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Design Hardware & Software
Slideshow: CAD's New Age of Functionality
9/9/2011

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Built-in finite element analysis
Stress analysis capabilities within Autodesk Inventor allow users to predict how a design will work under real-world conditions before building it. Mini Toolbars bring context-sensitive options directly into the modeling interface, and they will adapt to both the current operation and the current selection.
Stress analysis capabilities within Autodesk Inventor allow users to predict how a design will work under real-world conditions before building it. Mini Toolbars bring context-sensitive options directly into the modeling interface, and they will adapt to both the current operation and the current selection.

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Rob Spiegel
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Visual picture of development
Rob Spiegel   9/9/2011 12:40:42 PM
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Nice slideshow, Beth. As with CAD itself, the pictures tell the story. What hit me at the end was the move to mobility. I suppose this isn't a big change -- just a different way to access the same software. But I'm curious about how widely CAD is used by mobile devices. Is this an option that's available just because it can be, or are mobile CAD applications filling a need and getting traction?

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Visual picture of development
Beth Stackpole   9/9/2011 3:15:12 PM
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Actually mobile is a pretty big new thing for CAD, Rob. I think it's way too early on to tell if the emerging set of mobile design tools fill a need or are gaining traction. There's really only a handful and most deliver viewing and limited markup capabilities--all aimed at engineers or service technicians in the field who need to access 3D models for presentation purposes, design reviews, or potentially in-field service. As far as full-out CAD work goes, I don't think anyone is really thinking a mobile device, be it a smart phone or tablet, will be the preferred platform for that kind of heavy duty, graphics-intensive work.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Visual picture of development
TJ McDermott   9/9/2011 3:28:08 PM
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With a good enough user interface for pointing, clicking, selecting, sizing, etc, I can see using a tablet.  It may not be powerful enough to render photorealistically, but I doubt many people design in that manner.

The failure of tablet engineering will be the need for a third hand.  Two hands would be needed for manipulating the user interface; one needs a third hand to just hold the device.  I see neck-mounted or body-mounted braces in the future.  A easel or kickstand for the tablet won't be enough with the amount of hand interaction; the stand wouldn't hold up.  Flat on the table is a somewhat un-ergonomic position for the tablet.

There's a wide open field for an entrepeneur...

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Visual picture of development
Beth Stackpole   9/12/2011 7:11:56 AM
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You raise an excellent point, TJ. But to me, the idea of using a neck-mounted or body-mounted brace defeats the whole mobility promise of tablets so there's got to be another way. My guess is we'll see more 3D-friendly mouse gestures incorporated into the future generation of tablets as all types of data, not just CAD models, become 3D in nature. And your comments about providing an opening for a forward-thinking entrepreneur with a good idea is right on the money!

CPDick
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Re: Visual picture of development
CPDick   9/12/2011 11:08:19 AM
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I've been using CAD on my laptops (all Macs) for over 10 years. I can't imaging being tied to a desktop, although I do occasionally use one. My CAD program (Vectorworks) won't allow me to run my copy on both machines at once - if it did, then I'd use the desktop more.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Visual picture of development
Beth Stackpole   9/12/2011 12:24:57 PM
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@CPDick: So VectorWorks is a Mac-based CAD program. Didn't think there were that many out there, although AutoCAD just stepped back into the game. What other engineering-related Mac tools do you use?

benmlee2
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benmlee2   9/12/2011 2:12:46 PM
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ipad2 has gyros as well as accelerometer. Pan, tilt and zoom can be accomplished by rotating and moving the tablet. Come to think of it that idea can be patented if it has not already been thought of :)

Speaking of interface, one thing I have not seen much of is 3D as in real 3D and not perspective rendering. Nvidia has a graphics card for games that allow for 3D glass. Have not invested the money to see if it works on CAD software. It should. They are all the same 3D data going into the graphics card.

If you watch experianced CAD users, you will see them constantly rotating the object back and forth. They do that to get a feel for depth. Is similar to why birds move their heads back and forth when they walk to get depth since they only have one eye on each side.

My wife who is an engineering manager, and not into detail CAD work hate it when engineers rotate the object back and forth all the time. She thinks they are trying to hide something from her. Had to tell her is to get a feel for depth.

On the screen, you know height and width. However, you need to know depth at the same time to see if you can fit that great idea in the part. Being able to tell height, width and depth will let you see quickly if there is enough space to put another bolt, crank or some other super gizmo in the design. Having a better feel for how much space you have will improve productivity because you can come up with better ideas faster.

CPDick
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Re: Visual picture of development
CPDick   9/12/2011 3:08:44 PM
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VectorWorks started out as MiniCAD on the Mac around 1985 or 1986, and I started using it around 1988. It is now in both Mac and PC versions. I'm currently using the 2009 version. I skipped the 2010 update, and the early 2011 version didn't work well with some of my previous files, so I didn't buy that either. The 2012 version is either available now or will be soon. I hope to upgrade...

VectorWorks is apparently more widely known in architecture and landscaping, but I use the machine design version. It does all the 3D stuff, including walkthroughs and flyarounds, but I've never found the time to learn them. I'm still working almost exclusively in 2D. I design individual parts and metal fabrication machines of medium complexity (<100 parts), mostly related to honeycomb and other thin metal parts for aerospace.

There are several low-end CAD products for the Mac, but I was not aware that AutoCAD had come out with a Mac version. I will look into it, but the others in our company use SolidWorks and MasterCAM, so I probably won't change, unless SolidWorks comes out with a Mac version.

The only other engineering-related software I commonly use is Numbers (the Apple equivalent of Excel), and Excel itself. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, but since the majority of the people I work with use PCs, I use Excel more than Numbers.

The standard Mac calculator does everything I need in that area.

I'm old enough that I probably won't learn FEA, unless it becomes a standard part of the CAD software within a couple of years...

I like the (so far) freedom from viruses and other malware on the Mac with OSX. The last time I dealt with a virus on a Mac was 1998, in OS9. Although I have a copy of Windows for the Mac, I accidentally erased my hard drive almost two years ago, and have gotten along just fine without it, so never bothered to re-install it.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Visual picture of development
Beth Stackpole   9/12/2011 3:29:14 PM
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I hear you on Mac front. I've been an avid Mac user since 1999 and will never go back. Autodesk just came out with their Mac version. Here's our story on it. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see SolidWorks come out with something Mac supported--if not a specific Mac version of the CAD program, then a cloud offering that could run on Macs. They actually showed something like that at a recent user event.

CPDick
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Re: Visual picture of development
CPDick   9/13/2011 12:15:40 AM
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Wow! Thanks. I don't know how I missed that! They must not have shown it at MacWorld... I will definitely download the free version. The under $900 version is competitive with VectorWorks, but after having used VW for close to 25 years, it would probably be difficult to change to any other CAD software.

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