3D modeler works inside 2D CAD

June 21, 2007
In 30 years with the metal-stamping industry, I've used plenty of tools for a wide variety of tasks.

The construction history of the stamping is modified with AutoSolids' soledit feature.

AutoSolids handles everything from simple parts and fixtures to progressive dies.

These days as a diemaker/designer, my software tool of choice is AutoSolids. It's an add-on solid modeler that runs inside AutoCAD.

For several years I've been designing in 2D with AutoCAD for a contract manufacturer of metal stampings, eyelets, and medical components. I design progressive dies as well as troubleshoot problems. Last year, I decided to move to 3D to increase productivity.

After considering a few solid modelers, I decided to stay with AutoCAD for several reasons. First, I already had the software, am proficient with it, and many add-on programs are available for AutoCAD. Lastly, the new Inventor has direct DWG compatibility. I wanted to see how far AutoCAD 2006 could take me in the 3D world.

One nice surprise was how much more accurate it is to work in 3D. Working in 2D meant manipulating multiple views and mentally interpreting what they represented. But 3D lets users work on a single model viewable from any perspective. It's easy to see exactly what you are working with, much like holding parts in your hand. Opportunities for mistakes from interpretations simply don't exist.

I was also pleased how quickly I got up to speed working in 3D. It's different from 2D and actually more intuitive. Combining simple shapes together to form complex ones mimics the process of building physical parts in the shop. Parts in the software are "welded" together, round holes are "drilled," and shaped holes are "punched." I was off to a great start.

Or so I thought. Making 3D changes in AutoCAD 2006 was not easy. In conceptual design phases I would often put ideas on the screen, study them for a while, and usually find that changes were required. But a part needing major changes required significant time and effort.

AutoSolid helps simplify changes. It uses the same primitive shapes as AutoCAD, such as extrusions, cylinders, and boxes, but with user-friendly dialog boxes. AutoSolids also uses Boolean union, subtract, and intersect operations to form composite solids.

The software captures the construction history of solids as they are built, allowing parametric editing even after the primitive shapes are combined into a composite. Unlike conventional parametric modelers, AutoSolids requires no time-consuming constraints, workplanes, workpoints, or extraneous control entities during either solid creation or editing. This lets users work on design projects and make changes at any time. Before using AutoSolids, I had to more carefully plan how I was going to construct a model.

Another helpful feature in the software is QuickDraw. It's a 3Dto-2D automation tool that generates up to 10 different views, with or without hidden lines, in only seconds. The feature lets designers build parts in 3D for complete assemblies and not have to manually create orthographic views for detail drawings. Creating views had been a tedious, time-consuming task. QuickDraw does all the 2D work in a matter of seconds. This feature alone is worth the price of the program.

AutoSolids also simplifies working with coordinate systems, and it has good rendering capabilities. Getting up the learning curve takes little time because the program was thought out with a commonsense approach. Most new users will be up and running in a matter of hours. That's a big plus for experienced AutoCAD users needing the capabilities of parametric modeling without the expense and retraining of complex, constraint-based programs. Now, I wouldn't even think of doing projects in anything but 3D.

What's more, AutoSolids is an affordable $495 and delivery is fast. Better yet, the developer's knowledge and support is great. The software comes from AutoSolids Inc., Box 1022, Pace, FL 32571, (800) 255-5130, autosolids.com — Mark Ericson

Mark Ericson is a diemaker/designer with J & J Precision Eyelet Co., 116 Waterbury Rd., Thomaston, CT 06787.

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