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Designing with CAD software

Graphics | September 1, 2009 | By:

Embracing the sophistication of CAD software allows the creation of complex structures for 3-D projects.

Most fabric structure designers know that implementing modern computer-aided design (CAD) tools not only improves productivity but helps achieve their goals of accelerating design time, shortening design cycles, reducing development costs and improving quality.

From the earliest application of 2-D design tools to the growing use of 3-D solid modeling systems, CAD technology has made a dramatic impact on design engineering and has improved efficiency, quality and innovation. But CAD automation presents a new set of challenges, including managing, controlling and sharing the incredible influx in the volume and diversity of design data that designers create through the use of better and more automated design tools.

Available today are a number of software packages with features and benefits for designers and end product manufacturers.

CAD software

Rhino. Many designers use Rhino from Rhinoceros Software to draw in 3-D because it’s easy to learn and to use and allows users to focus on design and visualization without being distracted by the software. It is a surface modeling program, although it enables the creation of solids and the ability to draw dimensional curved shapes. Rhino can generate 2-D views from 3-D drawings and can analyze radii and lengths in 3-D. You can render in Rhino with a “ghosted” function for semi-transparent concept drawings.

Rhino has the ability to smash or flatten surfaces accurately, so combined with scaling it will create accurate patterns. The resulting files can be output at full size with a plotter. Models can be output as STL files, which can be printed on a 3-D printer.

Designers use Rhino in combination with AutoCAD. In more elaborate complex assemblies in steel, Autodesk Inventor, which is similar to SolidWorks, is often used. Both programs are parametric, meaning you can make a change in a drawing at any point and the change passes throughout the system.

A benefit to Rhino is its speed. A concept can be provided in a couple of hours or faster.

SolidWorks. SolidWorks Premium CAD software offers advanced capabilities to help designers with design, automation and simulation to validation, collaboration and data management, all in one package.

SolidWorks claims six key attributes: costs less to manufacture, speeds customer delivery, provides more throughput, requires less maintenance, experiences less downtime, fits together correctly the first time, offers more aesthetic appeal, is more efficient and environmentally responsible.

Sketch-up. Sketch-up is a valuable and popular drawing program, and its entry level version is free from Google. It is powerful and fast, making it great for a quick concept while generating accurate information. Sketch-up can be used for complex drawings or for basic visualizing, and has unique ways to import graphics and images that can be easily imposed onto surfaces.

Other software programs used are the familiar Adobe Suite: Photoshop and Illustrator for graphics.

Many designers go back and forth between programs, as no one program will do everything. Each unique project will call for one or more software tools.

The most common drawing format is dwg., but is often saved as a PDF. PDFs have become much better in the last several years as the main asset for saving and sending files, and there are now 3-D PDFs.

CAD benefits

As fabric graphic designers embrace the ever expanding sophistication and elegance of computer-aided design software, they are able to create complex structures with multiple undulating surfaces for a variety of 3-D projects. Fabric tensile structures can be more readily tailored to allow multiple shapes and visual treatments. They can quickly and effectively incorporate fabric graphics into their design concepts, imparting purpose, effectiveness and visual impact.

Today’s CAD software enables the user to quickly visualize the overall structure. Lead designers can then work on detail or pass it onto others on the design team. 3-D and fabric graphic design, from idea to fruition, is now as fast and complex as the designer wants to make it.

Jim Cotton is a graphic designer and owner/CEO of Better Mousetrap LLC, Long Island City, N.Y.

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