MCAD Tech News #96 (Apr. 25, 2003)

24 Apr, 2003 By: Joe Greco

In an upcoming issue of CADENCE magazine, I am scheduled to write a review of Alibre Design 6 and Alibre Design Professional 6, from Alibre Inc. ( While working with them, I discovered there was too much to write about to fit into a single review, so I decided to cover in this newsletter a major aspect of both products: how they are supported. In addition, I also included a brief overview of new tools in order to whet your appetite.

A Little History

The debut version of Alibre Design was previewed in Nov. 1999 and released a few months later. Back then, it was marketed as a collaborative, feature-based, solid modeling CAD program, an idea that not enough people bought into. Realizing that potential users were interested in more CAD functionality but not too eager to collaborate, Alibre Inc. retooled its application over the last few versions, improving both modeling and drafting. This leads us to the present version, Alibre Design 6.

In addition to the new tools I will discuss below, Version 6 offers a unique support mechanism. Everyone purchasing the basic $695 version also receives one hour of free support per month via the innovative Alibre Assistant. This is an actual person that users can contact, via the program's collaboration system, to get help on any problem that they may encounter. What's interesting is, this is usually the user's introduction to the program's collaborative capabilities; from there they begin to realize other ways it can be utilized (to design products, for instance).

In using Alibre Design over the past few weeks, I requested help from the Alibre Assistant twice. To initiate a session, all I had to do was make sure I was running Alibre Design in its online mode. This enabled me to send a message to the Alibre Assistant from right inside the program. The first time I requested help, I received an immediate message back, requesting more information about my problem. A minute after I sent the additional information, the assistant returned a suggestion that worked.

The next time I required help was when I was trying to use the new Helical Boss command. I assumed it worked the same as the Revolve tool. When Online Help didn't produce an answer, I contacted the Alibre Assistant who was "on duty" at the time. I didn't understand the first suggestion he sent me, so I requested that he call me. Sure enough, a minute later, the phone rang, and two minutes later the helix was created.

In short, I found that my experiences with the Alibre Assistant to be the total opposite of its virtual counterpart: Microsoft Office's paper clip. The Alibre version was extremely helpful and not at all annoying. I feel the inclusion of one hour of this type of support every month will go a long way in getting someone started, especially if they just downloaded the program in order to be part of a collaboration session and need some quick pointers.

Enhancements to the Software

Alibre Design 6 includes a variety of improvements, including new sketching, enhanced modeling and drafting tools, and a new sheet-metal module. For starters, the sketcher now includes a new way to create splines, and an Analyze Sketch tool that can locate and fix problem geometry. Modeling enhancements include the aforementioned Helical Boss, and there is also a counterpart tool to cut with. I also liked the new ability to drive dimensions from an Excel spreadsheet and some of the new drafting tools.

However, the biggest addition is the incorporation of sheet-metal tools. Alibre Design 6 offers just about all the basic tools a user needs, including the creation of features such as flanges, dimples, closed corners, and bending and unbending commands are available. Best of all, anyone familiar with Alibre Design can easily use these new tools, as they look and feel like the existing tools.

As mentioned earlier, the company has also just released Alibre Design Professional, a $995 package that includes Alibre's own photorendering program, links to programs capable of running toolpaths, finite element analysis (FEA), and a parts library. Keep an eye out for my detailed review of Alibre Design 6 and the Alibre Design Professional package in CADENCE.


Overall, Alibre Design is one of the best values in MCAD today. It's powerful, fast, connected, easy, and inexpensive. Is it what SolidWorks and Solid Edge were to the MCAD market in 1996 when they reduced the price of feature-based solid modeling by about a quarter? That's hard to say. In addition to offering a much lower price point, both those programs also featured Windows-based user interfaces that made them much easier to use than other products available at the time. While Alibre Design is also easy, it doesn't break new ground like SolidWorks and Solid Edge did; however, it does offer a level of one-on-one instantaneous support that hasn't been seen before.

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