MCAD Modeling Methods-Download, Don't Draw1 Dec, 2005 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth Cadalyst
Ready-made 3D models make design efficient and accurate.
WE KNOW THAT 3D modelers help us be efficient. But how can we make the process more efficient? We optimize software as much as possible. Is there more we can do to speed things up? No, there's less.
Less Work, More Productivity
If the products you design are made up of a large number of parts such as purchased components, don't waste valuable time modeling things that are already available on the Internet. Many software developers offer catalogs of common parts that you can download and use.
One example is SolidWorks' 3D Content Central (figure 1) that offers access to literally millions of parts like screws, bolts, nuts, gears, motors and valves. On average, the models' accuracy is pretty good. I've found some that are rough representations of the parts, but the good news is that they are usually parametric. 3D Content Central parts are made in SolidWorks for SolidWorks designs. They are free to those who buy SolidWorks or maintain a subscription. If you are a SolidWorks user and haven't used it yet, sign up now. You can also download files in the users' area on the SolidWorks Web site of designs made and donated by users.
Figure 1. With SolidWorks 3D Content Central, you have access to millions of native SolidWorks files that you can bring directly into your designs.
It's not just SolidWorks that offers 3D content—it's becoming common for modeling software to come with libraries of parts. Find out if yours does.
You have numerous choices for 3D content online. Many manufacturing companies offer accurate 3D models of their products. It behooves them to put out as good a model as possible so you will select their wares. You can rotate some models onscreen (figure 2).
Figure 2. When looking for 3D parts, it helps to be able to rotate them to make sure you get what you want.
Napoleon Bonaparte once said that talent is useless without opportunity. This is particularly true in 3D modeling. If the 3D model you download doesn't come in a file type you can import into your software, it's of no use to you. That's why most 3D content Web sites offer files in many formats (figure 3). Of course, it's easiest when you can find your native format. If not, there is usually at least one file type that translates well into your software. Depending on the format you must use, a lot of online models are not parametric.
Resources to get you started
The key to efficiency is accuracy, and these models are usually very accurate. In addition, models are available in a wide range of file types. Plenty of free models are available from manufacturers or through modeling software, but sometimes you have to buy the models. Most likely this will still be less expensive than modeling the part yourself.
Figure 3. Available content is useful only if it can be used in your particular software package. Most 3D content providers offer several different file types to choose from.
I balance my needs with what I'm willing to pay. What I make is always worth more than what anyone else makes—at least to me. I think paying $149 for a model is a bit excessive. I will model it myself first unless it is beyond my skills or I have a deadline to meet. Before you pay out any cash, look hard for what you need. I've often found free models of things someone else wanted me to pay for.
Free and Fast
There are tons of resources available, sometimes for free, that can save lots of time and aggravation. If you have all the time in the world and want to do it all yourself, go for it. But if you need to get a lot done quickly, downloading ready-made 3D models is one of the best ways to accomplish it.
Mike Hudspeth, IDSA, is an industrial designer, artist and author based in St. Louis, Missouri.
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