Coming up with a short list of winners for our semiannual Editors Wow! awards gets more difficult each go-round. Selection is based primarily on the Wow! factor: Is the product innovative? Does it solve problems creatively? How distinctive is the product compared with others in its market segment? Many of the new or significantly updated products released in the past six months earn points in all these areas. And in most cases we arent able to base our assessment on hands-on experience with the product, though sometimes we can defer a decision until after we send the product off for review.
In the following pages, we also honor Cadalyst All-Stars, picked as outstanding among the products that received five-star Highly Recommended ratings in Cadalyst Labs reviews from July through December.
Real-world, day-to-day experience with a product is the ultimate measure of its worth. Our annual Readers Favorites honors go to those products you pick as most valuable. The 2004 Readers Choice winners will appear in the June issue. Watch the Cadalyst Web site for details on how to nominate and vote for your favorite CAD products. Also check the site regularly to read the latest new hardware and software announcements.
In our November roundup of dual-processor workstations, @Xi Computers Mtower 2P64 scorched our Cadalyst C2001 AutoCAD benchmark test to earn the highest scores ever seen at Cadalyst Labs. It outperformed the nearest competitor by nearly 10%. The price for this powerhouse is $5,799, around midrange for the dual-processor review. This system should also quell any fears about using AMD microprocessorsit incorporates dual AMD Opteron 64-bit 246 chips. It also illustrates that a good workstation is made up not only of quality parts, but also the expertise to select and integrate them to produce top performance.
Cornerstone P1750 220 CRT monitor Reviewed 09.03, p. 25
The Cornerstone P1750 220 CRT monitor earned five-star honors on the strength of its economical priceonly $649and industry-leading five-year warranty coverage. Thats a full two years more than most vendors offer. A nice feature is the ability to select from three brightness modes. Embedded sensors automatically adjust the monitors brightness as it ages so you dont experience any variations. Cornerstone also offers all of its customers free monitor-management tools, including an online monitor calibrator and BestView, which lets you adjust the size of your icons and toolbars so you can see them when youre running at a higher resolution.
Autodesk AutoCAD Mechanical 2004 Reviewed 09.03, p. 34
Though most vendors are focusing their development efforts and marketing pitches on 3D design, Autodesk earns a nod for acknowledging that for many mechanical design applications, 2D works just fine. AutoCAD Mechanical 2004 ($4,195) implements new features above and beyond those found in AutoCAD 2004. Particularly noteworthy is mechanical structure, which lets you organize geometry into reusable components using a tree format. The mechanical structure browser is similar to the feature trees found in 3D modeling applications. Mechanical design tasks are made easier through standard parts libraries, mechanical line objects, and the ability to perform simple FEA calculations. Autodesk also recently introduced AutoCAD Electrical, a version of AutoCAD for electrical controls design, another task best done in 2D.
UGS PLM Solutions Unigraphics NX 2 Reviewed 08.03, p. 36
The latest version of a long-lived, comprehensive CAD/CAM/CAE/PLM solution, Unigraphics NX 2 is a key step forward in the process of merging Unigraphics with the I-deas product, also developed by UGS PLM Solutions (formerly known as EDS PLM Solutions). The streamlined user interface features more intuitive, easier-to-use tools. In addition to basic modeling, Unigraphics NX handles high-level tasks such as knowledge-driven automation, digital simulation, and system-based modeling. These capabilities put Unigraphics in a class with few competitors, notes reviewer Mark Huxley. Such power comes with a corresponding price tag (bundles range from $7,995 to $25,000).
Haestad Methods GISConnect
GIS Connect from Haestad Methods should appeal to organizations that use both CAD and GIS softwareit links AutoCAD with ESRIs ArcGIS products. You can use AutoCAD to access GIS information contained in ArcGIS geodatabases and shape files. You can create, edit, and view ArcGIS data, filter data spatially or through attribute queries, map blocks and attributes to GIS point data, and more. There are limitations in this initial version. For example, it supports only points, lines, and polygons. Still, its an easy and inexpensive ($495) way to bridge the CAD and GIS worlds.
Proficiency Collaboration Gateway 3.0 Proficiencys Collaboration Gateway 3.0 adds many welcome features that further streamline the transfer of model and feature data from one CAD system to another. It currently supports exchange among CATIA V4 and V5, Pro/ENGINEER, Unigraphics, and I-deas. Associative support for external references retains the external link rather than embedding the data in every referenced part. Incremental data exchange will appeal to those who send updated assemblies back and forthit processes only those parts that change, then automatically incorporates them into the previous version of the assembly. Centerlines, closed sections, and copied groups are now supported as well.
3ds max 6
With 3ds max 6, Discreet acknowledges that the product remains popular for architectural design visualization. Many new features cater specifically to this market, in particular support for VIZ Render DRF files and enhanced DWG support. 3ds max 6s layer management system resembles that found in other Autodesk products. There you control rendering and selectability. And good news for those who worried that this new version of 3ds max spells the end for Autodesk VIZAutodesk announced plans to ship a new version of that product in the first half of 2004.
Océ TCS400 printer/scanner/copier
Océs TCS400 integrated large-format color print, copy, and scan system cuts down on headaches caused by trying to link together products from different vendors. Beyond the hardware, Océs Power Logic Controller processes the next file in line while the printer processes the current one. The TCS400 is suited to high-volume color printing needs, especially those that involve large file sizes.
Objet Eden330 rapid prototyping system Objet Geometries new Eden330 rapid prototyping system achieves extremely fine resolution16 micronsfor its horizontal layers, enabling it to build walls as thin as 0.024" (0.6mm). Build size is 13.4" × 13" × 7.9". Photopolymer resin is loaded via sealed cartridges, and support material is removed easily by a water jet.
Adobe PDF format
Instead of picking a specific product, we decided to salute the PDF format in general because of its growing popularity as a format for exchanging and archiving engineering drawings. Witness the many PDF-generating add-ons for CAD software from small vendors such as Bluebeam Software, CADzation, and others. Theres also the new Adobe Acrobat 6 Professional, aimed at engineering users with such features as layer support and measurement tools. And Adobe and Bentley recently announced an agreement to further develop the PDF specification to suit the needs of the AEC project lifecycle, perhaps through a dedicated subset similar to the PDF/X format for publishing and the PDF/A for government-regulated archiving purposes.
Avatech Proof Positive
Proof Positive ($995) from Avatech Solutions tests Autodesk Inventor models, parts, and assemblies to make sure they conform to good modeling practices. You can test against several different standards files and set the severity level of failures. Reviewer Bill Fane says that the product can help all Inventor users learn good modeling practices, and CAD managers will find it helpful to ensure that outgoing files are healthy and that incoming ones contain no surprises.
ArchVision RPC format
The RPC (rich photorealistic content) format, developed by ArchVision and implemented in an assortment of model libraries and plug-ins, dramatically cuts the polygon count of rendered images. As the camera moves through the scene, the RPC plug-in synthesizes image data so the models appear to be 3D. The benefits are faster render times and smaller file sizes, with no sacrifice in image quality. ArchVision libraries include trees, plants, people, and vehicles. Worth special mention is the Mass Populate tool in the RPC 3 plug-in for 3ds max and Autodesk VIZ, which lets you place hundreds of individual RPCs within a sceneperfect for filling up a parking lot.
Informative Graphics ModelPress
For a free tool, ModelPress 4.0 from Informative Graphics provides an impressive number of features that help with transfer of 3D models via the Internet. ModelPress has two parts. You use the free Publisher to convert your CAD models into 3DF format. As the name suggests, Informative Graphics intends it to be PDF for 3D models, a format for secure electronic distribution. You can encrypt 3DF files, add password protection, set an expiration date, and disable printing or copying. You can also hide interior details. Recipients view the 3DF file using the free Viewer tool. Supported formats include 3ds max, 3D AutoCAD, Inventor, IGES, Solid Edge, SolidWorks, ACIS, STEP, STL, VDA, VRML, and XGL/ZGL.
Delphi Horizontal Modeling
This ones not so much a product as a process designed to help you squeeze savings out of your existing CAD products. Delphi Technologies hopes to commercialize CAD design processes developed at its Steering Manufacturing Development Center, processes that helped it achieve productivity gains of as much as 70%. The first two methodologies are Horizontal Modeling and Digital Process Design. Horizontal Modeling does away with feature dependencies and vertical trees. Instead, features are positioned based on global references, making it much easier to edit models. Digital Process Design uses the horizontal models to generate master process models and associated sheets. Cadpo offers three-day training sessions ($1,500) for Unigraphics and CATIA, though the processes should work with any CAD software.
@Last Software Sketchup
@Last Software at last released the next version of its Sketchup product for 3D conceptual design. A perennial favorite because of its intuitive approach to drawing, Sketchup works well with tablets and Tablet PCs, though they are not required. Topping the list of new features are annotation and dimension capabilities to help relate your concepts to the real world. Dimension strings are dynamic, and change as your drawing changes. Other new capabilities include curved faces, soft edges, and material transparency.