IronCAD v10 (Cadalyst Labs Review)31 Jan, 2008 By: IDSA ,Mike Hudspeth
3D modeling software meets customers' needs by being able to do it all.
In the world of 3D modeling, as in other fields, there seems to be many camps. The fully parametric camp cannot feel confident unless everything is quantified with a number or a parameter. The direct modeling camp really doesn't care about the numbers as long as the form is right. And even within these camps, there are distinctions. People in the parametric camp pair off based on modeling kernel. Some like Parasolid, and others go for ACIS. Each camp takes a slightly different approach to what they do, and each is adamant in their distinction. So what's a software developer to do to win customers over to its ranks? Well, it could try what IronCAD is trying — do it all!
IronCAD v10 is a multikernel modeler. It uses both Parasolid and ACIS. The interesting thing about that is how it uses the two kernels. Users can start out with one or the other selected as the default modeling kernel, then if IronCAD v10 sees a situation in which the other kernel will have better results, it will switch over for the operation in question. When it's done it will switch back to the default kernel. It's all automatic and in the background. That means users don't have to worry about what's going on. They can just model away happily! And if users get into situations where neither kernel is giving the desired results, they can go to direct edit mode and take care of it.
IronCAD v10 has an updated user interface that is styled much more like Windows XP (figure 1). The interface supports Windows XP themes. (That means the Star Trek fans can have our LCARS look! If you have to ask what that is, you probably don't want it.) And when users arrive at the look and feel they want in their desktop, they can save it to an XML file and share it with other users. I can definitely see some corporate standards sprouting here.
Figure 1. IronCAD v10 has a new user interface that is very Windows XP–like.
The software has dual-monitor support for the catalog, scene, and property browsers, allowing users to work on one monitor and search on another. (I wonder if you could hook up one of those huge video walls like you see at Best Buy. I may have to find out.)
IronCAD v10 has some very impressive and fast real-time rendering courtesy of HOOPS 3D v15 by Tech Soft 3D. The data loads in the light mode using multiple threads and HOOPS data, which provide enhanced performance in rotation because of the data culling. When zoomed out so that the features on the model or assembly are so small they aren't visible (or maybe they are inside or behind the model), they can be excluded from the displayed data based on pixel size (number of pixels). That gets you going quicker.
One of the niceties of IronCAD has always been that designers can drag and drop geometry to apply it to a model. IronCAD v10 comes with an entire catalog of shapes. These catalog shapes aren't just dumb primitives either. They have sketches embedded in them that users can change as they please. They can even build their own catalogs.
I like the new Smart Constraints. They basically automate some of the tedium of constraining sketches. If you want to add a fillet, for example, Smart Constraints figures out what information you are going to need and asks you for it. It eliminates the process of creating all the tangents and radius constraints yourself by doing it for you.
Also new to v10 sketching is Over/Under/Fully Defined Status. With this function, green geometry is fully defined, red geometry is overdefined, and so forth. It even supports geometry configurations (similar to what you might find in SolidWorks).
One of the really nice things about IronCAD v10 is the single-scene environment. It provides the ability to do pretty much anything within the same file. When users open IronCAD files, they might find a part, an assembly, or even a drawing. Each file can be anything. That means you only have two file formats — scene and drawing — to keep track of. Some may not like that, but I do.
Another thing I like about IronCAD is the Tri-Ball (figure 2). It is a marvelous thing indeed. You can rotate, zoom, and resize just by activating the Tri-Ball and pulling. It works on individual features as well as assemblies and just about anything else. With the 3D helix, users can build any kind of thread they can imagine because IronCAD v10 lets them sketch their own profiles and sweep them along a designated helix.
Figure 2. The IronCAD Tri-Ball allows you to manipulate objects in just about any way imaginable. Push, pull, rotate, and even resize.
And speaking of threads, how many times have you had to go through the trouble of modeling actual threads because someone asked you for a pretty picture? With IronCAD v10 that's a thing of the past. All you need to do is specify threads, and IronCAD v10 will apply bitmap threads (figure 3)! Not only will it save modeling time, it will translate into faster performance after the transition to an assembly as well.
Figure 3. How many times have you wanted to show threads but couldn t because of poor hardware performance? Not anymore!
And speaking of assemblies, IronCAD v10 can handle larger assembly data sets than ever before. IronCAD says its research indicates that 10,000 components and fewer are approximately average for their users, but that it's not unusual for customers to reach 30,000–40,000 components.
Collision Detection is a new feature of the assemblies module, but it will work on parts, assemblies, or combinations of both. When a designer has properly constrained an assembly, it will move through the complete intended range of motion. If any collisions occur for any reason, all components, or only those selected, will highlight and make a sound. How cute is that?
One of the peculiarities of IronCAD is that when you place views on your drawing, it actually creates lines and arcs to represent those views. That's right, it actually creates 2D geometry on the drawing when you add views. The primary advantage to this function is that you don't have to load the model to make drafting changes. You also can shade any and all views on the drawing.
Figure 4. Look at the reflections made possible by HDRI. The models take their lighting cues from the information contained within the panoramic background image.
I would have to say the greatest advancement in IronCAD v10 is in the area of graphics. IronCAD has done a lot of work on real-time rendering. It has some pretty high-end capabilities such as depth of field (objects up front are fuzzy when you are focused on something in the back of the view); high dynamic range image (HDRI) where the image and model take their lighting and reflections directly from data stored in the background bitmap (figure 4); procedural shaders, which don't tend to pixelate; and multithreaded rendering, which means users can work as they generate their final renderings.
One User ;s IronCAD Story
With an asking price of $3,495 — which includes rendering, animation, 3D modeling, drafting, and even 3D PDF export — IronCAD v10 is quite a deal. For more information about IronCAD v10, visit www.ironcad.com. Highly Recommended.