Category — Mechanical
If you want to learn MCAD or make models to build in your garage, there are a couple of new choices:
- Siemens PLM Systems is making the student edition of Solid Edge available to basically anyone for free. Limitations include no commercial use, files incompatible with commercial Solid Edge, and watermarked drawings. See Deelip’s post for more details.
- ASCON has introduced Kompas 3D-Home for $50. David Levin says that Kompas 3D-Home cannot be used commercially, but otherwise has no limitations.
September 7, 2011 No Comments
I’m not interested in being a 3D Mechanical CAD (MCAD) journalist, but since has lot happened in the last year, it’s time for my summary.
The “Big 4″ have been up to a lot:
- SolidWorks is being brought closer to its parent (Dassault Systèmes). It’s highly probably that a new version based on the CATIA V6 CGM kernel is coming, possibly cloud based.
- PTC has put Pro/E out to pasture, and is busy trying to get its new Creo components out. Creo is supposedly to be modular (including history based and direct modelling modules) and app-oriented. The vision sounds nice, but I suspect that the actual operational and pricing details will make it evolutionary, not revolutionary.
- AutoDesk is adding direct modelling to Inventor via the Fusion program. The free 123D program is a cut-down, stand-alone version of Inventor fusion. 123D looks quite useful, but I expect it’ll be neutered if it starts to impact Inventor revenues.
- Siemens PLM Systems is finally getting its Solid Edge act together. They’re concentrating on making Solid Edge the best program for machine design, and Synchronous Technology V3 (direct and history based modelling) has been getting good reviews.
There’s been even more change with many of the smaller players:
- 3D Systems recently bought Alibre. A few months ago Alibre introduced a $1500 bundle consisting of a RapMan 3D printer, Alibre Design Personal, and MoI. I’ll be interested to see what happens next.
- The $97 Alibre Design Standard deal really was a great deal, just for the translators and 3D PDF output alone, but the recent pricing and capability changes (e.g. removing almost all import and export options from AD Personal) really neutered the entry level version.
- I’m hopeful that 3DS will provide resources so Alibre can keep improving (especially since I just paid for Alibre maintenance!)
- On the positive side, ZWCAD is trying to treat customers well, there have been no US layoffs as far as I know, they have been investing money into ZW3D (licensing more components, adding more developers, etc), appear to be listening, and probably have a good upgrade policy.
- On the other hand, it’s taking a (long?) while for them to get up to speed, they’re going to a reseller-only approach (e.g. you have to contact your reseller to upgrade), and they really need to spend some money and hire some good US marketing folks.
- For example, when ZWCAD took over, they gave all customers a free upgrade to the next level. So if you had VX Innovate, you got upgraded to ZW3D 2010 Standard, if you had VX standard, you were upgraded to ZW3D 2010 Professional. I think this was a great gesture, but ZWCAD never received any publicity for this.
I plan on discussing my experiences with Alibre, ZW3D, and 123D, but I won’t make any promises on how often I’ll have time for such posts.
August 2, 2011 No Comments
Autodesk just released the beta version of the 123D 3D mechanical CAD program. It’s meant for hobbyists, but Autodesk surprised me by including both STEP file import and export. (Free or low cost commercial CAD programs almost always don’t include free STEP file export).
123D is the standalone version of Inventor Fusion, so it is a direct modeler (not a history based like SolidWorks or Alibre). So put together free, easier to use (direct modeling), and STEP file import/export, and it should work great for creating 3D PCB models. There could be some problems, such as assembly limitations (such as a low maximum number of parts), or the EULA (so far the 123D End User License Agreement appears to be the standard Autodesk one, with no mentions of restrictions on commercial use).
I haven’t been able to check out 123D’s PCB prowess yet because I haven’t been able to get it to start successfully. I’ll give it another try in a while.
May 22, 2011 No Comments
These are low cost programs suitable for designing mechanical assemblies.
Don’t forget you can use multiple programs to overcome the limitations of one program.
They are still worth checking out, because they might have enough functionality for what you need to do.
Free Commercial MCAD
These programs typically have a lot of limitations, the terms can change at any time, but they are still potentially useful.
- PowerSHAPE-e. Very powerful, but costs money to export.
- Autodesk 123D. Appears to be good match for modeling personal PCBs; has STEP import and export.
- CoCreate PE, now creo elements/direct PE. Limited import and export, limited to 60 parts, but good to see PTC has moved it into the Creo world.
- MEDUSA4 Personal. Available for Windows and Linux.
- Autodesk Labs Inventor Fusion Preview. Time limited preview of the Fusion direct editing MCAD software.
MCAD Under $500
- Alibre PE ($199). Very limited import and export options.
MCAD Under $1500
- IronCAD Draft ($595). Not a full MCAD program (e.g. can’t create parts), but can create assemblies.
- Alibre Professional ($699). Adds import/export options and more.
- VariCAD ($710). Available for Windows and Linux.
- IronCAD INNOVATE XG (~$1300). Meant for conceptual design, but according to the product comparison it includes “assembly modeling within a single scene”.
- Alibre Expert ($1399). Adds CAM, Motion, MoI, and more.
- The combination of Rhino ($995 list, available for less) and RhinoWorks ($595, adds parametric and assembly capabilities) might work well.
Other Options worth considering
- ZW3D ($2500 for Standard). ZW3D 2011 adds direct editing.
- IRONCAD ($4000 and up). Innovative MCAD.
- SpaceClaim ($2450 and up). Well known for easy direct editing.
Update 4/18/2011: Added Rhino/RhinoWorks
Update 5/22/2011: Added Autodesk 123D, updated Alibre PE price.
April 1, 2011 No Comments
Yep, this is from a while back, but I think it’s worth pointing out Deelip Menezes’ 7-part series on Delcam PowerShape 2010.
I did play around a bit with PowerShape-e 2009, but I found it hard to figure out. OK, I didn’t do any tutorials, but I’ve had better luck figuring out other MCAD programs. Since I now have licenses for Alibre Design and VX/ZW3D and my time is limited, I haven’t used free but limited programs like PowerShape-e or CoCreate-PE in over a year.
The PowerShape-e business model (not feature limited compared to PowerShape, but you pay every time you want to get your data out) doesn’t match well with my requirements (that’s the same reason I don’t like using “free” PCB design software that is locked to a specific proto house).
If you’re looking at acquiring MCAD software, I recommend considering all the CAD design software possibilities, including lesser known programs such as PowerShape, IRONCAD, KeyCreator, SpaceClaim, ZW3D, and Solid Edge. And I highly recommend reading Deelip’s blog; he is a blogging machine (1000 posts in about 4.5 years), and has written many interesting multi-part series.
November 16, 2010 No Comments
Many DXF files use blocks. A blocks defines an object, which then be placed in many locations, and each location can be scaled and rotated individually. For example, the standard Eagle PCB DXF export ULP uses one block for each different style of pad (circular, square, etc), and then scales, rotates, and places these blocks for each individual pad.
But blocks aren’t so great when you’re importing them into Alibre Design (AD). I’ll look at a few issues by trying to extrude the Phoenix ZFK3DS 1,5-5,08 (1704415) terminal block outline; for example, I might want to model a cover for the end block (1704554). The files are available in a ZIP archive here Alibre and DXF Blocks.zip.
The DXF file provided by Phoenix uses blocks for all the views. I removed the views I didn’t want; the resulting file is Phoenix 1704415 Profile – block.DXF, shown below in DoubleCAD XT. You can see the blocks on the right.
I can’t extrude that profile; I need to remove the pins and the pegs. But I can’t edit the block in the drawing (left side of screen). In the Alibre sketch mode, I can only move it, delete it, or copy it. In the DoubleCAD drawing I can only scale, rotate, move, copy, or delete the block.
But I can edit the block in DoubleCAD by selecting the block in the block tab (shown on the right), and pressing the EC (Edit Content) button. The block is now displayed in the drawing area, and I can edit it, then press the check mark (next to EC) when I am done. The final result is shown below and in the Phoenix 1704415 Profile – block for Extrude.dxf file. Note that when you edit a block, all objects based on that block will update when you finish editing.
Another approach is to change to a no-block approach by editing the block you want, selecting everything, copying it, closing the block editor, pasting the copied part into the main drawing, and finally deleting all the blocks in the block tab (when you delete a block, all the objects based on that block are deleted). The result is in the Phoenix 1704415 Profile – No Block.dxf file.
With the no-block file, you can delete the stuff you don’t want in either DoubleCAD or import it into Alibre Design and delete it in AD’s sketch editor. The no-block approach isn’t good for a circuit board full of blocks, but it works great for a single profile.
There are some other differences between the block and no-block approaches in Alibre Design. Alibre has a non-obvious approach to pasting in sketches: “normal” pasting (Ctrl-V) always pastes the clipboard content in the same position relative to the origin; paste stamping (Ctrl-T) lets you place it where you want (press ESC when you’re done pasting).
The approach is always the same for getting a DXF file into a sketch: import (which opens an Alibre drawing), open sketch mode, select everything, and then paste it (Ctrl-T or Ctrl-V) into the desired sketch.
So far I’ve found that blocks don’t paste correctly; they get pasted with some sort of an offset, whether using paste or the paste stamper. Non-block DXF drawings paste correctly. But it’s easier to move blocks in Alibre sketches: just select them and drag. To move a non-block figure, you have to select all of it, cut it (Ctrl-X), paste stamp it (Ctrl-T), move it where you want, and then quit stamping (Esc).
Here’s a picture of the finished profile extruded in Alibre:
I’ve used DoubleCAD XT for all my DXF manipulations because it’s free and it works for me. You should be able to do the same things with any other high quality AutoCAD clone. DraftSight is another free AutoCAD clone worth checking out; it’s available on Windows, Mac, and (real soon now) Linux.
October 20, 2010 No Comments
Machine Design has an article on Do It Yourself Manufacturing, basically talking about small (often 1 person) niche companies doing design with CoCreate PE or Alibre Design and manufacturing using personal CNC tools from Tormach.
September 3, 2010 No Comments
I don’t write much about the latest mechanical CAD news, because others (like Deelip) already do it better than I can. But, since I write a lot about affordable MCAD, it’s time for a brief update on two players:
- Alibre has replaced the $97 Design Standard with the $99 Personal Edition. The PE is useless for my uses (such as modeling PCBs) because it won’t import or export STEP or IGES files, although at least you still can do a basic file export to 3D PDF.
- The cheapest version that can handle STEP files is Design Professional, which is currently $599; Alibre’s price do move around a lot. Since Alibre runs a lot of specials, especially for existing customers (e.g. PE or Standard users), you should be able to upgrade for less if you wait a while.
- But I’m very happy Alibre is keeping the Standard edition alive for current users. I plan on staying on maintenance as long as Alibre continues to provide Standard upgrades.
- VX dropped the VX Innovator and Innovator Light products a while ago without saying anything at all. So if you’re interested in Innovator, well, too bad.
- My guess is that this is related to the news that China’s ZWCAD ZWSOFT (maker of the ZWCAD AutoCAD clone) has bought VX; VX will be staying in Florida, but the VX product line will become ZW3D, possibly with significantly lower prices.
September 2, 2010 No Comments
SolidWorks World 2010 just finished. Maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe it’s not, but at the start of SolidWorks World Alibre announced “permanent” lower prices (no guarantees they won’t change prices again, but I suspect they’ll stay the same for a while). And VX has just about everything 50% off until March 1.
Alibre’s prices now include Alibre Translate (which was $499). (Alibre pricing info via World CAD Access).
|Alibre Product||Base Price||Annual Maintenance||With Maintenance
VX’s current sale (through March 1, 2010) is VX Innovator for $495, VX Designer for $2000, VX Mold & Die for $3000, VX 3D Machinist for $4000, and VX End To End for $5000.
VX definitely looks more capable than Alibre, but it’s significantly more expensive (including, I’m sure, the annual maintenance fees). So far, I’ve been able to do some things in VX Innovator I can’t do in Alibre, but Alibre has very few license restrictions. For example, VX Innovator limits assembly creation to 40 parts maximum (it can import models with more), while Alibre Design Standard does not have any hard limits. Also, Alibre lets you install Design on up to three computers, which is very nice for those of us with multiple PCs.
I think that if you do anything with 3D solid modeling (not surfacing), then Alibre is definitely worth a look due to its low price, lack of artificial limits, and good import/export options (especially now with Alibre Translate). If Alibre can improve the ease of use, maybe it can become what SpaceClaim originally claimed to be: MCAD for the rest of us (non-designers), people who need to occasionally work with 3D, but aren’t designing complex parts all day long.
Right now, I’m still sticking with Alibre Design Standard V11 and VX Innovator; if I do a lot of CAD this year, I’ll look at upgrading to Alibre V12.
NOTE: Updated 2/4/10 to reflect Max Freeman’s comment.
February 3, 2010 9 Comments
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 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 Deelip.com 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