MCAD Tech News 2D to 3D #12

9 Mar, 2005

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News

Cadalyst MCAD Tech News:
2D to 3D

#12      March 10, 2005


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The Pull of 3D

Griffin Labs Overcomes Communications Drawbacks by Moving to Alibre Design

A veteran user of Pro/ENGINEER and AutoCAD during his work in corporate mechanical design, Cliff Griffin went with what he knew when he left the corporate world to start his own firm 10 years ago. Griffin Laboratories was a small California-based startup specializing in the design and manufacture of medical devices for speech pathologists. Griffin needed a relatively inexpensive design tool, so he selected AutoCAD LT.

Given his past experience, 2D design with AutoCAD LT was an easy move, and for the most part, a workable design tool. One of the key products designed by Griffin Labs is an electrolarnyx — a device that allows people who've lost the ability to speak to produce understandable sounds with the aid of technology. But 2D design also has its drawbacks, and Griffin continually bumped up against them, especially when it came to supplier communications.

"The biggest problem for our suppliers with a 2D design," says Griffin, "is the time it takes to interpret the drawings. You can have a perfect 2D drawing, but some people will have no idea what it is because of the complexity and the hidden lines, or lack thereof. If your supplier doesn't know in advance exactly what something should look like, it takes quite an analytical mind to extract out of the drawing what's intended."

Making the Move to 3D
One of the ways Griffin Laboratories addressed the 2D communication problem was to bring manufacturing in-house. But he also knew that with recent advances in 3D technology, a move to 3D would speed up his design-to-manufacturing cycle — and improve communications, whether with other outside suppliers or internal members of the design team.

In Griffin's evaluation of 3D software that seemed most suited to the lab's work, two products stood out: SolidWorks and Alibre Design. Taking advantage of Alibre Design's 30-day free trial offer, Griffin himself spent a couple of hours on the included tutorials and then was able to design 10 or so parts within a half hour. He quickly saw that the software could handle all the design tasks at his company with room to spare.

Clear Benefits
Although the products designed and manufactured by Griffin Engineering are not complex assemblies, they nevertheless require efficient design, especially given that many of the parts are machined and manufactured in-house. Alibre Design's clear interface and ease of use has allowed machinists to quickly come up to speed on the product and use it to check profiles and dimensions.

The company also has many legacy drawings and designs from its 10 years of operations. "I was impressed at how efficiently we were able to convert our legacy drawings," says Griffin. Though some of the simple parts were recreated from scratch, Griffin was able to import more complex parts as a profile into Alibre Design. "All I needed to do after that was to dimension it," he says. "Although the conversion was time-consuming, it was worth the effort to have our designs in 3D, where we could assemble them and view them as models.

"In addition, the process of making changes was significantly improved. I no longer have to edit numerous views. Instead, I click on the dimension that needs changing, type in the new value, and I'm done."

Return on Investment
With only about seven months' experience with Alibre Design, Griffin for now equates his ROI mostly with design efficiency and communications clarity between his design team and the machine shop. Within the next several months, however, he will finish up some new product designs that will be machined in-house and his company will have a new perspective on the value of Alibre Design.

"One thing we already appreciate is the frequency of updates to the software," he says. He further notes that the updates are painless, coming automatically through the software's Web interface.

"We consider Alibre Design a good value package," he says. "It does everything we need and more."

Griffin Laboratories

ABOUT this issue
This special edition of MCAD Tech News examines the real-world experiences of manufacturing companies as they move from 2D drafting to 3D modeling. If you have suggestions about companies or issues you'd like to see covered here, please e-mail us at

Arnie Williams, former editor-in-chief of CADENCE magazine, is a freelance author specializing in the CAD industry. E-mail Arnie at

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