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Design and Engineering Software Packages Overview

This article does not claim to be authoritative or in depth yet is merely an overview of the various 3D software most commonly used by engineers and industrial designers. With this is mind it hopes to lend some insight that might be helpful to those wishing to learn more about the capabilities and strong points of the various software in addition to the fields and professions most likely to use them. Design engine teaches each of these CAD software packages in a workflow oriented training class.

Alias (Autodesk Alias Studio)
Alias was, and is regarded as the premiere tool among industrial designers. The software was designed with this in mind allowing freedom and flexibility in working with shape and form, sketching modeling and visualization. The software is focused mainly on what we might term the housing or shell of a product and thus cannot simulate the mechanical or inner workings of products as well. The largest foothold has been within the American auto industry where it has become standard among industrial designers for decades. It has also been used extensively in the recreational vehicle industry, the aircraft and boating industries and is used often used in designing the shells of hand held electronic devices. Alias was often regarded as being prohibitively expensive making it less attractive for individuals to purchase and more accessible for corporate vendors. Autodesk who have owned Alias since early 2006 has keyed in on the Chinese market over the past several years where numerous auto (and other) companies have emerged in what is now the worlds fastest growing market. Design engine teaches Alias in a multitude of Alias training classes in a workflow oriented instruction style.
Base cost per seat $4195.00

No discussion of design end engineering software would be complete without the mention of AutoCAD. Although often derided as being a glorified 2D software by many engineers who advocate what they term as true 3D software. AutoCAD had the advantage of being first out of the box, having made debut at the very end of 1982. Despite being overshadowed by more sophisticated solid modelers such as Solidworks and Creo or Pro/E in the mechanical design and product development fields over the years it still tends to be a default learning tool for many in school and is often the first modeling software young people are exposed to. One of the larger demographic groups using AutoCAD these days remain architects where solid modeling is less an issue. It has been argued that since the 2007 version it has become a full blown 3D software with a respectable set of 3D tools and improved rendering capabilities although some would imply it may have simply caught up to other solid modeling software. As of the 2010 version it was capable of both mesh modeling and parametric functionality. It is owned by Autodesk and remains their flagship product. It seams AutoDesk has the market on 2d software and their marketing hope is to convert many of their 2d customers to their 3d product called Inventor. Call Design-engine to inquire about 2d AutoCAD training.
Base cost per seat $4195.00

CATIA’s origins were in the French Aircraft company Dassault who in the late 70s required a software to engineer their well renowned Mirage jet. It is an icon based high end 3D modeling software. It soon caught on in the aerospace industry having been adopted by Boeing in 1984 who remain one of it’s largest vendors. Despite having some notable American firms such as Vought, Bell Helicopter, and Tesla Motors it remains dominant among the European automotive, aerospace, industrial equipment and shipbuilding industries where it has become one of the most prevalent 3D software in use. Catia moved to a parametric tool to follow the trend set by Pro/ENGINEER in the late 90’s.
Base cost per seat $9,000.00

Pro/ENGINEER now branded as Creo
It’s been two years since they re-branded Pro/ENGINEER and Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire Creo but many have yet to get used to the new name. Creo had an early start in the field having been created by a Dr. Samuel Geisberg in the mid 1980s and brought to market in 1987 it’s regarded as being the first truly realized 3D parametric modeling system. It quickly earned the respect of mechanical engineers due to it’s ability to directly engineer products to manufacture because of it’s aid in visualization. Pro/ENGINEER like Catia is a modular based software. If you need more power you can purchase another module for the job. Various modules allow for finite element analysis, CNC and prototyping. Finite element analysis may be regarded as the ability to stress and analyze computer models. These various modules allowed for a unified approach from inception to deliverable. For a long period of time the was often viewed as prohibitively expensive but over a decade ago the price dropped significantly making it more accessible. Some have argued that Creo Elements is a more difficult software to learn but it has been counter argued that after the initial learning curve it is the most effective solid modeling tool available. We are insistent that the surfacing aspects of Creo surpass those of the other parametric 3D software packages.  Design engine teaches Pro/E Creo workshops in a multitude of Creo training classes in a workflow oriented instruction style.
Base cost per seat $4995.00

Inventor (Autodesk Inventor)
Debuting in late 1999 Inventor was arguably created to one up Solidworks. As to whether it has achieved that will continue to be debate for the message boards. Having had less visibility than other 3D modeling software it nonetheless has a small group of adherents who swear by it. Recent editions tout the visual digital prototyping. Inventor typically includes and thus is compatible with AutoCAD both being Auotdesk products.
Base cost per seat $7295.00

NX Unigraphics (UG)
Unigraphics debuted in 1981 and was initially owned by the aerospace firm McDonnell Douglass. It was sold to UG in 1991 which was then owned by GM which in turn became GM modeling system. FEA, surfacing and reverse engineering are all functions. It competes at the high end with Creo & CATIA. Notable vendors include GM,B/E Aerospace, BEA systems Hitachi, Samsung, Dyson and Triumph. Now referred to as NX the semantic change was the result of the merging of I-DEAS with Unigraphics into a single product in 2002. UG was purchased by Siemens most recently.
Base cost per seat $7,500.00

Maya’s debuted in 1998 and was created by then Alias Wavefront specifically with the film, special effects and animation in mind. By virtue if it’s highly regarded 3D animation it made immediate inroads in both the film and gaming industry. Maya has received much visibility in the past several as result of it’s use in the Hollywood film industry were it has emerged as the dominant software. Academy awards for achievement have added to it’s reputation over the past decade. In addition to being used used extensively in the gaming and film industries it has also made inroads in the architecture field. Maya has been an Autodesk product since it’s acquisition of Alias Wavefront at the beginning of 2006.   Design engine administers Maya training in a multitude of Maya training classes with a workflow oriented instructional style.
Base cost per seat $3675.00

The origins of Revit were with a software called Reflex which was marketed by a firm called Reflex Systems. It was acquired for a time by PTC who in 1996 re- branded it as Pro/Reflex.(classic isn’t it) It easily fit within this context because Reflex was seen as having many 3D Pro/E parametric architects tool. It was spun off into a separate company in 1998 which in turn was renamed Revit Technologies in 2000. By 2002 it too was purchased by Autodesk. Regarded as the premium building information modeling (BIM) tool for architects.
Base cost per seat $5775.00

Rhino (Rhinoceros 3D)
Rhino has built a very large following among the industrial design crowd, is often used in jewelry design and had made inroads into both architecture and multimedia. It uses whats referred to as a NURBS based 3D approach which can be thought of as a way of generating curves and surfaces. In addition it’s reputation for being user friendly it traditionally has been accessible price wise typically being available at under 1000 dollar price points. In addition the availability of student and trial versions have resulted in a proliferation among students and aspiring industrial designers. Although not regarded as being as powerful a tool as Alias it has been adopted by numerous companies and it has been noted that Rhino can suit the need of most industrial designers. Over the years design managers have told me Rhino can do 80% to 90% of the things Alias can do and for significantly less cost.  Design engine teaches Rhino in a multitude of Rhino training classes in a workflow oriented instruction style.
Base cost per seat $995.00

Solidworks first made its appearance in 1995 and was created with the intention of being affordable, user friendly, and useable on the Windows operating system. The company was bought by France’s Dassault in 1997 who were behind the creation of CATIA. Solidworks boasts being one the most successful 3D software in terms of licenses sold and they have been effective at reaching individuals in addition to corporations. While it’s ease of use has been an attraction to many, some have implied it’s less powerful tool than some of it’s competitors that might require more hours to use effectively. In terms of popularity it remains one of the most used 3D modelers and has even made inroads among industrial designers. Dassault has over the past year touted the 1.5 million figure in terms of seats sold but a significant amount of these may be student versions and some may be unused seats. Still the sheer popularity of Solidworks does in itself say something in and of itself. Design-engine instructors didn’t take Solidworks so seriously till around the 2007 release due to it’s surfacing capabilities. There are thried party add on modules for purchase for solidworks for manufacturing. Until recently the only way Solidworks could go to manufacturing was thru an IGES import which limits back and fourth changes between design engineering and manufacturing both UG and Pro/E strong points. There may be other 3rd party CAM software packages available for Solidworks  Design engine teaches Solidworks in a multitude of Solidworks training classes in a workflow oriented instructional style.

Design-Engine Education periodically has Creo & Solidworks face-offs where the advantages and disadvantages of each 3D software are discussed and demonstrated. If Solidworks were modular based and handled memory differently like Catia and Pro/ENGINEER (and it is not) it would be categorized not as a mid range modeler. Base cost per seat $3995.00

Solid Edge
Solid edge debuted in 1996 by UGS. Despite having a relatively smaller pool of users it has established a reputation as being a good icon based, user friendly solid modeler and is also noted for being affordable. More recent versions have boasted something called synchronous technology which was regarded as a better way of working with history based models. In effect direct modeling.
Base cost per seat $4000.00

3D Studio Max (Autodesk 3ds Max)
Another 3d computer graphics software that often competes with or overlaps in the same fields as Maya. It has tended to make more inroads into the gaming field and some have argued that it’s the preeminent tool for modeling character and textures. Over the past few years notable recent blockbuster films have had the effect of bolstering it’s reputation. While some have complained about the excessive dependance on plug ins for rendering others feel it’s strong points are environmental or architectural visualization hence its attraction to those in the gaming field. Also an Autodesk product since 2006.
Base cost per seat $3675.00

Design-Engine offers training in all these softwares.  Call  312.226.8339 today to start your training.

Article Written by: David Mazovick

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