Alibre Design 8.031 Oct, 2004 By: Don LaCourse
Take 3D mechanical design online.
Alibre design is alibre's flagship product—a 3D parametric solid modeler with integrated online colllaboration tools that sells for far less than comparable applications (figure 1).
When I first reviewed Alibre Design 3.1, I doubted that an online 3D modeling application could handle the rigors of real-world design tasks. I soon realized that the concept of Internet-enabled collaborative modeling fit quite well with the needs of today's designers who are more budget conscious and spend more time online than ever before.
Alibre Design 8.0 has come a long way since then and addresses the only real concern I had at the time—that it supported only basic modeling functionality. Version 8.0 has an extensive feature set that I'll discuss later in this review. But first, let's talk about what makes Alibre Design unique to the industry.
Figure 1. This hydraulic cylinder assembly modeled in Alibre Design 8.0 shows Alibres modeling ability.
Get StartedAlibre Design is different from other mechanical CAD applications. After obtaining a user name and password, users can download the Alibre Design application. The Alibre Design application operates like a traditional solid modeler, but is also capable of connecting to other Alibre Design users for team design and data sharing. Once installed, users see a contact called the Alibre Assistant in their contact list in the Home window. That contact represents direct access to one of Alibre's support engineers. Users can use it like Messenger to chat or invite one of the Alibre engineers to a live Team Design session for help on a modeling problem (figure 2).
Figure 2. With a click of a button, users can start a live collaborative support session with the Alibre Assistant over the Internet.
With a user name and password, users can download and run Alibre Design and access design data from other PCs, wherever they happen to be. This is convenient and unique to mechanical CAD applications.
Part ModelingVersion 8.0 of Alibre Design is based on the ACIS modeling kernel and D-cubed constraint manager. It contains a good suite of feature creation tools, including basics such as extrude, revolve, sweep, shell, and loft. It also offers standard finishing features such as holes, fillets, chamfers, and patterns. The Catalog Feature lets you save and reuse operations and sketches at different locations on a single model, or in different models.
Alibre design 8.0
New to Alibre Design 8.0 is what the company refers to as Design Booleans—associative and history-based Boolean operations that are useful for creating mold cavities, tools, and dies (figure 3). They support the standard addition/join, subtraction, and intersection operations, and multiple parts and assemblies can be used as tools. Assembly-level Booleans are a recent twist on the first shape Booleans used by the original solid modeling applications. Alibre Design is not the first application to employ them, but should still be commended.
Another new tool in version 8.0 is the 3D Sketcher (figure 4). This is a great tool because it makes it easy to create 3D paths for such features as tubing and wire routings, sweeps, and lofts. The special environment is easy to enter and exit and provides pop-up access to line, arc, and spline tools, as well as datum plane definition and activation. For example, users can sketch from one plane to the next without exiting the command—very convenient!
Figure 3. Alibres Design Boolean features makes mold design easy.
This version of Alibre Design also introduces Reference Surfaces. Modeling operations can now use imported free-form surfaces from applications such as Rhino3D to create more complex solid models (figure 5). Here again Alibre Design is catching up with the main mechanical applications, but for a much lower cost users can:
- 1. extrude and sweep features to reference surfaces,
- 2. trim solid bodies with reference surfaces,
- 3. thicken a reference surface into a solid body,
- 4. define reference geometry (lines, arcs, etc.) using reference surfaces, and
- 5. constrain assembly components using reference surfaces.
Internet-based Collaboration and PDMWith Alibre Design 8.0, real-time Internet-based collaboration is built in from the start so there are no add-ons to buy or downloads to install. Users can lead a Team Design session and publish the session to other Alibre Design users. Each user is notified with an invitation to join the session.
Once the team is in place, each member can see what's happening on the leader's system. The leader can pass control of the session to another team member, although only the leader has rights to edit the session files. Markup functionality is available to all team members for real-time collaboration. Alibre Design supports chat, voice-over-IP, and video conferencing (with Windows XP).
Figure 4. Complex 3D sketch tools in Alibre Design 8.0 are used here to model a motorcycle faring.
Peer-to-peer data sharing and collaboration can be structured around user-defined teams and roles. Design data repositories can reside locally or on a secure Web-hosted server. Other users can share both local and server repositories. Access permissions and notification policies can be set for individual files or folders.
Alibre Design supports three levels of data security (user name, password, and data encryption) and offers basic PDM functionality such as check-in/check-out and version history. Users can also store, manage, and access related project documents, including Word and Excel files, models, and drawings.
Alibre recommends that users run Alibre Design 8.0 on at least a Pentium II workstation with 256MB or more RAM with Windows XP Professional or Home Edition/2000 Professional SP2 or later/NT4.0 SP6 or later.
For AutoCAD Users
Increased DepthAlibre Design 8.0 adds some capabilities that I noticed were lacking during my review of Alibre Design 3.1. Most notable are the integrated sheet-metal design tools available with Alibre Design Professional. Alibre Design Professional comes with other add-ons such as ALGOR DesignCheck, MecSoft VisualMill Basic, and Alibre PhotoRender.
The new version of Alibre Design also features increased depth in its modeling tools, such as added sweep controls and lofting with guide curves, although it still lacks some functionality such as complex surface blending.
Though free-form surfacing is still not supported directly, you can now import them from other applications as reference surfaces and use them to drive new features and edits. This will ease the burden on those geometrically complex parts.
Figure 5. Users can import free-form surfaces from other programs, such as this surface model from Rhino3D that was used to trim a solid in Alibre Design 8.0.
Alibre Design makes up for any deficiencies with its excellent integrated Internet-based design collaboration tools. The company has spent a lot of development time from the beginning in this area, more than can be said for some of its competitors.
Alibre Design earns five stars for its excellent collaboration tools, live online support assistant, and many overall improvements.
Especially given the $795 price for the basic version, the product is worth a close look. Highly Recommended.
Don LaCourse (firstname.lastname@example.org) has spent the last 25 years working with and writing about CAD/CAM operations. He is a Cadalyst contributing editor, principal partner of eDocHelp (www.edochelp.com), and founder of www.3DCADTips.com a free, independent, and objective information resource for 3D CAD users, administrators, and managers. Don resides in Cookeville, Tennessee.