MCAD Tech News #91 (Feb. 27, 2003)

26 Feb, 2003 By: Joe Greco

Mini-Review of IronCAD 6

Although IronCAD LLC has undergone many changes over the years, its core MCAD product, also called IronCAD, has remained the company's foundation. IronCAD made its debut in 1998 and immediately gained a lot of attention by employing innovative dragging techniques for creating and editing solids. In late 2001, the developers premiered the InnovationSuite, which included IronCAD, a scaled down version of IronCAD called Inovate, and TeamVault for PDM (Product Data Management). Last year, InnovationSuite 2002 was released. And just this month the package has been upgraded again. Unlike in the March 2002 CADENCE magazine review in which I covered the entire package (, in this mini-review I am only going to focus on IronCAD 6 (keep in mind that the other components have also been updated).

New Surfacing Tools

One of the biggest enhancements in IronCAD 6 is the introduction of surfaces. Actually, the program has had the ability to create extruded, revolved, swept, and lofted surfaces for a while, which I will talk about later on, but Version 6 adds six new surfacing tools.

All of these new surfacing tools only work with 3D curves, so let's begin with those improvements. For starters, there is a new option to turn 2D curves into 3D ones. In addition, creating 3D curves from scratch also just got easier due to an assortment of new tools. Two of my favorites are: the ability to reverse a curve's end tangency and the way users insert new points on a spline--albeit there doesn't seem to be a way to delete these new points.

After I created my first 3D curve, I selected one of its control points and used IronCAD's TriBall to edit its location. Although the program now has the ability to edit points via X, Y, and Z coordinates, most users will prefer the TriBall, which is IronCAD's dynamic positioning tool. It also can be used to copy the curve with or without associativity. After doing so and tweaking each one, I had three different curves in position. I then used the new Loft command. After the first curve is picked, IronCAD needs to know where to anchor that curve. This means another mouse click is required, which really should not be necessary. However, after that it is just a simple matter of selecting the other two curves, and the software gives visual feedback in the form of a red dashed line. This lets the user know which curves make up the loft and the order that they will be used in.

IronCAD still maintains its old way of creating a loft, which acts more like a variational sweep as it sweeps a single curve along another curve, and then asks how many loft cross sections are desired in between. It is then possible to go back and edit the cross sections or the curve that defines the path; however, only 2D curves can be used in this original Loft command.

While IronCAD 6 doesn't offer true freeform surface deformations, it does allow you to edit underlying curves normally, and then the surface built off of them will automatically update. Technically, the original curves are not part of the surface, as IronCAD preserves them and essentially uses duplicate curves to make the surface. While keeping the original curves can be handy, I feel this should be an option rather than the only choice because having two curves in the same location sometimes results in selection problems. The software also houses new tools for creating swept and revolved surfaces; although, as is the case with lofting, the old techniques are still available with basically the same differences and limitations.

Other Surfacing Tools

Mesh is a totally new surfacing tool, and it creates what is commonly known as a UV surface. Mesh takes a grid of curves roughly oriented perpendicular to each other and essentially does a bi-directional loft. The 3D curves used in this tool must be touching wherever they intersect, which is a fairly common rule for most programs (except exclusive surfacing applications such as Rhino).

Another new surfacing tool is called Edge Surface, which is known as a boundary or fill surface in most 3D applications. This tool is ideal for closing gaps in imported surfaces, by allowing the edges of the opening to be picked, thus forming a boundary. While this is a nice addition to the IronCAD 6 toolbox, the program is limited to only 3- and 4-sided surfaces. There is a tangency control setting to ensure a smooth blend between the new surface and the old, but this can only be set after the surface is built. Also, when I zoomed in on the result, IronCAD did not create a completely watertight surface, as gaps were still apparent. Oddly, if I turned off the tangency setting, these gaps were alleviated, but then the transition wasn't as smooth. IronCAD also allows surfaces to be thickened into a solid, which is handy, and a surface can be duplicated with zero offset and then moved into position with the TriBall.

While these tools help make IronCAD more attractive to the product designer, some tools do need a bit more work as well as more options. In addition, there are commands missing such as surface filleting, blending, extending, trimming, untrimming, and zebra stripe analysis. However, even without any of these tools, IronCAD is still an excellent program for conceptual modeling by virtue of how dynamic dragging is incorporated extensively throughout it.

Other Enhancements

IronCAD 6 also features other modeling improvements. For instance, there are now more ways to specify a chamfer, and the developers also incorporated several miscellaneous assembly enhancements. The 2D drafting capabilities have also been beefed up with the addition of hole tables, auto ballooning, an aligned section tool, new dimension types, and more.


IronCAD 6 deserves a look by anyone considering the purchase of a solid modeling program (with integrated PDM)--not so much based on what's new, but what's old. I'm not putting down the new stuff--it is helpful--but the strength of the program is still in its intuitive approach to solid modeling, something no other MCAD vendor has been able to duplicate.

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