First Look Review: Alibre Design Xpress

30 Nov, 2005 By: Patrick Davis Cadalyst

Free Parametric Solid Modeler

Alibre is giving away fully functional copies of Alibre Design Xpress, a light version of its flagship product Alibre Design. Xpress is a parametric modeler for mechanical design and manufacturing that can be used to create solid models, build assemblies and then generate 2D drawings. Xpress is in the same product category as SolidWorks, Mechanical Desktop, Inventor and Solid Edge, but as a free product its toolset is far less sophisticated than those found in the other parametric modelers.

The company originally included banner advertising under the pull-down menus to offset the cost of the free software, but at the end of October, they were removed. The company says enough people are upgrading from the free version to full versions that it doesn't need the extra cash flow.

Add-ons and upgrades are available for a reasonable price. Drawing, Modeling and Assembly extensions cost $199 each, the installation CD is $10 and a data exchange extension is $99. The $79 Learning Kit includes a printed manual and installation CD; $195 buys the Learning Kit and a CD-based video training kit.

 Alibre Design Xpress
Alibre Design Xpress

The modeling interface and workflow are very similar to the interface and workflow of most of the mainstream modelers on the market today. Part-modeling tools include parametric sketching with automatic constraining. Users will find tools to create fillets, bosses, chamfers, sweeps, mirroring and patterns. Alibre Xpress also imports DWG and DXF files. In my testing, I was unable to import a 2004 DWG file, but 2000 DWG files imported with no problems. With v9.0, planned for January 2006, Alibre is upgrading the OpenDWG libraries that handle import and export of DWG and DXF to support DWG 2004 (which theoretically has not changed through DWG 2006). When users register their version of Xpress, they receive the $99 data exchange module, which adds import and export of STEP, IGES and SAT (ACIS) to the basic STL.

Alibre Xpress also supports assembly modeling, with assembly constraints, exploded views and interference checking. It includes measurement tools and a physical property calculator. The main drawback to the assembly module is that it restricts the number of unique parts that can be saved in an assembly.

 Alibre Design s Xpress is a free parametric modeler used to create solid models, build assemblies and then generate 2D drawings.
Alibre Design s Xpress is a free parametric modeler used to create solid models, build assemblies and then generate 2D drawings.

Detailing and 2D drawing are very straightforward and include the automatic generation of 2D drawings of parts and assembly models. Like other products, Xpress supports bidirectional associativity. If changes are made in the model, the drawing updates, and if the drawing is changed, the model updates. There are ISO and ANSI templates and GD&T symbols. The drawing module also supports redline markups, though the tools are very rudimentary.

Xpress is easy to master, especially for users already familiar with other parametric solid modelers. For 2D users interested in transitioning to a parametric modeler, the Help system and tutorials provided are extremely helpful. Though you won't find advanced modeling tools for sheet metal, wire harnesses and the like, the tools provided work amazingly well. I was also impressed with how fast Xpress runs, even on my slowest computer. Keep in mind that this is a free parametric modeler and that the toolset provided is for basic 3D design. As I write finish this review, more than 165,000 people have taken advantage of this incredible offer. Highly Recommended.

Pat Davis currently works for Martin/Martin, a consulting engineering firm based in Kansas City, Missouri. He has written for Cadalyst on and off for the past seven years.