August 30, 2004
Alibre Design Professional 8.0 - Affordable Design And Collaboration
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of MCAD product reviews that will appear periodically in MCAD Weekly. If there are specific mechanical design, engineering, or manufacturing products you would like to see us review, just let us know.

Alibre Design Professional 8.0 - Affordable Design And Collaboration

by Jeffrey Rowe

In early 2000, Alibre launched the first version of Alibre Design that emphasized a new peer-to-peer architecture for collaboration in addition to parametric, feature-based solid modeling. At about this same time, Alibre had a lot of competition from other companies who bet the farm on the mechanical design world moving en masse to collaboration. Most of these companies are now defunct because they concentrated on the collaboration aspect of their applications at the expense of modeling features and capabilities. These companies realized too late that users for the most part wanted to first model and then collaborate.

This is a lesson that Alibre learned early on as it put forth greater effort in developing more robust modeling functionality in parallel with collaboration functionality. Today, with Alibre Design Professional 8.0, the application has matured into a well balanced combination of the two functionalities.

Alibre Design 8.0 is available in the following three flavors:
  • Alibre Design - Has parametric solid modeling of parts and assemblies, associative 2D drafting and detailing and BOM, and collaboration tools.
  • Alibre Design Professional - Has everything in Alibre Design and integrated sheet metal design, data management, part library, photorealistic renderer, ALGOR DesignCheck FEA software and VisualMill Basic CAM software.
  • Alibre Design Exert - Has everything in Alibre Design Professional and MSC.Software MSC.visualNastran Motion, SprutCAM for Alibre Design, a server repository and the 10+ hour Alibre video-based training course on CD-ROM.
  • For this review, we'll be taking a look at Alibre Design Professional 8.0.

    For those of you that are concerned about this, the underlying modeling kernel and geometry engine is based on Spatial's ACIS R13 and the constraint management technology, for both 2D sketching and 3D assembly constraints, is based on DCM (Dimensional Constraint Manager) from D-Cubed.

    Getting Acquainted

    If you are connected to the web when you start Alibre Design, the application automatically checks for updates and downloads them if you choose to do so. This mechanism ensures that you always have the most recent iteration of the application. You can also click a button on the startup screen to check for updates, too. You can use Alibre Design in either an online or offline mode, but the former is required for the automatic update check, and obviously, if you want to collaborate with other parties on a design.

    All work performed in Alibre Design Professional takes place in windows called workspaces. There are five types of workspaces - part, assembly, sheet metal, drawing, and bill of material (BOM). Each workspace is displayed in a separate window; however, a drawing workspace can contain multiple drawing sheets. Also, you can have as many workspaces open as you need at any time.

    The main part of a workspace is the graphical work area where you create parts, assemblies, and drawings. You can split the work area into as many as four views. You can zoom, rotate, pan and set various viewing modes (i.e., orthographic versus perspective, shaded versus wireframe, etc.) in each view independently. To activate a particular view, you click anywhere in the view border, and a red arrow is displayed in the upper right corner that indicates the active view.

    As you get started, you'll probably want to check out the integrated tutorials that are available for topics ranging from part and assembly design through creating 2D drawings of your design. Many, but not nearly all, topics are covered. Advanced part tutorials include working with lofts, sweeps, b-splines, and helical geometry. The tutorials are relatively basic and focused on beginning and intermediate users rather than focusing on advanced techniques. An online automatic tutorial update mechanism is also provided so Alibre can provide automated access to new tutorials as they become available. In the future, the addition of animation and audio would be a great addition. All in all,
    they will help new users get started and intermediate users advance their skills.

    Starting With Parts

    You create new parts in the part workspace by starting with a sketch, adding dimensions, applying constraints, and adding features. You then extrude, revolve, sweep, loft, etc. the 2D sketch into a 3D form, much like you do in most other contemporary modeling packages. In 3D there is a full complement of additional features, such as bosses, fillets, holes, chamfers, cuts, draft, patterns and shells, along with capabilities such as mirroring and scaling.

    Parts are easy to model in Alibre Design by starting with a simple sketch, adding constraints and features, and extruding

    For more advanced part modeling, Alibre Design 8.0 has some enhancements including a new 3D sketching capability and advanced sweep and loft operations. For sweeps, the swept boss and swept cut features have new options for controlling how sweep features interact with sweep paths. You can now sweep along contiguous model edges and along multiple, contiguous 2D and 3D sketch paths. For lofts, you can now loft with 2D and 3D guide curves, loft to a point, and have more control over loft tangent conditions. Although these sweep and loft enhancements are commonly available in other mid-range 3D modeling applications, the new 3D freeform sketch curve that can be used in several different types
    of modeling operations, they enable the creation of more complex geometry than in the past.

    Alibre Design 8.0 now supports reference surfaces that are useful for several aspects of modeling. For example, you can extrude and sweep features to reference surfaces, trim solid bodies with reference surfaces, thicken a reference surface into a solid body, and constrain parts in an assembly using reference surfaces. Reference surfaces are Alibre's first step into providing free-form surfacing. While the creation and editing of surfaces is not provided in Alibre Design 8.0, the new 3D sketching capability and loft and sweep enhancements provide for creating many types of complex shapes.

    Sweeps along contiguous edges and along multiple, contiguous 2D and 3D sketch paths can now be performed with Alibre Design

    Sheet metal parts are designed by creating a new sheet metal workspace. Before starting to design a new sheet metal part, you can set important design properties, such as material thickness, minimum bend radius, k-factor, etc. You then create a base sketch of the sheet metal part, and then add features like flanges, tabs, closed corners, dimples and so on. You can also create punches across bend lines, cut features, and refold bends, and work in either the folded or unfolded state, switching freely between the two. Finally, you can flatten the entire sheet metal part in a single operation, although relief features, such as dimples, are not flattened so they can be dimensioned in a drawing.

    Moving To Assemblies

    Once you've modeled some parts, you're ready to assemble them. Like all other modeling tasks in Alibre Design, you first create a workspace for your assembly. You then identify parts and subassemblies that will comprise the assembly, and move them into position. You anchor (or lock) some parts in position and define relationships between other parts. This can be a bit tricky in the beginning, but gets easier with practice. You then apply constraints to create permanent relationships and dimensions between parts, mate and align faces, and so on. You continue this process by inserting more parts and adding more constraints until the assembly is complete.

    Once an assembly is complete, you can check for interferences and resolve them, create additional parts and edit them, and create exploded views of the assembly.

    In addition, you can manually drag and move parts and sub-assemblies and assembly constraints are maintained, providing support for basic kinematic motion. Alibre Design provides a variety of interference detection options and the ability to measure physical and mass properties on parts and assemblies. One of the biggest enhancements to assemblies in Alibre Design 8.0 is assembly constraint management. Assembly constraints can now be grouped and managed by individual parts. This is a time saver because now all you have to do is select a specific part and the constraints associated with that part are easily determined.

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    -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.


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