CAD Central (News and Analysis)

31 Oct, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

IMSI/Design Freeware Targets AutoCAD LT Users; Quiet Eulogy for Mechanical Desktop; Joel Harris Wins Hot Tip Harry Challenge 2008; Student’s Facebook Efforts Earn AU Scholarship; Autodesk Announces 64-Bit Revit; Autodesk Fights SolidWorks over DWG; Dell Debuts Mobile Workstation to Covet; Object 3D Printer Fits on Desktop

IMSI/Design Freeware Targets AutoCAD LT Users

This holiday season, the developers of TurboCAD at IMSI/Design will deliver a gift to the CAD community. Their latest creation, tentatively dubbed A/CAD LT Express, is set to follow the distribution model of Google SketchUp — availability by free download.

Whereas some 3D software makers are targeting AutoCAD users with their 2D giveaways — for example, Solid Edge 2D, touted by its makers as the product that "eases the transition from 2D AutoCAD" — IMSI/Design is setting its sights on Autodesk's AutoCAD LT users. According to IMSI/Design CEO Royal Farros, the new product is a CAD application not based on the IntelliCAD Technology Consortium's code but its company's proprietary code. He described the product as "a reliable and robust work-alike alternative for AutoCAD LT."

IMSI/Design s A/CAD LT Express is designed to appeal to AutoCAD LT users.
IMSI/Design s A/CAD LT Express is designed to appeal to AutoCAD LT users.

In an early draft of its announcement, IMSI wrote, "A/CAD LT Express is a full-powered 2D CAD application and is DWG (AutoCAD) and SKP (Google SketchUp) compatible." In A/CAD LT Express, IMSI/Design has created a work area that mimics that of AutoCAD LT. A preview reveals a product offering the same menu items and drawing tools as AutoCAD LT. Users can even use the same high-level AutoCAD LT command lines within A/CAD LT.

To give AutoCAD LT users a reason to switch from their familiar drafting environment, Farros realizes his company's offering should provide more than similar features. He hopes that self-healing walls, self-aligning blocks, advanced hatch-and-gradient fill tools, handle-based editing paradigm, and tight integration with Google SketchUp will set A/CAD LT Express apart from the competition.

"We take great care to import all geometry, to convert all SketchUp components to A/CAD LT Express blocks to optimize drawing performance, to create a Paper Space for each camera view, even to convert 3D models into 2D hidden-line presentations," IMSI/Design stated in an early draft of its FAQs.

A/CAD LT Express serves as an introduction to the commercial version, A/CAD LT, priced at $695. This version includes 2D constraints, a range of intelligent (parametric) architectural objects, automatic drafting detail (associative), parametric parts manager, bill of materials (BOM), xrefs, design director, and premium customer support, all of which are reinforced with what its makers call "one of the widest varieties of file filters in the CAD industry, including support for DWG, SKP, 3DS, OBJ, SAT, IGES, STEP, and more."

Farros expects that both versions of A/CAD LT could excite the small and mid-size businesses whose work revolves around AutoCAD and SketchUp. "There are hundreds of AutoCAD shops that have spent thousands of dollars buying AutoCAD LT seats for basic drafting and detailing," he observed. He thinks the same buyers will be tempted to use the more affordable and powerful A/CAD LT as an AutoCAD LT replacement. AutoCAD LT sells for $800–$900 through Autodesk authorized resellers.

In Farros' view, "we hope A/CAD LT will shake up the status quo." A/CAD LT Express and A/CAD LT are expected to be available for download at by December 2008 and January 2009, respectively.

Quiet Eulogy for Mechanical Desktop

In February 2002, Autodesk declared Mechanical Desktop would no longer be available as a stand-alone product, but rather only as part of the Autodesk Inventor series. "Users of Mechanical Desktop who have current subscriptions will get Inventor Series 5 at no charge, effectively giving them a free upgrade to Inventor," Autodesk wrote at the time. "Customers who don't have current maintenance contracts have only a few days to buy them before the withdrawal of Mechanical Desktop from the market."

Software users familiar with how Autodesk works understood the involuntary transition the company was urging and that it foretold the demise of Mechanical Desktop. This October, the company sounded the final death knell. "Autodesk has ceased development of Autodesk Mechanical Desktop and will no longer release new versions of the product," Autodesk notified the media. "This decision was made to allow Autodesk to focus on the development of the Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD Mechanical product lines. Autodesk recognizes that its customers have created many Mechanical Desktop files containing valuable intellectual property. To protect this data, Autodesk will continue to provide product support for subscription customers for a period of no less than three years after the removal of Mechanical Desktop from the Inventor product line."

The last version, Mechanical Desktop 2009, will remain available as a download for Inventor users, the company promised.

Joel Harris Wins Hot Tip Harry Challenge 2008

Cadalyst has awarded a trip to Autodesk University 2008 to AutoCAD tip contributor Joel Harris. The trip is the grand prize in Cadalyst's year-long Hot Tip Harry Challenge 2008 contest.

Joel Harris
Joel Harris

Harris was selected in a random drawing of all authors of tips published this year in Cadalyst's popular "Hot Tip Harry" column of AutoCAD customization tips. He will receive airfare, lodging, and a full pass to Autodesk University 2008 in Las Vegas, Nevada, held December 2–5.

Harris has worked for Anvil Corporation in Bellingham, Washington, for 18 years as a piping designer and technology specialist. "I love reading the 'Hot Tip Harry' tips to see if there is anything that would be of use to our AutoCAD users, or any new way of optimizing AutoCAD," he said.

New Objet 3D Printer Fits on a Desk or Tabletop

Objet Geometries, headquartered in Rehovot, Israel, recently launched what it describes as a new "office-friendly 3D printer." Measuring 34.25" x 33.85" x 40.94", the unit can fit on a desk or tabletop. With a reported accuracy of 0.1–0.2 mm (0.0039–0.0078"), the Alaris30 is designed to produce prototypes with small, moving parts; text; and fine, smooth, detailed surfaces. Explaining its technology, Objet wrote, "Similar to a line printer, the jetting head slides back and forth along the x-axis, depositing a single layer of photopolymer onto the build tray. Each layer is immediately cured and hardened by UV light, producing fully cured models that can be handled immediately without additional postcuring."

Objet Geometries describes its Alaris30 desktop 3D printer as office friendly.
Objet Geometries describes its Alaris30 desktop 3D printer as office friendly.

The Alaris30 uses VeroWhite FullCure830, an opaque, nontoxic material that is monochrome but can be painted. CAD users can export STL files to the Objet Studio software to produce prototypes. The unit can print multiple parts simultaneously.

Previously, Objet and Stratasys had an agreement whereby Stratasys held exclusive rights to distribute Objet's Eden333 system in North America. Since the dissolution of this partnership in late 2006, Objet has been selling its units through a direct sales team. With the launch of the Alaris30, Objet is expecting an increase in sales volume, so the company has assembled an indirect reseller network to tackle global sales on its behalf. Objet revealed plans to sell the Alaris30 for less than $40,000, a price that could bring it into competition with products in Stratasys' Dimension line.

Autodesk Fights SolidWorks over DWG

Autodesk has unleashed its legal eagles against SolidWorks for what it considers unfair use of the DWG file extension. In the complaint Autodesk filed in September (viewable at, the AutoCAD guardian accused SolidWorks of "unfair competition, false designation of origin, false advertising, trademark dress infringement, unfair business practices, deceptive business practices, unlawful business practices, misleading advertising." The company feels, "through a variety of improper tactics designed to mislead consumers and undermine the value of the Autodesk and DWG brand and technology, DS [Dassault Systemes] SolidWorks is unfairly competing with Autodesk."

Among evidence cited was SolidWorks' use of "a product naming strategy for certain [SolidWorks] CAD software products that use the DWG name . . . DWGeditor, DWGgateway, DWGseries, DWGviewer, and DWGnavigator." Furthermore, Autodesk is also trying to block SolidWorks from using a yellow border around its Real Solutions logo, a design that, in its view, "combines the 'real' element of Autodesk's RealDWG program and tagline with the distinctive trade dress found on the Autodesk Inventor packaging."

Online discussions of the topic reveal many CAD users don't find this argument convincing. Paul Waddington, a frequent contributor to CAD-related forums, observed, "First and foremost, here in Australia, DWG and DRG were recognized by design professionals as abbreviations for the word drawing loooong before Autodesk existed and used .DWG as a file extension in its products." For more, read "Autodesk to SolidWorks: Play Fair," at my blog, Kenneth Wong on CAD (

Student's Facebook Efforts Earn AU Scholarship

Tippu Sashi, an architecture major set to graduate from the University of Cincinnati in 2009, will attend Autodesk University 2008 (AU) — for free — courtesy of Autodesk. In part, it's the company's way of thanking Sashi for what he does on the popular social networking site Facebook. "In my sophomore year, Facebook really began to take off," Sashi recalled. "So my friend Jeremy Stroebel and I created a page for the Autodesk Student Engineering & Design Community. It was just a way to share knowledge."

Soon, his endeavors caught the notice of Autodesk Education. Every year, the division recognizes about four or five students at a ceremony during the AU Education keynote. They are singled out for, among other things, helping achieve the highest increases in student community membership on their campuses, teaching and hosting Inventor and Revit workshops for students, and managing the Autodesk brand page in Facebook.

According to Autodesk, Sashi was selected to attend AU 2008 because of his Revit workshops in the spring, his internship in an architecture firm, and his involvement in the student community's online discussions and exchanges. "The only program taught here at our school's architecture program is AutoCAD," he explained. "So we sought out one of our professors to discuss where architecture is going. Then we offered to run a voluntary Revit session. Now, once or twice a week, about 20–30 students get together in the computer lab. We walk them through the interface and how to start making some basic buildings." Autodesk student community page can be found at

Dell Debuts Mobile Workstation to Covet

In September, Dell released a 17" mobile workstation that provides computing horsepower rivaling that of desktop workhorses. The M6400 ($2,599) runs on Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme quad-core chips and NVIDIA Quadro FX 2700M or FX 3700M graphics cards with 512 MB or 1 GB of dedicated graphics memory. Weighing in at 8.54 lb with its magnesium-alloy chassis, the unit is part of Dell's E-Family product line, making it compatible with other E-Family accessories, such as port replicators, notebook stands, and external storage modules.

The new Dell Precision M6400 Covet mobile workstation.
The new Dell Precision M6400 Covet mobile workstation.

It supports one or two hard drives with optional RAID0 or RAID1 configuration: an encrypted hard drive with 160-GB capacity; a 7,200-rpm Free Fall Sensor hard drive with 320-GB capacity; a 5,400-rpm HDD with 500-GB capacity; or a solid-state hard drive with 128-GB capacity. It runs Windows Vista (32- or 64-bit), XP Professional (32- or 64-bit), and Rat Hat Linux 5.1 (64-bit). A fingerprint reader, a 2-megapixel camera, dual-array microphones, and solid-state drives are optional. For connectivity, users can choose from a selection of Dell wireless mini-cards, Dell wireless Bluetooth mini-cards, and Intel wireless mini-cards. The M6400 is also available in the Covet edition ($3,899, shown here), distinguished by a vibrant orange chassis, an edge-to-edge glass RGB LED display, and 16 GB of RAM.

Autodesk Announces 64-Bit Revit

In October, Autodesk unveiled what it believes to be the first building information modeling (BIM) software for 64-bit operating systems. The company's Autodesk Revit 2009 product line — available for architecture, MEP (mechanical, electrical, and plumbing), and Structure — received the 64-bit treatment. The new version is available as a download via Autodesk's subscription center.

Customer reaction has been enthusiastic. On the BIMman's Blog (, architect Jason Howden from Wellington, New Zealand, exclaimed, "Finally — I've been using a 64-bit OS (XP) for over a year now and with each release of Revit Architecture, I've been hoping that it will ship with full support for a 64-bit system. . . . "

On Rod Dot Net (, a blog described as "bits and pieces, including Windows problems, ASP.Net, C#, and the Revit API," the author cautioned, "For API [application programming interface] developers, [64-bit Revit] brings a couple of kinks to work around. Now the framework runs in 64-bit mode, so there is the chance that some of your existing external commands will break. There are a couple of things that you can do if your external command, which was working fine in 32-bit Revit, does not work in 64-bit."

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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