MCAD Modeling Methods -- Software Strategy: Midrange Modelers II

28 Feb, 2005 By: Sara Ferris

Midrange modelers from IronCAD, think3, VX Corp. and Kubotek offer more options for mechanical designers.

His second installment of Cadalyst's MCAD software strategy series continues to focus on midrange solid modeling products. As noted in the first installment (January 2005), virtually all products available today provide competent core tools for solid and surface creation, assembly modeling, drafting and sheet-metal design.

Rather than a point-by-point review of capabilities, our goal is to look at where each product excels from the perspective of the machine, product and mold design industries. Unlike the three we looked at in January (SolidWorks, Solid Edge and Inventor), the lineup here is developed by privately owned companies, so it's harder to get a handle on such nontechnical factors as the financial stability of the developer.

All of the products here have been around long enough to be able to provide customer references. None of the vendors has an extensive third-party developer corps, so you won't find too many integrated add-ons. Instead, look for such vendors to support standard exchange formats or to develop their own integrated add-ons. Vendors are also often the main resource for training materials and support, though such materials may be available only to customers who purchase maintenance contracts.

For an additional midrange option, see the review of CoCreate's OneSpace Designer.


IronCAD the product originated in 1998, but the technology it was based on appeared a few years earlier in the Trispectives product from 3D/EYE, which was acquired by IronCAD developer Visionary Design Systems. Visionary Design Systems was sidetracked by a competing vision to be a Web company. It changed its name to Alventive, developed collaboration products, and in 2001 spun off IronCAD to focus on development of its CAD product.

 Figure 1. Oden Control AB (<a used IronCAD to create this new gear design."/>
Figure 1. Oden Control AB ( used IronCAD to create this new gear design.

TriSpectives created quite a stir in its day, selling for $500 and offering a host of innovative features that have since made their way into other CAD modelers: integrated rendering and animation tools, the intuitive Triball navigation aid, SmartSnaps, and IntelliShapes, which changed depending how they were positioned.

Today, IronCAD, now at v7, retains its easy-to-use reputation. A well-populated Shapes Catalog contains solids that can be dragged and dropped to build complex shapes. Users can also create solids by extruding from a sketch.

IronCAD incorporates both the ACIS and Parasolid modeling kernels, so users can switch back and forth, even within the same part. This provides valuable flexibility for organizations that must supply models in a prescribed format. IronCAD also comes with translators for IGES, STEP, Pro/ENGINEER Granite and CATIA. It also supports DWG and DXF import and export.

Another difference between IronCAD and others in this class is that it has no separate assembly mode. A single file supports both parts and assemblies. IronCAD also offers direct feature modeling, wherein users can bypass the feature tree and edit any feature directly. This capability is particularly handy with imported models that lack a feature tree.

IronCAD comes with surfacing, rendering, and sheet-metal tools. The company also offers Inovate, a scaled-down version of IronCAD designed to aid collaboration. IronCAD does have a developer network with about 30 partners offering products for analysis, surface modeling, CAM, sheet-metal design and more.

IronCAD offers a user forum and phone and online technical support to customers who purchase an annual support contract. Online tutorials are available in PDF format. The IronCAD Web site offers a 60-day trial version for download.

Think3 thinkdesign

Founded in 1997 and now at v9, thinkdesign uses a proprietary modeling kernel, which think3 says helps it respond faster to user demands. Thinkdesign is aimed at midsized manufacturing firms, mainly in machine design. Last year think3 introduced a separate product, thinkID (formerly known as thinkshape), for industrial design. Both products are complemented by the thinkteam product data management product.

Figure 2. Hydrocontrol, a directional control valve manufacturer based in Bologna, Italy, uses thinkdesign.
Figure 2. Hydrocontrol, a directional control valve manufacturer based in Bologna, Italy, uses thinkdesign.

ThinkID uses the company's GSM (global shape modeling) technology, which enables users to make changes without consulting the history tree. New zone modeling functionality lets you then define a GSM change as a feature that is part of the history tree. The product supports both surface and solid modeling and supplies a full complement of 2D tools. It includes sheet-metal and mold design capabilities.

Think3 has more than 5,000 customers and reported $40 million in revenue for 2004.

Think3 is one of the few developers to use an annual subscription fee model exclusively. The annual fee covers upgrades, support and training resources. Thinkdesign is $1,995 per year, thinkID is $4,500 and thinkteam is $1,295 per year. The Customer Care offerings covered by the annual fee include 24/7 phone and e-mail support, a customizable training portal and on-demand Web seminars.

In recent years think3 has branched beyond product development to offer a variety of consulting services, including a design development team based in India.


VX CAD/CAM began as a modeler developed for Samsung and was released commercially in 1999 by VX Corp. (then known as Varimetrix). It integrates CAD and CAM functionality into one application, which makes it popular with mold makers and others who need to move designs to manufacturing. A complementary strength is its ability to import and heal surface data from other 3D applications, again a draw for those companies that receive models created in different applications.

In This Article
In This Article

VX comes in six different bundles ranging in price from $2,000 to $10,000. The two entry-level bundles are VX Mechanical and VX Modeler. Separate bundles are also available for solid, surfacing and sheet-metal design, mold and die design and milling. VX End-to-End includes the entire set of tools. In addition to integrated CAM tools, VX features reverse-engineering capabilities for processing point-cloud data from 3D scanning devices and CMMs (coordinate measuring machines).

Like think3, VX is built on a proprietary modeling kernel that handles surfaces and solids. Its Morph Shape commands support easy editing and surface modification. The interface is not as intuitive as those of the other programs covered here. Dialog boxes can consume considerable real estate, and it's only in the most recent release that an icon-based history manager appears.

Kubotek KeyCreator

KeyCreator ($3,495) is the next evolution for the CADKEY mechanical design product, among the first to offer 3D capabilities. Now being developed by Kubotek USA, an arm of a Japanese technology company, KeyCreator v4.0 focuses on enhanced interoperability with the addition of translators for SolidWorks and Inventor to existing support for DXF, DWG, Parasolid, SAT, IGES, STEP and others. The data from these files can then be used and modified as though created natively.

Figure 3. Kubotek KeyCreator was used by Spitz (<a to model this design for the Glasgow Science Center. Based in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Spitz designs planetariums and dome structures with more than 1,200 installations worldwide."/>
Figure 3. Kubotek KeyCreator was used by Spitz ( to model this design for the Glasgow Science Center. Based in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, Spitz designs planetariums and dome structures with more than 1,200 installations worldwide.

Though the company's immediate goal is to upgrade CADKEY customers to the KeyCreator product, Kubotek describes its long-term plans for the product as Measure, Model and Machine. It will incorporate its own add-ons for CAM and reverse engineering to provide all the tools needed by small and midsized manufacturers to move from concept to market. Kubotek developed its vision from its experience designing high-end audio equipment, which must continually adjust its output to correspond to a changing view of a physical space. Where conventional CAD focuses on mass production, Kubotek wants to serve mass customized manufacturing needs—for example, custom motorcycles and medical devices such as hearing aids built for individual consumers. Such manufacturers need to integrate real-world input with their software models.

The company claims more than 20,000 customers worldwide. KeyCreator is available in various configurations and sold through a reseller channel. Online support includes a knowledgebase and user forums for registered customers.

Stay Tuned

Next month we look at the big guns of mechanical design, those that start in the midrange and extend up into the high end. These include CATIA, NX and Pro/ENGINEER.

Sara Ferris is Cadalyst's editor-in-chief.

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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