Sometimes you just need a different tool. No judgment calls about why, you just might for whatever reason need a different tool. I’ve looked at a few CAD tools, and found things that were important improvements over my current tools, and also things that were impossible compromises. After having used mainly one CAD tool for the last 11 years, it can be difficult to be objective about it or alternatives, but I’ll try.
What do you need your CAD tool for? You know, not all CAD tools try to be what SolidWorks tries to be. SolidWorks seems to try to be a one-stop-shop. To some extent it succeeds, but sometimes you might just need specialist tools. For example, I’d say that SW is pretty good for stuff like machine design and sheet metal. It’s great for machined parts. SW certainly has capabilities in complex shapes and plastics, but it is far from ideal for these functions. SolidWorks isn’t great at piping or wiring, either, but it does it. I wouldn’t use it for architecture, but you might make it work.
Anyway, here is a little list of things I put together about a few CAD products. I’m not directly familiar with most of these, and I’m not shilling any products or trying to promote any ultimate solution, just talking about alternatives for various purposes. I encourage people with specific experience with some of these products to share what you like or don’t like about the tool, and what kind of work you think it is best suited for. The categories aren’t meant to be definitive, just to give an indication of where I see the tool fitting or not fitting into what I do. The categories certainly oversimplify things. Don’t get worked up about the categories. (Geez, why am I getting defensive about this already? Premonition?) I’m sure I’ve left something out or miscategorized something, and this is the kind of junk that some people get really upset about, so please, no flame war here. I’m looking for considered opinions, not dogma.
General purpose modeling
Complex surfaces (nurbs)
Digital sculpting (mesh)
Simple concept models
Of these, there are a couple of products that I want to have a closer look at. I’ve used Rhino off and on, but in the next weeks I will try to write about how Rhino can fit into the workflow for a product designer, plastic part designer or complex shape modeling scenario that is somehow tied to SolidWorks.
I obtained a trial license for SolidThinking, a seemingly overlooked piece of software from the Altair company that is involved in some pretty high end software. This looks interesting to me, and could possibly have my type of modeling more squarely in its sights than does SW. Complex surface modeling is at best a niche sideline for SW. For SolidThinking, it appears to be dead center.
Maybe its just the similarity in the names, but Think3 is another product that I get confused with SolidThinking. A recent interview on Novedge rekindled my interest in this product.
Other tools interest me as concept modelers, such as MOI, Shark, and modo. If I had multiple lives to live, I’d love to be a digital sculptor. It’s one of those things that looks like fun, but I’m not sure I could make a living at it.
In conjunction with the digital sculpting is the reverse engineer sofware. Rapidform is one I’ve played with and threatened to do a review of, but have never done it. The connection between digital sculpting and reverse engineering is the point mesh data that both work with. Reverse engineering software enables you to take mesh models from CG/digital sculpting applications and make them into NURBS models compatible with SolidWorks.
modo is hot news these days too because they come from the Luxology company, who is responsible for the PhotoView360 software. I think it is a bit overkill that SolidWorks has sunk so much development resources into rendering, and they have a half complete simple renderer, along with a too-complex, halfway renderer – both about half finished after all of this time of delivering half finished product. It;s like going to my brother’s house. He has 4 construction projects half done. What a mess. Anyway, modo is a newish CG/digital sculpt/mesh modeler, and it looks pretty good.
So you can see I have no end of curiosity, but not near enough time to play with all of this stuff enough to say something useful about it. Any suggestions or favorites from the list for different applications?