May 08, 2006
Turn Raster Images Into 3D Vector Models
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by Jeff Rowe - Contributing Editor
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VX Corp., a pioneering developer of advanced, integrated CAD/CAM solutions for engineers and industrial designers, announces a powerful new function that lets product designers import and use digital images for defining 3D models.

VX CAD/CAM, known for its powerful and fast import of external geometry, has now extended that capability to the import of digital images. Digital images, which can be any of the popular bitmap image file types (jpg, bmp, gif, png, etc), are converted instantly upon import into editable CAD geometry.

Digital images are "raster" data, that is to say it only describes a picture in terms of pixels (dots of color). A CAD system on the other hand requires "vector" data (lines and arcs, etc.). VX can import an image and translate it into a 2D vector drawing in one operation. It's fast and done in seconds. The imported geometry goes into a VX sketch and from there can be expanded into 3D by extruding, revolving or sweeping. What is extremely impressive is that the sketch is not required to be parametised in any way. Users do not have to add any dimensions or geometric constraints. Also, the data does not have to be separated into multiple sketches. Users can produce
multiple 3D shapes using just the one sketch object - it couldn't be easier.

Add your company logo as an embossing to a model with the minimum of effort. Swiftly create complete, manufacturable 3D shapes from images for merchandising of toys and cool accessories associated with movies and games. Having produced the 3D model, the original image can be applied onto the faces of the model to visualize the finished result. This is special in VX for many applications too - users do not have to "cut to size" images for each face - they can apply the whole image to the required faces and leave VX to do the hard work of resizing.

Bob Fischer, VX vice president, sales and marketing said "This further increases the rich array of highly productive tools VX has for product and industrial designers. With VX, designers can do much more in less time making VX a truly fun-to-drive CAD/CAM system."

Import an image and instantly translate it into 2D CAD vector geometry. The geometry is created in a VX Sketch, and from there can be expanded into a 3D manufacturable model by extruding, revolving, or sweeping. The Sketch is not required to be parametised, and no dimensions or geometric constraints are required. VX can produce multiple 3D shapes from just the one sketch object.

Admittedly, and unfortunately, VX CAD/CAM is one of the lesser renowned hybrid surface/solid modelers in today's mechanical design marketplace, but its relative lack of notoriety doesn't mean that it is lacking in capabilities, because it's not. It's got some pretty sophisticated and advanced surface and solid modeling characteristics that can overwhelm new users, but encourage experimentation from more experienced users. As a matter of fact, it is a very capable package based on a proprietary modeling kernel, and its CAD features and capabilities are quite tightly integrated with its CAM capabilities -- as far as look, feel, function, and behavior go - all huge deals when it comes
time to actually manufacture a digital model.

There are several advantages to being able to import raster data and directly convert it to vectors. First, VX can import an image and translate it into a 2D vector drawing in one operation. From there the imported geometry goes into a VX sketch and can be expanded into 3D by extruding, revolving, or sweeping it. The VX sketch does not require any parameters, and this is a huge time saver since you do not have to add any dimensions or geometric constraints. Also, the data does not have to be separated into multiple sketches, and you have the ability to produce multiple 3D shapes using just one sketch object.

Other CAD packages have the ability to open raster files, such as those created with Adobe Illustrator, but they come in as "dumb" objects and cannot generally be directly manipulated. The imported raster data is used as a tracing object or underlayment for creating vectors that are then transformed into surfaces and solids. This practice is actually more common than you would think, especially for complex stylized products that are physically modeled first and brought in through Illustrator or Photoshop in something of a rough reverse engineering process. It may be rough, but as I said earlier, is performed quite a bit by industrial designers.

I've requested a review copy of the software because I'd like to run it through its raster-to-vector paces. Based on my experience, I'll report back on what I find.

The Week's Top 5

At MCADCafé we track many things, including the stories that have attracted the most interest from our subscribers. Below are the five news items that were the most viewed during last week.

3D Systems Corp. announced the immediate availability of Accura 60 Plastic, a new stereolithography material that simulates the look and feel of molded polycarbonate. Accura 60 plastic is designed for use on most solid-state laser SLA systems, including the Viper, SL 5000, SL 7000, and new Viper Pro SLA systems. "A cornerstone of our stereolithography materials' strategy is the development of a range of products that simulate the look and feel of engineering plastics," said Abe Reichental, 3D Systems' president and chief executive officer. "Our recently released Accura 25 plastic simulates polypropylene, while Accura 50 plastic simulates ABS. The launch of Accura 60, which
simulates a common high-performance engineering plastic, completes our comprehensive stereolithography materials' portfolio. Accura 60's stiffness, durability and clarity make it ideal for diverse applications in the automotive, aerospace, electronics and medical industries. Typical applications include automotive headlamps, medical equipment components, aircraft and missile components, electrical insulators and connectors, jet pump impellers and diffusers, flow visualization models, and rugged housings for cell phones, pagers and laptop computers," continued Reichental.

Elysium Inc., a global provider of multi-CAD enabling software, has become a Vendor Member in the JT Open Program, and is announcing support for the 3D JT data format. The JT Open Program is a global community of leading manufacturers, PLM vendors, and academic institutions focused on supporting and promoting JT, a versatile 3D data format widely used throughout the global manufacturing industry to facilitate visualization and collaboration in the product and tool development processes. Elysium bridges gaps among CAD systems. Elysium's Suppliers Hub is an automated system based on a Web server that translates CAD and CAE data without the need for skilled operators. Before and after
translation, the Suppliers Hub checks for errors to ensure that translated data will not cause the CAD, CAM, or CAE systems that use them to malfunction. In addition to producing models in the JT file format, Elysium lets companies exchange parametric and non-parametric CAD models among platforms from Autodesk (Inventor and Mechanical Desktop), Dassault Systhmes (CATIA, SmarTeam, SolidWorks, Spatial, ACIS, and ABAQUS), PTC (Pro/Engineer), and UGS (NX and I-deas NX Series, JT, and Parasolid). Elysium also translates to and from the standard IGES and STEP formats.

The Boeing Co. and Aviall Inc. announced that they have entered into a definitive agreement for Boeing's acquisition of Aviall in an all cash merger for $48 per share or $1.7 billion. Boeing will also assume approximately $350 million of net debt as part of the transaction. Aviall is the largest independent provider of new aviation parts and services in the aerospace industry. Its capabilities include global parts distribution and supply chain services for aerospace, defense and marine industries worldwide. Aviall's 2005 revenue was $1.3 billion, with more than 25 percent growth expected in 2006.

UGS Corp. announced that General Motors selected UGS as a 2005 Supplier of the Year for its overall business performance in enabling GM to transform its process of innovation by significantly reducing up-front vehicle development time. "We consider UGS to be a role model for all suppliers. They are recognized as a GM Supplier of the Year because they exceeded our expectations in 2005," said Bo Andersson, vice president of Global Purchasing and Supply Chain. UGS is among an elite group of suppliers selected by GM that drive to be world class and exceed GM's expectations in quality, service, technology and price, and the only IT
supplier to be honored. UGS is recognized for its Teamcenter software, UGS' digital lifecycle management solution; NX software, UGS' comprehensive digital product development solution; and Tecnomatix software, UGS' digital manufacturing portfolio.

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-- Jeff Rowe, Contributing Editor.


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