Your Best Source for CAD, CAM & CAE Articles

| About | Submit Article

CADdigest Weekly
Email (required) *

A week's worth of articles will be emailed to you. See latest issue .

CAD, CAM & CAE Articles



More News



  Independent Content    

Industry-Experts Cover
Products & Services You
Need to Know About.
Only on
Find Out More!

IronCAD 2013

By Ryan Reid, December 11, 2012

After taking IronCAD 2013 for a test drive for the last several weeks, I have come away with an interesting perspective regarding this old-school contender with new-school techniques and functionality. (I do want to point out a great article by Alexander Murray, who wrote “Introduction to IronCAD 2012” that touches on many points, which I will try to avoid here.) The point of this review is to give readers additional information, and so I will highlight new items in 2013 as well as some practices that set it apart from the CAD packages I use, namely SolidWorks, Draftsight, AutoCAD, and Inventor.

IronCAD is new to me, and so I sat down with one of IronCAD’s representatives for initial training. I came away with some very interesting practices, which while I was aware of them in other software, I never before saw them showcased in other CAD packages the way they are in IronCAD.

Using IntelliShapes Intelligently

Figure 1: Palette of IntelliShapes in IronCAD 2013

Effective technique in IronCAD begins by using “IntelliShapes” to support the bulk of model building. IntelliShapes consist of a predetermined catalogue of basic shapes that most of us would need in creating 3D models. I can use the ones provided by IronCAD, or else create my own IntelliShapes from saved features, parts, and assemblies.

At my first exposure to them, I was skeptical: in no way could any group of shapes accomplish the geometry I had in mind for my designs. My assumption was proven foolish: the adaptability and intelligence built into the shapes makes them extremely easy to learn and to implement. To use them, I just needed to drag and drop them into the model. It did, however, take some time for me to find all the shapes I required. Once I found them and got used to them, using them became second nature.

The shapes are arranged into logical tabs in a hide-able browser, as shown in figure 1. The figure also shows all of the tabs of tools and shapes that can be accessed from the browser. The hole tools have an “H” in front of them with a cavity icon. The same is true for sheetmetal and advanced shapes, both of which should be fully investigated when starting to experience IronCAD.

Other tabs in the browser control the appearance, with color, surfaces, and bumps (a.k.a. textures). A brief note on this: the three do not necessarily work together all the time. I found that each of the three seems to override the other; in other words, I couldn’t add a Vein texture and then go to the colors tab and change it to brown without making new textures/bumps. (The folks at IronCAD confirmed that this cannot at this time be achieved in real-time rendering; the realistic rendering mode does, however, allow me to overlay many shader properties.)

Although the renders can be considered high quality (and possibly better than SolidWorks, for example), the ability to work within the environment in real-time is appealing to me. In summary, the following items are available during real time rendering: color, reflection, textures, shadow mapping, and reflection/shadow planes. Bump mapping gets added to photorealistic rendering mode.

Checking Out the User Interface

As for the general layout of the user interface, I felt right at home. It is very familiar to both SolidWorks and Inventor. Eerily, the icons are similar to those in both competitors, but I did feel a better kinship with its similarities to Inventor. (See figure 2.) I don’t know who got which icons first, but it is nice to have the familiarity.

Figure 2: The ribbon in IronCAD 2013

As for the feature input UI, it is more like SolidWorks than Inventor. Most inputs are in a side bar window (see figure 3), except when I do direct editing, and then I could plug numbers in quickly and efficiently. Being a SolidWorks user, this direct approach is very refreshing.

Figure 3: The side bar for controlling features

The workflow is, however, considerably different from SolidWorks in how to get something accomplished. All the tools are there for what appear for nearly all of the same options, if not more than SolidWorks and Inventor for each feature.

All in all, I easily handle this portion of the UI after some practice, but once understood it became very easy. I would not wager on the difference in the number of mouse clicks with any CAD package either way for the traditional feature-based area of the software.

Hybrid Modeling Brings the Best of Direct and History

This brings me to the explanation of the two major modeling techniques used in IronCAD, direct modeling and feature-based (traditional) modeling. (Of course there are sub modeling techniques, such as surface modeling and sheetmetal, but I am reporting on the top level techniques.) This is where IronCAD really shines.

Because it is a hybrid platform with direct modeling, IronCAD gives a tremendous amount of flexibility from traditional history-based modeling. The ability to move features effortlessly around -- without errors -- is extremely refreshing. Of course, I did have to know what I was doing to accomplish this, because there is not safety net of warnings to prevent me from making unintelligent moves.

The ability to move features around and see the feature affected in real time with actual fluidity truly amazed me. There is quite a benefit in having direct and feature-based modeling systems integrated. In IronCAD, these are seamless – something no other MCAD system can boast, which is perhaps why IronCAD doesn’t get the so-called recognition. This integration works within the feature order, meaning feature-based and directly-edited geometry can be mixed – along with pure parametric models that have directly-edited features. This gives me, as a designer, a lot of flexibility, depending on which system I need at the moment.

As with other direct modeling packages that I have reviewed, I found it tedious in IronCAD to link parameters together. See figure 4. It can be done in IronCAD, but the workflow just seems to take longer than I prefer. Part of the trade off in IronCAD, as with all of these packages, is that you take the good with the bad. This part of parameter-link modeling is not a dealbreaker by any means, from my point of view. (The guys at IronCAD noted that their software has a couple of modes, and so there are different ways to add parameters; structured parts, for instance, apply parameters more easily than do other types.)

Figure 4: Adding functions to parametrics

One of the new features for 2013 is the availability to add equations to its direct input handles, a location handier to users. (They were available in earlier releases in other areas, such as the sizebox.) Equations help bring IronCAD into the mainstream, because this function really is a requirement for any middle- to high-end CAD.

A benefit of IronCAD is its workflow, which uses one file for the entire assembly of parts. IronCAD has taken the approach of multi-body modeling, and then put it on steroids. I have been a pioneer in advocating the traditional top-down model (from assembly level files to subassembly and detail parts), and so increasingly I have been using multi-body associative assemblies as a more stable alternative. Even this, however, has its limitations, in my experience. All other programs that I have used had multi-body modeling bolted on as an afterthought to support flaws in the traditional top-down modeling.

The ability to move parts around different assemblies without fear of constraint/mate failures is very freeing. This is especially the case when designing without caring how the BOM structure will work (at the end of the design, usually, or when ever manufacturing decides to change things around). SmartAssemblies extend assembly creation by giving drag’n drop interactions intelligence to automatically position, orient, and even size on drop making; this makes for quick assemblies that can have configurable designs.

The ability to save parts out, link them and use them in different assemblies is very easy and straight forward. See figure 5.

What’s New in IronCAD 2013

With that entire introduction done, let’s go over some of what is new in IronCAD 2013. To start out, I’d like to talk about the middle mouse click. One inefficiency I found in previous IronCADs is that there wasn’t a good way to finish a command quickly, without going to the feature control box, or right clicking and choosing to finish the command. IronCAD’s new solution is intuitive: use the middle mouse click to finish a command. While I can’t say that it worked all of the time, like I hoped it would, I did appreciate it when it did work.

I have been spoiled with head-up displays and /or right-click to finish in other CAD systems, which aren’t in IronCAD. I like mouse gestures, and so I was glad to see them in IronCAD.

Another new tool I found interesting is the associatively of Pro/E and NX files in IronCAD. This means that I can modify a native Pro/E part in its native Pro/E software, and then click update on the imported IronCAD representation; IronCAD 2013 will update all geometry changes from the native file.

Now, the results could require further massaging in IronCAD if drastic changes are made, but it is much more stable than any comparable feature in any other CAD that I have worked with. This function is intriguing, because as a CAD administrator I am constantly trying to find new ways to combine multiple CAD packages into one updateable representation of our products. Anyone who has this problem should give a good look at IronCAD as a solution to this particular problem.

Other new functions include a variety of new direct editing recognition options, and the importation of SketchUp files. You can see many more of the new tools for 2013 in this link with lots of videos that will explain them better.


If you are looking for an innovative, think-outside-the-box, efficiency-orientated, and CAD-neutral CAD package then IronCAD is the serious heavyweight contender. It is not perfect, but IronCAD is a pioneer in direct modeling, and so has a robust and stable software package that is substantially improving the user experience with every release. Give it a good look, you will definitely be surprised.

See All Independent Content | Back to Top

Additional Information

Back to Top

About the Author

  Ryan Reid is a CAD administrator with over 12 years experience in mechanical design with Autodesk software. He is also certified in SolidWorks. More…

About Independent Coverage

TenLinks uses over 125 expert authors for unprecedented coverage of CAD, CAM, CAE products and services. Find out more about Independent Content and apply for coverage.