Choosing a 3D Package

Having recently developed an interest in CAD and modelling (i.e. industrial design tools not standing around in a bikini). I found this handy video on CadJunkie that runs over some of the different approaches some of the different packages take (Subdivision, NURBS surfacing and solid modelling). Looking at some of the awesome CAD renders on here i'm sure many members are already quite familiar with this, but for anyone who like me hasn't really touched CAD since the early 90s this is really cool stuff.



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  • If you are interested in designing for fabrication, then the only systems you need to know would be Solidworks/MasterCAM unless you find the interface to Solidworks a bit French, then you may as well switch to Rhino and that about covers anyone's needs in design.  

    I have used 3D modelling systems since '86 (no ageist cracks please) and I can tell you that today's systems are a walk in the park when it comes to user interface.   I doubt that any of you remember a system named Movie BYU (so named because it was created at Brigham Young Uni and ran on a FACOM 180) - that was my first animation system and my second was PolyCad from a crowd called Cubicomp.  I was an animator 6 years before moving into Systems Engineering and like all users of the early modelling systems, I was made to use AutoCad (never liked it and still don't).  Over the years I used Lightwave, Soft Image, Maya, Flame and other less mentionable systems which are only of interest if you want to animate or get into special effects.  Over time my duties morphed into full time project management and the only solid modelling I do now is for my CNC machinery.

    In closing, if you are really more interested in building things (developing UAVs in my case) and don't want to spend all your waking moments learning to design in 3D.  I suggest that you pick one system (Solidworks) and invest a little effort up front in getting to know it by doing all the tutorials.  You will find the benefits in workflow speed very worthwhile and it will free you up to do what you like most.
  • T3
    Cool video. Thanks for sharing.
  • There are several good CAD packages out there.... the problem comes with the cost!   AutoCAD is a decent 2D application and has its merits in 3D (though it's difficult to use compared to parametric modelers).   SolidWorks, Inventor, and SolidEdge are all more or less the same workflow and same feature set... you start getting into Chevy VS Ford here.   The higher-end CAD systems are way beyond the needs (and budget) of your average UAV builder... these include Catia, ProEngineer, and Siemens Unigraphics/NX.   The high end packages typically have A class surfacing built in along with PLM, FEA/CAE, CAM, and other advanced toolsets rolled into one package (versus buying 3 or 4 packages from Autodesk or SolidWorks).


    There is also a kind of funky cross-over section of CAD that is for the design of organic-ish shapes in a CAD environment (A-class surfacing - aka machinable surfaces).   This subset is typically reserved for industrial design (think things like Dyson vacuums or fancy shaped consumer products like a glucose meter or cellphone), automotive design, and aerospace.   Rhino is one such program but the be-all-end-all of this type of CAD is the Alias series from Autodesk.   Every vehicle of the past 20 years had exterior modeling performed using Alias at some point.



    There are also numerous light-weight and free options out there... Alibre, IronCAD, BobCAD, etc.   These are capable modelers but severely lack the feature sets of the Inventor/SW crowd.   You can also look towards E-Machine Shop if you're looking to get CNC'd parts on the cheap too.



    Personally... I am a person who works in a dynamic and fluid design method.   I utilize Inventor, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Alias, and additional 3rd party apps (CFD, FEA, PLM) interchangeably.   A design may begin as a sketch in Alias and end up as a flow calculation in SolidWorks before bringing the final form into Inventor for tooling design and then shoot the tooling into MasterCAM for tool machining.

  • I just started using Rhino Beta for Mac which is very powerful with lots of 3rd party support/plugins yet intuitive and easy to learn (free Mac Beta is available now). But for aircraft design, especially advanced surfacing and contouring, CATIA is the bee's.
  • If anyone is interested in working in Blender (OpenSource/Free Tool) there is a good guide aimed at engineering modelling (rather than 3D animation):



  • I agree with Cyborg. Solidworks is the way to go especially if you're an old school engineer before the day of CAD/CAM where everything was drawn by hand. Solidworks modeling allows you to build the object with the same thinking as if you're building real thing
  • AutoCAD is for CAD. Most common application for its wide variety but there are others that are equally good.

    Maya is for modeling and animation. You only have to watch to extras from an Pixar or Disney or Universal movie to see the familiar interface.


  • Good link....

    The thing that absolutely drives me crazy in the polygonal modelers, is the approach to modeling by tugging here, pulling here, an engineer, this is insanity.  I am a solidworks user, and although there are some very complex surfaces which are challenging to SW, the way you model, the way you enter dimensions, and the design tree, make it a must tool for everything I do...I can safely say, that SW has spoiled me, to the point where I can not use another modeling tool, without quickly becoming frustrated....I know folks are also using Rhino, to create some complex surface, then import that surface into SW, and use it to cut a NURB modelers can work in harmony with SW...but in my very humble opinion, nothing beats the SW interface (to an engineer off course.... :-)  )

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