Cadalyst MCAD Tech News #134

1 Dec, 2004 By: Michael Dakan

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News

Solid Performer

New tools in VX CAD/CAM make it an excellent system for conceptual and production design

The only art-to-part CAD/CAM program for the midrange market was upgraded to v10 a few months ago. Like other MCAD products, VX CAD/CAM from VX Corporation offers 3D solid modeling, advanced surfacing tools, sheet metal, and drafting. However, it also integrates commands missing from most other products, such as reverse engineering tools, mold design, and manufacturing capabilities. In this newsletter I'll take a look at the major CAD improvements in this new release. I'll save discussion of its CAM enhancements for a future issue.

Taking a quick look at VX CAD/CAM general features, the VX user interface has not changed — this is both good and bad. The good news is that even though VX is different in appearance from most MCAD programs — in fact, from most Windows applications — it is not difficult to learn. This is thanks to its large, easily understood icons and helpful prompts for every step. And the application is not totally Windows-foreign: Icons for New, Open, Save, and Print are all standard. However, the more you use VX, the more you begin to notice minor issues. For example, operations such as Copy and Paste work differently than expected, there's no standard ability to right-click on a toolbar to display a hidden toolbar, and so on.

New Deformation Tools
VX v10 brings a lot of new drafting, assembly, surfacing, and sheet metal improvements. But from a modeling standpoint, the biggest enhancement is new capabilities for morphing models, so I'll focus on that. This is the first appearance of this type of command in VX CAD/CAM — and it was obviously well planned.

Figure 1. The user interface for the new Morph Shape by Point command features an easy-to-understand dialog box, with many useful options to control final shape.
Morph Shape by Point. VX has developed three well-designed warping tools, each with several powerful options. One, called Morph Shape by Point, features a series of six options, the first of which is Translate Along Direction. The first required input is the initial point on the model you want to move. In the next step you define the direction, which is automatically perpendicular if you accept the default setting. Then a final click defines the height of the deformation (figure 1). If you don't want to visually drag the deformation point, it's easy to key in a value.

Most programs that offer these types of tools, including SolidWorks and thinkdesign, allow this type of point deformation. However, in addition to being able to define the area being influenced, VX allows pinpoint control of how the final shape will look. For instance, you can precisely determine the slope of the protrusion, the bulge amount, and more. With past versions, this protrusion would have taken many more steps because you had to create a 2D profile, perform an extrude operation, add draft, and then place the fillets at the base and top of the protrusion.

In addition to the Translate Along Direction option, the Morph Shape by Point command also allows point-to-point modifications, which is similar, but there's no ability to input a value. There is also a way to force the deformation to follow a curve (almost like a hybrid deform/sweep tool), and two ways to scale when deforming. The scaling capabilities are powerful, but a little harder to control, unlike the other options.

Figure 2. The top of this simple cylinder was dramatically changed in one operation using VX CAD/CAM's new Morph Shape with Curve command.
Morph Shape with Curve. A second new deformation tool is called Morph Shape with Curve. What's nice is that it lets you select an existing edge to be the initial curve, and then you have access to all the same options as the Morph Shape by Point command to move and modify the selected edge as you wish. Just morphing an edge, however, wouldn't be too helpful in most cases, so here's where the Influence option comes into play. By defining an area of influence via a simple slider, VX includes the material around the selected edge in the deformation (figure 2). This results in a lot of power, and a lot of control, for the user.

The third deformation tool is similar to this one, but it morphs an initial curve to a second target curve. These curves could be a predrawn entity or an existing edge. I found this option to be not as powerful as those found in other applications, such as SolidWorks and thinkdesign, which let you define multiple sets of initial and target curves. In addition, picking two edges in VX can produce some interesting results, but the company needs to do a better job controlling the twisting of the new shape.
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All in all, I feel VX has done an excellent job with these new tools. The product, in one release, has come close to catching up to both thinkdesign and SolidWorks in terms of overall capabilities. Wildfire is another application that also offers fairly powerful deformation tools. However, its reliance on a 3D rectangular selection method to determine the all-important area of influence makes certain changes difficult, which is not a problem in the others.

So if you have been looking for a program that handles both solid and surface deformations in an elegant, controlled manner, take a look at VX. When combined with the solid primitives that were also recently added, the new tools help to make VX an excellent system for both conceptual and production design work, in addition to everything else it does.