Except for a notable corporate downsizing, this week's biggest news largely revolved around new MCAD products

Except for a notable corporate downsizing, this week's biggest news largely revolved around new MCAD products.

New Versions For Alibre

Alibre Inc. announced the latest releases of its 3D CAD application -- Alibre Design 7.0 and Alibre Design Professional.

Alibre Design provides parametric solid modeling for mechanical design and manufacturing at an attractive price compared with many competing products. Pushing the price/capability ratio, the price of Alibre Design is being reduced by $100 to $595 in the United States and Canada. Alibre Design Professional, an extended version that includes advanced add-ons such as finite element analysis (FEA) and photorealistic rendering, remains priced at $995 in the United States and Canada.

Some of the new and enhanced features in Alibre Design 7.0 include:
  • Boolean operations for the design of molds and dies
  • Access to standard Windows file system for data storage
  • Enhanced assembly modeling with subassembly constraint "articulation"
  • "Light drawings" for faster drawing load and view creation
  • Improved support for ISO and DIN drawing standards
  • Enhanced productivity for detailing drawings:
  • Options for view scaling, alignment and visibility
  • Enhanced settings for dual-dimensioning
  • New options for styles and hatch patterns in section and detail views
  • Increased print options, including support for multiple drawing sheets
Alibre Design Professional adds these features:
  • Expanded set of supported closed corner conditions in sheet metal design
  • Photorealistic rendering, including support for exploded views
  • Improved interface for managing sharing and security of Repository data
  • Save and revert repository to snapshot, archive, and transfer data
  • ModelPress Publisher for compressing and distributing 3D models for viewing with the r free ModelPress Viewer
"With this latest release Alibre Design continues to gain on much more expensive CAD applications such as SolidWorks and Inventor," said Marc Meadows, owner of Meadows Analysis & Design. "As a consultant offering design and analysis services, I know the addition of Booleans and the 2D drawing enhancements will be well received."

Alibre Design 7.0 also supports a new localization interface which allows the software to be translated into any language without a recompile or build by Alibre. Expect to see support for major languages, including German, Japanese, Chinese, and Spanish by early next year.

Although I have not personally used Alibre Design for a couple of releases, I have followed it from the beginning, and it has evolved substantially into a full-grown 3D CAD application. It's also quite a capable collaboration tool. At the price point for Alibre Design, I've always felt that it would fit in quite nicely to organizations who not only have full-time designers/engineers using it, but also "part timers" who could use it as part of their other work tasks. As time allows, I'll take a closer look at Alibre Design 7.0 and report back on how it stacks up with the competition.

New TurboCAD Pro

IMSI released TurboCAD Professional version 9.5. In the new release, the solid modeler has been upgraded to the ACIS 10 engine, and new STEP and IGES interoperability filters from Spatial have been added, as well.

"The new ACIS v10 engine in TurboCAD allows users to produce complex 3D models more than 25% faster than before," says Mauritz Botha, IMSI's director of product development.

With over one million copies sold, TurboCAD's comprehensive 2D capabilities are integrated with several advanced 3D modeling capabilities. Advanced tools specific to mechanical projects complement TurboCAD's general design tools, and its photorealistic rendering engine produces impressive results.

TurboCAD Professional version 9.5 is currently available from IMSI and retail outlets. TurboCAD Professional version 9.5 retails for US$695 or as a competitive upgrade for US$295. Visit www.imsisoft.com for the list of qualifying competitive products.

TurboCAD is a product that for a long time was associated with architectural design, but is today well-suited for certain types of mechanical design right out of the box. As long as you don't deal with complex surfaces or large assemblies, TurboCAD Pro 9.5 is worth a good hard look. I worked with TurboCAD Pro 9 and was impressed with the mechanical design capabilities it had, especially considering its price. So, if you haven't looked at TurboCAD Pro for a while, or ever, it might be worthwhile to do so now.

TurboCAD Professional version 9.5 might be the ticket if you are:
  • on a tight budget
  • new to CAD
  • new to 3D CAD

Using SolidWorks To Custom-Build Machines

Braun GmbH, the $1 billion world leader in small electric appliances, is using SolidWorks 3D mechanical design software to design customized manufacturing and assembly machines for its plants in Germany, Ireland, France, Spain, Mexico, China, and the United States. The SolidWorks-designed machines make and assemble more than 250,000 products every day.

Braun's appliances program comprises about 200 products in 11 different application segments. To assemble these appliances, the company uses customized production lines, each consisting of 1,000 to 15,000 components.

Prior to using SolidWorks for 3D mechanical design, Braun designed these customized machines on a 2D CAD package (guess which one?). By switching to SolidWorks, Braun says it has recouped a design time savings of more than 15 percent.

"We were designing great products with 2D CAD but realized that we had a major opportunity to improve our designs, develop them significantly faster, and reduce error rates by designing in three dimensions," said Joerg Kirchner, CAD administrator for Braun GmbH. "We invested a year in extensive evaluation and benchmarking and selected the 3D mechanical design package that was easiest to use, most powerful, and coincidentally, the same one our suppliers and subcontractors are using -- SolidWorks. Our decision created a beneficial network effect by enabling complete interoperability of designs."

Braun's selection process included benchmark tests for three different 3D mechanical design systems (I'll bet I can guess which ones). Braun selected SolidWorks for its ease of use, performance, and ability to convert 2D drawings to 3D designs. Another factor was the interchange between SolidWorks and Braun's existing engineering database and parts selection system.

It's no secret that SolidWorks is well-suited for machine design, but I'd be curious as to how many of Braun's cool stylized products are designed using SolidWorks.

Autodesk To Downsize Again

The day before Thanksgiving, Autodesk disclosed preliminary details of its planned restructuring, including a workforce reduction of between 550 and 650 employees (I estimate that to be between 15-20% of the total workforce, primarily in the administrative and marketing areas) and closure of certain facilities, as well as preliminary estimates of the associated restructuring charges and their impact on future earnings.

These measures are expected to result in a total restructuring charge of approximately $37 million, which will be charged as the cost reductions are effected on a quarterly basis over the next four fiscal quarters. Some of the savings realized in the restructuring will be reinvested in targeted growth areas (I wonder what these are?).

"As we have previously disclosed, most recently in our November 20, 2003 conference call, we have been working hard on the cost structure of our business," said Al Castino, Autodesk CFO. "We have invested a great deal of time benchmarking all of our processes and functions. We have identified a number of areas which we can and will improve. Some can be improved quickly, and others will need concerted effort over the course of the next fiscal year and, in some cases, even beyond. Over the coming year, we believe we can execute on our plans to reduce operating costs that will improve profitability and allow us to invest for future growth."

In looking ahead to the future, Autodesk (as it always does) said that all revenue and earnings statements involving risks and uncertainties and are based on current expectations. Factors that could cause net revenue to differ materially from expectations include further weakening of the economies where Autodesk does business, lack of momentum in upgrade or subscription revenue, and foreign currency fluctuations. Factors that could cause earnings and earnings per share to differ materially from its expectations include failure to achieve anticipated revenue levels, the inability to quickly adjust our cost structure to current revenue levels, interest rates, share count, unanticipated costs and final calculation of the costs and timing of headcount reductions and facilities closures related to the restructuring.

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