Archive for the ‘3D Modeling’ Category

A History of CAD Innovators

Thursday, April 6th, 2017

History often points to one or two people who took risks to innovate and bring about change – in a way that often ripples through several generations. This holds true in design and computing.

A Brief History of Design

Prior to the mid-20th century, any industry that required designs relied on draftsmen, designers, and engineers doing calculations and drawings by hand. These industries included shipbuilding, aerospace, automotive, medical, architecture, engineering, even movies and theatre. The process was a long, tedious road involving ideation, prototyping, creation, and scaling – though often not so cleanly and clearly.

The Development of Computing and Design

As computing developed in the mid-20th century, companies and research institutions began experimenting with the fields of design and engineering. After all, engineers and mathematicians have used machines for calculations since the 1800s. Soon, the idea of drafting on computers took hold, and by the early 1960s, the industry was talking about computer-aided design (CAD) and subsets including electronic design automation (EDA), mechanical design automation (MDA), computer-aided drafting (using software to create a technical drawing), and computer-aided geometric design (CAGD).

CAD software has innumerable uses, but its purposes, though broad, are vital in the world of design – so much so that they have become defaults in design. The purposes of CAD are to:

  • enhance a design’s quality
  • increase the designer’s productivity
  • improve design communication (appearance and vital information, such as materials, processes, dimensions, tolerances, etc.)
  • create a database for manufacturing

Over a generation, from the 1960s to the 1990s, computing systems evolved rapidly. In the 1960s, computers were huge, outsize machines that only major companies like General Motors, Ford, or Lockheed could afford.  A commercial CAD software system called Digigraphics debuted, but its cost of $500,000 per unit was severely prohibitive.

The Father of CAD/CAM

The 1960s saw many large industrial corporations exploring with in-house design programs and languages. Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty is vital to the shift in CAD that made it a worldwide standard. But let’s start with his first accomplishment.

In 1957, Hanratty was employed by General Electric. Having already earned his PhD from the University of California, Irvine, he was a programmer for the industrial giant. That year he wrote PRONTO – an early numerical control programming language that was the basis for computer-aided manufacturing (CAM).

Within a few years, Hanratty moved to General Motors Research Laboratories, where he helped write and develop Design Automated by Computer (DAC), the company’s proprietary, in-house CAD software.

(Simultaneously, other designers were working on computer-aided design variants. The most famous early version, Sketchpad, was developed by Dr. Ivan Sutherland at MIT. Sketchpad allowed the designer to draw with a light pen on the computer’s monitor, literally creating computer graphics.)

In the early 1970s, CAD systems were limited to industrial computers that had private languages that used algorithms to create two-dimensional design. Hanratty founded M&S Computing, a consulting firm, 1971. The company’s goal was to support user design interfaces in the language of the application, instead of in programming terminology. To that point, CAD systems were proprietary, meaning there was no standard.

M&S Consulting soon developed a program called ADAM, short for Automated Drafting and Machining. ADAM became the basis for many CAD programs that the company sold to about a dozen start-up companies. Today, industry analysts estimate that 70-90 percent of current commercial drafting software can trace roots back to Hanratty’s ADAM program.

Thanks to his major contributions to the worlds of CAD and CAM, before the two systems were fully integrated, Hanratty became known as the father of CAD/CAM.

Making CAD Accessible

As the cost and size of technology shrunk, more companies could use advanced technologies. By the early 1980s, CAD software systems were running on 16-bit microcomputers (with 512 Kb of memory and under 300 Mb disk storage), totaling about $125,000 per unit. As such, CAD had become a decently accepted part of design innovation for industrial companies.

But its cost was still generally prohibitive to consumers who were looking to engage with the software as a hobby.

In 1982, a group of 16 people in California pooled together just under $60,000. John Walker, a young programmer, had spearheaded this effort with one major goal: to create a CAD program that would cost no more than $1,000.

Walker founded the company Autodesk, and his team of 16 released the first version of AutoCAD.

[CAD personal set-up, circa 1995. Image Source]

Today, AutoCAD is one of the bigger names in CAD, though its price can still be prohibitive to hobbyists and professional consumers familiar with the technology. Thanks to many innovators and companies, several more affordable, full-service CAD options are available, perfect for the at-home user (hint hint: PunchCAD).

As technology often goes, computing has become more economical and efficient, so computers can do more. This is true of CAD – with every iteration, CAD can do more. Importantly, it has become more accessible to users. We know this firsthand with our own line of CAD products and the future looks awfully bright for CAD users of all stripes.






Project of the Month: A coffee cup that put all others to shame!

Monday, February 20th, 2017

You’ve had some experience doing some 3D modeling in ViaCAD and want to take your design skills to the next level. This project combines many of ViaCAD’s adaptable 3D tools to produce an impressively useful result: a coffee cup!

In the video, we see that the first step is to pull the Subdivision toolset into the work area.



This is important because the bulk of the work in creating the coffee cup will be done using these tools – having them at the ready makes the process much faster.

Bonus Tip: In the ‘View’ dropdown menu, you will see the following viewpoints – Right Side, Front, Top, Left side, Back, Bottom, Isometric, and Trimetric. This ‘Cup’ project uses a variety of views but it primarily starts in the ‘Isometric’ view and the ‘Right Side’ view.

Designing the Cup

To create the base of your coffee cup, select the center point circle tool and click the intersection of the x, y, and z axes, expanding it until the diameter reaches 3.5 inches, which can be specified in the data entry window.





Next, select the “Extrude Mesh” tool in the subdivision pallet. Making sure the circle is highlighted, select a point along the z axis that is slightly distant from the base. In the data entry window, you can change the length of your extruded mesh to however tall you want your coffee cup to be. For the sake of the video change the length to 4.5 inches.





In the same data entry window change the number of distributions around the circle from four to 15.

You should now see a cylinder with openings on each end. To close those openings, use the ‘Fill Hole’ tool, again located in the subdivision tool pallet.





With the ‘Fill Hole’ tool selected, make sure the drop down menu in the top bar says ‘close edge’ NOT ‘close all’. This will ensure that the ‘Fill Hole’ centers in the middle of the circle rather than on one of the sides. On the top and bottom of the cylinder select one of the sides and the ‘Fill Hole’ tool will do the rest.

At this point you can choose what will be the top of your coffee cup and angle it out. You can do this by selecting all the vertices on the top face and scaling them out using the gripper tool.









Once you’re satisfied with the basic shape of your cup you can use the ‘Add Loop’ tool and the gripper to cut out the center. Focusing on the top of your cup (the end you extended using the gripper tool), select the ‘Add Loop’ tool, select a triangle at the top of the cylinder, and then select the distance from the edge which will represent the thickness of your cup. This should create a loop around the inside of the top surface of the cylinder.

Use the ‘Deep Select’ tool to select each of the triangles on the top of the cylinder – holding shift as you click each shape. With each shape selected, you can now use the gripper tool to push them into your 3D model. Hold the ‘alt’ key on mac, or the ‘ctrl’ key on PC, click the Z arrow of the gripper tool, and push it down into the cup.

In the video, the view is changed to ‘Wire Frame’ so the modeler can inspect the inside of the cup and make sure the thickness of the walls and base are even.




Deselect the wire frame so you can view your 3D model. You’ve finished the rough body of your coffee cup!

Smoothing it Out

In the video the model is subdivided twice to smooth out a lot of the shapes. After you subdivide your design you will see some of the edges still have some geometrical sharpness. A great trick to eliminate this, which the video goes over, is using the ‘Add Loops’ tool near the edges of the modes to smooth them out.





You can add as many loops as you feel is necessary, but we recommend loops close to the edge of the open side of the cylinder, as well as the bottom (as demonstrated in the video).

Making a Handle

To add a handle on the outside of your cup, use the ‘Add Loop’ tool on the outside of the cylinder, creating two pairs of loops – one toward the top and one toward the bottom.
















With the ‘Deep Select’ tool click on one of the rectangles created by the ‘Add Loop’ tool. When the gripper tool appears, ‘alt’ or ‘ctrl’ click on the Z arrow and extrude the rectangle from the cylinder about an inch. Do the same with the bottom rectangle.















Tilt the extruded facets toward each other by 45 degrees – precisely specifying using the data entry window.

To finish the handle, use the bridge tool to connect the two extruded facets. Simply click on the first side, and then on the second and the ViaCAD will do the rest.

Bonus Tip: To eliminate any possible frustrations with the ‘Bridge Tool’, make sure you have selected ‘facet’ and not ‘edge’ in the drop down window. Doing this should make the process a breeze.

You can subdivide your mesh one more time and there you have it – your own coffee cup!

*The remainder of the video goes into tools that are only available in Shark products.

CAD Drafting Tip of the Month: Draw View

Thursday, February 2nd, 2017

Do you create architectural drawings in ViaCAD? If so, adding the ‘Draw View’ tool to your design arsenal will help make your designs accurate and faithful to your original concept, and will ensure a seamless transition from drafting to printing floorplans and designs.

If you have never used the ‘Draw View’ tool before, we recommend working through the steps of this tutorial video, while also trying features that the video does not discuss. Doing this will make you more comfortable with the tool and will help you master Architectural drafting with ViaCAD faster.

With the Draw View tool, you can manipulate the properties of your architectural floorplans, isolate its different layers, and create printable, sharable documents for the building part of your projects.

To help demonstrate the power of this architectural drafting tool the video below uses a floorplan preloaded onto ViaCAD Pro 10 , but this can be done with any floorplan that you create in ViaCAD or import from another software.

Opening up the preloaded floor plan

  1. Select ‘File’
  2. Select ‘Open Examples’
  3. Select ‘ViaCAD Files’
  4. Open ‘floorplan.vc3

We recommend that you look through the different preloaded objects and plans that ViaCAD offers to see the different kinds of things you can create, and possible starting points for future projects.

Creating the Draw View

  1. Once your floorplan is up, pull out the Draw view pallet from the toolbar.
  2. Using the dynamic pan and zoom tools, offset the floorplan slightly to the left (leaving the same amount of space on the right).
  3. In the toolset, click Draw View and create a box around the floorplan. Once you’ve done that you can drag that box to the right and you will see an identical image.

Note: You might run into a snag if you click and drag the Draw View box over the floorplan. Instead, click to select one corner of your box, and click again once you’ve moved your mouse to the opposite corner, making sure the box that appears covers up the entire plan.

When your floorplan is in the draw view you can manipulate a variety of its properties using the rectangle in the top left corner of the Draw View box. The video demonstrates the scale being changed, but there are a variety of other properties you can manipulate including edges and pen styles.

You can also make changes and add things to the original drawing (as long as those changes are in the draw view area) and they are reflected in Draw View – just deselect the draw view box and edit the original plan. This is useful if you’ve already made several property changes with Draw View but want to change the source material.

Selecting Layers

  1. Click on the rectangle in the top left corner of the Draw View
  2. Select layers. In this window you can see the list of viewable layers.
  3. To isolate a layer, simply click on it and make sure it’s the only thing highlighted. (If you’re following along with the video you will see four layers all selected).
  4. The same goes for isolating select layers – use the shift key and select the layers you want to see.

The video goes further with layer manipulation and how it can be used with Draw View.

You can select your draw view box and then go to the ‘edit’ tab, click ‘change layers’, create a new layer and make it ‘Layer One’. Next, we see the video go to ‘Concept explorer’ under the ‘Window Tab’, then go to layers and isolate layer one – which is done by right clicking the layer and selecting ‘isolate layer’.

Once you’ve completely isolated your Draw View layer you can do things like add mechanical symbols or title bars so you can create a more printable document with in depth measurements and information.