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Introduction to IronCAD 2012

By Alexander Murray, November 5, 2012

As new technology expands our options in design productivity, so do CAD users strive to work more efficiently and effectively. The modern corporate and societal needs to produce more with less at a faster pace make it necessary for designers to pair up with the right tools for a seamless design process. Usually, we encounter software that satisfies these demands only partially, or else we become plagued with hours of training. This does not solve the problem at hand. As the search for more modern and user-friendly design applications continues, we relinquish hours of productivity.

Figure 1: The user interface of IronCAD

In a quest to find a manageable yet functional modeling program, I had the privilege of trying out IronCAD's Design Collaboration Suite 2012. (See figure 1.) It provided me a hassle-free set up, accessible tools in a modern interface ribbon, and a pre-loaded catalog of 3D IntelliShapes that can be used for base modeling and modified to suit my needs.

It offers the flexibility of creating 2D sketch features that can be incorporated into solid models or extruded from scratch to develop new parts with minimal effort. Having this capability gives designers the freedom to make changes to models by using sketch patterns, IntelliShape objects, or feature tools within the same scene environment, without having to sacrifice too much time and design quality.

(This review covers IronCAD 2012, which is the current release. IronCAD 2013 was due to become available after I completed this review.)

Creating a 3D Model in IronCAD

Approaching a new CAD program for the first time can be an anxious time. Will the software operate within the limited constraint of its program creator, or of a design environment that doesn't respond properly to user activity? Let's dive right into IronCAD and see.

When starting the program for the first time, I had the choice of a 3D scene, a drawing layout, or the CAXA drafting environment. (See figure 2.) This set the tone for my user experience.

Figure 2: Starting a new drawing in IronCAD

Figure 3: Visual effects from 3D scene templates

Figure 4: Using IronCAD's drawing placement features

Figure 5: Importing a 2D drawing into the 3D Scene

IntelliShapes are listed in the catalog browser, and are used to streamline the design process by lending themselves out to be used as base models. (See figure 6.) They are inserted into the 3D scene using drag-and-drop, which provides a flexible process for building and manipulating both simple and complex 3D conceptual models. IntelliShapes can be combined, and effortlessly resized to add depth, cut-outs, and other features specified in a design.

Figure 6: IntelliShapes imported to a 3D scene

For instance, a cylinder can be extruded and cut out of a box shape to create a hole (using the H-designated IntelliShape), or -- inversely -- extruded away to create another feature.

Figure 7: Using the push and pull feature within the IntelliShape

Size adjustments are made with the assistance of push and pull handles that are uniquely embedded within each shape. The handles are conveniently positioned around the objects for length, width, and height adjustments along the X, Y, and Z axis; I could drag the handles or resize with precise values input by me. (See figure 7.)

This dynamic interaction between the object and designer is nothing less than priceless. Push and pull handles not only support shapes from the catalog browser, but they also interact with any 2D sketch extruded to 3D features. (Handles can appear in a second mode in which the box and handles appear on each sketch segment in 3D. This allows users to edit sketch definitions without entering sketch mode).

Additionally, each part in IronCAD contains an anchor point to serve as a reference for every shape and feature incorporated into the working model. The innovative push and pull process, as well as the drag-and-drop interface were developed by IronCAD in the mid-1990s. It is an effective design technique of which that several CAD programs now incorporate variations.

IntelliShapes can also interact with multiple surfaces simultaneously, giving me the ability to cruise across one direction of an objects axis, while setting a depth in another. For enabled precision, I can add an exact measurement to the value display, or use SmartSnap to push the shape to an exact surface edge or midpoint. For the most part, these feature tools are user friendly and don't require a road map to find, which is most helpful.

I must say though, one of the most impressive controls in IronCAD would have to be the TriBall (figure 8).

Figure 8: Accessing the TriBall Positioning tool

Not only does it allow me to reposition IntelliShapes, but it also allowed me to copy, rotate, and orient features to various planes. Having this ability to randomly copy and relocate objects at will gives designers obviously more flexibility. More flexibility engenders greater creativity, thus giving more design control back to we users without constraining our ability to efficiently construct what is needed. (See figure 9.) The TriBall works on many things in IronCAD, such as parts, assemblies, IntelliShapes, face manipulations, and even textures and animations.

Figure 9: Rotating a part feature using the TriBall positioning tool

Some CAD programs are complex to the point that they impair usability, sometimes a result of the ambiguity of the design tools. I can honestly say that IronCAD does not fall into this trap. The process of building and modifying models is straightforward and the completed renderings are of premium quality.

Constructing 3D Models From 2D Sketches

Figure 10: Using the IronCAD sketch tools

IronCAD's 2D sketch and editing tools are just as resourceful as the pre-loaded IntelliShapes. (See figure 10.) Emphasis is placed on creating a sketch profile that will be converted to a 3D model; IronCAD's sketch features led me through each task. I would consider this to be another tool that beneficially streamlines drawing production.

Given the assessable nature of the user interface, there are very few 'guessing games' to impede designers from applying the editing features within this environment. At times, I needed to create parts that have a more specific, yet complex arrangement of attributes. In these cases, a predefined shape could cause me to go through unnecessary sequences during model construction. Of course, when I am in a "I need it right now production environment," the process of pushing and pulling features, no matter how great, may work in my favor. Having access to classic sketch tools shows that IronCAD can deliver an exceptional modeling program with the collaborative support of legacy drafting tools.

I immediately felt at ease using the 2D sketch tools provided. I took advantage of the familiar means to create lines, circles, and rectangular shapes. IronCAD leaves me in full control by providing dynamic editing in the properties window, which works great when setting properties like radius and pattern.

After a few mouse clicks, I could return the newly created sketch to the 3D scene settings and extrude them to the desired height -- a process flow that would satisfy even the most advance design associate. (See figure 11.) Knowing that I could quickly sketch an irregularly shaped profile and have it extruded into a solid model within seconds, placed IronCAD's functionality within the category amongst the top design programs, ones that more than likely are more costly. (Through my experience in using modeling software I have found that extreme pricing of an application doesn't always mean that it will do everything that I need it to do in an efficient manner.) Getting ahead in IronCAD took less time than I would have ever known, and with minimal support.

Figure 11: Constructing a 3D model from a 2D sketch

Importing Sketches From a Drawing

If you are accustomed to using a classic drafting program, then you may want to take advantage of the IronCAD's integrated CAXA 2D Drafting environment. (See figure 12.) It includes all of the common legacy sketch tools used in basic drafting. For example, sketch objects can be created, edited, and dimensioned with ease using arc tools, two-point lines, ellipses, and so on. Lines and circles can be offset to a desired distance with the assistance of the command line. The environmental styles of text, dimensions, and units can be set to fit my preferences, which is helpful when uniformity is essential across an entire project.

Figure 12: Using the CAXA drafting environment

Additionally, the incorporation of the design center allows seamless integration of parts from block listings and other symbols. IronCAD makes great use of this 2D application by providing a part library of mechanical and electrical parts that include pre-drawn fasteners, bearings, circuits, tubes, and so on -- an impressive gesture that supplements almost any project and eases the designers need from spending countless hours detailing 2D sketches. The sketches can also be converted to other file types, such as .dwg, .dxf, or .igs, which is beneficial to those needing them in other design applications.

I was pleased in realizing how easy it was to import a 2D sketch from the CAXA Draft environment to the 3D scene. This transition was completed seamlessly and proved to be another powerful, collaborative tool in the IronCAD arsenal.


Figure 13: Completed model rendered

Computer aided design technology will continue to change and as companies push to keep up with varying industry demands for products and services, users need assurance that the software is ready to meet these challenges. This assurance is critical when trying to leverage new modeling software, especially when time and quality are conducive to a productive design environment. IronCAD eases the transition from novice to expert in no time.

My success in using the software is attributed to the accessible user interface and assortment of support tools. IronCAD provided me a full collaborative experience without the annoyance of tedious modeling tasks bounded within a complex system. Additionally, having the ability to quickly create part features, while maintaining the capacity to integrate 2D and 3D content without the loss of quality, makes IronCAD a great software to experience.

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Additional Information

IronCAD Design Collaboration Suite - corporate product page

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About the Author

Alexander Murray is a technology and design instructor in Columbus, Ohio. He has experience as a part modeler, training and development of design employees for mechanical and civil industries. He holds a masters degree in science in industrial & systems engineering with emphasis in engineering management from Ohio University. More...

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