Merging modern software development with electrons and metal
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Posts from — January 2010

Mechanical CAD, Special Deals, and Me

When I look at my traffic stats, I see there’s a lot of interest in affordable mechanical CAD.  I think that interest is good: I do not believe in pirating software, and I believe there is a place for affordable MCAD (and affordable CAM for desktop CNC machines), especially for personal use and as a tool for people who aren’t primarily mechanical designers.

I own licenses of Alibre Design Standard V11 (which I bought during the $99 sale) and VX Innovator V14 (which I bought on sale for $195).  I also have free licenses for DoubleCAD XT and CoCreate PE.

I mainly plan on using Alibre and VX Innovator, and reporting my experiences here.  They are somewhat complimentary; Alibre is a pretty standard history-based parametric modeler (with some nice features such as Acrobat 3D output), and VX is a hybrid modeler (solid and surface).

DoubleCAD looks very capable for 2D CAD, but I don’t expect to use it a lot.  I mainly use it for viewing and experimenting with DXF files created by Eagle PCB.

I do like CoCreate PE, but don’t plan on using it much now that I have Alibre Design and VX Innovator.  It’s limited to 60 parts per assembly, which I could easily exceed when modeling a PCB, and cannot export STEP files.  PTC has offered some very big discounts in the past to upgrade to the full version, but the annual maintenance  cost is way too high for my budget.

However, this is not a MCAD blog; my interest in still primarily in automation software and system integration (including PCBs).  OK, I do plan on writing more, but mostly I want to write about my experiences with affordable MCAD.  I do not have the time or interest to keep up with all the latest deals.  But I still might mention deals or MCAD news occasionally.

If you want to keep up on the latest special offers, you should visit MCAD sites such as and World CAD Access.  Also, if you register for the free versions (e.g. Alibre Design Xpress, CoCreate PE, DoubleCAD XT) you will receive e-mail offers.

Alibre has had a lot of good deals (maybe too many).  I’m currently sticking with V11 because I haven’t used it enough, and the improvements in V12 aren’t compelling for my uses.

VX had another sale on VX Innovator around Christmas, but they aren’t as good at marketing as Alibre; if you’re interested in a deal on VX, you should check their web store frequently.

Kubotek has had some sales, too, such as Kubotek Spectrum for $99; current deals include $700 off KeyCreator.

My latest MCAD news is here.

January 14, 2010   3 Comments

My Hopes for 2010

My blog plans for 2010 are my blog hopes for 2010 because it will  be challenging to do them all.

What I’d really like to do:

  1. More software development posts, including real world examples of what can go wrong (and right — but wrong is more funny)
  2. Finish my current PCB series
  3. Start a series on real world system integration using CANOpen and AMC DX15C08 servo drives
  4. Improve the site, including adding a blogroll and maybe changing the theme

Other hopes include:

  1. A bit more on mechanical CAD software
  2. More automation product posts
  3. Embedded development experiences with my new toy (and how it could be useful in a factory environment)
  4. Get rid of my backlog of draft posts (currently > 30)

January 5, 2010   No Comments

Christmas Kit Fun

Stellaris Eval Kit box

Stellaris Eval Kit box

I now have a TI Stellaris LM3S8962 evaluation kit.  Specs include a 50MHz Cortex M3 core, 64K on chip RAM, 256K on chip flash, 10/100BaseT Ethernet with IEEE-1588 support, CAN, a 128×96 OLED, a virtual serial port (via USB), and JTAG (also via USB).   It’s pretty amazing that a commodity (<$10) MCU is much more powerful than the first personal computers such as the Apple II, Commodore 64, and CP/M systems.  (I’ve always thought it would be interesting to see how CP/M would run on a 50MHz Zilog eZ80, which should be about 200 times faster than a 4MHz Z80).

I like TI’s packaging: they stick everything into the box using two-ring CD-ROM holders.

Unboxing LM3S8962 kit

Unboxing LM3S8962 kit

Below is a picture of the board running an eLua demo program.  eLua is a reduced size version of the Lua scripting language that can run on many MCUs.

eLua on the LM3S8962 kit

eLua on the LM3S8962 kit

January 2, 2010   No Comments