MCAD Tech News #90 (Feb. 12, 2003)

11 Feb, 2003 By: Joe Greco

When most people involved with MCAD think about PTC, they think of it as the developers of Pro/ENGINEER, a rigid MCAD system mainly used to design prismatic machine parts and mechanical components. However, with the introduction of Pro/E Wildfire (scheduled to be reviewed in CADENCE, April 2003), the company is introducing more surfacing and freeform modeling tools into the program in order to address the conceptual design phase. Recently PTC released an entirely new product, just for conceptual design, called Pro/CONCEPT.

Not Your Typical Design Tool

Pro/CONCEPT opens to a Windows-like interface, but you see icons that look hand sketched and shaded instead of the standard Windows icons for New, Open, and Save--an early indication that this program isn't the usual rigid design software. In fact, all the tools were given the same hand-drawn look, similar to Alias|Wavefront's Design Studio, a program that obviously has an influence on Pro/CONCEPT.

Clicking the New icon allowed me to start with either a "2D Sketch" or a "3D Sketch and Model," so I started with the latter. The first tool I tested was the Curve tool, which allowed me to easily create a through-point spline with a series of mouse clicks. I like the way prompts appear in the lower left of the screen to provide help. For instance, I learned that straight lines could be drawn within a series of splines by holding down the Alt key--a helpful option most CAD programs don't provide. I also appreciate how Undo removes only the last point of the spline--not the entire entity (as is often the case).

The other sketch tools weren't as nice as Curve. For instance, when drawing lines, the software places the sketch wherever the mouse is clicked, at a preset length and angle. The users have the option to immediately reshape the entity to the way they want it. This takes more time then simply clicking and dragging the line in the proper location. The same is true of circles, squares (there are no polygon tools), and arcs.

For Editing Curves

After you draw the entities, you can edit them using the Curve Edit tool. You can use this command on a circle to, for instance, deform it as eight connected splines. This may be helpful, but I didn't see a way to use this or any other tool to change a circle's radius.

However, the power of the Curve Edit tool is to edit splines. The points used to create the spline can be selected with this tool and moved in order to deform the curve. In addition, each spline point has a handle associated with it and here is where Pro/CONCEPT allows for some robust editing. For instance, by right-clicking on the handle and selecting Cusp -> Smooth, Pro/CONCEPT allowed me to edit only one side of a spline, which is a handy function in cases where the other side is already perfect. I found it to be a breeze to add and delete points by hitting the plus and minus keys. These are examples of features that Adobe Illustrator and other similar design applications always have, but were somehow lost when their curve tools were adopted by CAD developers attempting to create designer-friendly tools.

For Deformation

Pro/CONCEPT has the usual commands to turn these 2D shapes into 3D. With a simple click and drag of the middle mouse button, it is possible to rotate the view to see the new 3D shapes. In addition, it also houses 3D primitive shapes (and some not-so-primitive shapes) that can be easily placed. My favorite is Soap, which indeed looks like the type of soap we use everyday (hopefully). Pro/CONCEPT has two sets of tools for deforming these shapes. The first set includes Transform, Wrap, Mesh, and Bend. They work on the entire shape. In short, these tools are wonderful for playing around with design concepts.

The second set of tools is for local operations. They remind me of the tools found in FreeFrom, the software that comes with SensAble Technologies' haptic system or Electric Image's Amorphium. The tools in FreeForm are a little hard to get used to, but, once mastered, they can give designers the feeling that they are sculpting with clay.

For the Final Touches

Pro/CONCEPT also includes paint tools that allow users to simulate pencils, brushes, and markers while painting directly on 3D surfaces. Each tool has a variety of options, including the ability to change the brush size, opacity, and rotation while drawing--something usually found in professional image-editing products such as Photoshop. As in Photoshop, there are also tools to blur, sharpen, and change the brightness/contrast as well as import a variety of bitmap images. You can use the same brushes in a 2D Sketch file and then import that design into the 3D environment for tracing.


Pro/CONCEPT is a very interesting product, something that I would have never expected from PTC just a few years ago. Priced at $1,500, it is cheaper that most Alias products and more efficient than using the two or three design products it can replace (for instance, Photoshop, Illustrator, and any general 3D product). Go to for more information.

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