August 17, 1998 Design News
SOFTWARE LAB Reviews on tools of the trade
Hunter Davidson, Jr.
Northrop Grumman ESSD, Oceanic Systems
Spec box: IronCAD 1.3
IronCAD is a mid-range, ACIS-based CAD system,
with an innovative, intuitive user interface.
It requires at least a Pentium processor with
64 Mbytes of RAM and 60 Mbytes of hard disk
space and runs on Windows 95 or NT.
List Price: $3,995
Visionary Design Systems Inc., 2790
Walsh Ave., Santa Clara, CA 95051; Tel: (800)
339-7304. Product Code 4404
A similar product: Mechanical
Desktop--Autodesk Inc., 111 McInnis Pkwy., San
Rafael, CA 94903; Tel: (415) 507-5000. Product
To speak with a company representative call
1-800-828-6344 x011 and enter the product code
The greatest fault I find with most CAD systems is
that functionality has moved far ahead of user interface
quality, and IronCAD makes a step toward curing this
IronCAD uses a multiple document interface, allowing
multiple scenes (model windows) and drawing sheets to
be opened at once. The 3D modeling and 2D drawing interfaces
are easy to access, and switching among them is easy
The modeling environment is tightly bound to the rendering
interface, combining viewing characteristics of both
CAD and visualization software. Model views use a camera
paradigm, which can have benefits if high-quality visual
output is used frequently; however, I found camera setup
and manipulation a bit more awkward than in good visualization
software. With a little improvement in user feedback
and some view-control fine tuning, this approach could
Catalog-based, drag-and-drop construction and grip-based
editing are IronCAD's strongest features. It's possible
to construct a complex model with only minimal menu
access and little or no typing. A variety of editing
modes (assembly, part, feature, face) are easy to access
through mouse picks, making construction and editing
very efficient. I see in IronCAD the potential for a
nearly transparent user interface, allowing the user
to concentrate on design rather than the CAD software.
On the other hand, creation of practically constrained,
dimensionally accurate, parametric models is more difficult
than I'd anticipated.
Mating and alignment cueing is good. IronCAD provides
immediate symbolic and part-image feedback during alignment-command
entry, making results clear before the command is executed.
Symbolic feedback after constraint application is fair.
While there is a clear intent to make construction simple
and intuitive, I experienced some confusion in applying
these construction techniques to assemblies, features,
IronCAD offers a wide variety of tools, including smart
snaps, 3D dimensions, and a general-purpose alignment
tool called the TriBall. I'm left with a feeling of
experimentation, both on VDS's side and my own. I had
hoped for a complete, consistent, and simple set of
tools applicable to sketches, features, and assemblies,
with enough intelligence to adapt transparently to any
construction or editing environment--a least common
denominator which would be both simple and powerful.
I see strong evidence of this purpose, but it doesn't
The rendering tools provide a rich set of material,
lighting, and environment control. Although high-quality
rendering is slow, this process automatically drops
into the background, allowing editing with reduced-quality
shading in the foreground. The high-quality rendering
completes and appears if enough time elapses between
edits. Although this feature reduces the need to change
rendering modes, there doesn't seem to be any overall
gain in rendering time.
The 2D drawing tools offer the capability of master
model design. Drawings are separate files, so, with
care, it's possible for two designers to work on a model
and its drawing concurrently. A similar process should
be possible with parts, promoting lower-level parts
for use in more detailed models without opening the
master part model; however, I was unsuccessful in accomplishing
this with the available documentation.
The documentation is generally tutorial in nature,
and provides a good introduction; however, some of the
more powerful functions need more complete explanation.
Examples tend to be very simple, leaving too much to
the user when extending concepts to more complex circumstances.
The dearth of illustrated complexity, and the lack of
complex sample models make it difficult to learn by
IronCAD is robust for a first release and offers a
tantalizing approach to efficient CAD use. It's a powerful
tool for quick concept modeling, and promises to grow
into as powerful a tool for detailed design.