How Metropolitan Works is helping London designers to innovate

Published 31 August 2010

Posted by Tanya Weaver

Article tagged with: cad, design, 3d printing, rapid prototyping, product development, digital manufacturing

I have known about Metropolitan Works for awhile but was not really clear about what they offered so, a few weeks back I went to East London to find out for myself.

Having spent some time chatting to Marcus Bowerman, centre manager, and Chloe McCloskey, in marketing and communications, about the services on offer they then showed me around the rather impressive facilities. I left thinking that this is truly a hidden gem that more designers need to discover and use.

Part of London Metropolitan University, Metropolitan Works is essentially a creative industries centre that helps London-based architects, designers and manufacturers develop ideas and bring new products to the marketplace through access to knowledge and expertise in digital manufacturing, workshops, advice, courses and exhibitions. For instance, London-based designer Lisa Cheung has made use of the laser cutting machines to create her products (above). Although previously you had to pay to be a member, the good news is that thanks to funding from the European Regional Development Fund, membership is now completely free.

From what I gather from Bowerman and McCloskey, there are a variety of benefits to being a member. First up is the CAD training courses which are held throughout the year and vary from two to five day courses in SolidWorks, Rhino, Pro/Engineer. “We also do taster courses for CAD with a trainer. This is a free day to introduce you to CAD and then if you think its for you, you will hopefully invest the money in doing a full course,” says McCloskey. There are also a number of workshops and regular skills courses on offer in key production areas. “We recently started running courses on self-service 3D printing. So, you work in Rhino, then send your file to the machine and then pick up your 3D print the very next day,” describes Bowerman. They have also recently launched a New Product Development Programme, a six-day course starting this autumn that aims to give professionals the knowledge to bring successful products to market.

Events are also held throughout the year (many of which are free) and there is also business support on offer to help London-based businesses, which includes offering consultancy and advice on digital and traditional production, design development and general business support.


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AutoCAD for the Mac goes official… at last

Published 31 August 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: autodesk, apple, iphone, autocad, ipad, mac

Quirky: The UK PR team sent us this little beauty - no use for drawing CAD models, but part of our five-a-day nonetheless

As most have pointed out, AutoCAD for the Mac has just gone public, following the New York Times ignoring Autodesk’s () embargo on the news until a conference call later today.

To use the “worst kept secret” cliche, this was, the worst kept secret. A beta version has been doing the rounds over the last few months (Architosh covered it a while back), many of us have been asking Autodesk for official word of the application once we’d got hold of it and seen that it was real (and getting the usual “can’t comment” response) and some authors have been feeding us tid-bits here and there.

So, let’s look at the press release and what we know. Firstly, this is the first time in over ten years that AutoCAD’s been on the Mac (I dimly remember using a Mac version at university). It looks to be a native Mac user interface, has had 5,000 beta users, and despite the claim that it “makes available many of the powerful AutoCAD features and functionality”, the word on the street is that there’s a pretty hefty percentage missing in this first release - which for those thinking of switching out their Windows versions at the next upgrade round, you might need to check that the operations and commands you use the most are actually ported across once it ships in Autumn this year.

At the same time, there’s good news for CAD using Rectangle Strokers as Autodesk are also announcing that its extended its offering on the Apple mobile platform devices, with AutoCAD WS Mobile that will allow “AutoCAD users to edit and share AutoCAD files on iPad, iPhone and iPod touch so they can have real-time collaboration even while on the go.” And it looks like it’ll be free when it ships.

Autodesk has been pretty heavy on its Mac-based activities over the last few years. In the design and engineering space, Alias is already on the Mac and there’s SketchBook Pro. In the DCC space, there’s Maya and Mudbox to name but a few, so they’re used to the Apple marketplace and see value in it. When Alias launched, I spoke to Thomas Heermann, senior product line manager for Industrial Design to ask about what their gut feeling for Mac acceptance was and he claim that “based on our data, and talking to a lot of customers over the years, we believe roughly 30% of creative professionals prefer the Mac platform over Windows.

While this is a good thing for those looking to at taking on AutoCAD onto their platform of choice, there has to be some comment on a couple of bits in the press release. Firstly, Amar Hanspal, senior vice president, Autodesk Platform Solutions and Emerging Business has a quote stating that “The release of AutoCAD for Mac marks the return of professional design and engineering software to the Mac platform”.

Umm. No.

The “return of Autodesk professional design and engineering software” maybe but let’s not pretend that this is the first release of CAD software on the mac platform. Many others have been doing it for pretty much the same amount of time that Autodesk has been ignoring it. Ashlar Vellum and Shark 3D have been doing it for a while, Siemens launched NX for the Mac sometimes ago and McNeel’s Rhino is due out of Beta very soon indeed. If you want to talk about AutoCAD-like tools, Nemetschek has had VectorWorks on the Mac platform for a while, as have IMSI with TurboCAD ( and many others are due soon.

Autodesk has a conference call this afternoon and there’s a couple of questions that spring to mind - anyone got any others?

  • If the software isn’t a 1:1 match for Windows AutoCAD, why the high pricing (it costs $3,995)?
  • Any time-line on when the two variants will achieve parity?
  • Are they looking to allow cross platform licensing on the same machine (Allowing you to have both Windows and Mac variants on the same machine).
  • Will the iPhone/iPad versions allow syncing with iTunes and will they allow the viewing of DWG-based attachments from the Mail app?

Oh and I can’t give you any screenshots yet. New York TImes broke the story, Autodesk sent out the press release, but neglected to bother with the supported materials…

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Ripple effect – cool products to look out for at the London Design Festival

Published 20 August 2010

Posted by Tanya Weaver

Article tagged with: simulation, prototype, design, 3d printing, zcorporation

With the London Design Festival coming up next month I decided to have a look at what was happening and what events, exhibition, launches, debates and talks would be worth going along to.

As you can probably judge by the website London is going to a be a buzz of activity from 18 to 26 September with over 200 different events taking place across the capital.

I found some really interesting things that would definitely be worth going along to but something that caught my eye on the London Design Festival’s blog was the Ripple Table and Cloth Pendant Light, which Orchard Studio will be exhibiting at Tent London.

The blog states that the ‘Ripple Table is created by taking a digital simulation of rain, then CNC milling it into hardwood’. This immediately perked my interest and I thought that I better get in touch with Daniel O’Riordan of Orchard Studio and find out a bit more about how he brought his table and lights to life.

O’Riordan started Orchard Studios about ten years ago as an interior design practice. He has also been lecturing at Bath Spa University and whilst teaching students how to make things he started to increasingly use new technology himself. “I am now doing a doctorate at Bath Spa University and from that research I have developed the work that I’ll be showing at Tent. I’m really excited about it,” he says.

Part of his doctorate involves looking at how to get 3D objects off the screen and into the real world and so he began to explore with various technologies particularly CNC machines and 3D printers and looking at how to use these machines, which are traditionally quite prototype based, to produce real objects. For example, the process used to create the Ripple Table involved initially using the Reactor tool in 3D Studio Max, which allows you to digitally simulate natural forces. “I am quite interested in how the rain falls or how the wind blows through the trees and using this application I started looking at how I could emulate water,” explains O’Riordan.

However, he found the results quite clumsy as they did not look very digital. This led him to use a different application called Realflow, a fluids and body dynamics software package, and the results were much more convincing.

Basically what I do is fire a little particle at a water surface and create an animation. Then I play that animation and at a point where I feel visually it looks good, I will stop the animation and then that is exported as a mesh to another software application, which then creates tool paths for the CNC machine,” he describes.

However, making it on the CNC machine is an extremely long process - initially 64 hours on record for constant machining but O’Riordan has now managed to get this down to 18 hours. This may seem rather time consuming and a lot of hard work involved but the price these tables will retail at will make the materials and machining time cost effective. It will retail for £1,500 and a number have already been sold at this price. “For me the process is a secondary thing - people like a story behind the work but in the end what they want is something beautiful and practical,” he says.

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Independent reports: When it all goes wrong, it goes wrong big time.

Published 09 August 2010

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with:

My old mucker and scourge of the blogging world, Deelip Menezes, (he’s not really a scourge, I think he’d just get a kick out of that moniker) posted a link to one of the most ridiculous peices of analysis I’ve ever seen a few moments ago and its got my blood boiling somewhat. The link in question lead to a “Whitepaper” by the Technicom Group. It’s rather grandeous title was:

Comparing the Capabilities of Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2010 Using TechniCom’s Delphi Expert Technique

Of course, for anyone with a passing interest in the world of design technologies, this is going to be of interest. The blurb on the CADPortal web-site (technicom’s own portal) read as follows:

TechniCom compared 15 functional areas of Autodesk Inventor Professional 2011 versus SolidWorks Premium 2010 using a technique called Delphi Expert Analysis. We compared 15 major functional areas using a questionnaire with 161 functional questions. Both products were rated on each question by a team of four experts for each software product who rated how well each product performed for that functional question. TechniCom’s analysts independently selected the questions. In my estimation, the functional questions do not favor any specific vendor or product. Quite frankly, I was astounded by the results. Inventor rated higher than SolidWorks in every one of the fifteen categories. This was completely unexpected! Read the paper for more details.

Of course, written in first person, the quote is directly attributable to the report’s author, Ray Kuurland, a well known “independent analyst” and the chap that heads up Technicom.

Digging into the PDF its quite shocking to find that an attempt has been made to conduct a comparison of SolidWorks against Inventor - specifically, using Inventor Professional 2011 and SolidWorks Premium 2010 - no add-ons, no third parties, just straight vanilla software. In more specifics, “The Autodesk software considered includes: Inventor 2011 Professional Suite with Inventor Fusion, Autodesk Vault for Workgroups, AutoCAD Electrical, Inventor Publisher, and Showcase.” while “The SolidWorks Software considered includes: SolidWorks 2010 Premium, SolidWorks Workgroup PDM, SolidWorks PhotoView 360, and 3DVIA.

All the way through the report, the point that the results weren’t skewed in favour of Autodesk. Facts are that Autodesk sponsored the report so it was always going to go one way. Would Autodesk sponsor a report of this nature, involving “experts” in each system and a decent amount of funding, have come out with any other conclusion? no. Of course it wouldn’t.

The questions involved and the areas they target are clearly leading to the require conclusion. The giveaway is the inclusion of BIM interoperability. SolidWorks doesn’t have a formalised offering in the BIM space) while Autodesk is perhaps the dominant player with AutoCAD and Revit. But elsewhere, there are other dodgy questions. Inventor Fusion is included, but this isn’t a shipping product. There’s also some inaccuracies from what I can see. The report also looks into Design Automation, stating that “Autodesk’s use of iLogic allows a leading position over SolidWorks in this functional area. One SolidWorks expert noted, “SolidWorks requires Excel and/or the use of a hard-to-use design table.” Inventor has a much better, built-in solution for rules based modelling.” Frankly, the “expert” in question needs to look into the DriveWorksXpress add-in that’s now a standard part of core SolidWorks and has been for two or three years and it’s a much better competitor to iLogic - it may not have fully met the criteria, but it should have been part of the investigation.

At the end of the white paper, there’s the inevitable cop out:

Given the complexity of the analysis and its broad scope, what can a reader conclude? Importantly, readers need to understand that this report provides a glimpse of certain expert opinions. While this was a small group considering that both products have hundreds of thousands of installations, we believe that the results are valid in assessing overall capabilities. Given that the results are valid, we conclude that Inventor Professional has reached and exceeded SolidWorks Premium functionality in most of the areas we studied. We believe that this is the case both because Inventor has neatly consolidated many of its acquired technologies into the Inventor product line and that Autodesk continues to aggressively pursue and incorporate new technologies. Yet, neither product is perfect; there are opportunities for both products to improve in many areas.

So with that in mind, what’s the point of conducting this type of “independent evaluation”? Is it to show that Inventor is exceeding SolidWorks in 15 areas? is it to show that people evaluating 3D CAD should consider, as the report suggests, both systems? Anyone going through that process will do due dilligence as well as adding in Ease of Use and Cost, both of which have purposefully been left out of the process - which in itself is completely baffling.

Both systems excel at what they do. Each has faults and each has advantages. How granular should you make these things? Inventor sucks at creating extruded to offset surface geometry. Does it lose points for that? SolidWorks does it more efficiently and more effectively. SolidWorks on the other hand, has a slightly more confusing user interface unless you’re experienced with it. Does it in turn loose points for that? No.

All in all, this type of report is funded to stir things up, but those that are intelligent will read the “report” and dismiss it for what its worth. Which is, I’ll be frank, very little indeed.

Update: Ray Kuurland posted a blog entry talking about the background to the project on his blog at - and I think Ray’s made a good few points and some of the background is interesting particularly, for me at least, those categories that weren’t included in the survey and comparison work.

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Bright spark - would you be interested in creating the London 2012 Olympic torch?

Published 06 August 2010

Posted by Tanya Weaver

Article tagged with: engineering, design, manufacturing, product design, design competition, olympics

I can’t believe that London 2012 is just two years away. I’m already excited and I constantly keep a close eye on the progress of the build, especially Zaha Hadid’s Aquatic Centre and the Olympic stadium (above). I have already signed up to be one of the first to hear news about tickets, which go on sale next summer.

However, the other day it got me thinking about what role UK product and industrial designers are playing in the Olympics. What products are in design and development at the moment which are specific for London 2012? I haven’t really come across anything (so please email me if you are involved as I would love to know) until I saw the Design Council’s August 2010 edition of Pinged yesterday, which included a competition especially targeted at UK designers to create the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic torches. When I asked the Design Council for a comment yesterday David Godber, its deputy chief executive, had this to say: “This is a great opportunity for design - a global showcase for design talent. We’re delighted that LOCOG [the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games] asked us to help the design industry rise to that challenge.”

So, LOCOG, in partnership with the Design Council, are inviting top product and industrial designers as well as engineers and manufacturers to register their interest via the CompeteFor website in creating what will become one of the key visual icons of London 2012. At least 8,000 Olympic torches will be required to enable torchbearers to carry the Olympic flame the length and breadth of the UK during the 70 day Olympic Torch Relay. Designing and developing both the Olympic and Paralympic torches as well as lanterns, mini cauldrons and other related products for both torch relays are also part of the three separate briefs for design, engineering and manufacture.

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Bike, bus, taxi and cable car - the greenest ways to get round the city

Published 03 August 2010

Posted by Tanya Weaver

Article tagged with: design, olympics, bikes, transport, fuel cell, hydrogen

I was in London on Friday and stumbled across the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme whilst walking from Euston Square towards Covent Garden. Not living in the capital, this line-up up of about 20 or so identical bicycles took me quite by surprise and I immediately took a photo (above). When I googled it later I soon realised that it has been in discussion for quite some time but Friday was the official launch date. According to Transport for London, more than 14,250 journeys were made this weekend alone and over 21,000 members have now signed up to join the scheme. I think it’s a great idea - get people out of the sweaty tubes and into the open air (although how fresh the air is in the centre of London is negligible).

The scheme is intended for short journeys - essentially, help yourself to a bike from a docking station, ride it where you like, then return it to another station ready for the next person. Although the weekend posed a few teething problems in terms of software and technical issues, ultimately it was a success and London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson, had this to say: “Just three days into our cycle hire scheme we are seeing Londoners embracing the freedom of pedal power and are signing up in their droves. With every new day, these gleaming machines are transforming our streets and are putting us well on our way to becoming the best big cycling city in the world.” Once the scheme is fully installed, 6,000 cycles will be available at 400 locations across Zone 1.

Other green transport initiatives recently launched in the capital include the New Bus for London. Based on the much-loved red Routemaster, this new design will use the greenest hybrid technology making it 15 per cent more fuel efficient than existing hybrid buses. Using lightweight materials and incorporating interesting features, the design certainly looks rather futuristic. In fact, Wrightbus and Transport for London have been working with renowned design agency Heatherwick Studio as a collaborative design partner taking the lead on the styling of the bus to support Wrightbus in the design and development process. Wrightbus engineers are currently working on a static mock-up of the bus to be complete later this year with the first prototype to be delivered late next year, in time for them to enter service from early 2012. As Johnson said when the design was unveiled, “This iconic new part of our transport system is not only beautiful, but also has a green heart beating beneath its stylish, swooshing exterior.”


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