Event report: National Manufacturing Week 2006, pt. 2

28 Mar, 2006

Products on display include tools for document security, a collaborative modeler and a geometric search engine.

As promised yesterday, here are highlights from the expo floor at National Manufacturing Week 2006. Next year's event will be held from March 12-15 at the Rosemont location. We'll start with the software that may also prove attractive to readers outside the manufacturing realm, including a document security tool and a geometric search engine.

ISeek's 3D geometric search engine searches drawings for geometry matches. The Visual Navigator presents a bubble view of all a company's CAD files, clustered according to likeness, which users can navigate to find what they're looking for. Another option is to load or sketch a model that resembles what you're looking for. The goal, according to ISeek founder and president Abir Qamhiyah, is to provide a better handle on a company's CAD drawings to help eliminate redundant design work and shorten the design cycle.

Caligari founder and CEO Roman Ormandy showed me the latest version of Truespace ($595), a 3D modeling and animation tool that has traditionally appealed to a wide range of illustrators, architects and designers. New in this release are real-time collaboration capabilities that allow multiple users to participate in a single hosted modeling session. A link area lets users add behaviors to models without having to write a script-they simply attach a script object. TrueSpace exports IGES, STEP and DWF files, and a free 3D viewer is available for distributing creations. The program provides a full complement of modeling tools, including subdivision surfaces, NURBS, sweeps, lofts, Boolean operations, chamfers, fillets and more. Animation tools include a key-frame editor and nonlinear animation editor. Caligari now offers three photorealistic rendering options: LightWorks, Lightworks, VirtuaLight and V-Ray (sold separately for $299).

Thomas.Net continues to offer CD-ROM versions of its free PartSpec, PlantSpec and CAD Blocks part catalogs, mainly for military contractors and other companies with restricted Internet access. The download site records 40,000 part downloads a month.

Availl makes software that facilitates file sharing among dispersed offices by presenting them with a real-time mirror of all files, regardless of location. The typical customer has fewer than 10 locations, though one is using Availl to connect 80 sites. There's no limit on file size, number of xrefs, or sites. The company says its customer base is split between manufacturing and architectural firms.

Pinion Software specializes in data security tools and sees a great deal of opportunity in the manufacturing market, especially with the rise in outsourcing. The company announced Desktop Packager ($299), a product designed for individual users. It provides security features for five file types: DWFs, eDrawings, Word, PDF and TIF. For such documents, users can prevent editing, assign a password, control printing rights and set an expiration date or window of time in which the document is viewable.

A workgroup product is also available in the form of a five-user license ($4,995). That product supports a larger selection of formats, which you can find listed at the Pinion Web site. For a sampling of Pinion's security capabilities, check out its free AutoShred DWF utility, which prevents recipients from editing, cutting, copying and making screen captures. A similar tool for eDrawings is available through, and AutoShred is also available for Word and PDF files.

Rulestream demonstrated a new .NET-based release of its rules-based product configuration software. Basically, the software encodes design rules that govern a manufacturing firm's engineered-to-order parts so that drawings and bills of materials can be automatically generated given a set of customer requirements. A company might use it to create tools for its sales engineers, for example, or to automate work done by its design engineers. One customer found that with Rulestream, it can create and build its products in the time it takes competitors to generate their quotes. The cost varies, with $60,000-$70,000 typical for a workgroup setup.

Proficiency wants to be known for more than simply feature-based CAD model exchange. Its goal is to serve as the engineering data hub for manufacturers, collecting all data and sharing it in the format required, whether a full-featured model or a transfer format such as JT, STEP or IGES. Its Universal Product Representation supports Pro/ENGINEER, CATIA V4 and V5, UGS NX and I-DEAS.

The star of the hardware side of the show were rapid prototyping systems, or 3D printers. 3D Systems showed its InVision 3D printer which bears the remarkable price tag of $14,900. The system builds up parts by laying down thin sheets of thermoplastic and laminating those areas where the part should be. The only postprocessing required is breaking away the nonpart sections. The machine can produce parts with cavities. Materials come in a kit that sells for $350, and price per part is around $10-$15.

Z Corp. appeared on its own and in the booth of parent company Contex. The ZPrinter 310 Plus ($19,900) works with a range of colored materials. It builds parts using a powder layer followed by an inkjet print head that binds the powder in the cross-section of the part.

Stratasys is fast becoming the rapid prototyping superstore. In addition to its own FDM (fused deposition modeling) systems, it now carries the Objet PolyJet line. The new Objet 500V offers a bigger build area: 1.5' x 1.5' x 20". It provides the option to create parts at double the speed, but at the cost of reducing resolution. The Objet 350 now supports Tango, a rubber-like material for creating flexible parts.

Stratasys also sells the Arcam metal system in the United States. Unlike other metal prototyping systems, the Arcam process produces a solid part. It uses an electron beam (which reaches half the speed of light) to melt titanium powder to build up parts.

For those not ready to commit to an RP system, XPress3D is an online service that provides two- to four-day turnaround on orders. The service is accessible via the SolidWorks menu and plans to add metal part creation capabilities next month. XPress3D customers are asking for faster turnaround, larger quantities and bigger parts.