Is all industrial design software the same?

Mike Hudspeth from Machine Design talks about what to look for in ID software. Today there are many. Besides Alias ($25,000), good packages include Rhino ($895), ICEM ($2,300 and up), NX (a lot, depending on what bundle you pick), and even SolidWorks ($3,995). So besides price, how do you decide? The only significant differences between programs are capability and interface. When selecting ID software, look for these capabilities:

Free-form surfaces is the absolute most important thing to look for. Any kind of modeler builds 3D models, but a free-form modeler lets you create flowing lines and biomorphic shapes for visual excitement that in some cases make the product work.

Good sketching. I don’t mean parametric sketching, but drawing as if with pencil on paper — that is, a way to roughly and quickly capture your ideas. In other words, the legendary paper napkin. Make sure the software includes bitmap-creation tools.

High-quality rendering. When you’ve spent a lot of time designing a great product you want to show it off. Good renderings are often a great way to do this. But, believe it or not, they can be a problem too. When a rendering is too good, the customer sometimes thinks it’s a real photo of a physical product and asks for accelerated delivery. Also, it’s preferable to see models portrayed in the materials they will be made of. This helps you wrap your mind around the model for better understanding.

File export. Most times customers ask for models they can use in their software of choice. Make sure what you buy can export in as many different formats as possible. Especially look for stereolithography (STL) export. These days, it’s an absolute must.

Lastly, when it comes to the interface, once you’ve selected the program that will do what you need, see how it accomplishes tasks. A difficult-to-use interface might provide more power but limit users to whomever can figure it out. Look for simple and obvious. Look for what you can live with.

14 Comments

  • e-paz says:

    Alias ($25,000)???
    I think that the price does not match the product. My humble opinion is that the rhino has the best cost-benefit relationship, and that is one of the programs easier interface

  • TH says:

    Would be interesting to see a table of the software packages on the market and the features that were mentioned, to be able to see which of them fit the requirements best, and what you get if you have less money to spend (I have no clue about these, but assume that the more expensive packs can do more stuff than the cheaper ones).

  • adam says:

    All CAD is cheap when put next to its productivity. If a CAD package makes me twice as fast as a designer, then the package is technically “worth” the same as my salary (as an alternative to paying another designer full time to achieve the same effect). So all CAD packages are “reasonably” priced, it’s just a matter of how much more efficient you want to be.

    Modo is a fast renderer, and a decent sub-d modeler. It’s handy for visualization of organic forms, not so much for more “structural” forms.

    Rhino is a great, cheap, digital pencil. It’s advantages are its disadvantages too. Alias is an excellent package in terms of functionality, it’s terrible in terms of its learning curve and instability.

    SolidWorks is a very nice package with limited surfacing capabilities. NX5 is similar, but much more robust for larger manufacturing/engineering tasks (built on the same kernel as SolidWorks). CATIA V5 is a fantastic surfacing/engineering package, but it’s very expensive and difficult to learn.

    I’ve worked professionally with all of these platforms, and there are people who swear by each one. It’s a matter of what you need. For my money, I’d go with V5 any day. But lets not forget about good ol’ pencil, paper, and a ball of clay. There’s no faster way to explore a concept without the constraints that CAD imposes.

    • Rooivalk says:

      I understand Blender is free and now the beta version looks more similar to Cinema 4D, but from my research it isn't appropriate for ID because you can't relate the designs to measurements. (Production precision)

    • Rooivalk says:

      I understand Blender is free and now the beta version looks more similar to Cinema 4D, but from my research it isn't appropriate for ID because you can't relate the designs to measurements. (Production precision)

  • Strata gives you an Adobe-like interface, plugs-in to Photoshop CS3 Extended, you can save out 3D PDFs, 3D web pages, 3D models from photos of existing models, etc.

    If you want ease of use and something that works like an Adobe app check out Strata.

    http://www.strata.com

  • Rony John says:

    3D MAX is simply the best around..

    • AdamS says:

      Too right, 3DS all the way, although not for line or spline work, generally I do all 2D in AutoCAD. I also don’t use the MentalRay render engine as there are better engines for Max

  • Jables says:

    mighty vray

  • hanz says:

    i just have two graphics softwares in my computer, Autocad 2008 and 3D Max 2008 and its just about anything i need. im all set!

  • ehsan says:

    MODO IS THE BEST ONE.it is like MAc osx compaing to rubbish windows os.

  • ehsan says:

    MODO IS THE BEST ONE.it is like MAc osx compaing to rubbish windows os.

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