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Archive for 2013

A Visit To Waltham Pond And The Launch Of SolidWorks 2014

Monday, September 16th, 2013

Immediately following Labor Day, I, along with about 35-40 other CAD and business journalists and bloggers were invited to Dassault Systemes’ North American headquarters in Waltham, MA for the launch of the SolidWorks 2014 products. The HQ is situated across a freeway from the  beautiful Cambridge Reservoir, owned and operated by the city of Cambridge, MA, and provides a nice contrast to the perpetual string of office parks that line I-95 in the area.

It was an interesting event because after a general session by SolidWorks’ CEO, Bertrand Sicot, that included all invitees, we were split up into two groups – journalists who witnessed a day of presentations and demonstrations (from SolidWorks employees and some marquee customers), and bloggers who had an all-day hands-on experience with the new products. I would have preferred a little bit of both, but that’s just me.

As you might imagine, the company line for the new SolidWorks 2014 release is that it delivers “major productivity and usability gains for pushing innovation to the forefront.” According to the company, the major new and enhanced features and capabilities fall into the following four areas:

Design Tools

  • Advanced Shape Control – New Style Spline functionality, automatic Sketch Picture scaling and Conic Fillet controls allow users to create complex surfaces and organic shapes faster, easier and with more precise control.
  • Faster Drawing Detailing – Perform faster and more automated drawing detailing.
  • Sheet Metal Improvements – New sheet metal features enable faster creation of sheet metal geometry and improved data output for manufacturing. Users gain improved control over corner treatments, the ability to create stiffening ribs such as the indented design seen on mounting brackets used to reinforce the weight and force placed on the part.

Integrated Workflows

  • SolidWorks Enterprise PDM Streamlined Workflow – Easily manage more data with the new Microsoft Office integration and enhanced Web Client with graphical preview.
  • SolidWorks Electrical Improved Integration and Performance – Enhanced integration with SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and eDrawings allows users to optimize, share and track electrical designs more easily for improved project collaboration.

Increased Productivity

  • Design Communication and Collaboration – With new support for Android devices, mobile users can expand their viewing choice beyond iOS mobile devices.
  • Streamlined Cost Estimating and Reporting – Users are able to cost parts faster with less setup, then share cost data more effectively with their business value chain. For example, key product development data for assembly can now be sent to Microsoft Excel allowing for easy sharing with departments such as manufacturing and purchasing.

Enhanced Visualization

  • Streamlined Simulation Setup – SolidWorks Simulation automatically leverages engineering data for re-use in simulations, eliminating duplication of effort and improving design collaboration.
  • Enhanced Assembly Performance and Visualization – Creates assemblies faster and easier with the new in-context Quick Mate tool bar and Slot Mate. For assembly in section views, users can include or exclude selected components allowing for a fast creation of more impressive section views.

Aaron Kelly, a long-time SolidWorker in a new very visible role as VP of user experience & product portfolio management did a good job talking through the SolidWorks 2014 product lines and answering questions. It’s good to see Aaron in this tough role as one of the company’s primary spokespersons for addressing customers and the press at a critical time for the company.

Granted, there are some nice changes to SolidWorks 2014, but much smaller incrementally than the new features and capabilities found in most previous versions. SolidWorks, of course isn’t alone here, as most other CAD products’ improvements become relatively smaller and smaller the more mature a product becomes. That said, SolidWorks is still an important cog in the DS machine, generating approximately 20% of Dassault’s revenue.

Interestingly, there seemed to be more attention paid to the new kid on the block who has yet to make an actual appearance – SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). We heard from Bertrand that there are “Topics still to address” before it can be released. However, he said that is in production testing now with about 10 customers. Also still in the future; pricing and packaging for SWMC will be presented at SolidWorks World 2014 in late January.

Making it perfectly clear by the product management team, SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual will be a design product for design professionals, not hobbyist/consumers. This hints at the product’s complexity and price point. The management team was also careful to point out that SWMC will be “Mechanical Conceptual”, not “Industrial Conceptual,” so will not compete with Autodesk’s Alias for conceptual industrial design and styling. It still remains to be seen what SWMC will actually be, but it has gotten a lot of attention.

A 2D tool that also deserves some attention is DraftSight 4.0. It will still be available as a free version, but there will also be some licensing schemes that will be paid, and the prices are very reasonable for a capable 2D product that is good at what it does (creating, editing, and viewing DWG files). Not surprisingly, if or when the need arises, DS SolidWorks has also provided a relatively smooth path for moving from 2D with DraftSight to 3D With SolidWorks.

The online pricing and licensing model for DraftSight is new for the company, but has absolutely no plans for carrying this business model over to the SolidWorks side of the house.

Unlike what I had perceived for a while now, the company at this meeting was fairly ambivalent about commitment to cloud-based software, services, or really anything for that matter. Unlike some of its competitors, DS SolidWorks is moving cautiously in this area.

After spending some “face time” in Waltham, there’s no doubt that this is a critical release for the future of SolidWorks, both as a product line and brand for Dassault Systemes. I’m anxious to try out for myself some elements of the SolidWorks ecosystem —  SolidWorks 2014 (especially shape control and costing), Enterprise PDM, and Mechanical Conceptual (when it becomes available).

Based on what I witnessed in Waltham, it’s going to be a very interesting upcoming year for the company and I’m looking forward to experiencing the new product line.

Autodesk Reports Q2 Financial Results – Some Good News, Some Not So Good

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

Last week, Autodesk reported financial results for the second quarter of fiscal 2014. Yes, that’s right, 2014. Although I’ve had this funky financial calendar explained to me, I still don’t quite get it. It’s sort of like cars that are introduced in January 2013, but they are 2014 models.

Anyway, Autodesk had some pretty mixed financial results company-wide for the quarter.

Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO said, “Our second quarter was marked by strength in our Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) business segment and continued growth in suites”. “Growth in these vital areas was offset by mixed contributions from other parts of the business. On the product side, we strengthened and expanded our leading product portfolio with new desktop, cloud and mobile offerings.”

What we take that to mean is AEC is doing well, but other major market segments, such as mechanical is doing OK, while media/entertainment continues to go down, with no prospect for real improvement in these segments anytime soon.

For example, revenue from the AEC business segment increased 9 percent to $177 million compared to the second quarter last year. On the other hand, revenue from the Manufacturing business segment increased just 2 percent to $144 million compared to the second quarter last year. Finally, revenue from the Media and Entertainment business segment decreased 11 percent to $43 million compared to the second quarter last year. Ouch on the last one.

For flagship products (such as standalone AutoCAD), revenue decreased 11 percent to $289 million compared to the second quarter last year, while revenue from suites increased 18 percent to $193 million. Suites are sweet for Autodesk.

For something a little more inspiring, check out the following video that shows some interesting “Behind the scenes” 3D printing news from Autodesk’s perspective.

Now back to Autodesk financial results . . .

Looking ahead to the future, Mark Hawkins, Autodesk executive vice president and CFO said, “With the recent introduction of more flexible license and service offerings that have ratable revenue streams, such as cloud-based and rental license offerings, Autodesk’s business model is evolving. We are currently refining our plans around the pace and time frame for this business model transition”

Admittedly, with the way Autodesk has changed internally, what it offers, and the way it offers its products, these results are not all that bad. The company is into a lot of things for the long haul, such as low-priced, cloud-based apps and subscription software that do not now and may never contribute greatly to the bottom line. Of course, this can’t go on forever, but the company has shown a higher degree of patience than in the past – good for customers, not so good for investors.

For many reasons, and these financial results notwithstanding, Autodesk fully acknowledges that it cannot afford to slip into any state of complacency or stagnation. The company has gambled on a number of technologies for “creators” through in-house development, as well as acquisitions. Autodesk seems to be financially willing and able to continue down this path, realizing that there will be some winners and some losers. In the end, though, Autodesk will have to remain at the forefront of innovation if it wants to maintain the status and stature it has in the many market segments it serves.

Hardware Review: 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME

Friday, August 23rd, 2013

Small Footprint, Big Performance

We evaluate several mobile and desktop engineering workstations every year. Some are unique; some not so much. Some are well designed and built; some are not. Some are inexpensive and you get what you pay for; others cost more, but are great values.

Experience has shown us that workstations from BOXX Technologies are unique, well-built, and while costing a bit more, have proven to have excellent price/performance ratios. The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME desktop workstation continues the positive experience we have had with other BOXX machines in the past.

BOXX Technologies builds a wide spectrum of high-end workstations geared for high-performance applications, such as CAD, CAE, advanced animation and rendering, game production, and other demanding design and engineering work.

Even though it’s a desktop workstation, it is relatively compact with a smaller footprint than previous BOXX desktop workstations we’ve evaluated in the past, measuring 6.85”W x 14.6”H x 16.6”D. As a matter of fact, the 4150 XTREME is BOXX’s first foray into smaller form factor desktop workstations – a plus for those with space-constrained work spaces, like me.


The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Engineering Desktop Workstation

This machine will appeal to those users who need higher levels of performance, reliability, and quality, and are willing and able to pay a bit more for these attributes. So, let’s see how the relatively compact 4150 XTREME performed and compared.


3DBOXX 4150 XTREME: Minimal Size. Maximum Performance

3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Workstation Specifications and Build Quality
The 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME we received had the following specifications as supplied:
CPU: Overclocked fourth-generation Intel Core i7 – Haswell (4.3 GHz); quad core. Intel Express chipset.
GPU: NVIDIA Quadro K2000 with 2GB on-board memory
RAM: 16 GB DDR3-1600; 2 DIMMs
SSD: 240 GB SATA; 6GB/s
Power Supply: 550 W
Connectivity: 6 SATA ports; 1 IEEE 1394 port; 6 USB 2.0 ports (2 front, 4 rear); 6 USB 3.0 ports (2 front, 4 rear); HDMI; DVI; Ethernet
Other: 20X dual layer DVD-RW; Intel Smart Cache; liquid cooling
OS: Microsoft Windows 7 Professional Edition 64-bit
Dimensions: 6.9″(W) x 14.6″(H) x 16.6″(D)
Warranty: One-year limited

EDITOR’S NOTE: Many hardware component options and configurations are available for the 4150 XTREME workstation.

BOXX claims the 4150 XTREME to be the fastest single socket workstation available for engineering and product design applications, such as SolidWorks and Autodesk Inventor, as well as all other frequency-driven, CPU-bound applications. We’ll check that out soon enough.

Another nice feature of the 4150 that we’re seeing more and more is the fact that no tools are required to access the workstation’s internals – just remove two thumb screws and you’re in.

When pushing the unit during demanding benchmark testing, it remained cool and relatively quiet, thanks to the liquid cooling. The 4150 XTREME has just about every connectivity option you could need, and many ports are easily accessible from the front of the unit.

Like BOXX computers we have evaluated in the past, the build quality of the 4150 XTREME is very solid. Overall, the 4150 XTREME is a well-executed, high-quality platform that is also well-priced for what you get.

Measuring Performance
When we received the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME, we had high expectations for performance, largely because of the high levels of performance we have experienced in the past with other machines from BOXX Technologies. The objective (formal documented generic benchmarks) and subjective (actual design and engineering software applications) tests we ran fulfilled our expectations.

The tests were performed with the 4150 XTREME “out of the box,” as we received it – nothing was tweaked or optimized to distort the performance numbers (such as enabling multi-threading) in a positive or negative direction. I actually get more out of the subjective testing because it’s more “real world,” but the raw numbers from the benchmarks are also useful as a means of objective comparison with other machines in the class. Your evaluations will probably differ from mine, but they do, at least, provide a point for comparison.

For objective testing, as we do with all workstations, we ran two benchmarks NovaBench (geared more toward overall performance) and SPECviewperf 11 (geared more toward graphics performance).

NovaBench Benchmark Test
16,323 MB System RAM (Score: 249) – this was about on par with recent desktop workstations evaluations
• RAM Speed: 14,337 MB/s
CPU Tests (Score: 898) – this a little better than recent desktop workstations evaluations
• Floating Point Operations/Second: 207,121,760
• Integer Operations/Second: 10,97,476,568
• MD5 Hashes Generated/Second: 1,536,366
Graphics Tests (Score: 312 – this was lower than recent desktop evaluations, due to the graphics card
• 3D Frames Per Second: 890
Hardware Tests (Score: 40) – higher than other recent desktop evaluations
• Drive Write Speed: 243 MB/s

Total NovaBench Composite Score: 1499

The 1499 composite score was a about 8% higher than the score of recent and comparable desktop workstation evaluations.

SPECviewperf 11 Benchmark Test
The composite scores for the various demanding SPECviewperf 11 suite tests (CATIA, SolidWorks, Lightwave, Ensight, NX, and Pro/ENGINEER) run at 1,920 x 1,080 resolution (without multi-threading enabled) were the best I have ever seen on a mobile workstation (any workstation, for that matter) that I have benchmarked and reviewed.

Subjective Test
As I usually do, for subjective testing, I ran Autodesk Alias Design, Autodesk Inventor, AutoCAD, and SolidWorks on the 4150. I used data sets of standard models that I have created over the years for this testing, including a model of an earth mover with 100,000+ parts, renderings of complex surfaces, and animations. The 4150 XTREME performed very well and had no problematic issues with any of these subjective tests.

Final Thoughts
In an engineering environment that increasingly demands mobility, there is still a case to be made for stationary desktop workstations for engineering purposes.

For a desktop workstation, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation is relatively compact, well-built, and well-priced. The level of performance that this small footprint machine exhibited is also quite good.

Whether mobile or desktop, workstations have come a long way in the past few years, and they often command a premium price. However, with the quality, performance, and configuration options, the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME has a good price/performance ratio, offering high-end performance in a relatively compact package.
________________________________________________________________________
BOXX Technologies 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME Workstation
Pros: Footprint; excellent price/performance ratio; build quality; connectivity options; configurability.
Cons: None significant, especially noteworthy since this is the first model out with this smaller form factor.
Price (As configured for review): $3,719. Prices start at $2800.
Final Grade: A

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

For More Information on the 3DBOXX 4150 XTREME workstation: BOXX Technologies; 512.835.0400; www.boxxtech.com

MakerBot Digitizer: Low-Cost 3D Scanning Coming Of Age?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

MakerBot (now a Stratasys company), the company that brought us one of the first relatively low-cost, assembled 3D printer is at it again, this time with a 3D scanner called the MakerBot Digitizer.

In an effort to appeal to the low end of 3D digitizing (much like it did with the MakerBot Replicator), the MakerBot Digitizer takes physical objects, scans them using a camera and two lasers, and creates a 3D digital file – “without any need for design or 3D software experience.” Really? I’m skeptical of this statement because it has been tried before, with relatively little success — scans of complex objects can be difficult to process into something useful.

The MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner is optimized for and works seamlessly with MakerBot’s Replicator Desktop 3D Printers and MakerBot Thingiverse (no surprise there).

Just connect the MakerBot Digitizer to a laptop or computer and you are ready to digitize. Is it really that easy?

According to the company, the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner offers:

  • Software to create clean, watertight 3D models with just two clicks
  • A 3D digital design file in just minutes
  • No design skills, 3D modeling, or CAD expertise required to get started
  • Outputs standard 3D design file formats that can be modified and improved in third-party 3D modeling programs, like Autodesk’s free software MeshMixer
  • Creates a 3D digital file that can be printed on a MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer and other 3D printers
  • Upload scans directly to MakerBot’s Thingiverse.com, the community for sharing 3D printable objects.
  • Ability to digitize physical objects up to 8” in diameter and 8” tall and up to 3 kg (6.6 lbs.)

The ease of use and “no skills required” claims are a bit of a stretch for me, because the MakerBot Replicator is not exactly foolproof and totally autonomous, so how can the MakerBot Digitizer be that much different?

The MakerBot Digitizer is for sale at makerbot.com/digitizer. Pre-orders are being taken now, with shipping expected mid-October. Price is $1,400, plus an optional $150 for MakerBot Digitizer MakerCare, a service and support program, plus $9 shipping insurance. A total cost of $1,559 might seem like a bargain at first, but expect to see several lower-cost 3D digitizers on the market in the next few months.

At that price point, is the MakerBot Digitizer overpriced? Sight unseen and with no hands-on experience with it, I would tend to say yes, as there are a few low-cost, low-end 3D digitizers/scanners already on the market, including Microsoft’s Kinect at a fraction of the cost. Another competitor, NextEngine, has been around for several years, and yes, it costs twice as much, but seems more robust and production-ready, as well as having superior accuracy and resolution. Both the MakerBot Digitzer and the NextEngine scanner employ turntables for rotating objects for capture, but the NextEngine is able to accommodate larger objects. It’s true with 3D digitizing as with most things — you get what you pay for.

Will the MakerBot Digitizer be a hit like the MakerBot Replicator was? I would peg the probability as low. Why? A lot of competition is coming soon, and how many objects does an average DIYer/hobbyist really need to print in 3D as output, much less digitize for input? As I said in a blog post a few weeks ago, why buy when you can rent, and I think this will ultimately ring true for 3D digitizers for the common man unless the price drops quite a bit.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I am in the process of writing an authoritative, comprehensive sourcebook on 3D object scanning/digitizing/capture that will detail methods, technologies, applications, vendors, and trends. Look for it in Q2 2014.

3D Printing Goes Retail: Why Buy When You Can Rent?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The 3D printing process and the notion of a 3D printer in every home has received a lot of attention the past few years, and sales of relatively low cost 3D printers have skyrocketed. That is, until recently. According to the Wohlers Report, sales of 3D printers started to decline last year and have continued to accelerate downward this year.

But why, for a process and capability that was supposed to be ubiquitous and necessary for every home? The machines may be relatively inexpensive, but how many parts are you truly going to want to ultimately design and produce? Then there are material, size/volume, and physical characteristic, and quality limitations. The machines can also be fickle to set up and maintain. I suspect that after an initial period of excitement and promise, a lot of early-purchase 3D printers are now sitting idle and collecting dust.

It brings to mind people who have the joy and burden of owning multiple homes. A second home may be nice, but that ends up being the only place you end up going. Most acquaintances that I have known dealing with this issue inevitably as themselves, “Why own when you can rent.” I’m starting to see this same mindset enter into the psyches of early purchasers of 3D printers.

That mindset has produced a possible opportunity for easily “renting” a 3D printer at a location as close as your local Staples or UPS store.

A few months ago, ago, office supply retail giant, Staples, announced that they had opened their first 3D printing “Experience Centre” in the Netherlands. Staples selected Mcor’s paper-based Selective Deposition Lamination (SDL) 3D printing technology, exclusively for this service, citing Mcor’s relative low cost and color capability.

This announcement followed Staples’ announcement last November that they were launching “Easy 3D,” an online and in-store 3D printing service. Together, these two 3D printing endeavors will (hopefully) fulfill Staples’ goal to provide comprehensive 3D printing services for its customers.


3D Printing at Staples in the Netherlands

Last week, Stratasys announced that it had been selected by The UPS Store to provide its 3D printing systems to The UPS Store as part of a test program. This service will enable UPS Store customers to have their 3D design 3D printed on-site.

The UPS Store is installing Stratasys uPrint SE Plus 3D Printers in six test locations, beginning in San Diego. The test is a collaborative effort by Stratasys and The UPS Store to make 3D printing more accessible as awareness of the technology and its capabilities grow. Following the test launch, retail customers will be able to bring CAD files to participating UPS Store locations and have their 3D design printed.


The UPS Store 3D Printing Experience

How well trained 3D printing technicians will be at Staples and UPS stores and how they will resolve problematic issues that are bound to come up remains to be seen. But, you’ve got to start somewhere . . .

So, will fans and proponents of 3D printing quit buying and start renting? If the successes of other online 3D printing “rental” services, such as RedEye, Shapeways, and i.Materialise are any indication, then there just might be a place for “walk-up” 3D printing at Staples and UPS stores.

MCADCafe Field Trip: Maker Faire Detroit 2013

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

There are a few events I look forward to year after year — birthdays, my wedding anniversary, opening day for baseball, and some holidays. Another event I really look forward to is the opportunity to attend a Maker Faire. Although I could only attend one day (of two) of this year’s Detroit Maker Faire, I made the most of it and covered as much ground as I possibly could.

Maker Faire is an event created by Make magazine to “celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset”. Flagship Maker Faires are held in San Mateo, CA, Detroit, MI, and New York City, the latter is also known as “World Maker Faire”. The first Maker Faire was held April 22–23, 2006, at the San Mateo County Event Center. It included six exposition and workshop pavilions, an outdoor midway, over 100 exhibiting makers, hands-on workshops, demonstrations, and DIY competitions. It’s grown significantly since then, but remains true to its roots.

I met the founder of Make magazine, Dale Dougherty, several years ago when Maker Faires were just beginning, and from what I can tell, he still embodies the same excitement and exuberance for the events today.

The Detroit Maker Faire was actually held just west of Detroit in Dearborn, MI at The Henry Ford — (also known as the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, and more formally as the Edison Institute) — a large indoor and outdoor history museum complex. Named for its founder, automotive pioneer Henry Ford, and based on his desire to preserve items of historical significance and portray the Industrial Revolution, the property houses a vast collection of famous homes, machinery, exhibits, and Americana. I grew up in the area, went here many times in my youth, am still fascinated by the place, and visit every chance I get when I’m in the area.

Henry Ford said of his museum: “I am collecting the history of our people as written into things their hands made and used . . . When we are through, we shall have reproduced American life as lived, and that, I think, is the best way of preserving at least a part of our history and tradition . . .”


Maker Faire Detroit 2013 at The Henry Ford Fire Breathing Guard Dragon

With the industrial history of the area (current history not withstanding), The Henry Ford provides a natural venue for holding this event for “makers.”


Maker Faire Detroit 2013 Drone Flyover Before the Festivities Begin

It was great being around and talking to creative people of all ages who make things from many materials — wood, metal, wire, fiber, electronics, software code, and so on — many of them repurposed from previous lives. It’s rare that I see so many happy people enjoying an event as unique as this that also breaks stereotypes by learning new skills. For example, girls soldering, boys weaving, women repairing antique gas engines, and men making objects out of scrap fabric. But, that’s what the Maker Faire is all about — showing off what you’ve done and learning something new that interests you.

There are two more big flagship Maker Faires coming up this year – New York City in September and October in Rome, Italy.

If you have the interest and chance to go, definitely do it. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed and will probably get you inspired to make something. I’m already looking forward to next year’s Makers Faire, in Detroit or elsewhere.

For more information, click on Maker Faire

Kickstarter Showcases Real Innovation

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

Although it’s not perfect, and certainly has its detractors, I’ve been a big fan of Kickstarter since the beginning because of the innovative projects that have emerged from it. A little over four years ago Kickstarter was founded as a private for-profit company, providing tools to raise funds for creative projects via crowd funding through its website.

Since its inception, Kickstarter has funded a diverse array of projects, including consumer products, films, music, video games, and even food. You do not and cannot invest per se in Kickstarter projects to make money. You can only back projects in exchange for a tangible reward or experience, such as a custom T-shirt or initial production run of a new product.

One of the projects I’m following right now is the myType Keyboard, a foldable Bluetooth keyboard that wirelessly pairs with smartphones and tablets, and fits in your pocket for touch typing on the go. According to the creators, while most folding keyboards on the market today have small keys and reduced spacing that result in cramped hands and frequent spelling mistakes, the myType Keyboard’s patented interleaving key design allows you to carry around a (nearly) full-sized keyboard.

Features and specs include:
• Rechargeable Lithium Ion battery
• Micro USB charging
• Durable: can be dropped and is splash resistant
• Available in five colors: Kickstarter green, black, white, blue, and pink
• Works with Bluetooth 3.0 HID supported by the following devices (with the latest iOS available version for Apple products); iPhone 3GS and later, iPad incl. iPad Mini, iPod Touch 2nd and later, Android (with HID support), and Windows 8 Tablets.
• Dimensions: when open: 12.5” x 3.6” x .3,” when closed: 6.8” x 3.6” x .35″
• Weight: Approximately 122 grams/4.3 oz (just the keyboard, not including packaging or charging cable)


The myType Foldable Bluetooth Keyboard

The team behind myType has raised almost $80,000 from over 1,300 backers, and will continue to do so for the remainder of their campaign that ends August 1. Looks like this project will make it to production. I think I want one.

I really like that the team behind the myType keyboard is honest about the project’s risks and challenges and make the following disclosure statements:

“We have followed many projects on Kickstarter, and have seen many of them struggle to deliver on time – or at all. We know, first hand, how frustrating this is for the backers, so we made a strategic decision to launch only after we had worked through the challenges most likely to cause delays.

For us, this meant securing and building relationships with suppliers, finalizing the product design, securing proof of concept beta run in each color giving us confidence that this process is repeatable.

That said, there are still risk factors that could impact our ability to complete our project, but we have identified alternate manufacturing channels, and are confident that we will be able to deliver our rewards on time.

If the project substantially exceeds expectations, it could introduce some delays in fulfillment and potentially manufacturing. We have identified fulfillment partners, and are confident that we can get rewards shipped out in a timely fashion. The factory has assured us that they are equipped to handle large order sizes into the 10,000+ range quickly and efficiently.”

We wish them the best since they’ve been working on this for quite some time. It’s also a good concept that looks like it will be well executed.

Love it or hate it, Kickstarter has been the springboard of many innovative design projects. Some will succeed, some won’t, but the spirit in which the endeavors are created is always fascinating to follow.

For more information: myType Foldable Keyboard

Reusing Common CAD Parts

Friday, July 19th, 2013

A good friend of ours at MCADCafe, Jennifer Herron, owner of Action Engineering, a company that specializes in the promotion, process development and standardization of 3D CAD Model-Based Design (MBD) just released a new video on reusing CAD parts.

In the video, Action Engineering calls a catalog part, a part or subassembly used more than once in a family of products. It may be a bearing, motor, bolt or washer. In a 3D model-based environment a catalog part model should be assembled into your organization’s native CAD assembly models and includes accurate geometry (as specified from the supplier), attributes (Material, Color), metadata (Part Number, Description, Supplier) and annotations (Dimensions and GD&T). A single catalog part model is the single authority for each catalog item used in your organization.

For more information regarding CAD reuse, contact:
Action Engineering
jennifer@action-engineering.com
303.903.7744

Arduino Workshop: Getting Started With Microcontrollers

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Being a mechanical design kind of guy, I’ve had to pick up a lot of electrical/electronics information on my own over the years since I graduated from college. I came through the mechanical design education system with a “classical” curriculum — statics, dynamics, materials, thermodynamics, and maybe one basic AC/DC circuits course.

Today, a lot has changed. Mechanical engineering curricula at many colleges and universities seem to be divided roughly and equally between mechanics, electronics, and software.

As I said earlier, my educational background has made it necessary to learn more about electrons and code, in addition to atoms from my traditional background. Over the years I’ve worked with programmable logic controllers (PLCs), but wanted to get down to a more basic level of understanding, so I started thinking microcontrollers, but where to start?

As it turns out, there are several microcontrollers on the market for beginners like me, but the one that really intrigued me was the Arduino, an open-source, single-board microcontroller. The single board designed around an 8-bit Atmel AVR microcontroller, though a new model has been designed around a 32-bit Atmel ARM. The software consists of a standard programming language compiler and a boot loader that executes on the microcontroller.

Sounds simple, right? Well, yes and no. I needed the hardware and software to get started, but I also needed a good educational resource. While there are tons of Arduino resources, I’m a good book learner, so that’s the route I took.

I’ve checked out several Arduino “primers,” and found the best one for my purposes to be Arduino Workshop: A Hands-On Introduction with 65 Projects by John Boxall. This well-written book is a comprehensive tutorial that will have even rank beginners (like me) quickly building devices that are actually functional.

The book digs into basic electronics and the Arduino’s sensors, motors, displays, and software. You learn about these hard and soft components hands-on by using them to build projects that include:
• A digital thermometer that displays temperature changes on an LCD
• A GPS logger that records travel data for display on Google Maps
• A tester that checks the voltage of batteries
• A keypad-controlled lock that requires a secret code to open
• An electronic version of the classic six-sided die

As the book progresses, the projects build on the basics, and by the end of the book you’ll be able to make relatively sophisticated projects, such as a motorized remote-control tank.

Each project is broken down into easily understandable units:
• A statement of what the completed project is supposed to do
• An algorithm that outlines the steps for solving the project “problem”
• The hardware required to build the project
• A schematic for building the circuit
• A sketch of the software code for making the project go.

By the time you build some of the 65 of the projects, you’ll be ready to build your own—and that’s the fundamental idea behind the Arduino open-source philosophy.

I’ve got a long way to go in microcontrollers and electronics, but feel I’ve gotten a solid start with Arduino Workshop. You have to start somewhere and this is an excellent place to start on the road to understanding microcontrollers. Go ahead, challenge yourself, learn something new!

Arduino Workshop is available for $29.95 in bookstores, from http://www.oreilly.com/nostarch, or directly from No Starch Press (http://www.nostarch.com, orders@nostarch.com, 1-800-420-7240).

Where’s SolidWorks?

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

I know we’re in the midst of the dog days of summer as far as the season goes, but we’re also in the dog days as far as the MCAD industry goes, as well.

Historically, this time of year things are relatively slow for business in general, and the CAD industry is not immune to this phenomenon.

However, one CAD vendor in particular has been uncharacteristically quiet since well before these dog days of summer — SolidWorks, or more properly, DS SolidWorks.

Most of SolidWorks’ competitors have made announcements the past few weeks — some relatively major, some relatively minor — but they have made at least some announcements. Not so, SolidWorks.

For example, Autodesk announced some new cloud-based offerings, Solid Edge announced ST6, and PTC announced new versions and products in its Creo line. The most significant bit of news coming out of SolidWorks during this time period has been the release of its 2013-2014 Education Edition.

I can remember a time, and not all that long ago, when a virtually continuous stream of news was coming out of SolidWorks — new software products and services, products designed with the software, new customers, and so on. Periodically, a SolidWorks staffer would even reach out to me to see if there was anything I needed from them, or would discuss future developments and industry trends off the record.

I realize that things can’t stay the same forever, and CAD vendors are no exception, but those days of candidness with a relationship that fostered goodwill between a vendor (in this case SolidWorks) and a member of the industry press are no longer. It’s become more of a “What have you done for us lately?”

Not only are a lot of good folks I’ve known over the years gone from SolidWorks, so is much of the excitement within the company that translated into positive energy for customers, as well as members of the media. In years past (starting in 1995), development managers, technical staff, inside and outside PR/communications, and executives were always approachable and available. These days, I can’t get a phone call returned or a response to an email. Things have changed, and in my world, not for the better.

Although not totally groundbreaking technology, check out SolidWorks’ “Next Big Thing” — Mechanical Conceptual — that was announced in January 2013 at SolidWorks World:

Exactly where is SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual that was announced in January? Where does the next version of the SolidWorks product line stand? Where is the old SolidWorks customer and user community excitement? I ask the question, “Where’s SolidWorks?”

Nothing stays the same, but SolidWorks, c’mon back, you’re missed. Get over the dog days and back in the game that for many years and on many levels made you one of the very best players in the game for mechanical design.

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