February 23, 2004
Product Spotlight: IronCAD 6.0
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Jeff Rowe - Managing Editor

by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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Product Spotlight

IronCAD 6.0 - Doing Things A Little Differently

From the time you install and first use IronCAD, you realize that this is a different cat in the CAD world. For example, when installing IronCAD, you are presented with the option of selecting a modeling kernel - ACIS or Parasolid - as the default when performing your work. The two modeling kernels can actually work together. As another example, when you begin a design project with IronCAD, you have to set up a so-called scene for designing a part. This is a simple procedure however, because IronCAD has a number of standard scene templates with predefined dimensions, backgrounds, lighting, and other parameters. You can also create custom templates that best suit the way you work.

A really big difference with IronCAD is the fact that you can actually choose the design methodology for a given project or parts of a project - parametric or non-parametric. First introduced by PTC in Pro/Engineer, parametric modeling is the dominant design methodology used today. Its advantages are its ability to accurately capture design intent, 3D capture of existing designs, and support for family of parts design. However, parametric modeling also has some disadvantages, including rigid requirements for parent/child relationships, upfront knowledge of design intent is required, you must replay full history to view model changes, large models can create problems, and a legacy model
knowledge requirement. Non-parametric modelers (also known as Boolean or b-rep manipulation) have several advantages, including that you are virtually guaranteed that what you edit is what you end up with, the ability to more easily edit geometry imported from other systems, and generally faster regeneration times. Non-parametric models are unable to maintain individual feature identity and re-order feature history, and it is more difficult to capture design intent.

IronCAD is unique in that it can utilize and apply both parametric and non-parametric modeling techniques. This approach is something that could be discussed in much more detail, but suffice it to say that if you can determine when to use each approach in IronCAD's hybrid modeling methodology (called the Freedom Architecture) environment, your productivity gains could prove substantial because you can alternate between the two.

Beyond parametric and non-parametric design methodologies, at each stage during the design process, you also have two different general methods for designing parts - a visual and precision method. This is a handy capability because you can use the visual method for quickly exploring options in the conceptual phase of a design and then use the precision methods as you approach the detailing/production phase. The visual method lets you start designing a product using a mouse for dragging and dropping IntelliShapes (geometric forms that can be used as the building blocks for parts) and visual feedback. You can then edit the size of an IntelliShape by pulling on IronCAD's unique dynamic shape
or sidebox handles. Using the precision method, you can precisely size and position parts by entering numerical data.

Unlike most other modeling packages, you don't begin a design with a sketch. With IronCAD you begin by selecting (dragging and dropping into a scene) an existing or customized features called IntelliShapes from one of several catalogs available on the user interface. You then add and modify shapes to the part with the dynamic handles. It's really a different approach than other packages, but one that doesn't take too long to get the hang of. In the beginning, though, it does take some planning to ensure you are selecting the best shapes for your part, especially if time is a factor - and it always is, isn't it?

Dynamic handles for handle-based modification are a capability that has impressed a number of users, including myself, for a long time now. With the handles and another capability called SmartSnap, you can accurately and quickly size and position any part or feature relative to any other part, feature, or assembly without having to use constraints or dialog boxes. These capabilities alone are real time savers.

Overall, IronCAD is a relatively easy 3D modeling tool to learn and use and has some unique features that set it apart from other modeling packages. I especially like the freedom of its parametric/non-parametric nature. However, it falls short in a few areas; notably in advanced surfacing, animation (no collision detection), and documentation (online help system needs some help). In the end, though, it seems like a package that could find a comfortable home in many different types of design environments - from some types of industrial design to many types machine design - and is an interestingly different design experience. IronCAD is priced at $3,495.

Contact: IronCAD; 800.339.7304;

Penn State Chooses SolidWorks And COSMOSWorks To Drive Design Engineering Programs

Pennsylvania State University has purchased 2,000 licenses of SolidWorks Education Edition software, including COSMOSWorks, COSMOSMotion, and COSMOSFloWorks analysis applications, to teach 3D mechanical design and analysis at 18 campuses throughout the Penn State System. Students will use SolidWorks and COSMOS software to learn design skills in multiple disciplines, including engineering design, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, and manufacturing technology.

The university system's college of engineering chose SolidWorks and COSMOS for their advanced functionality, ease of use, and SolidWorks Education Edition's supporting instructional materials, including tutorials and exercises that help educators teach the role that 3D CAD and finite element analysis (FEA) play in the design process. The college deployed and manages the software at the main campus in University Park, where an average of 350 students use SolidWorks and COSMOS every semester. Varying numbers of students at the other 17 campuses use the software as needed over the university network.

Instructors use SolidWorks to teach first-year students the basics of drafting and design. Students at all levels sharpen their design skills by using SolidWorks on real-world projects provided by companies such as Kimberly Clark, IBM, Ingersoll Rand, and Procter & Gamble. The projects range from designing low-cost disposable rain slickers, to satellite wireless networks, to folding campers and nuclear waste disposal systems. Students choose a project and work in teams to learn the benefits of peer-to-peer assessment and collaboration. SolidWorks' short learning curve allows students to spend less time learning the technology and more time developing skills. Ease of use and a flexible
interface have also made SolidWorks and COSMOS popular with the Penn State University System's faculty.

"We reviewed four software packages, and SolidWorks is the only one that gained widespread consensus from the faculty. More faculty said they wanted to use SolidWorks in their courses than any other software," said Gul Kremer, an assistant professor of engineering design in the college's School of Engineering Design, Technology and Professional Programs. Kremer is also technology coordinator for the department of engineering design, and was given the responsibility of leading the faculty committee that evaluated and chose a 3D application for the entire Penn State University System.

Kremer also uses SolidWorks as the primary design tool in an entrepreneurship course she teaches to non-engineering students. Kremer said even these students find SolidWorks easy enough to learn on their own, so she doesn't have to spend weeks on practical instruction and can readily move into the business aspects of the course.

"The fact that students are successfully learning SolidWorks with no formal instruction underscores our philosophy that learning to use software should never take time away from learning theories, concepts, and processes," said Rosanne Kramer, director of worldwide education markets for SolidWorks Corporation. "The Penn State System has become one of the largest SolidWorks academic customers in the world, and we are honored to have all of its campuses in the SolidWorks academic community."

Although on a universal basis, AutoCAD is still probably the most taught CAD package, the Penn State announcement is good news for the 3D modeling design world. SolidWorks is doing a good job convincing tomorrow's mechanical designers and engineers that their product is the way to go as they enter the working world. Also testimony to the good job SolidWorks is doing is the fact that all of these 2,000 licenses were actually purchased and not given away like AOL CDs. It will be very interesting to monitor how SolidWorks' education purchase rate translates into a production purchase rate over time with the students using the package.

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-- Jeff Rowe, MCADCafe.com Contributing Editor.


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