Jeff's MCAD Blogging
Jeffrey Rowe has almost 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the design … More »
August 22nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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:
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.
August 8th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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.
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.
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.
August 1st, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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 . . .”
With the industrial history of the area (current history not withstanding), The Henry Ford provides a natural venue for holding this event for “makers.”
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
July 24th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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:
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
July 19th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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:
July 16th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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:
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:
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, firstname.lastname@example.org, 1-800-420-7240).
July 9th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
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.
July 2nd, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
Although I’m gradually coming around, I still personally find the Google Glass technology/device concept intrusive and a bit creepy, but have to admit it is innovative and possibly inevitable. Google Glass is still being tested by its “Explorers,” and has received mixed reviews, but relatively few warm feelings from them. Even though not generally available until late this year or next year, there are already several places and events where Google Glass will be banned.
According to Google, “Google Glass is a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) that is being developed by Google in the Project Glass research and development project, with the mission of producing a mass-market ubiquitous computer.” Like all things Google, Glass runs under Android, and this might be a good thing for wide acceptance.
The show of negativity toward the device, however, has not stopped many companies from exploring the possibilities of Google Glass. In fact, a CAD company recently announced an app for Google Glass — TurboSite from IMSI/Design.
The video that follows is Sergey Brin discussing Google Glass in general terms:
NOTE: To address comments about Sergey’s poor delivery, I want to emphasize that this is NOT a “TED Talk”, despite it being recorded during TED conference. It is pretty much a spontaneous appearance to show the latest technology and wasn’t prepared or rehearsed. Google Glass is also not available for purchase yet so it is not strictly speaking a product promotion either. This video is posted mostly because it has details about Glass that were unknown or unconfirmed before.
With its other mobile CAD apps already in the marketplace, notably TurboSite for tablets in the AEC industry, IMSI/Design announced at the 2013 AIA National Convention that TurboSite will be available for Google Glass when it is launched.
“We think Google Glass is a terrific platform for a site evaluation and field reporting app like TurboSite,” stated Royal Farros, CEO of IMSI/Design.
Historically, documenting walk-throughs and creating punch lists have been physically-demanding processes, because site inspection requires carrying a full set of building plans and cumbersome digital equipment (camera, computer, etc.).
“Using Google Glass and TurboSite, we’re literally letting someone to walk onto a job site carrying [virtually] nothing,” said Farros.
That is, carrying nothing but wearing the smart device glasses and running TurboSite — theoretically, you will see building plans directly in front of you. GPS will track your movement through a drawing. The built-in eye glass camera will let you take pictures and record video, and TurboSite will automatically insert these into a markup layer at the exact physical location. When the field report is finished, it is automatically distributed to an entire design and construction team.
Although it’s obviously very early in the wearable computer game, I’m not totally sold on the idea for a number of reasons — practicality, quality, integrity, security, and privacy. However, Google Glass is totally new, and not just a paradigm shift, it’s a total game changer. In kind, TurboSite for Google Glass is also totally new and promises to be one of the first enterprise tools for Google Glass. It’s really a natural outgrowth for TurboSite, an app developed specifically for mobility, and is taking it to the next level.
And, OK, at this stage TurboSite for Goggle Glass is an AEC application, but you have to believe it could also be used in plant design and verification, as well as facilities management.
As for MCAD, I envision that it could be used in automotive, aerospace, consumer product design sectors, and shipbuilding (after all, a ship is just a horizontal building that floats). Who knows? This marks the dawn of a new age of design with hardware shrinking from yesterday’s main frames to today’s wearable computers that will only continue to get smaller as their utility becomes bigger.
In speaking with IMSI/Design’s CEO, Royal Farros, he’s very enthusiastic about the potential of TurboSite for Google glass, but also forthcoming and honest about it — traits that we seldom see from an executive discussing technologies as significant as these. These evolving technologies are going to be ones to watch closely.
June 27th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
For most of us who have grown up with and seen the CAD industry evolve, it means experiencing CAD from a relatively narrow perspective, that is, a US perspective. As it turns out, the CAD development realm actually extends far beyond our shores, and is becoming more competitive over time. Some of the most noteworthy competitors are coming from Asia, notably China, and Russia.
Having had some experience with Chinese and Russian companies and associated CAD technologies, I feel that the Russians currently have the upper hand because their products seem more comprehensive, capable, contemporary, and consistent design tools.
One of the most interesting CAD tools I’ve come across is from Russia — ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D for associative 3D modeling. Models can be made from original designs, standard part libraries, or combination if the two. While that’s not especially unique, KOMPAS-3D’s parametric technology lets you generate ranges (different configurations) of products based on a single source model.
A distinguishing feature of KOMPAS-3D is that it uses its own modeling kernel and parametric system, both of which were developed at ASCON — something I have always considered an advantage over licensing components that form the basis of a CAD product.
The following video clip provides a brief overview of the KOMPAS 3D geometric modeling kernel:
What the video lacks in detail introduces the possibility that ASCON could become a power to be reckoned with in the future.
About this time last year ASCON Group made public its proprietary geometry kernel, C3D, as the foundation for creating CAD systems and applications.
Development of the C3D kernel began in 1995, and became the basis for ASCON’s KOMPAS-3D in 2000. The company continued to update the kernel, and last year launched it as a separate product for the CAD component market. It can handle several aspects of a CAD system, icluding 2D drawing and sketching, 3D hybrid and solid modeling, parametric constraints, and translation.
The main feature of ASCON kernel is that it is comprehensive. The core of C3D combines just about everything necessary for developing engineering application software with modules that include:
Keep in mind, though, that the C3D kernel is not the only Russian kernel being developed there. There is also a Russian government-financed mandate to develop a “national” CAD engine, the Russian Geometry Kernel (RGK), a B-rep modeler that can create NURBS curves and surfaces. The RGK is being developed by Russian university mathematicians, and like the C3D modeler, it supports GPU acceleration and multi-threading.
The ultimate winner of the Russian kernel competition is anybody’s guess at this point, but ASCON seems to have a number of technical things in place to make it a real player in the worldwide CAD arena. To a large extent, because it’s in control of its base product components, it may have better control over its destiny in a competitive market.
So, it just might be true, “The Russians are coming.”
June 25th, 2013 by Jeff Rowe
After several months in Beta, Autodesk today officially and commercially released Fusion 360 (formerly known as Inventor Fusion) — the newest member of Autodesk’s growing cloud-based products/services family.
Essentially, Fusion 360 is a conceptual design tool. I liken it to a relatively simple modeling tool where CAD meets social media for collaborative design. As an industrial designer myself, I was especially interested in what Fusion 360 could do as a conceptual design tool, so I signed up for the Beta program and had some hands-on time with it.
Check out the Fusion 360 overview video to get an idea of what it’s all about:
Fusion 360’s interface is pretty basic, so it doesn’t take long to start creating some shapes and forms. Keep in mind that a lot of 3D form creation is based on T-Splines technology (that Autodesk acquired), so it’s different than Inventor’s method.
For conceptual design, you’ll probably spend the majority of your time in the Sculpt (for creating organic forms) or Model (for creating solid geometry forms) workspaces. For repairing imported surfaces, you’ll use the Patch workspace.
At least initially, a slightly different mindset is required for using Fusion 360 because it is based on a hub-and-group premise. At the center is your personal hub, where you can create and participate in groups, and post items to, and monitor them. Each hub and group has a similar set of tabbed pages with areas called tiles that contain related information and tools.
As of today, Fusion 360 is commercially available and is free of charge for the next 90 days. After that it will set you back $25 per user per month with an annual contract commitment. So, for $300 a year you get a fairly capable conceptual design tool that I feel can fit into many collaborative product design workflows, as shown in the following video:
There’s a lot to learn and cover in Autodesk Fusion 360, and in the coming weeks, I’ll take you through some different design workflows that involve interacting with others — importing data, creating different types of models, refining designs, exporting design data to other CAD applications for other purposes, collaboration, etc. In other words, what you can realistically expect to do with Autodesk Fusion 360.
OK, so Autodesk Fusion 360 is just outta Beta, but is ready for prime time? With some reservations, I would say yes, no, and maybe. How’s that for commitment? I think it all depends on what your expectations are and how hard you want to push it. Admittedly, it’s come a long way, but in my opinion, still has some maturing to do before I’d truly consider it production-ready for sophisticated design purposes.
I like the potential of cloud-based applications, but like Adobe’s Creative Suite, I’m still coming to grips with the perception of data integrity and vulnerability, as well as a perpetual monthly fee. I guess, like many new users of cloud-based applications, I just have to get used to the inevitability of this brave new world. That said, though, with Version 1.0, Fusion 360 does have some limitations, but its potential is tremendous.