November 01, 2004
IronCAD and Inovate 7.0 - A Strong Combination For Design And Visualization - Concept Through Production
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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IronCAD and Inovate 7.0 - A Strong Combination For Design And Visualization - Concept Through Production

While several of the mid-range MCAD products have relatively little that distinguishes them from the competition, there is one that definitely is different - IronCAD. It offers choices that other MCAD applications don't, such as two modeling kernels (ACIS or Parasolid, although you can switch between the two at any time) and general design method (more about these choices will be discussed below). These choices and several other aspects of the package are what set IronCAD apart from its peers.

If you've used other 2D or 3D CAD packages, some of the terminology used in IronCAD may take a little getting used to. For example, unlike virtually all other design packages where you start by creating a new part, assembly, or drawing, in IronCAD you start by creating either a new drawing or scene. A scene? Yes, the scene is the environment or workspace where most of the design work takes place. You can also customize scenes to optimize the way you work.

After literally setting the scene, one of the first things you'll notice as part of the interface is the Catalog Browser on the right-hand side of the graphics screen. The catalogs contain the building blocks that you will use to build parts, such as basic shapes, advanced shapes, and sheetmetal features/operations. Most of these basic building blocks are called IntelliShapes - predefined shapes that you can often use to build parts with by joining and modifying them. Although there are a wide variety of IntelliShapes available, you can also create custom IntelliShapes by either drawing a 2D cross section and extending it into a 3D shape or by creating surface IntelliShapes from 3D curves
or edges.

Two Different Design Methods

Kind of like the way that IronCAD employs two different modeling kernels, you also have two different design methods available to you for slightly different purposes and levels of sophistication - visual and precision. These different tools and techniques are available for virtually all phases of working with parts - building, assembling, rendering, drawings, etc. The visual method is best suited for getting a lot of ideas down quickly in the conceptual phase of a design. The precision method is best suited for the detailing phase closer to production. Simply put, the visual methods involve selecting one or more items in a design and manipulating them with a mouse and visual feedback; while
the precision methods use more accurate tools for measuring, positioning, sizing, etc. It is easy to switch from one method to the other based on the tools you choose. Understanding some of the nuances of each of the methods helps provide a better understanding of what IronCAD is all about.

The visual method consists of the following three main operations:
  • Drag-and-drop selection of IntelliShapes from the Catalog and positioning them.
  • SmartSnap for facilitating positioning of shapes by providing visual feedback during the process.
  • Modifying an IntelliShape by using the handle toggle for switching between the sizebox (for resizing an IntelliShape's height, width, and length) and shape (extrude, face, and spin, based on its cross-section curve dimensions) editing handles.
  • The precision method has several additional operations that provide tighter control and more precision for IronCAD:
    • SmartDimensions for precisely positioning shapes and parts according to distances and angles. SmartDimensions can be applied between points, edges, and surfaces on both positive and negative shapes, and can be applied to components within a part as well as between parts.
    • Although objects are initially joined at their pre-defined anchors, they can also be joined at alternate locations using attachment points. Attachment points can be added anywhere on a shape or part, and can also be used for repositioning purposes.
    • The Mate and Align Positioning and Constraint tools can be used aligning objects and aligning them relative to assigned constraints.
    • There are a number of dialog boxes and properties sheets that can be used for defining attributes and parameters for shapes, parts, etc.
    • Although not required (and in many cases for good reason, for the sake of relationship and history simplicity ), parameter tables can be created with design parameters and expressions that can streamline part modification. I would caution especially new users to use these parameter tables judiciously, as they can tend to over-complicate the design process. More experienced users, however, can use them to great benefit when creating and editing parts.
    • The precision method relies heavily on the TriBall, a versatile tool for repositioning, copying, and linking shapes, parts, groups, assemblies, and attachment points. With the TriBall you can move these items in any direction and rotate them around any of their three axes using its translation and orientation controls. It can also be used for orienting shapes relative to each other and for measurements.

      At first, I was skeptical about the two different methods, but as I spent some time with each, I grew to appreciate the value and utility of each method. The visual method is especially friendly to new users, and the TriBall is a handy tool for a multitude of design functions at a higher level.

      So, now that some of the major basic basics have been covered, let's design a part using IronCAD's unique design process.

      A Brief Look At IronCAD's 3D Design Process

      Since I'm a typical user new to IronCAD, I'll primarily use the visual design method, but will also use the precision method when I want to be a bit more accurate with sizing, positioning, etc. I'll start my part design by choosing an existing IntelliShape from the Shapes Catalog. The next step is optional, but kind of interesting if you choose to apply it. Although you specify a modeling kernel (ACIS or Parasolid) during installation, you can switch to one or the other at any time. Parts created with either or both kernels are permitted within the same scene. Parts modeled in the two kernels are easy to spot in scenes - surface color for Parasolid is beige and ACIS is gray.

      Engine Concept Design Diagram - Image courtesy of Delphi

      Because most parts consist of more than one shape, the easiest way to add shapes is to drag-and-drop additional IntelliShapes onto the original shape. You can visually position them, or use sizebox and/or shape handles to locate them more accurately. The shape handle can also be used to resize shapes. You can add or remove material from a part by using IntelliShape that are either positive (by dropping a solid on a shape or part, material is added) or negative (by dropping a hole on a shape or part, material is removed). Negative, hole shapes are designated with an "H" in the Shapes catalog. For example, "Block" is a positive shape, while "H Block" is a negative shape.

      As you define your part, moving shapes into the proper positions becomes more important. As previously mentioned, you can position shapes either visually by dragging and dropping or more precisely using the TriBall and SmartDimensions. Regardless of the positioning technique employed, you have to be aware of where shapes are anchored, where and how they can be moved , and what they can be attached to. I found positioning to be the most critical aspect of early IronCAD use to learn and understand well.

      If your design consists of more than one part, and virtually all do, it's time to move on to creating an assembly. In IronCAD, an assembly is created by selecting and joining parts/shapes and either using the Assemble menu or Assemble tool on the Assembly toolbar. The menu and toolbar also include options for disassembling an assembly and inserting additional parts. You can also create assembly/multiple part features that are in essence machining operations (found in the Tools catalog) that affect multiple parts of an assembly, such as extruded cuts and custom hole shapes.

      Creating a 2D drawing of a 3D part or assembly is pretty straightforward, especially if you use standard views. Basically, you select a part's scene file; orient the view of the part to act as the front view; create other and supporting views; add dimensions, annotations, and other supplemental information; and save the drawing. BOMs can also be created on any drawing, whether or not it contains drawing views.

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      -- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.


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