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By Emmanuel Garcia, July 6, 2012
Competition encourages efficiency. TurboCAD LTE Pro 4 is great news for CAD users and consumers. It sets high expectations for the power that must be provided by CAD programs costing less than $500
CAD software having evolved drafting beyond mere electronic pencils now mimic and visualize real world components through the use of smart, parametric, AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) objects. TurboCAD LTE’s price makes it nearly impossible to justify last century design methods that are now old fashioned. Today, you design buildings through virtual construction and assembly, using walls, windows, doors, roofs, slabs, stairs, and other like objects design that emulate real-life counterparts. This workflow operates at a level of intelligence higher than simple geometric primitives; today's method has the potential to remove most of the tedium associated with antiquated drafting work.
Figure 1: TurboCAD LTE Pro opening dialog box
I suggest you download the free trial version of the program to follow along with this review. You can watch a video demonstration of the entire exercise at my Web site, http://caddguru.com. Upon starting TurboCAD LTE Pro, the program presented me with a dialog box, allowing me to open files I worked on previously, or else to start on a new one. See figure 1.
Figure 2: New from template dialog box
For new users exploring the program, I suggest clicking the New button, and then creating a new drawing based on the House_Template_White_template.tct template. In my exploration, I used imperial units (feet and inch). See figure 2.
After selecting the template, TurboCAD LTE presented me with a Summary Info dialog box in which I entered basic project data. See figure 3. This may feel like yet one more hurdle before starting work, but I consider it important, because this is one of several areas in which I can input non-graphical text data for building information modeling (BIM) purposes. The data I input here can be retrieved as fields automatically for further re-use.
For me, the fun began with the Architecture menu. I started drafting by creating the exterior walls of a simple test building by click Architecture > Walls > Wall. See figure 4.
|Figure 3: Editor and summary info windows||Figure 4: Smart parametric AEC objects|
It is my preference before inserting walls to first define the parameters. In my case, I wanted a wall width of 6”, a height of 20’, and lengths walls at 20’, 10’, 16’, 10’, 20’, 30’ and 56’. Furthermore, I wanted the defining line based on the exterior faces; to achieve this, I specified Right justification and then created the building’s base counter clockwise. I was surprised that the palette allowing me to control these parameters did not appear by default! After a brief hunt, I found the best method is to through the menu, selecting View > Toolbars > Palettes tab, and then checking Selection Info. See figure 5. There may be an easier way, but I didn’t find it.
|Figure 5: TurboCAD allows you to easily customize many aspects of its Graphical User Interface (GUI)||Figure 6: Wall Properties tab. (Constraints do not work on AEC objects, only on 2D geometric primitives.)|
Once the Selection Info palette (often named "Properties" in other programs) is visible, I was able to specify the parameters described earlier. The Thickness, Height, and Alignment parameters are in the Double Line Wall Properties section - not exactly where I expected to find them. See figure 6.
At this point, it may be coming apparent that LTE Pro behaves similarly to AutoCAD Architecture, should you be familiar with Autodesk product. I entered absolute and relative coordinates just as I do in AutoCAD, such as these at the command prompt:
To finish the perimeter of the building, I entered C, short for "close."
I found an assortment of other shortcuts for drafting , such as enabling ortho mode, using direct distance entry (where I point in the direction I want to wall to go, and then type only the distance), and entering distances and polar angles in provided edit boxes. Pressing the Shift key works as a toggle switch for ortho mode. Drawing aids are an area in which the program shines, sporting most of the desirable features available in other popular programs. See figure 7.
|Figure 7: Drawing aids include the ability to prioritize snaps||Figure 8: Window opening|
In the next step, I inserted eight windows, all the same size and style using the Architecture > Doors, Windows and Openings > Window command. See figure 8.
Each one is 4’ wide, 6’ high, and has a head elevation of 8’ above the finish floor; they are placed 4’ from the nearest outside corner (or 3’-6” from nearest inside corner). They have French-style muntins, two lights wide by three lights high. The parametric muntins provided by this program are easy to use. See figures 9, 10, and 11.
|Figure 9: Window Parameters and Properties||Figure 10: Adding Muntins dialog box. (It would be nice to get rid of this intermediate step.)|
I added a double door 6’ wide x 8’ high, with a 4’-diameter round window above the door, using methods similar those described for the windows. You can see the door parameters in figure 12.
|Figure 11: Muntins Parameters dialog box is almost identical to the one in AutoCAD Architecture.||Figure 12: Door Parameters|
The final modeling step was to add a roof. This is one of my favorite steps, because it goes beyond what is possible when CAD is just electronic pencil for drawing simple lines and circles. This workflow isn't the kind you can perform using paper or even 2D CAD, because it requires smart parametric objects.
|Figure 13: Roof parameters include slope angle, which is input with decimal degrees only.|
For this step I used the Architecture > Roof > Add Roof By Walls command and then selected all eight exterior walls. After TurboCAD LTE Pro created the roof using default parameters, I selected the roof to edit its parameters. See figure 13. Specifically, I changed the roof's thickness to 7.25”, its slope angle to 26 degrees, and the overhang to 1’-6”. I also checked 3D > Solid Mode.
The roof slope, unfortunately, cannot be input using the conventional carpenter’s notation, such as a 6:12 roof pitch (6-inch rise over a 12-inch horizontal run). I could specify the slope only as an angle in degrees. With run:rise missing, architects will have to keep handy a table of values, use a calculator, or else use TurboCAD LTE Pro's Ruby programming facility to determine the angle to input.
You can see my completed building in figure 14.
|Figure 14: Finished model|
My second favorite feature in TurboCAD LTE Pro is its temporary/parametric dimensions. These are used to lay out exact locations of openings, such as doors and windows - while doing it right the first time. While you can see this in action in figure 15, this feature is easier to follow - and appreciate - by watching the video I made of this exercise.
I like how easy it is to customize the user interface of TurboCAD LTE. In particular, I found it a cinch to add command aliases, which let me work quickly. The program takes advantage of Alt, Shift, Ctrl, and combinations thereof, as well as Num, Back, Left, Right, Up, Down, and all function keys.
|Figure 15: Temporary parametric dimensions offsets 1 and 2.|
The program already includes command shortcuts for frequently used actions that aren’t necessarily pre-defined in other programs; for instance, switching to front, right, top, and isometric SE (south east) views. This last command I tend to abbreviate as IsoSE or even SE. Details like this make a difference to users who touch type and memorize many command shortcuts.
While I found lots to like about TurboCAD LTE, there are some areas I feel could use improvement. For instance, the command line can be confusing. It’s not obvious when a command is still active.
Desirable features such as detailed grip editing aren’t readily available; they are instead accessed by changing modes via a right-click menu pick. I would prefer this editing mode to be the default, instead of the overall rescale grip, a less-used feature.
I wish the help system included more concrete examples for the Ruby programming console. I’d like the documentation take less of a dictionary/encyclopedic approach for functions, and instead rely more on step-by-step tutorials.
TurboCAD LTE doesn’t copy or array openings. I found the two commands are unable to create the required anchor relationship between walls and new opening objects. In my design, then, I was forced to create the second story windows by changing the header height to 18’ - instead of using copy, mirror, or array commands.
Finally, I found that constraints do not work on AEC objects.
Both versions of the program pass with flying colors my basic 2D drafting tests. My tests require the creation of 2D geometry, such as lines, arcs, circles, polylines, polygons, and splines. I also require design documentation features, such as dimensioning, single and multiline text creation, geometric tolerancing, paper space / sheet views / layout views, including support for multiple, floating, and complex shaped viewports seen through to model space. Both versions of TurboCAD LTE are good enough for laser cutter-based manufacturing, especially architectural maquette scale model making.
The Pro version is “light years” ahead of the regular version of TurboCAD LTE, because of its AEC smart parametric objects. The higher Pro price pays for itself the first week, if not the first day of productive work - when it is used correctly.
I found TurboCAD LTE capable of virtual construction maquette modeling. It’s also a BIM-capable program, because it allows me to track non-graphical data, such as text, dates, and costs. Keep in mind, however, that complex 3D modeling projects like Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall are beyond the “pay rate” of these programs. Given enough time and patience, TurboCAD LTE could perform some of the 3D modeling a project of this nature requires, but it would feel like riding a bicycle to Los Angeles from the other side of the country.
I tested TurboCAD LTE and TurboCAD LTE Pro on two computers, an HP Pavilion Elite desktop and an HP 8710w laptop; both run 64-bit Windows 7 Ultimate operating system. Each program takes 700MB of storage space. Following installation, I was up and running in less than 10 minutes, including taking some notes and quickly reading through the End User License agreements. The programs are Multiple Document Interface (MDI) compliant, which means you can work on multiple files and/or projects simultaneously.
If you haven’t experienced the joys of modern smart, parametric object workflows, then you are in for a pleasant surprise. Using TurboCAD LTE Pro, you can expect, given the right guidance and tuition, to be productive relatively quickly, especially if you already know AutoCAD Architecture.
TurboCAD LTE Pro surpasses AutoCAD LT, while offering a lot of the most beneficial and low-hanging fruit offered by AutoCAD Architecture, such as smart, parametric 3D walls, windows, doors, and roofs.
These two programs offer a great bang for the buck. LTE Pro should be particularly appealing for beginners wanting to adopt smart parametric object 3D methods, and others wanting to maximize their CAD software budget but don't need full DWG compatibility and who deal with small to midsize projects. Both TurboCAD LTE flavors provide a viable and affordable avenue to modernize 2D CAD methods, helping improve both design quality and productivity.
|Emmanuel Garcia is an Adjunct Professor of Computer-Aided Design at LA Trade Tech College as well as a consultant for AEC, Manufacturing and Facility Management firms. You can follow him at http://twitter.com/caddguru, http://caddguru.com, and http://caddguru.wordpress.com.|
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