Desktop EDA – The Review

Posted on November 30th, 2006. Posted In Software Review

I like this product. As is becoming a habit with me, I’ll pull a quote from Desktop EDA’s website:

The SolidWorks/IDF 3D Modeler is a Bi-directional translator between SolidWorks and IDF. IDF is an industry standard that allows the exchange of PCB design data between ECAD and MCAD systems. You can create SolidWorks assemblies of your PCB designs. You can also modify the SolidWorks PCB assembly and send the changes back to the PCB CAD system.

While there needs to be a little forethought put in prior to using Desktop EDA, I really like what it can do. You’ll need to have/create a library of parts. Part of this is accomplished by the 500MB library that comes with the software. There are also other resources available on the web.

Whether you’re creating a new board or, like me, getting the files from your vendor, Desktop EDA will simplify your life. I’ve spent the time reverse-engineering PCBs, it isn’t any fun. Especially if it has to be 100% detailed and not just a representation. It will even do the traces!

I followed the provided "How-to" file and had a board on my monitor in no time. "Oh sure, Jeff, of course it worked," you might say, "it was their help file!" Do you think that I wouldn’t have thought that? Devon Sowell, of 3-D Design Solutions, a SolidWorks guru and fellow blogger, sent me some files to try out and they, too, worked. No they weren’t perfect but, after talking to Brian Watson of Desktop EDA, I found out why. It had to do with the library of parts that I didn’t have. All the shapes were there, and the board, but the shapes weren’t detailed. Even without the detailing, just the quickness of Desktop EDA to create the PCB assembly was impressive. To sum it up, I’m looking into it more as something we may use here.

I’m going to see about getting some more time to play with it. If I do, I’ll let you know! As always, if you have a question or a comment, let me know!

New stuff from 3Dconnexion

Posted on November 30th, 2006. Posted In Hardware Review

Rick Lando, from 3Dconnexion, emailed me the other day to let me know that they’ve improved their product line. Naturally, the first thing I though of was "can I get one to try out?" Rick assures me that I can. So, as soon as I get my greasy hands (ok, that was a lie. I sit behind a desk all day not getting dirty) on one and try it out, I’ll let you know if it’s worth the money. For the time being, you can read about 3Dconnexion’s improvements here. Oh, by the way, they dropped the price of the SpacePilot by $100!

Pinion Software – Protect what you share

Posted on November 30th, 2006. Posted In Software Review

Ok, that was strange…I wrote my little teaser blog about Pinion Software and…it disappeared! Some type of ‘out of memory’ error occurred…strange. Maybe I should do a review of TypePad. Anyway, let’s re-write this thing!

Richard Doyle, of SWUGN fame, sent the guys from Pinion Software my way. They have a software package that let’s you share your native SolidWorks eDrawings files without worrying about someone changing or priniting them, or even doing a screen capture. From the literature they sent me:

Pinion Desktop Packager-Workgroup Edition lets you impose in-use permissions on single or multiple pieces of content to determine what your recipients may or may not do with your information. With this program, you can secure and share files from most major technical, business, and media applications

So, kind reader, watch for my review of Pinion Software in the next week or so.

astroid 6000 – The Review, Conclusion

Posted on November 17th, 2006. Posted In Hardware Review

Ok, I know you’ve all been waiting for this. Forgive me if it runs a little long, I want to make sure I cover everything…

I’ve been using the Astroid for just over a week and I do like it. Will it replace my SpacePilot? Not at work (I am going to use it at home though), but not every person, or company, is willing, or able, to spend $500 on peripheral hardware (I’d say, too, that the Astroid is meant to compete with the SpaceBall, not the SpacePilot).This is where the Astroid will make its mark. As I mentioned in my previous post, the Astroid is only US$149. The Astroid does exactly what a designer would want a spatial controller to do. It manipulates the part or assembly on your screen so that you can get it orientated as you need. In drawings, it zooms and pans. The function buttons allow for quick access to the tools you most often use.

When you begin using the astroid, you’ll notice a cursor-like graphic where your origin is normally located. Spatial Freedom calls this a motion handle. The benefit of the motion handle is that you can move it anywhere on your screen. It is around this that your part or assembly will rotate. This is especially helpful when working with large assemblies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve zoomed in on a part, bumped my controller and lost my place in the assembly with my SpacePilot. There is also a feature to "fence" the motion handle. By enabling this feature, it will keep the motion handle within the bounds of the SolidWorks screen. This, too, is nice in case you have your sensitivity settings off. It keeps the part/assembly from flying off of your screen. I know I can’t be the only one that this has happened to…

While I wasn’t too keen on not having a cd to install the software from, the installation was easy. The Astroid is also hot-pluggable; you don’t need to shut down SolidWorks to plug/unplug it. The one other thing that bothered me was if I didn’t have my hand completely on the Astroid, it would slide on my desk while I was using the ball. Granted, it may be due to the fact that my desk isn’t the cleanest one, but I’m inclined to think it’s because the astroid is so lightweight.

Since getting the Astroid, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with John Hilton a number of times. He, and his team, are aware of the shortcoming (e.g. the feel/look of the ball and its lightness) and are diligently working on them. He also told me about the Astroid’s camera control which, unfortunately, isn’t available with SolidWorks. It allows you to fly into, and design inside of, your models. You can see a demonstration by going to Spatial Freedom’s website. He explained how there was something in the SolidWorks code that prevented it, but Spatial Freedom is trying to get SolidWorks to change that. He also explained that the scroll hat, which doesn’t do much now, will have increased functionality in the future.

My ultimate opinion? I think that the astroid is a good buy that will become an even better buy as time goes on. I think that the positives outweigh my perceived negatives. While I haven’t used a SpaceBall, I believe that the Astroid is a vialble competitor and should be included in any researching you do for such products. I get the impression that John and his team are working hard to make the astroid a top-notch product. In his words, "We’re endeavoring to deliver a peripheral product that is as reliable as a keyboard or mouse."

There will be a spatial freedom booth at SolidWorks World 2007, so you’ll be able to try one out then. If you have any questions, let me know!

Desktop EDA

Posted on November 11th, 2006. Posted In Software Review

Well, it seems that the blockage is gone. Brian Watson, the Managing Director of Desktop EDA, contacted me and asked me to review one of their products for SolidWorks, SolidWorks IDF modeler. Desktop EDA is a SolidWorks Gold Parner and I’m particularly interested in this product as we use PCB’s where I work and they’re a pain to model. What is it? From their website:

Desktop EDA develops software for electronics and mechanical design customers focusing on:

  • 3D Modeling/Visualisation
  • IDF Translators
  • Circuit Board design productivity tools
  • Custom software development
  • Training and professional services

So, I’ve downloaded the program and I’m going to give it a go. One problem though, I don’t have an IDF file…huh, I’ll have to figure this one out and get back to you.

Keep an eye out for my review…


astroid 6000 – The Review, Part II

Posted on November 10th, 2006. Posted In Hardware Review

Ok, let’s get into it. My initial impression was that the ball was rather cheap looking. While it felt robust enough, I got the impression that if I squeezed too hard it might break.

I didn’t care for the fact that it didn’t come with an installation CD. You have to go to spatial freedom’s website to download the drivers as well as a second program for the SolidWorks add-in portion. I’m not sure why they did it this way, but it would be mighty inconvenient if you were without an internet connection when you wanted to install your astroid. I know, I know, most everybody has one, I’m just saying…

Anyway, I got everything loaded and hooked up and opened up SolidWorks. The little instruction sheet that comes with the controller says:

"The next time you open a SolidWorks file there will be a new Astroid drop down menu…"

Uh-uh, not in SW2007 anyway. You have to go in an check the add-in to activate it. (I know that I’m being nit-picky here, but I know that the people from spatial freedom are going to be reading this and I just want them to be aware of some possible improvements.)

Now I’m ready to start using this puppy! I opened up a file and started to mess around with the astroid. The ball works pretty much how I figured it would. The part on my screen flew all over the place in accordance with the movement of the ball. I’m still not sure what benefit the scoll hat provides though…

My present thinking is that this controller is good for the money. I didn’t notice any sloppiness in the ball, something that I’d heard was common. While parts of it might look cheap (sorry, John), it works in the manner one would expect. I’m going to use it into next week and post a final review Thursday or Friday.

Let me know if you have any specific questions.

astroid 6000 – The Review, Part I

Posted on November 9th, 2006. Posted In Hardware Review

So I received a package from Australia yesterday and, in it, was an astroid 6000 from spacial freedom. What is an astroid? To quote from spatial freedom’s website:

The has a ball that you lightly push, pull and twist with your fingertips in any 3D direction to move a 3D computer graphic object around with complete spatial freedom on the screen.

As my loyal readers will know, I’ve been using a SpacePilot for about a year. I won’t lie, I love it. However, I have every intention of giving the astroid a fair shake. I wouldn’t be much of a reviewer if I had a biased opinion, now would I?

My toys, side-by-side:


Presently, the astroid can be used with Solid Edge® and SolidWorks®. Drivers for UGS NX 3, NX 4 and PTC Pro/Engineer® Wildfire 3 are due in Q1 2007. A timeline for Autodesk Inventor® drivers hasn’t been determined. Not that any of you care as you are all committed SolidWorks users, right?

The astroid is an affordable US$149 (plus $15 S&H). That’s quite a bit cheaper than the US$499 for the SpacePilot. If the astroid performs as well as the SpacePilot, it will definitely give it a run for its money.

I’ll be setting up the astroid today, so keep checking back to see how things are progressing.

SolidWorks World – My view, Wednesday

Posted on November 8th, 2006. Posted In SolidWorks Community

…and I thought I was dragging Tuesday morning…

After spending Tuesday night drag racing, being driven around the track at 90mph, playing video games and eating way too much food, I was pretty beat Wednesday morning. The people at SolidWorks were pretty pro-active; when we got to the general assembly, every seat had a bottle of water and a packet of aspirin. How thoughtful…

Wednesday’s general session exposed us to SolidWorks 2007. There was, in my opinion, quite a bit of excitement with all of the new functionality. I won’t bore you with the details, most of you already have it or at least have heard what’s new. Due to poor trip planning, I was only able to attend one break out session before having to head to the airport to fly back to Seattle.

I have to say that SolidWorks World 2006 was one of the best learning experiences I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to go to New Orleans in February! I would strongly recommend that any company that uses SolidWorks as their main design software send at least one person to SWW. Trust me, it’s well worth the money.

SolidWorks World – My view, Tuesday

Posted on November 3rd, 2006. Posted In SolidWorks Community

Ah, Tuesday…

I was dragging a little from being out late because of the CSWP event, but a couple of cups of coffee and a bowl of cereal and I’m…ok, I’m still dragging, but I’m not hungry. It’s a good thing that I was up and about though, as the hosts of "Better By Design", Richard Seymour and Dick Powell, were the guest speakers. These guys were great! Entertaining, engaging, inspiring. (Hopefully Steve Wozniak can be as good this year!)

After the general session, there were more breakout sesssions and, like Monday, they were great. Towards the end of the afternoon though, I began to get a little distracted. We were heading to Las Vegas International Speedway for a night of driving, eating and fun. Logistically, this had to be a nightmare for the organizers. Shuttling 3000+ people 20 minutes via bus…talk about organization! As you can see from the pic, organization isn’t one of my strong points…Desk_1

All-in-all, it was a great night! I can’t wait to see what they have planned for SWW ’07…

SolidWorks World – My view, Monday

Posted on November 1st, 2006. Posted In SolidWorks Community

Ok, I’m probably way over my head here. You’d probably be better off reading Rob or Richard’s recollections of SolidWorks Worlds past, but I’ll go ahead and muddy the waters a bit more…

This is the first day that you’ll get a real good sense of how many people are actually here for SolidWorks World. We’ll all be packed in for the first general session in the morning. Just before they start to speak, stand up and look around, it’s a pretty awesome sight. They do a great job of getting everyone pumped up for the upcoming breakout sessions, and, overall, the general session is entertaining and informative.

The breakout sessions are great. While you can pre-register for them, they seemed to end up being  first-come-first-served affairs. Take some time Sunday night to figure out where you need to go and the quickest route to get there. I got aced out of a couple of sessions last year…

While there is a reception for everyone in the exhibit hall, Monday night is for the CSWPs. While I don’t have a clue as to what we’ll be doing this year, last year’s event was blast…not sure why I can’t remember the name of the place we went to…there was an arcade…food…drinks…prizes…hmm. ESPNZone maybe?

Page 1 of 11