small to focus on, and felt they were destined for bigger (and more competitive) markets. Well, we saw where that line of thought got them.

While it was quite capable for certain types of design, it also had some problematic issues with handling large assemblies, as well as limited interoperability. Counter to what the company claimed, this latter issue prevented wide adoption by organizations using other MCAD systems.

think3 boasted a revamped management team (again) and $10 million in additional capital. The funding came on the heels of winning several major new customers. These customers came from the sector think3 was now aggressively going after – machine design – the most competitive MCAD market segment.

Specifically, think3 targeted mid-sized manufacturers, those with revenues between $50 million and $1 billion (the same market Autodesk, SolidWorks, and others were also pursuing). The company regarded this group as the largest and also the most neglected segment because the higher-end MCAD companies go after the “bigger fish,”. The mid-sized range is also the domain of 2D CAD, which plays to its strength, since thinkdesign is a 3D system embedded with a 2D core — or so it thought Was think3 thinking that no other competitor had this same strategy?

The next release of thinkdesign was made to order for the machine design customer. As company management at the time said, “It’s got everything you need for sheet metal, large assemblies and it’s 3D. There is a large, untouched market within this mid-sized niche – perhaps 40% or more of the mechanical design market itself. So that’s what we’re going after now.” Again, a little late to the party.

Whereas thinkdesign sold as a subscription package for $1,995 per user and ran on Windows PCs, the more established players such as Dassault Systemes, and PTC had more expensive offerings, but well-established sales and support teams. In addition, those programs were difficult to learn and required significant investments in extensive training whereas think3’s software could be learned relatively quickly over the Web, according to the company. The subscription model and Web-based training were innovative for the time, but to compare thinkdesign with CATIA and Pro/ENGINEER (now Creo) was quite a stretch.

Then, think3 offered another advantage – an integrated Product Data Management (PDM) program called thinkteam, that captured, organized, automated, and shared engineering product information, including standard components, documents, part numbers, bills of materials and active projects. thinkteam was available as a standalone product or could be integrated into thinkdesign or into Microsoft Office. thinkteam was an example of how the company was trying to be all things to all customers and the result was a product line that became diluted with diminishing direction (and return).

In 2001, the company brought in about $15 million in revenue. The goal was earning $27 to 30 million, thanks to new accounts from such customers as Buell Motorcycle and Boeing, one of the world’s biggest CAD users, primarily using CATIA. The entrée into Boeing was a good start, but the company never disclosed how many seats were actually installed. Buell Motorcycle became defunct in 2009 and is now long gone.

This time frame was also the high point for think3, and it didn’t last for long.

After the “good” era, the company drifted from Silicon Valley to Ohio with an increasing lack of presence. As a matter of fact, many MCAD industry watchers started counting down the end of think3. As a matter of fact, it virtually dropped off all the radar screens of industry pundits and customers.

A few years later, though, think3 sort of surfaced when the following press announcement was released:

Think3, Inc., a provider of design and modeling software, will join the family of Versata affiliated software companies. Think3 provides technology that links three separate design areas: the concept, its development, and the finished product.

Think3 will continue to operate as a stand-alone corporation within the Versata family of software businesses. Atlas Capital IB LLC acted as financial advisor to Versata on the transaction. Financial details of the transaction were not disclosed.

Ultimately, think3 couldn’t survive, even after being brought into the Versata fold.

So, although a relatively minor player, another MCAD player rode into the sunset – once again leaving its user base looking for alternatives. Unfortunate, but inevitable given the course that think3 had chosen over the years. Although its technology was always good, it was management that lacked vision and funding that ultimately sank the company, especially in the North American market. With all of its past issues, I don’t expect think3 to re-appear in this hemisphere again soon, if ever.


Software Review: DesignSpark Mechanical for Conceptual 3D Electromechanical Design

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

As our readers know, there is no shortage of mechanical CAD tools available for trained mechanical designers. But, I recently discovered a unique mechanical design product, DesignSpark Mechanical, tailored for engineers whose primary role is electronics design, and secondary role is mechanical design for creating panels, enclosures, and machines. I was interested in experiencing how a mechanical design product would translate for electronics designers and conceptual design. Oh, and it’s free of charge.

I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be a very capable mechanical design tool for non-specialists and was pleasantly surprised at its capabilities and potential.

DesignSpark Mechanical is built on SpaceClaim Engineer, 3D design software that offers a short learning curve along with a direct modeling approach that lets you directly pull and move geometry for design optimization.

Using DesignSpark Mechanical consists of the following three basic steps:

  1. Sketching and pulling to create parts, or importing and opening existing part models from other modeling software, or from the RS Components/Allied Electronics parts library.
  2. Refining a design using DesignSpark Mechanical’s 2D and 3D editing tools.
  3. Saving and exporting model data.

DesignSpark Mechanical has comprehensive 2D and 3D sketching capabilities, as well as the following basic tools for creating and editing 3D geometry:

  • Pull – This the primary tool for creating and editing models in DesignSpark Mechanical for extruding, offsetting, revolving, sweeping, drafting, and blending edges and faces. This tool sets DesignSpark Mechanical apart from more complex history-based parametric modelers.
  • Move – This tool is used for selecting and moving faces, solids, surfaces, or objects in a 2D or 3D model.
  • Fill – This tool is used for selecting a model region and then filling it with the surrounding solid or surface. The fill operation in DesignSpark Mechanical is relatively simple compared with most other feature-based modelers.
  • Combine – This tool merges and splits solids and surfaces for altering objects. Objects can be added (or merged) together and subtracted (or split) from each other, creating new modified objects that better suit design needs.

With these basic 3D tools, I realized that I had the ability to conceptually model many types of electronic panels and enclosures.

Three Modeling Methods

With DesignSpark Mechanical there are three methods for modeling — from scratch, by selecting components from the DesignSpark library and using them as the basis for a design, or a combination of the two.

With the online library I was able to combine my test design with off-the-shelf electromechanical components (enclosures, relays, switches, etc.) from RS Components’ and Allied Electronics’ 3D library. I was able to select and drop in 3D part models with RS part numbers directly into my test design.

I also was able to import ECAD files from an EDA tool, DesignSpark PCB (RS Components’/Allied Electronics’ printed circuit board design tool), and create a mechanical design around the electrical design.

Design Tools for Electronics Designers

DesignSpark Mechanical has specialized functions and tools specifically for electronics designers – Measure, Dimension, Bill of Materials, and Order Components.

I used the Measure tool by selecting it and clicking on an object (edge or face) for measuring length, area, and perimeter. This was a useful tool for ensuring components or subassemblies would fit within an enclosure.

Selecting the Dimension tool and clicking on an edge or face previews a specific dimension. Clicking a second time, I created the dimension for display. The Dimension tool is useful for calling attention to critical dimensions for collaboration or production.

For design communication, it’s always a good idea to include a Bill of Materials (BOM) as part of a design. In DesignSpark Mechanical, BOMs are automatically populated for both internal and external components that comprise an assembly.

Finally, DesignSpark Mechanical reads in purchasing data from parts downloaded from the RS Components and Allied Electronics webpages and auto-populates a bill of materials (BOM). I clicked the BOM Quote button and the parts list in the current design populated a table in a pop-up browser. By clicking Order Components, I received a quote very quickly.

Final Thoughts

For all the functionality it provides for designing innovative electronic products, DesignSpark Mechanical is available free of charge.

I have evaluated and used many software products over the years for designing mechanical and electromechanical products. Based on my experience, I found DesignSpark Mechanical to be an easy to use, yet capable tool for conceptual electromechanical design, especially by those who have limited or no experience with a mechanical design tool. The learning curve is short, the 3D component libraries are extensive, BOMs and quotes are easy to generate, and it’s free. When considering all of these benefits, I found that there is a lot to like with DesignSpark Mechanical.

For More Information on DesignSpark Mechanical:


Colortrac: LearnMore
TurboCAD pro : Start at $299

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