Opinion: Consider non-engineering software for some industrial-design tasks

Nov. 8, 2007
An old adage says just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean everything should look like a nail. That's certainly true for software.

An old adage says just because you have a hammer doesn’t mean everything should look like a nail.

In other words, it’s better to have the right tool for the job. Industrial design often requires tools that might not be included in an average engineer’s toolbox. The days of the drafting board are obviously all-but gone, replaced by the ever-present computer. While you can undoubtedly do useful work with Windows Paint, it is still wise to invest in more-capable and specialized software.

The most important is probably 3D modeling software. It lets you build 3D digital models of your concepts that you can rotate and really get to know. In fact, many 3D modelers lend themselves well to industrial design. Be sure to look for software that supports free-form surface modeling. This capability is important because more-traditional engineering software limits users in the kind of shapes they can build. Most such packages make it easier to define shapes first, and then combine them. This gives efficient volumes, but users are hard-pressed to get the smooth and exciting curves a surface modeler provides.

Before you start sending me angry or hurt e-mails over the last statement, I realize there are plenty of engineering modelers out there that do surface modeling.

However, I am discussing programs that are actually used successfully in the industrial-design community. Examples include AliasStudio, Rhino, Vellum — even SolidWorks, which is usually associated with MCAD. Each program has its strengths and weaknesses as well as a loyal user base.

It’s also a good idea to purchase graphical software. I prefer vector-based programs. Look for software that also has raster capability. Several widely used programs include Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop, CorelDraw, and Deneba’s Canvas. All are excellent. I like CorelDraw because it does most everything and at a fraction of the price of other programs.

Another good idea — ensure you have rapid-prototyping capability. Of course, you can hire outside firms for this. However, additive machines are increasingly affordable, so it might make sense to buy your own. There are several different technologies, but the idea is the same: build up parts, layer-bylayer, directly from 3D CAD models.

Edited by Leslie Gordon.

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