Cadalyst Labs Review: IronCAD V81 Oct, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth Cadalyst
Pick the Modeling Kernel That Works Best
It's not easy to find a 3D modeling package that's different from all the others. They all build 3D models—how different can they be? With its use of dual modeling kernels, IronCAD V8 really is different. I was intrigued with it the first time I read about it, and I am even more so today after using it.
Different, But Cooperative
Building concept models can be frustrating. No matter what 3D modeler you use, there are always areas that are difficult. As complexity goes up, flexibility goes down. Sometimes the modeling software can't or won't let you complete a design for one reason or another. It's easy to model yourself into a corner because one feature depends on another, or even several other, features. Parameters can get in the way when a concept is designed on the fly. How a sketch is dimensioned is as important as what is sketched. History trees can be just as bad when you want to constrain something to a feature that doesn't show up on the tree until much later. It's simply not there to reference, or worse, the software lets you see the feature but not reference it.
IronCAD V8 offers an alternative to traditional parametric modeling. It lets users model without regard for parameters or constraints.
"What? No parameters?" designers ask.
Relax. IronCAD V8 can apply parameters. Users just don't have to use them up front. They can assign parameters on demand, when needed. Because IronCAD has no history tree restrictions, users can make changes whenever and wherever they need to. IronCAD V8 doesn't require the use of datum planes for modeling. Designers can concentrate on the modeling, not the bookkeeping.
Iron CAD V8 offers something truly unique in the 3D modeling arena: dual-kernel capability. Instead of tying users to one modeling kernel and its particular limitations, IronCAD lets them work with the ACIS and Parasolid kernels, changing from one to another anywhere along the modeling process. IronCAD prompts users to select one kernel when it starts up, but they don't have to stick with that kernel. If one kernel can perform some function the other can't, or maybe just do it better, users can move to the other kernel.
Who knows which kernel is best for a particular situation? Luckily IronCAD V8 knows. It doesn't leave it to the user to make all the hard decisions. If the default kernel fails in a particular operation, IronCAD's Kernel Collaboration starts up and the software lets the alternate kernel have a try. If the alternate kernel is successful, it returns the resulting geometry back to the default kernel and the user continues modeling. This tag-team approach is completely invisible to the user.
Work Graphically. . . or Not
To begin a model, users drag a predefined IntelliShape, such as a block or a cylinder, off a menu and into the graphics area (figure 1). Or they can create a profile and use it to model. The software is freeform and dynamic, making modeling fast.
Figure 1. IronCADs IntelliShapes are predefined features that users can drop into designs and manipulate.
It's possible to model an entire assembly inside the same file. This intuitive, top-down approach to modeling is good for roughing in parts where needed. Keep working that way, or link the parts to their own file at any time. Each part can be modeled or called in from previously created parts and from outside sources and catalogs.
Speaking of catalogs, there are plenty available with the software and on the Internet. IronCAD also imports faceted and solid geometry. Once it's in the part file, imported geometry can be modified. IronCAD V8's Direct Face Modeling lets users change anything and build on it as though it were native geometry.
The Achilles' heel of file transfer is intelligence loss, and IronCAD V8 helps users retain intelligence from drawings created in other systems. It's not automatic, but it works.
Moving and Shaking
One of IronCAD V8's more interesting features is Cruising, where users drag a feature from one face on a model onto a different face (figure 2). For some reason, it's fun to use the terms V8, cruising and drag in such close proximity. Move the feature or copy it with a right-click drag. This operation can copy features and whole models.
Figure 2. With the Cruising tool, users drag a feature onto a model and the feature attaches itself, even across different faces.
The program also provides left-click mouse options. For instance, left-click on an object while holding down <Shift> to activate the SmartSnap options, which highlight the key snap points of a face to allow fast, precise placement of features, parts and assemblies. The right mouse button has assigned default functions. When I attempted to right-click and drag using a Tablet PC, the cursor became a pointing hand and dragged a blue line around the screen. IronCAD informed me that the Tablet PC was currently not a supported computer platform, but it will look into what needs to be done to change that. Windows XP for Tablet PC already has right-mouse button functionality so IronCAD V8 can't access those button commands.
IronCAD's object handles aren't your father's handles—they pack a whole lot more intelligence. They have all the same functionality as normal Windows handles, but they can also be used in profiles, features, parts and assemblies. The handles work with the SmartSnap functions to help users take full advantage of the design environment to increase productivity. IronCAD's patented Tri-ball (figure 3) is a specialized 3D handle that lets users position or copy objects by translation, rotation, mirroring, patterning and more.
Figure 3. Triball, IronCADs patented way to manipulate a model, puts various orientation and positioning commands in one place so they are available graphically.
What Else?IronCAD V8 shows off designs well. Its photorealistic rendering capability is great for developing impressive pictures, but that's not all. Because it has a fully integrated rendering engine, users can design with real-time textures and bit-maps and apply decals to save time modeling complicated details (figure 4). The software's SmartMotions generates animations that show a design's full range of motion. A key-frame interface captures any point in the animation and gives the user complete control. SmartMotions makes it easy to create and export GIF and AVI files to send to clients.
Figure 4. Working with decals and textures applied directly to a model can save hours in modeling time. Just wrap an image of buttons onto a model so you dont have to model them.
IronCAD V8 handles drawings beautifully. Users can create multisheet, bidirectional associative drawings of parts or assemblies. When either the model or the drawing is changed, the other updates. IronCAD supports all the normal orthographic views as well as isometric, detail and section views. IronCAD offers SmartDimensions, GD&T annotations and notes, and it all meets ISO and ANSI standards (figure 5).
Figure 5. IronCAD V8 produces fully associative ISO and ANSI-compliant drawings so users dont have to export models to a drafting package.
There's even a bidirectional BOM (bill of materials) for the assemblies. The BOM queries the model for any properties assigned and populates itself accordingly. Like dimensions, changes can be made from the model or the drawing.
IronCAD V8 offers some very good downloadable tutorials on its Web site. They are large PDF files (some of them are several megabytes each), but they'll get users up and running in no time.
This software combines powerful and fast concept modeling and editing with all the other bells and whistles we've come to expect nowadays. IronCAD V8 falls in the midrange 3D modeler price range at $3,495 for a full license.
A lower-cost 3D collaboration modeler, Inovate, is available for $1,295. It includes most of IronCAD's modeling functionality minus 2D drawing creation and sheet-metal. Both programs are loaded with all kinds of excellent functionality. Highly Recommended
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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