CadMouse – The Review

Posted on May 26th, 2015. Posted In Hardware Review

3dconnexion-cadmouse-3-button-mouse-01

I’m going to fess up here: I’ve been putting off writing this review. Why? Because 3DConnexion is a favorite company of mine and I have to write some not-so-nice things about their latest offering, the CadMouse. […Read More…]

MCOR – Improving on a Good Thing

Posted on March 2nd, 2015. Posted In Hardware Review

Dateline – SOLIDWORKS World 2015, Phoenix, AZ.

One of my goals at SOLIDWORKS World 2015 was to check out all the tech that was there, old and new. Mcor isn’t old tech per se, but it’s not quite new either.

Started back in 2005 by the brothers MacCormack, Connor and Fintan, Mcor is currently the only 3D printer on the market that uses paper as its medium. The ultimate goal for Mcor is to bring 3D printing to all and to make 3D printing as easy as printing on paper, and they’re slowly making their way to that goal. […Read More…]

It’s easy to test graphics boards in desktop computers: you pop off the lid, disable the existing board, stick in the new one in a spare slot, reboot the computer, and install the new display drivers. But laptop computers are different, because the graphics circuitry cannot be disabled or replaced. There is no spare slot; you can’t change what’s inside of them. […Read More…]

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a few different computer systems; Xi, Boxx, HP and Dell. While the first three were desktops, and pretty much equal, the Dell is my M4600 and a bit lesser than the others. Unlike other hardware reviews, I’m not going to list the system specs. Why? Well, the Xi and HP were work computers and, sadly, I’m no longer employed and don’t have access to the specs any longer. Dammit. Also, I’m not a hard core hardware guy like others I know (Charles & Anna). When all is said and done, I want a computer that does what I need it to do without giving me a headache. Three out of the four did/do just that.

Let’s start with my Dell M4600. It’s my everyday workhorse. It’s what I write these incredibly in-depth blog posts on. It’s what I do my surfing on. My software testing. My Facebooking and much of my tweeting. While it’s not as fast as the three desktops, I have had only two issues with all of the Dells that I’ve used over the years. One was a BIOS issue and, just last week, two of my USB ports started screwing up. In both cases, Dell tech support responded quickly and extremely satisfactorily. I know that others have had less than stellar experiences with Dell, but that hasn’t been my experience. Honestly, I just love my Dell just as I loved my past ones. My sons now use my 5-year old Dell, God help it.

Next is the Boxx 4050 Xtreme Series, which I just sent back to them. What an incredible machine! I mean it was absolutely rock solid and fast. I will admit that it’s a bit tough to go back to using SolidWorks on my Dell after experiencing the Boxx. If I remember correctly, it had a Windows Experience rating of 7.1, with graphics and processor both at 7.9. Speaking of graphics, they were incredible thanks to the Quadro2000 graphics card. It was a quiet computer, too. Where it was speeding along, I expected the cooling fans to be louder than the dull hum that I did hear. I think the biggest drawback is the ~$4,000 price tag attached to it. That can be quite a bit to swallow, especially for smaller companies. The upside is you get what you pay for; Boxx loaded this thing. There was something like 12 USB ports on it! Seriously, who needs that many peripherals? I so wish I could have kept it, but it’s way outside my budget.

The HP Z420 was a solid machine. Obviously, it wasn’t as fast as the Boxx, but it was fast enough for what I needed. I believe its Windows Experience rating was about 7.0 with only the processor sitting at 7.9 (SolidState Drive). It, too, was a very quiet machine. I really liked it and, if memory serves me correctly, it was only around $2,000 with the upgrades we put in. Well worth the money and a great value for what you get. I’ve heard, though, that they can be a bit temperamental and can be prone to slowdowns. In the short time I used it, I didn’t experience slowdowns, but did have one graphics glitch which disappeared with a restart.

Last is the Xi. Out of the box this was a demon child. As soon as I started it, one of the cooling fans was making noise. I called tech support and got them to send me another fan. No bueno. Still had the noise upon startup. Thankfully, as the machine warmed up the sound would lessen. After going back and forth with them, and opening up the box a few times, I was able to determine that it was the fan on the cooling tower that was causing the issue. I couldn’t quite figure out why, when it was a mechanical issue, that the sound would lessen after warming up. Nonetheless, that issue was finally fixed. The fan didn’t stop me from using the Xi, and it was fast computer. Its Windows Experience was around 7.0, with the processor and graphics up around 7.7. The graphics were excellent. Then I got a BSOD. I haven’t seen one in 10+ years and never on a brand new computer. What got me though way Xi’s customer service. Their cavalier attitude about it (“these things happen”) really didn’t sit well with me at all. I lost complete confidence in the computer and the company, and returned the computer. I’m still a bit torqued that they were so “meh” about the BSOD. What does that say about their product that something like that would appear to be routine? Needless to say, I won’t be buying from them in the future.

If I were to rate them based on performance, it’d be: Boxx, HP, Dell, Xi.

If I were to rate them based on reliability, it’d be: Dell, Boxx/Hp, Xi

If I were to rate them based on preference, it’d be: Boxx, Dell, Hp, Xi

These are my opinions. Take ’em or leave ’em.

Mcor_IRIS DSC_2928

One of the things I enjoy about SolidWorks World is seeing all the technology out there that one can use with SolidWorks, be it hardware or software. Leading up to the show, I was contacted by Julie Reece, the Director of Marketing for Mcor Technologies. Unlike most marketing people who ask me if I’d be interested in looking at their product, Julie made it quite apparent that I didn’t have a choice in the matter lest I suffer severe bodily harm. (I suppose, too, it might be because I’ve known Julie for a few years now from her days at Z-Corp that I agreed. Plus, I was hoping to score some cool swag.)  It was a solid 30 minute interview that I recorded so I would be able to write a comprehensive article. Sadly, my iPhone picked up all the background noise as well, rendering the vast majority of the recording useless. Nonetheless, I’ll shall do my best.

I met with Dr. Conor MacCormack, Co-Founder and CEO of Mcor. Conor and his brother, Fintan, started Mcor in 2005 with the goal of creating an easy-to-use, low cost, full color 3D printer that used stable and readily available materials. They felt, too, that the offerings that were on the market were not environmentally friendly, were expensive and used unstable consumables. They also didn’t want to design such a printer but have it be so expensive that its price point was too high, so they chose a price they wanted to be at and designed to that. From that was born the Matrix and Iris printers.

The media used in these printers is paper. Like the kind you can just go down to Office Depot and get. Regular old letter size paper. The skull you see above? Made from Paper. If that’s not eco-friendly, I don’t know what is. “What about the binding agent?” you ask? Slightly modified white, eco-friendly, glue. Should the need arise you can pour it down the drain, though I don’t know why you’d ever have to. Seriously, why would you need to pour it down the drain? I suppose if you caught your kid dipping fruit in it or…sorry, I digress.

The way that it works is pretty simple. The software cuts your model into paper-thin slices. Each of these slices are then printed on the aforementioned paper. The printer is a standard printer, using Mcor’s proprietary ink. This ink doesn’t just sit on the paper, it permeates it so that your 3D print doesn’t have white lines through it. You then load all the printed sheets into the 3D printer and it takes over from there. Should you drop any of the pages, they’re all numbered so you can realign it all. The printer, too, will recognize if the pages are out of whack and will stop printing. After each page is added, the platen rises up to press it to the existing pages. The blade then cuts the outline of the part and creates cuts outside of the part so you can easily remove the excess material. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. After a few hours, you have your part to play with. Their envelope is 9.4″L x 6.9″W x 5.9″H. You can put multiple prints together to create larger models, using the same glue. With x, y, z resolution of .0004″, .0004″, .004″ and 1,000,000 + colors, those models can be pretty impressive.

Mcor is also in partnership with Staples Office Centre, offering 3D printing to the masses. It would seem to be a strictly European partnership as I couldn’t find anything here on this side of the ocean. Just another case of trying to keep the colonies down, I suppose.

Conor, Fintan, and their team have come up with something pretty cool here. The printers have the ability to produce living hinges, full-color prototypes, and cool models, all in a desktop package. Well, that may be a bit of a stretch. It will fit on a desktop, but you’d want to use the table that comes with the printer. The prints can be sealed and sanded to better improve the resolution and to protect them from water. The examples they had on display were impressive, having been created with paper. The $30,000 price tag on the Iris isn’t too bad, comparatively speaking, but the consumables costs are lower than any others.

Am I sold on Mcor? I certainly like what they can do and I also like that they’re environmentally friendly. Their printing capabilities are on par with other companies out there. Their price point is very good, which should keep ROI on the short side. Taking all that into consideration, yes, I’m sold.

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This past Friday, I spent the day at Z Corporation and SolidWorks. It was my first time actually visiting Z Corp, and I was excited for it. So much so, that I got my days messed up and actually went down Thursday. Sucks getting old…Anyway, Julie Reece, Z Corp’s Director or Marketing Communication, was kind enough to be my hostess and show me around their facility. Naturally, one thing that dominated the office landscape was 3D prints. There were  shoes and skulls and girls, oh my!

 

 

 

I’d love to know who got to scan that last one…

Ok, back on track. Something I didn’t realize was that Z Corp actually builds and ships right from their offices in Burlington. While the parts to make the printers are outsourced, everything is assembled and tested on site. They’ve even won an award for Lean Manufacturing. The culture in the office is very casual, as it appeared to me. Even their CEO, John Kawola, is a member of the cubicle farm. Quite refreshing in this age of executive excess.

Julie began to talk to me about “the video”, and how it had brought out a lot of curiosity seekers. I had to stop her and admit that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Turns out that National Geographic’s Known Universe did a story on Z Corporation and their printing capabilities. This ended up bringing out the curious and disbelievers. One guy even showed up at Z Corp’s office just to find out if what he saw was real. This technology, which so many of us are familiar with, is completely alien to the vast majority of non-engineer/designers out there. My Dad saw a clip about it on the local news (he lives in Maine), and likened Z Corp’s printers to Star Trek’s “Replicator”. Sorry, Dad, they’re getting closer but you still can’t get it to make a steak. For those of you who haven’t seen the video, here it is:

If you find yourself in the Boston area with nothing to do, get in touch with Julie. I’m sure she’d love to show you all that Z Corp can do for you.

How does one go about reviewing a book, without bias, when said book was written by friends? Well, if you’re me, you just do it. I’ve never had a problem separating business and pleasure and, in this case, this is all business.

Alex Ruiz, with help from Gabi Jack, has written a SolidWorks book for beginners. SolidWorks 2010: No Experience Required is, truly, written for the beginner. It starts you off by going through system requirements, then into how to start the program once installed, to the UI. They go through the UI in great detail which, I suspect, is highly beneficial to new users. Alex does a good job of explaining what the toolbars do, what the Feature Manager is for, and what shortcuts are available out of the box. (Though I didn’t see any mention of ctrl+1 (front), ctrl+2 (back), etc.)

With step-by-step instructions, the book walks the reader through each phase of part/assembly/drawing creation and, in the end, the user will have created a desk lamp. With tips and tricks throughout, the user will not only learn the basics, but can glean info that will help speed up their design processes.

SolidWorks 2010: No Experience Required is a highly detailed manual, and would seem to be perfect for the beginner. I think adding a section on repairing/understanding errors would be highly beneficial, though. Being able to handle errors early on makes life so much easier for the newbie, if you ask me.

I also disagree with showing Instant3D. Frankly, I think it can cause the new user more problems than not. It doesn’t take much for someone to inadvertently drag a face and not fully realize what they’ve done. Instant3D, in my opinion, should be shown at an intermediate level or, at least, have some sort of disclaimer in bold about the possibility of hosing things up quite easily if you’re not paying attention.

Overall, I think the book is laid out well. It’s written clearly and concisely, if not a bit too simplified. I can see this book being extremely helpful to students especially. I give it a solid B.

Creaform – Scan your way to success

Posted on July 30th, 2009. Posted In Hardware Review

A couple of weeks ago, I was visited by Daniel Brown of Creaform. He flew in to demo one of their scanners for me. While I was familiar with them somewhat, it was good to have another up close and personal viewing.

Daniel took some time to go over Creaform’s 3D Laser scanner product line, then set about showing me what the scanner he brought could do. Initially, I’d wanted him to scan in one of the smaller parts we design, but he was quite up front about the limitation of the scanner; in this case, small parts. The particular part is around 3 x 1 x 1/2, with a compound curve and some tiny ribs. It was mostly the ribs that would cause the issue, but the dimensions of the part were under the minimum recommended limit (~6″) as well.

Daniel started off by scanning in a mask he brought. While not your typical reverse engineering application, it did a great job of showing how well the scanner picked up the smallest details. The colors and texture of the mask came through very nicely. It was pretty impressive compared to what I’ve seen in the past.

Next, he scanned part of a container that Ultimate Survival makes. This was a much larger piece than the mask, but not as complex. As with the mask, the scanner brought in the color and texture nicely. The acquisition software, which comes with the scanner, made it easy to fill in the data that the scanner couldn’t pick up. (For those of you unfamiliar with scanning, areas of high reflectivity tend to not get picked up by the scanner. Typically, when dealing with shiny surfaces, you’ll powder them to lessen the shininess.)

Now here’s the good thing. Back when I last reviewed a scanner, you needed a third-party software to translate the captured data so that you could use it in SolidWorks. With the improvements to ‘Scan to 3D’, that need is, partially, gone. From the acquisition software, you can have an optimized surface. You can use a 3rd party software to further things along, but the optimized surface gets you what you need if you’re just interested in the overall shape of the object you’ve scanned. Should the need arise, you can add to said surface.

From what I understood, most people who are scanning are doing so just for the data, so the need for additional software isn’t there. If, however, you wanted to scan in your ’34 Chevy Roadster to redesign that bad boy, then you may want to make a further investment.

As it is, Creaform’s scanners will run you from $40k-$75k depending on the model. They all come with the acquistion software and training. I can definitely see how handy one of these scanners would be if you, or your company, did a lot of reverse engineering. They are great tools. Daniel told me that they’ve scanned the nose cone of a 737 and cars with them. They’re also popular with prosthetic manufacturers. It allows them to accurately create custom prosthetic, reducing patients discomfort greatly.

All-in-all, I was impressed by the scanner. The technology has come a long way since I last reviewed one. It’d be nice to see the price come down in the future, otherwise my boss is never going to approve my request.

The actual title is SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible, but that was just too much to put in the title. Written by Matt Lombard, this book is part of the “Bible” series published by Wiley. Matt also wrote the SolidWorks 2007 Bible and is about to release the SolidWorks 2009 Bible.

On top of being a published author, Matt is also an accomplished engineer and a friend of mine (not that being a friend of mine is worth anything). That will have no affect on this review though. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t pull punches. However, anyone who knows Matt knows he’s good at what he does and he doesn’t do things half-assed. The Surfacing Bible is no exception. Matt takes the time to not only explain the “how”, but the “why” as well. For someone like me, who has limited surfacing experience, this info in invaluable. As with his other books, this one is for intermediate to advanced users. You do need to have a pretty good understanding of SolidWorks, and its related terminology, to be able to adequately use the book.

The book takes you from laying the groundwork to specialized techniques. There’s a great section that explains what surfaces are that then seques into when to use them versus solids. There’s a whole chapter on surfacing tools and how to use them, too. Throughout the book there are cross-reference links so you can easily find associated content. Matt also includes some excellent information on splines and 3D sketching.

One of the best features of the book, aside from the learning, is how Matt talks about limitations with the software and how to deal with said limitations. Bear in mind, this isn’t done maliciously but to help. It goes a long way to making your job easier to know what to expect, and not to expect, from the software.

The actual “lesson” chapters are clear, organized and easy to understand. Matt takes the time to not only show you how, but tells you why and mentions other ways this or that could have been accomplished. The illustrations are easy to understand, as is each step. There’s a chapter on evaluation geometry that covers all the various tools available to check your model (the check tool, curvature combs, etc).

As I’ve come to expect from Matt, this book is extremely thorough, even diving into post-processing (PhotoWorks, eDrawings). While I would have preferred a CD with the model files on it, a decision was made for a “Companion Website”. I suppose, though, that by doing it that way it allows for changes/fixes to be made to any files that may need it. I could actually write more about this book, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Matt’s knowledge of surfacing is well-known and he, seemingly, has put it all into the SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you buy one today.

When 3DConnexions’s SpacePilot PRO came out, I, like so many others, jumped on the bandwagon and regurgitated the info from 3DConnexion’s marketing people. I then received a physical specimen to try out and ended up writing an open letter to SolidWorks and 3DConnexion because the drivers were messed up. My settings weren’t being saved, preset buttons weren’t working. Calls to tech support were useless. Were it not for the fact that there were others having the same issues, I’d have figured it was just me. I was extremely disappointed in 3DConnexion, and I’ve been a fan for years.

Well, that’s all in the past now. 3DConnexion updated their drivers and not only fixed the issues, but they made improvements, too. Previously, the LCD screen would just show a list of commands by number. This wasn’t very helpful, especially while getting used to the new set-up. With 10 different commands available via the five buttons, you had to know that the function assigned to #6 was the secondary function under button 1 (1/6, 2/7, 3/8, 4/9, 5/10). For me, it wasn’t overly intuitive. That, though, could just be a mental limitation on my part…
Back to my point. The new driver changed the visual to this:

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As you can easily see, the interface is much more intuitive. Props to the folks at 3DConnexion for hitting the nail on the head there. I believe I mentioned that I was having the same sort of settings issues with my SpacePilot. While I haven’t had a chance to check it, I suspect this latest driver version would fix them, too. Both the SpacePilot and the SpacePilot PRO use the same driver.

I like the look and feel of the SpacePilot PRO. I always had issues with the 6 buttons that run across the top of the SpacePilot. I just didn’t like the layout. This didn’t stop me from using them, but I found myself stumbling once in a while. With the positioning of the buttons on the SpacePilot PRO, this doesn’t happen. Once I was able to remember what function I’d programmed to what button, I was able to find the button with my pinky quite quickly. The same holds true for the view buttons. By having my ‘S’ key macro mapped to the SpacePilot PRO, and having the shortcut bar set up the way I want it, my hand hardly ever has to leave the SpacePilot PRO.

Aside from stumbling out of the gate with the bad drivers I’d say 3DConnexion has another success story on their hands, especially with how quickly they fixed the driver. Granted, at US$499, it’ll be out of reach for some, but if you can swing the cost I’d recommend it. Look around, you can sometimes get a demo device to give it a test drive.

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