Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Review of SpaceClaim

Originally posted Nov 2007

A few weeks ago I downloaded the 30 day trial of the SpaceClaim product. Wow! How cool is this? So far I am very impressed. Considering this CAD tool has been on the market less than a year, it is a very capable modeling system. SpaceClaim is well outside the box of traditional history-based modeling systems.
When compared to Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, Inventor and other history-based systems, SpaceClaim seems effortless. No up-front work or thought is required to determine how best to create the model. With my first model I started out with a simple rectangle profile and quickly created a block.

I then added 2 additional edges, pulled and tapered a few faces and started defining some shape.
I "pulled" some blends into the shape and continued stretching and pulling. Then I added some mirror planes, a shell and few cut outs and, well, I am no car designer, but the resulting geometry is very impressive, especially considering that I have never used the software before. Total time from start to finish was about 2 hours. I watched a few demos and I spent 2 or 3 hours figuring out the use model, UI and how the system worked. Then I just jumped in.

I also created a simple fan wheel. For some reason I have created this model in many different 3D CAD systems. The blade is freeform and is usually created with a loft through multiple profiles. The hub is a simple revolved profile. I created this model faster with SpaceClaim than I have ever created it before – with a variety of systems.



As with most non-history CAD systems, changing freeform surfaces can be challenging, although I was surprised with what changes were possible. Usually once you create a freeform part, and then add blends; it gets very difficult to change. With a history-based system you can go back in the creation history (structure) and modify profiles and such, regenerate and see the resulting changes.

SpaceClaim does maintain “history” in some cases, such as with mirror planes and shells. It doesn’t create a structure tree however, the “relationships are handled very dynamically, very cool. Although, I’m not sure how to turn them off, if I didn’t want them.

I also created a simple vise assembly. This took all of about 3 hours at most. SpaceClaim is such a dynamic system. You don’t need to put a lot of up-front thought into your design or the modeling process. Just dig in and start creating. It was so easy to create this assembly. The only issue I had with this was with some blending of the Slide part. I'm not sure if you can see it in the picture, but there are two 4-edge vertices in it. I could not get the vertex region to come out the way I wanted. I had to settle for some compromises, although all required blends were added. Earlier I created other 4-edge blends with no problem. I am not sure what was different about this one. Blending is always one of those things that continually improves over time. I also couldn’t figure out how to put the threads on the vise screw, but if it is there, I'll figure it out. If not, I suppose I will have to wait for the next release.

There are a few things that bugged me. Sometimes the small pop-up tools would get in the way of the pull arrows. I couldn’t figure out a way to move them, only to turn them off. I probably need to read the documentation sometime. No surprise, but as the model become more complex, results of a pull were not always what I anticipated. Sometimes the adjacent blends of a pulled face would update, sometimes they would be left behind. I assume this depends on how complex the blends are. Thankfully there is a very nice undo and redo function. I ran into several situations where I wanted to snap to existing geometry during a pull. I am not sure if this is possible with this release. I could not find a way to do it. As a result, there were times when I had to go back and measure something and then do the pull and enter the same values in. I like the fact that it is attempting the Booleans real-time as you are pulling (at least it appears to do this). You get immediate feedback if you attempt something that is geometrically impossible, you can then adjust what you are doing. All-in-all, for being such a “young” tool it is actually a fairly mature 3D modeling system.

I also loaded several models in from other CAD systems. One of the benefits of a non-history based system, is that the modification capabilities apply directly to geometry, regardless of where or how the geometry was created.

The user interaction with the system and the UI is fantastic. This is how it should be. It’s just so simple. My son is in college now, and through high school and college he has learned several 2D and 3D CAD systems, both history and non-history. He took to SpaceClaim like he was born with it or something. It just seemed natural to him. He is a big gamer and is very much into the computer world, and I have heard him complain so much about other CAD systems. This one, he just seemed to enjoy. Maybe it is a younger generation thing – well I enjoyed it too.Anyway, SpaceClaim has my vote. I hope they do well. It is such a dynamic and conceptual tool. While many of you are wasting time trying to figure out your history/structure trees, others will be innovating far ahead of you with a tool like SpaceClaim.

Paul

(oh, and if you don't understand the difference between history and non-history CAD, read our previous post "Selecting a 3D CAD System".)

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