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VOX brings the noise with Autodesk: Inventor and Showcase assist with new product design

Published 07 February 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: design, autodesk, inventor, visualise, showcase, rock, digital prototyping, vox amplification, guitar amp design

This came in from Autodesk’s rocking PR team while I was out in California, but as long time readers of the blog will know, I can resist a bit of music mixing it up with some righteous 3D technology use. According to the press release, VOX Amplification has started to use Inventor and Showcase to assist with the design of four newly minted guitar amplifiers, the AC30C2 and the AC15C1 Custom Series, as well as the AC15VR and the AC30VR.

The press release states that VOX have been used by numerous influential bands and musicians.* Reality is, if you’re a gear-head, the AC30 brings back memories and smells of vintage tube amps warming up for some abuse, from the Stones to Radiohead and all points in between. If you’ve picked up a guitar, then you’ve probably plugged into or wanted to plug into a VOX amp or stomped on a VOX Wah pedal (as Hendrix did) at some point.  So let’s look at the details.

Dave Clarke, product development manager, VOX’s UK-based R&D centre said “In today’s economic climate, we need to react fast to market trends. Creating digital prototypes with Inventor software and using Showcase for 3D visualization reduces costs and cuts development time in half. Digital prototypes help save money by reducing the need for more costly physical prototypes. With Showcase, we’re able to make real-time changes to a design and quickly reach a concept that the whole team is happy with. This significantly reduces time to market.

For those that are unfamiliar with Showcase, it’s probably the best kept secret in Autodesk’s Manufacturing solutions division and it combines real-time design evaluation, presentation and photo realistic rendering all in one wicked package.

Design Goals

VOX wanted to maintain the quality and iconic look of its AC30 amplifier, while adding modern design features, improving serviceability and lowering the price point. The result is the new AC30C2 Custom Series. For the more affordable AC15VR and AC30VR amplifiers, it was important to keep manufacturing costs down while maintaining the renowned VOX sound quality. The economical amps also needed a look that distinguished them from the company’s premium Custom Series offering.

Digital Prototyping with Inventor Software

Inventor software was used to help design and digitally prototype the new amplifiers, reducing the need for multiple costly physical prototypes. VOX also developed cost-effective manufacturing processes using Inventor software, enabling the company to achieve target price points. 

We wanted a more accessible price point for the AC30C2 Custom Series, but there was no way we would sacrifice quality,” said Clarke. “Using Inventor for the mechanical design of the Custom Series, we were able to more quickly prototype construction techniques that achieved the best possible quality and value. We did the same thing with the AC15VR and AC30VR amps.”

3D Visualization with Autodesk Showcase Software

VOX used Autodesk Showcase software for real-time 3D visualization, creating highly realistic digital imagery of the new products before they were built. 3D visualization helped VOX to more quickly refine and finalize aesthetic decisions, before physical prototypes were built. 

“The biggest challenge we faced when launching the new AC30 was adding cool features while remaining true to our roots,” said Clarke. “We used Showcase to help make and finalize cosmetic decisions at the earliest possible stage of the design process. Creating near photo-realistic visualizations also helped eliminate the need for small but costly changes further down the line, which saved a lot of time and money. We also used Showcase from the start of the conceptual design phase for the AC15VR and AC30VR amps,” added Clarke. “The software’s real-time visualization capabilities helped us determine the precise differences between the VR Series and the premium Custom Series.

So. Here’s the obligatory music video. Hmm. Could I link up some of the righteous riffing from Brian May’s live shows with Queen? nope. Gallows. London is the Reason from the best album of last year. Crank It.

* They’re also endorsed by The Edge of U2 and Chad Kroeger of Nickleback - and yes. I threw up a wee bit just typing this sentence.

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Forget mobile homes, mobile VR centres are where the action is

Published 02 February 2010

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: vr, virtalis, mobile homes

Most of us have experienced the joys of a mobile home - and the cramped beds and lukewarm baked bean dinners that go hand and hand with them, but a mobile virtual reality centre? What’s all that about?

Well, the UK’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) has just launched MANTRA. No, not a path to spiritual enlightenment, but the MANufacturing Technology TRAnsporter, a specially modified 14 metre long lorry that travels the UK demonstrating the latest manufacturing, machinery and simulation technologies.

The MANTRA lorry, which expands to more than doubles in width to create quite a sizeable VR centre, has been made possible with the help of VR specialist, Virtalis, and features the company’s StereoWorks ActiveWall system. This means stereoscopic 3D viewing with full depth perception and movement tracking for all.

“Transferring industry ready manufacturing solutions to companies as quickly as possible is a vital component to maximising the UK’s manufacturing competitiveness,” says research director of the AMRC, Professor Keith Ridgway. “Using MANTRA and the stereoscopic 3D capabilities of the Virtalis StereoWorks ActiveWall system, we can demonstrate to businesses how VR technology can help achieve a smooth integration of new technologies into production environments.

MANTRA has been designed primarily as a technology demonstration and transfer tool for businesses, but it will also be used to inspire young men and women to become the next generation of engineers, something that is badly needed in the UK. On board the lorry, AMRC engineers will give students the experience of assembling, design reviewing and rehearsing the maintenance of a multi-million pound Rolls-Royce jet engine. That will certainly make a change from beans on toast.

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Alibre price drop becomes permanent - 3D CAD for 99 bucks?

Published 31 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: alibre, sustainable business, low-cost cad, 99 bucks

Well, the world of multiple web-technologies let the cat out of the bag a touch early today. In advance of riding high on the buzz surrounding SolidWorks World (complete speculation on my part by the way), Alibre are gearing up to announce that they’ve axed the price of their products permanently. Matt Lombard posted the news on his DezignStuff blog - apparently a day early and as a result, pretty quickly removed the post. Unfortunately the world of RSS feeds means that the post (below) popped up in my inbox and there’s a few details.

There you go. Alibre’s entry level product is going to be around the $99 mark with, I’d guess, similar reductions in the other product configurations. For me, this raises a huge question. There’s a huge amount of effort required to develop a 3D CAD system and Alibre is, without a doubt, a pretty functionally rich product. But can the business be sustainable when the entry level product is just $99? While it’s an incredible price, you have to wonder how long that can last. Yes, there are upgrades that bring greater functionality, but much of this is licensed technology so there’s a percentage of that revenue that doesn’t appear on Alibre’s balance sheets

So, for me the fundamental question is this.

Should you base your working practices, workflows and processes on the basis of a software product that appears to be unsustainable on a future basis (I’m no MBA so I might be wrong)? Yes, it’s a very cost effective solution, but if it becomes critical to your business in the way that CAD often does, is a short term, low-cost investment the best thing for your business if that key part of your operation is operating on thin ice? I’d love to know what you think…

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SolidWorks World 2010: Back in the saddle again

Published 31 January 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with:

Well, it’s January, that means for those in the SolidWorks Community, it’s jamboree time as the user community gather for the annual gathering of like-minds for SolidWorks World. This year it’s in Anaheim, California - just a short 11 hours from the UK and already the event location is filled up with peeps all abuzz about the event. I’ve been coming to SolidWorks World since it was held in Palm Springs at the arse end of the nineties - missing only one in a rather chilly Boston sometime ago.

The event has grown massively, in proportion with the company’s user community and this year should see 5,000 or so attendees. Remember that includes staff, resellers, partners as well as users (Last night I was told that the Partner Pavilion is particularly strong this year). Looking back it’s always been a highlight of the year’s event line-up. The SolidWorks team are a friendly smart bunch that aren’t afraid to engage and discuss on almost any matter at hand, the users are incredibly welcoming and admirably passionate about what they do and the tools they use and there’s always something interesting going on, whether on stage, in the breakouts or in the bar afterward - the latter really does make it worthwhile. Over the last 11 years, I can think of five things that I would never have witnessed, where it not for this event.

  • Someone* opening the bomb doors beneath a B52, whilst simultaneously standing on them. The phrase “What does this lever do?” will forever now be linked with the sound of squeeky hinges, a short pause, the crunch of high speed impact with gravel and the word “Shit.”
  • Someone* turning up at a hotel reception, 5am in the morning, dripping wet, in their underpants, to get spare room key. Then replying to the question “Do you have any ID sir?” with “Does it look like I have ID?”
  • The delightful irony of seeing a modified golf cart with the words “Rodent Control” on Disney Property.
  • A young man** turning up to interview SolidWorks co-founder Mike Payne, in a wool suit, shirt and tie, in a desert. Mike isn’t the easiest interviewee and it usually ends up HE is asking YOU the questions.

If there’s been a change over the last year or two, it’s how these events are covered in the online world. SolidWorks, more than any other vendor I’ve come across, has taken the blogging world to heart and if you’re interested in what’s going on at the event, what the company is up to and what the ground level vibe is like, then there’s a veritable army of bloggers out there that will be telling you what’s going on. So, if you’re interested, then check some of these fine blogs and fine people and find out for yourself.

SolidSmack ( - Dr. Mings. Enough Said. I’ve not run into Josh yet. My forehead tells me it’s not been headbutted, so it must be true. But it’s coming.

Ricky Jordan ( - Possibly the most polite man on the planet and already up for the week ahead asking about the forthcoming product announcement. My bet. Something that links SolidWorks to it’s parent company Dassault in a stronger manner than ever before. Whether that’s the Catia to SolidWorks data problem being resolved, something involving Enovia V6 (where my bet is placed), a new move by the companies into the AEC space (there’s been rumours of DS/SolidWorks acquiring a structural steel vendor for a while) or maybe Bernard Charles is just coming along for the ride this year.

RockSolid Perspective ( - Jason Raak - another wonderfully polite gentleman and looking at his agenda for the week, an incredibly busy one too.

The SolidWorks Geek - ( For this event, Alex is in his home town but he’s ready to go - at least staying at home means he won’t get charged for ‘accidently’ borrowing the bath robe this time around.

Gabi Jack - ( - Gabi rocks. Simple as that.

Last but not least, there’s the legend that is Jeff’s Tool Shed. ( I ran into Jeff last night and I can’t believe he’s still apologising for last year. Good job there’s not much in the way of shubbery outside this year’s venue.

I’ve missed quite a few out, but there’s an exhaustive list here.

I’m out here and I’ll be reporting on what I find out, but to be honest, I’d rather take it a little easier than these guys, blog about what’s interesting for the wider community of designers and engineers - and my knackered old hands can’t type like these young punks anyway, so I’d be useless at keeping up. There we go.

Like another LA native, Tone Loc said “Let’s do it.”

*Neither of which was me I might add.
**I’ll put my hand up to that one.

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