TurboCAD Professional v10.214 Dec, 2004 By: Joe Greco
All-purpose CAD program appeals to the cost-conscious
TurboCAD Professional is one of many applications on the market that strive to be CAD Swiss Army knives. It handles both 2D and 3D as well as nongraphic tasks such as pricing and scheduling. It also provides application-specific tools for mechanical designers, architects, and other users. Its biggest competitors are products such as AutoCAD LT and VectorWorks. All members of this trio carry street prices in the $700-$800 range, so it's fair to compare them.
Figure 1: In previous versions of TurboCAD, the x, y, z axes that appeared on selected items were nothing more than visual references, but now they can be used to constrain movement when dragging. This image also shows the programs user interface with just some of its tools. The Part Tree is on the right.
In April of 2004, I did a fairly in-depth review of TurboCAD 10.0 online for Cadalyst at http://manufacturing.cadalyst.com/turbocad . Rather than reiterate the findings in that article, here I'll focus primarily on the improved aspects of 10.2 and how they compare with the TurboCAD competitors mentioned above.
Interoperability EnhancementsIMSI claims improved STEP and IGES interoperability in v10.2, so I went ahead and tested a few files. A STEP file that gave v10.0 trouble came over much cleaner in this upgrade, but another, more complex file had some edges where tiny sliver surfaces were created. As for IGES files, even fairly simple models still imported with many of these slivers in between the faces. A very complex IGES that wouldn't import at all in v10.0 still looked pretty bad in v10.2, but at least there was something to work with. IMSI has not added options to control model tolerances, which usually help. By comparison, AutoCAD LT doesn't come with IGES or STEP translators. You have to purchase additional software, which I couldn't acquire in time to test. VectorWorks has no way to import STEP files, and models translated via IGES had most of the same problems as TurboCAD's.
Figure 2: This face was deformed by placing 16 blue handles and then selecting six of them (in purple) so that only a portion of the face was affected. Another new capability, the Move Along Normal option, was also employed to help control the edit.
3D Dynamic EditingFor quite some time, clicking on a 3D shape in TurboCAD has automatically exposed drag handles as well as the x, y, and z axes for that selected object. These handles allow the user to dynamically move, scale, and rotate the component without having to select a specific tool (this also works on 2D shapes). Though this dynamic editing is very interactive, visually dragging in this manner usually means a lack of precise control. However, in v10.2, when you click and drag on those aforementioned axis, the object's movement is constrained in that direction, making it easy to move shapes precisely (figure 1).
More control has also been added to the Deform to Point tool introduced in v10.0. The update adds a Move Along Normal option, which facilitates constraining the deformation perpendicular to the face being edited. In addition, there is now more control regarding which areas of the desired face get deformed (figure 2). Only VectorWorks has 3D reshaping tools similar to TurboCAD's, but they require a few more steps to activate.
Figure 3: New editing functionality in TurboCAD displays red and green handles that can be used to edit a cylinder. The top and bottom faces disappeared, forming an open wedge shape. The blue handle on the right was used to resize the shape.
Creating the underlying entities for building 3D components just got a little easier in TurboCAD v10.2. Clicking on the Point tool displays an option in the Inspection Bar that allows this point to be placed in 3D space. It's nice that the TurboCAD developers used the Inspection Bar rather than add another tool to the program's crowded user interface.
According to IMSI, by v11 TurboCAD should have a 3D curve command and the ability to turn a 2D curve into a 3D one by pulling its individual points off-plane. Even before that, v10.5 (which should be available by the time you read this) will add D-Cubed's Constraint Manager to provide 2D constraints.
Figure 4: TurboCAD Professional v10.2 incorporates new Lightworks rendering algorithms that allow it to produce images of lifelike reality. Image courtesy of Richard Brehm.
Other new features planned for v10.5 include a perpendicular snap and an updated Lightworks rendering engine. Architectural design and dimensioning will also be improved.
Part Tree ImprovementsTurboCAD also houses what IMSI calls a historical, editable Part Tree, something its competitors don't have. Under closer examination, it's not truly history based, because features such as 3D fillets and shells can't be reordered. However, it's improved in v10.2.
Turbocad professional 10.2
A good example is the case of an extruded circle. Now it's possible to click on the resulting 3D cylinder shape and select the circle in the Part Tree, which activates the Edit Tool. Then the diameter of the cylinder can be changed by pulling the drag handles that appear. In the case of a cylinder, another pair of handles turns a 360° circle into a wedge shape. Doing this operation explodes the shape (figure 3), but it's still considered a solid that can be Booleaned with another solid.
The Part Tree's editing process is still a little buggy. For instance, sometimes clicking on the Edit Tool does absolutely nothing, but the same click a few seconds later, with no other variables changed, correctly places you in editing mode. Also, when I changed something like the radius of a fillet, the procedure worked only every other time, even when the exact same steps were followed.
Figure 5: Simple fillet test. Most programs should be able to create the two red ones, and some will be able to add the outside orange pair. The criss-crossing blue and green fillets are the hardest.
TurboCAD Professional v10.2 also houses a few miscellaneous enhancements in other areas. One that I like is the ability to assign priorities to the different snaps, helpful if you have several turned on. TurboCAD v10.2 also features rendering enhancements (figure 4) and hatching improvements.
An Application for Professionals?Let me start by saying that, for the price, TurboCAD does an amazing amount of stuff that will certainly satisfy the casual user. However, many casual users may find its user interface overwhelming, while many professional users will soon starting hitting a productivity wall.
For the casual user, TurboCAD's low price is certainly appealing. With that in mind, the program simply has too many tools that clutter the user interface. This wouldn't be so bad if they all did something useful, but parts of the user interface logic are fundamentally flawed.
For instance, four tools create lines tangent to arcs, but they are not necessary because TurboCAD's tangent snap can be evoked to do the same thing. (Technically, because of some limitations that aren't found in other programs, TurboCAD's tangent snap can't handle all of these conditions, but it should.) Three circle and three arc tools could also be eliminated by using the tangent snap. And there are many other examples.
TurboCAD Professional is still missing some basic functionality, even though it's a veteran application. Some may say I shouldn't be too harsh on a program that costs only $895, but an application that uses the word Professional in its name also chooses to be judged as a product that takes itself seriously.
Let's start with a quick example of a 2D limitation. Because it's impossible to run every command, I use a simple test to help determine how deep a 2D program's tools go. I draw two circles of different sizes and see how many fillets out of a possible eight can be created in between them (figure 5). While AutoCAD can at least produce two fillets, and VectorWorks four, TurboCAD does none. Also, TurboCAD is the only one that can't fillet between a line and circle.
This is, of course, not a tell-all test, but it gives an indication of potential issues professional users may face as they delve deeper into the software.
Joe Greco is a freelance CAD writer, consultant, and trainer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org