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PTC schools competiton hits Top Gear

Published 29 January 2009

Posted by Stephen Holmes

Article tagged with: ptc, scalextric, james may

The Scalextric4Schools Slot Car Design Challenge got its official launch this week with Top Gear presenter James May giving his backing to the scheme to get pupils using design and engineering skills in a fun way.

We’ve covered the competition before in an earlier blog, but what was interesting at the actual launch was: A) The level of work the kids at the launch school (the John Kelly Boy’s Technology College in Neasden, London) could work to when given the software; B) The clear grasp James May had of the situation facing Britain’s designers; and C) How genuinely interested Mr May seemed to be in what the kids would be doing, in what was really just another celebrity endorsement for a software company.

When asked what he thought the kids would get from the experience, he enthusiastically replied: “A general understanding of how Scalextric works, which includes some very basic physics, electrical theory, circuits and all that type of thing, but I think also, more importantly, the thing that was always a struggle for us when we were kids in the pre-CAD/CAM, pre-rapid prototyping age, which is a sense of how you can come up with an idea and see it all the way through to being an actual, physical artifact.”

“When I was a lad we were still in an age where you maybe sketched something, and then made an engineering drawing, and then from the engineering drawing and the dimensions on it someone would have to make a pattern maybe if it was to be a cast, so someone would be making something out of wood, or a die out of aluminium. Then you started making the component, and then modify it and then go back because it wasn’t quite right, but in this it’s a continuous process, because the data that makes the drawing is the same data that controls the machine that makes the thing. So it’s a very good way of understanding that process, but also at the end of it you’re making something which is fundamentally quite exciting – it’s a small car that will race around a track.” After all, this is a man who knows at least a little bit about cars on tracks.

Alan Patterson, head of design and technology at the college, where CAD and CAM has a big emphasis on the courses taught there described the event as: “A twenty-first century project in schools.” He shed light on the ability of the students, where although a lot of the students do not speak English as their original first language, they still demonstrate high levels of skills in other areas such as maths and drawing, the fundamentals for design and engineering.

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Dimension uPrint aGoGo

Published 26 January 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: rapid prototyping, prototype, 3d printer, dimension printing, uprint, desktop printing

The Dimension 3D Printing Group (a business unit of Stratasys) has just launched the uPrint Personal 3D printer. The uPrint is priced at EUR 11,999 or $14,900 is available for purchase immediately through Dimension’s reseller channel (personally speaking, D3D loves Laser Lines).

As you can see, uPrint is designed for the desktop (a growing trend these days, with Objet getting their first) requiring only a 635mm x 660mm footprint and featuring an 203mm x 152mm x 152mm build envelope.

There’s a video on the dimension web-site, but they don’t share it, so you’ll have to make do with this one, from a reseller.

As you’d expect, the machine uses Dimensions’ Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) technology using the ABSplus filament: a stronger variant of the standard ABS material (around 40% stronger than standard ABS). The machine also uses the soluble support material that’s been standard on most Dimension/Stratasys machines for some time.

With the release of the uPrint, Dimension’s changing the market. Objet might have got their first with the Alaris30, but Dimension has removed a pretty big price barrier. Let the games commence. I wonder who’s next? Z Corp with a desktop machine (unlikely, because of the nature of the process) or maybe even 3D Systems or Desktop Factory might even consider shipping a products at some point soon, rather than just talking about it.

Oh and did I mention – this thing comes in Green, Red or White. Choo Choo.

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Double Trouble for AutoCAD LT?

Published 22 January 2009

Posted by Stephen Holmes

Article tagged with: autodesk, doublecad

At Autodesk University, huddled away in a casino bar, we got a first looks at a new product from IMSI (the makers of TurboCAD); it was a FREE, as in given away, 2D drawing tool which to all respects was a wannabe clone of AutoCAD LT.

The concept behind it being ‘why pay for LT when you can have this?’ and by the way there is a professional version for about £500. At the time the company was stuck for a name and wanted to call it A/CAD LT, a clever play on AutoCAD LT but there were legal reasons in its usage. Autodesk has been a tad letigious of late, slamming SolidWorks/ Dassault over the use of DWG and yellow boxes on logos, so it was going to be a bit of a punt launching front of the Autodesk legal-team firing squad.

The name was undecided and the launch delayed. Our friend Kenneth Wong at Cadalyst Magazine has just reported that the launch is now set for February and the name that has been chosen is DoubleCAD XT. IMSI have never really won any awards for their naming and this looks like another head scratcher. The concept is that it’s good at drafting and detailing. The Professional version will be called DoubleCAD XT Pro. It supports AutoCAD AEC, Mechanical design and has a plethora of symbols. It’s actually more powerful than LT as it also offers a clever 2D constraints system.

Given the economic climate DoubleCAD is likely to repeat on Autodesk’s digestive system, hitting it in the low cost kidney. Last time anything like this happened it was IntelliCAD, which brought out an AutoCAD DWG clone for a couple of hundred dollars - this didn’t make much headway as it was rushed out and Autodesk countered with the 100% DWG advertising campaign, which reminded customers that DWG files created elsewhere were likely to be a bit crap and possibly corrupt your system or introduce errors. Who knows what mayhem this could end up causing, it could impact manufacturing, products and the harm the general public.

What’s different this time is that DoubleCAD will be free. So even if it’s not all they make out to be, more troublecad, it’s like SketchUp and it didn’t cost you a bean, and that’s cool. Autodesk will either ignore it or go for the DWG jugular again, This is something that the company is doing anyway, trying to trademark the term and stop everyone else from using it.

Should 2D CAD cost anything? Will IMSI ever come up with a decent name for a product? Time will only tell.

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PartBrowser: Immersive 3D-based geometry search

Published 21 January 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: design, manage, partbrowser, part duplication, inventory reduction, data management, lifecycle management, 3d shape search

Webinar is one of my least favorite words. Sure, connecting to a live demo, over the web, VoIP and all that good stuff saves me traveling hours on end for an hour long demo, but its such an ugly term.

Thing is, when you get to see good stuff, I’ll forgive it’s ugliness - which today I did with the distinct pleasure of sitting in on a session with Andrew Sherlock, Managing Director of ShapeSpace, who gave a guided tour of his team’s product, PartBrowser.

The PartBrowser UI - visualising 3D search results, in a way never seen before (at least by me).

PartBrowser is analogous to the Windows Indexing technology that many of us will be familiar with - with two big differences. Firstly, it doesn’t cripple your workstation while you’re indexing files for the first time. Secondly and more importantly, it works with CAD geometry. Yes. It’s a 3D geometry search tool.

The system uses a proprietary technology (developed at the University of Edinburgh) to search for, locate and index 3D geometry files, alongside more standard text-based indexing of text and file properties, then provide you with tools to things with that information.

The system is driven from a very simple user interface, not unlike Windows Explorer. You have a hierarchical view of data sources, local and network drives, as well as folders for favorite searchs and other functionality. there are several use scenarios. at a base level, you can of course, conduct text-string-based searches to find parts using wildcards and all that good stuff. PartBrowser has been configured to understand engineering language. For example: when you use 50x100, the system understands the mean of the x and the results reflect this.

But the really impressive part is how the system displayed the results. Alongside the system list of results, you also have the PartBrowser window. On initial looks, this looks complex, but its not and is incredible immersive.

Essentially, the system categorized the results by the quality of the match to your search string. The PartBrowser window shows you to a series of planes, with a number of parts, slowly rotating on each. The first plane shows you the parts that most closely match, then each subsequent planes behind it show parts that match less closely. Sounds confusing? Think “Good matches at the front, bad ones by matches none the less at the back.” If you select a part, bounding box dimensions are shown on screen and you can drill into that part’s metadata in the window below.

Using a quick 3D sketch part from your workhorse CAD system, you can find parts that are similar, to save you creating new parts, new manufacturing process approval - all manner of rework.

Now, what about searching using Shape. This is, as with all such technology, amazing. you can either start with a basic shape already in the system and find other that match it. Or you can fire up the CAD system and model one quickly - a rough shape will do (PartBrowser currently works with Solid Edge, SolidWorks, SpaceClaim and STL data) then finds parts that match that part’s shape. Again, matches are presented in order of ‘match quality’. Where it gets interesting (and the browser tag comes in), is that you can pick a closer match and further refine your search. Click through the 3D data. Find the part you want, load it into your assembly. Simple as that.

The Duplicates Part function is very handy indeed for finding multiple similar parts - reports can be generated to excel, to track down that inventory double up.

There’s a couple of other functions that would find a use in many organisations, the most immediately obvious of which is the Duplicate Parts search. This finds shapes which match using a very tight tolerance and presents each match pair or more, on a seperate plane. The system works around different alignment and co-ordinate system and gets you a very quick indeed of how much data, how many part numbers are associated to essentially the same part.


PartBrowser - Find duplicate parts in your parts library from Andrew Sherlock on Vimeo.

PartBrowser is at an early stage, and there are other similar technologies on the market (the best known is probably Geolus, that Siemens now own). But what I haven’t seen before is an intuitive way to present those results in a manner that suits a 3D environment. Sure, better use could be made of both color (which might be useful for material classification, owner or status) and fading between the different results planes, but this is a highly impressive product and technology. There’s currently a product for Solid Edge, with others under development, with an active beta program for SolidWorks.

So here’s a question. How do you find pre-existing parts that might be reused. Guess work, text strings - something more sophisticated? I’d love to know. So, hit the comments, please. and the most interesting comment gets a mystery prize. Honest.

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