Give me a hand with this model

May 11, 2006
Ever been working on a design only to get stuck on a detail you just can't quite figure out?

— Greg Grote and Michael Miller


The Design Configurations utility in Alibre Design Professional 9.0 lets users easily switch between versions of designs such as a CCTV housing component.

Rendering features in the software turned a CAD model into a realistic housing concept.

Overlaying a housing concept on a photo assists visualizing the final product.

Alibre Design Professional 9.0 parametric, feature-based 3D CAD software solves this problem with a built-in, real-time chat feature called Alibre Assistant, which is similar to Yahoo Messenger. The assistant lets users chat with other users or Alibre support to get design help while they are building models. The assistant also lets users give an Alibre engineer control of their design to show them what to do. Multiple users can also work on a model together with or without help from the assistant. To speed our ramp-up, the developer provided a comprehensive set of tutorials, training CDs, online help, and documentation. This information and the software's intuitive interface made it easy for us to learn the program. In fact, our primary CAD designer caught on fast without any formal training. The rest of our group also quickly became proficient. Additional notable features in 9.0 include:

The Design Configurations utility, perhaps the most important. We are still learning and experimenting with the capability because of its potential to help us build better products. For example, we often test market a number of slightly different variations of a particular design by sending 3D CAD models to customers for reviews and feedback. The idea is to make sure customers are completely satisfied with the direction a project is taking before we commit tooling and resources for prototypes and eventually production.

Prior to the recent release, it was necessary to create separate parts or assemblies for each design variation. But Design Configurations lets us work within one file and quickly create variations based on an initial design. We publish each configuration in a read-only format, making it easy to send all the design variations to the customer collectively for review. Customers thereby have a much better way to compare design variations. And the design process is faster and easier to manage.

Improved sheet-metal functions let users design sheetmetal enclosures with airtight edges. A Pattern tool also provides a large selection of predefined pattern shapes. The tool gives users control over a wide variety of pattern attributes such as shape, layout, and orientation. An expanded API lets users work with more third-party applications. For example, we already make good use of finite-element analysis (Algor DesignCheck), photorealistic rendering (PhotoRender), and 3D viewer (ModelPress) modules. The recent release adds CAM, motion simulation, and standard part-libraries.

We find the developer quite responsive when we have challenges or questions and are always impressed with its desire to go above and beyond, all critical for a company of our size. For example, Alibre helped us recover a damaged repository after one of our hard drives crashed.

One minor gripe is with the document-management system called the Repository. This requires users to log-on to an Alibre Design server to share files in each other's repositories. This security feature causes some minor performance limitations in accessing files. However, the developer says it has a solution in pilot. We look forward to the feature's implementation.

Alibre Design Professional 9.0 costs about $1,500. Alibre Design Xpress is a free, basic version that targets users new to design and is downloadable from the company's Web site. The programs come from Alibre Inc., 1701 N. Greenville Ave., Suite 702, Richardson, TX 75081, (972) 671-8492,

Greg Grote, product engineering manager, and Michael Miller, product designer, are with Wren Associates Ltd., Jefferson City, Miss.,

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