New kids on the block make easy to use CAD

Tom Shelley reports on a new 3D CAD package

The latest 3D CAD package to come to our attention is SpaceClaim, which announced its first product in 2008. It aims to bring CAD to the masses and make easy and straightforward packages for use by engineers that tend not to get involved with 3D modelling.

It turns out the company has come out of the same stable that produced PTC and SolidWorks. And apart from the fact that it is based on the ACIS kernel, SpaceClaim's vice president of Research and Development Danny Dean wrote the original prototype of Pro/Engineer. The CEO is also a former CEO of Mathsoft and to add to this already slightly incestuous relationship with other CAD and CAE companies, it is currently headquartered in 150 Baker Avenue Extension in Concord, Massachusetts, which used to house SolidWorks until they found larger premises on the other side of the street.

Chris Randles, president and CEO of SpaceClaim says: "Our mission is to bring 3D CAD to a different class of user. Particularly the large number of engineers who are either still stuck in 2D, or don't use CAD at all. There are between 15 and 25 million engineers engaged in manufacturing across the world. Yet there are still less than 1million 3D CAD seats, and around 3million 2D seats."

Working in 2D is still a big drawback if the model is to be subjected to finite element or computational fluid dynamics analysis, since these require an initial model in 3D. Everyone agrees that analysis should be undertaken as early as possible in the design process, to reduce the length of iteration loops. John Swanson, the founder of ANSYS, has even gone on record as saying that it should be simulation should actually precede detailed CAD rather than vice versa.

However, while most 3D CAD vendors claim to be user friendly, we find them still to be rather hard to learn. And those that started out simple and straight forward to use, seem to have become more and more complicated.

"SpaceClaim tries to be easier," says Randles. "It is based on direct modelling rather than parametric modelling except this enables you to do almost everything that a parametric CAD package normally does, but without a feature tree. You can either create a model from scratch or import one.
"It will read any file and allow you to manipulate it, using an XML format."

Profiles can be extruded by pulling on a face or pushed down into a solid. Extruded sections can be manipulated to and fro, while pushing in corners creates a chamfer. Hitting the space bar calls up a dimension box allowing a value to be typed in. As well as being able to show dimensions, a star can be clicked on in each dimension label, and that dimension can then be changed.

It is also possible to link these to an external spreadsheet. Formulae can be built into the spreadsheet. Danny Dean has christened the approach, "Post facto parametrics". About the only thing the package does not do that traditional parametric packages do is to work in terms of constraints.

One of the main intentions is to prepare data for FEA and CFD analysis so an important facility is its ability to repair models, using facilities within the 'Prepare' tab to fill in gaps and missing faces. It is also possible to extract a volume for CFD purposes. It integrates with Ansys, Flomerics, Algor and other leading analysis software packages.

The first service pack, which is to be released imminently, includes a 'Midsurface' facility that allows plates to be surface meshed, with single layer meshes above and below this surface. An 'Imprint' facility allows the making of a mesh across a contact area and a 'Beam analysis' facility highlights the structure as a set of beams that can be taken across into an analysis package.

The general appearance is fairly clean, without too much of a superabundance of menus. The base price is £1,895 for a licence and maintenance. UK agent is WhiteSpace Technologies,


* New package aims to ease the path to 3D conceptual design and preparation of models for FEA and CFD analysis

* Dimensions can be typed in, changed, and linked to spreadsheets

Tom Shelley

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