MCAD Tech News #54 (July 20, 2001)

19 Jun, 2001

Ashlar Inc. announced a new series of products, called Designer Elements, designed to replace the current Vellum line. The product line includes Graphite, for 2D drafting, and Argon, Xenon, and Cobalt, for various levels of 3D design. There are also products that cover territories that are new to Ashlar, such as Web publishing and file viewing.

For users who require only 2D drafting, Graphite builds upon Vellum's drafting innovations (such as the Drafting Assistant) and features greater ease of use as well as parametric symbols. It has a suggested retail price of $995. Meanwhile, at the same price, Argon leads off the new 3D product line as a tool for users who need advanced 3D functionalities, without history, associativity, or special mechanical design features. However, it does allow for precision input and photorealistic rendering--two capabilities some other products in this price range don't offer.

Ashlar is positioning Xenon as a $2,795 tool for industrial designers. As in the current version of Vellum Solids, users can call up a history on an item (a hole, for instance) and make edits, such as a change in its diameter. There is also full association in Xenon, not only between curves, surfaces, and solids but also between the model and the 2D view that the software automatically creates.

Built on top of Argon and Xenon, Cobalt is a $3,995 package for product designers. Ashlar is stating that the updated version due for release in October will house equation-driven 2D and 3D parametrics and advanced assembly tools, similar to those found in midrange MCAD products, such as SolidWorks, Solid Edge, and Inventor. Cobalt will also have constraint management, associative detail and section views, and production injection molding capabilities.

For the first time, Ashlar will sell a product for 3D Publishing called Neon. The $495 product utilizes 3D data to create models, renderings, and animations, ideal for non-technical users to access via the Web. Finally, the company also announced Share, a program for viewing and printing Ashlar files.

Overall I think the new product line is a good move for the company, the big winners being those users focusing on 3D. With Argon, Ashlar has a product to compete with the likes of Rhino; Argon offers added features, and it supports importing from/exporting to common CAD formats, such as Pro/ENGINEER, ACIS, and Parasolid. Meanwhile, industrial stylists now have a full functioning CAID package in Xenon, without having to pay for MCAD features they may not use. However, for those who do need both industrial and mechanical design capabilities, Cobalt seems to supply many of the features found in midrange packages, along with superior surfacing, and the use of Ashlar's advanced Drafting Assistant technology. For more details, go to

Back to the Top

Autodesk Inventor News

In its brief two-year history, Autodesk Inventor has picked up a lot of ground on the midrange leaders with a series of upgrades that beefed up various components, such as assembly modeling and sheet metal design. However, still lacking are the large number of third-party developers that SolidWorks and Solid Edge can lay claim to.

Perhaps this is starting to change. Last week, a leading developer of document-management software, Synergis Technologies, Inc. (, announced that its Adept software would be available for Inventor in the Fall of this year. It will allow users to track and manage, either over a LAN or the Internet, all types of design-related data saved inside Inventor files. Now this has been followed up with this week's announcement that Immersive Design's ( new release of Interactive Product Animator (IPA) will support Inventor.

IPA is used to demonstrate how a product will be assembled and maintained; it can also develop interactive 3D Web pages in order to communicate those ideas. In addition to working with Inventor, IPA also supports Pro/ENGINEER, Solid Edge, and SolidWorks. The 7.1 update will also include enhancements tailored for those users.

In other Inventor news, the release of the fifth version of this software appears to be just a few months down the road. Some of the highlighted features seem to focus on interoperability as well as a higher degree of automated 2D functions. More on this in the following issues.

Advancements in User Interfaces

This past week, I saw several announcements centering on advanced user-interface products. For starters, SensAble Technologies unveiled FreeForm Version 4.0, the software interface for its PHANTOM force-feedback device that allows designers to create and sculpt models in a natural manner.

To begin with, the curve features in Version 4 have been revamped. For the first time, users can create 3D curves in order to fine tune shapes, and for those building models by creating 2D sketches, curve control is now more precise. FreeForm Version 4 also offers a new offset function, which can be used to shell models. A new product, FreeForm Plus, adds sophisticated shape creation as well as a new deform tool that promises greater editing capability.

While I haven't used this new version, a few months back I tested a PHANTOM device with Version 3 and found the entire system to be ideal for sculpting conceptual designs, due to its natural feel. Version 4 should allow designers to take these concepts even further. For more information, visit

In another announcement involving advanced user interfaces, Fakespace Systems Inc. ( and StereoGraphics Corp. ( announced the availability of a new infrared (IR) transmitter that works with the large-scale visualization systems. Infrared transmitters emit infrared pulses that alternate the electronic shutters on active stereoscopic glasses to synchronize them with alternating left eye/right eye projected images.

Jointly developed by the two companies, the new Extended Range Emitter provides a strong signal, covering an expanded area, for reliable stereo viewing in Fakespace's WorkWall, CAVE and RAVE visualization systems. The device provides an emission range of up to 100-feet, more than three times the current limit.

While none of these devices are cheap, they do provide new ways to interact and visualize 3D models. Hopefully it will just be a matter of time before the price of advanced user-interface devices such as these come down and they become more mainstream in the CAD world.

Back to the Top

Relevant Links:

Fakespace Systems: