New CAD lowers the learning curve

Sept. 2, 2004
The developer of AnvilCAD Lite says it is the first in a suite of new software packages that will change the way designers learn and use CAD.

AnvilCAD Lite's user interface has icons with their command name spelled out. This avoids confusion between tools that look similar.

Slots are a small sample of what the software is capable of.

Even though most of AnvilCAD Lite's tools are for 2D creation, a sample 3D IGES file imported into it without problems.

The user interface shows several useful constraints possible in the new software.

AnvilCAD Lite features an interactive tutorial system that lets users work on real Anvil geometry as they learn the proper steps for a particular function. In this case, the tutorial shows the steps for placing a circular fillet.

A closer look at the mechanical CAD application shows it has a lot going for it — and a few drawbacks. But first, let's look at the plus side.

AnvilCAD Lite installs quickly and easily, and takes up just a little more than 100 Mbytes on a hard disk. Upon opening it, which took only about 2 sec on a 2-GHz IBM IntelliStation, users are greeted with a simple interface.

The software has all the tools needed for professional 2D drafting and then some. For instance, there are nine ways to draw a circle. Other programs can also do this, but they "cheat" by combining geometry elements with snaps and wind up with somewhat oddball commands such as Circle by Snapping to Endpoint and Circle by Snapping to Midpoint. The new CAD software also features four ways to create a spline and five types of conics. Many CAD programs today don't even provide one.

The software has a tool similar to the Polyline in other programs. In addition to switching between lines and arcs, it's also possible to include splines in the mix. The same tool adds rectangular and circular notches. The software makes it easy to draw various types of slots, including circular ones. Keep in mind that while the drawing tools are 2D, the program works off of a 3D database. This means 2D entities can be projected into 3D to create wireframe geometry. Z heights are maintained on imported files.

Parametric Drafter has several useful tools, but like many aspects of the program, accessing them requires several steps. For instance, after creating and dimensioning geometry, the first step in adding parametrics is to set up the options. Next you create a "cluster" by selecting geometry and naming it, then add regular dimensions and then turn them into driving dimensions. To edit them, and hence the geometry, select the Modify Dimension command and enter new values. The Automatic Regen must be turned on (in an options menu) to see the geometry update. In addition, to modify a dimension in several clusters, you must first activate the cluster you wish to edit.

The Parametric Drafter also allows adding geometric constraints, and doing so takes about the same number of mouse clicks as other applications. The program also offers a lot of choices, some not found in other products, such as symmetric relationships.

The company has made great strides in making their CAD easy to master. Users can turn on the Tutorial function at any point, which means any actuated tool runs as an interactive tutorial. The selected tool launches a step-by-step guide on how to use the command. Hitting the Escape key exits the tutorial mode and returns to the drawing. But there is a limitation: The Undo within the tutorial is not yet implemented, so it's not possible to immediately repeat the same steps.

There are a few other minor drawbacks. Windows aficionados will notice the absence of all standard Windows icons and other keyboard shortcuts, such as Ctrl-Z for Undo. In fact, many times there is no undo, which can be a big problem.

While the program has grids and object snaps, it lacks the automaticalignment tools in most 2D programs, as well as in the sketchers in most 3D MCAD applications. (I am referring to the dashed lines that automatically appear when drawing, indicating that the object being created is aligned with an exiting object.) Without this feature, users have to draw guidelines or adjust entities later on.

But my big complaint is that although most 2D tools are easy to use, they occasionally take too many steps. Take Quick Move, for instance. It takes eight steps to move one entity from one point to another. Most programs make the task a simple click, drag, and release.

On the plus side, if you need to move several entities, the software's numerous selection techniques make it simple. It is possible to pick objects using a polygon selection method, an option that seems to have disappeared from many other 2D programs and never made it into the sketchers of 3D software. So while the software may not be the easiest CAD program to use at times, a powerful assistant in the interactive tutorial is just a click away.

For those who still need to create mainly in 2D, AnvilCAD Lite provides a lot of power for only $595. In addition, it reads AutoCAD files (although sometimes with certain fonts scaled too large) as well as a multitude of other formats. In short, it is a good program if you need a complete set of 2D tools, along with a 3D database for building wire-frame models.

AnvilCAD Lite comes from one of the oldest, continuously operated CAD companies in the world: Manufacturing and Consulting Services, better known as MCS, Scottsdale, Ariz.

— Joe Greco

Joe Greco is a software reviewer in Flagstaff, Ariz.

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