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AutoCAD 2016 What’s New Review

Spring always brings new beginnings, including the new releases from Autodesk. This year is no different as the new version of AutoCAD is upon us. Although nothing earth-shattering like last years user interface “refresh”, this years version still proves to be chocked full of enhancements that will make your day-to-day life easier, as well as adding new features and functionality to take your design and collaboration in new directions.

What’s New?

Others might slice-and-dice it differently, but to me the new features and improvements fall into five categories

  1. User Interface
  2. Documentation
  3. Design
  4. BIM
  5. Installation and Configuration

The User Interface (UI) enhancements is a continuation of what they introduced with the darker / sleeker 2015 interface. Take for example the File tab introduced in 2015. It is now known as the Start page and is persistent, but based on user feedback, can be disabled during installation. Layout tabs are drag-and-dropable (finally), the status bar automatically wraps to the next line, and the help makes it easier to find things.

AutoCAD 2016 Wrapping Commandline

The new System Monitor is constantly watching those troublesome system variables that seem to have a mind of themselves. It lets you know that they have changed and allows for a reset directly from the status bar.

AutoCAD 2016 System Variable Monitor Dialog

Documentation Enhancements? Yep, its got them…

Revision Clouds behave more like polylines, making modifications significantly easier and actually achievable now… no more deleting and redrawing.

AutoCAD 2016 Rev Cloud Stretching Grip

The enhanced DIM command will make you seriously reconsider how you dimension from now on. Think of it as Quick Dimensions but on steroids. Its a one-stop, do-all dimension feature which actually previews the dimension before you make your selection.

PDF support? Still there of course, but now it’s much more flexible, with its own publishing dialog and options. It should also be much faster.

Reality Computing (Point Clouds) got its fair share of loving too, including support for sectioning, transparency control, point cloud-specific object snaps, and Dynamic UCS support.

Any visualization changes? Oh yeah! The Render engine has gone, replaced with a new and improved version. It is physically based, making it easier yet creating much better results.

Design & BIM based collaboration gets some love. External Reference support is expanded to include Navisworks Files (NWD or NWC). This allows for the attachment of the “Coordination Model”, for an additional collaboration option.

What’s Next?

Over the next week (or so), we’ll be posting deeper dives into the new features.

3Dconnexion CadMouse – Hands On Review

SWW15 3Dx CadMouse Floor Painting

I’ve been waiting for this device for some time! First of all I wanted a mouse designed for CAD and not gaming, but more specifically, I first got wind of the CadMouse around June last year. The anticipation has been killing me, I was then informed I would receive one of the early builds of the devices in time for Christmas. All in the name of hardware and driver ‘beta’ testing if you like. Thanks to Christmas mailing traffic and a couple of snafu’s it arrived safe & sound in early January. She’s been in the palm of my hand when using my HP ZBook ever since. So what do I think and how have I got on with CadMouse?

The Old Dunga

I’m embarrassed to say, that the CadMouse was always going to be far superior to anything I have used on a daily basis over the last 11 years. I really should be a ashamed of myself for not purchasing a high end mouse for my daily desk polishing. I’ve predominantly used the OEM HP, 2 button mouse, with crappy scroll wheel… then over the last 18 months I’ve been using a ropey mobile form factor Logitech wireless mouse. In credit to HP, their mouse lasted for years. The Logitech showed signs of giving up the ghost by serving up a spongy left mouse button around the 11 month mark.

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Driver Installation & Configuration

3DxWare 10 CadMouse & SpaceMouse ProIf you already own a 3Dconnexion 3D Mouse, then you will quite likely already have 3DxWare 10 installed. Then if you have updated that in the last few weeks, you will probably be running v10.2.2. In which case, you have to install precisely nothing. 3DxWare is a unified driver which supports ALL 3Dconnexion’s products, then within the driver configuration you can setup each device independently of each other. As a result each device can have different speed and direction settings. It’s this driver where CadMouse predominantly stands above the rest of the mice in my opinion, it’s CadMouse’s secret weapon.

Unlike other high end mice on the market, CadMouse’s 3DxWare drivers’ have been developed specifically for CAD applications and the unique environments they present to users. Most mouse drivers support programming their buttons to invoke different commands from one application to the next. Often though, you don’t have the ability to call up application specific commands, unless you can map those to keyboard shortcuts. As current 3D Mouse users will know, when their favourite CAD application supports and is supported by 3Dconnexion, you can assign native commands to the buttons on your device. But on top of that, the driver is often context sensitive. As an example with SolidWorks or Autodesk Inventor, if you are in a part sketch, you can program the buttons to one set of commands, but when you are in an assembly or drawing, you can program to buttons to use a different set. Non CAD mice drivers just aren’t geared up to work like that.

Out of the box I have found all the default button assignments to be just what I need for now. Even though I’m not old enough to have used a 3-button mouse in the work place before, my hand immediately settled into and appreciated using the full sized middle mouse button. As a result I need to find a good use for the mouse wheel button now. Talking about how my hand feels with the device, let’s move onto…

Ergonomics

At first glance I didn’t like the look of the CadMouse, its shape isn’t as sexy as other high end mice out there. From some angles it looks spot on, then at others, quite awkward. But once I started using it, I couldn’t have cared less. Finally my hand felt as at home as my backside does on a Sunday afternoon watching the Formula One with a good cider in my fist. 3Dconnexion have nailed it, every digit sat right where it should and importantly, they stayed there. It took very little effort to make sure my hand was positioned optimally most of the time.

The side buttons sit just above my thumb, I barely have to move it to depress the buttons, but they haven’t once got in the way of punting the mouse around my desk. I’ve naturally dropped into using them as the forward & back buttons in browsers and Windows Explorer, but rather unexpectedly I intuitively use them in both SolidWorks and Inventor to Quick Zoom In & Out. Quick Zoom is also another secret weapon 3Dconnexion have devised. I’ll show you the effect in the video at the end of the article.

My only gripe ergonomically comes with the gesture button, which sits just rear of the scroll wheel. I have two options for pressing it, I haven’t decided which is best yet, I find both quite awkward. I think I’m edging towards using the tip of my index finger:

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Personally I would have much preferred to see it in front of the scroll wheel. There is a natural spot for it there as a result of your index and middle fingers sitting apart from one another. Aside from that, I do still use the Gesture button simply because it is worth it, I’ll show you why in the video later. I suspect it ended up in its current location for the aesthetic.

The Middle / Third Button & Scroll Wheel

CadMouse Front ViewAs I mentioned early, my hand has naturally slotted into using the middle button. People will argue that most mice now have ‘clickable’ scroll wheels and the 3rd full mouse button isn’t that much of a benefit. I strongly disagree with that. As an example, a colleague of mine has a Logitech Performance Mouse MX, every time I’ve used it and tried to pan using the scroll wheel button, it tends to scroll before clicking, due to its wonderfully smooth scrolling action. This confuses CAD applications and frustrates me. I’ve found this with other mice in the past as well. Having a full mouse button dedicated to your typical middle mouse button commands, makes panning (Autodesk software) or orbiting (SolidWorks) fool proof.

I LOVE the scroll wheel on this mouse. It has a really soft but positive notched scroll, ideal for CAD, but a pretty clever digital scroll. It senses when you want to scroll long and fast, then digitally gets stuck into smashing up & down through the pages. This is probably one area where I’m spoilt by finally having a mouse more befitting to my profession. Irrespective of that, I think 3Dconnexion have nailed the user experience and quality feel with this scroll wheel. You have to try it!

Gestures

Some of you may be thinking there aren’t enough programmable buttons on this thing. I need buttons, my current gaming mouse has all the buttons I need and love it! Well you may have a point. But personally I’d prefer to minimise the number of buttons around my fingers if possible.Generic CadMouse Gesture Menu settingsAt first I was skeptical about this gesture button, I was too caught up in the fact that Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks both have decent context sensitive gesture menus, so what was the point. The point is it turns one hardware button on your mouse into 4 buttons, right across the entire operating system.

The 3Dconnexion driver developers have been busy, they’ve put a lot of thought into which commands would be useful within various applications. Each time I click it in a new application, I think this will be the time it won’t make sense, but then it does. Of course, you can completely customise what appears in this gesture wheel and when it appears, in true 3DxWare 10 style.

If you don’t end up buying a CadMouse, you can assign this gesture menu to your SpaceMouse Wireless buttons if you want instead.

Conclusion

Would I buy one? Yes…. but I didn’t buy a high end mouse previously when I really should have. So why would I this time? For exactly the same reason why I bought my SpaceNavigator way back when, it was a seriously well made device, designed specifically for CAD users. I was happy to part with US$99 for that then, so I would be for CadMouse. Would I buy it at release or wait for the wireless version they may or may not produce? Tough call. My personal opinion is this mouse should have followed the same formula as the SpaceMouse Wireless, and used a magnetic charging cable, à la Apple Macbook. A straight up USB solution wouldn’t have worked for a mouse like it does for the static SpaceMouse. That way both the wired & wireless camp would have been satisfied. However, I can honestly say the cable hasn’t bothered me or got in my way once since I started using CadMouse in early January. The only time its got in the way is when I’m packing up my laptop as I leave my office, it’s just so much more convenient chucking a wireless mouse into your laptop bag. Knowing that now, I would probably still go out and buy this mouse because it works so well. Finally, be sure to check out the video below to see CadMouse in action. Thanks for reading, and if you have any comments or requests, then please fire away in the comments below.

Images courtesy of 3Dconnexion

Disclaimer: 3Dconnexion provided this mouse free of charge for the purpose of providing pre-release product feedback. They have had no influence over this article beyond that interaction.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD: Test Drive

Recently I reviewed the features that Autodesk Nastran In-CAD offered to inventor users that wanted a lot more simulation power. While I have had some experience with Siemens FEMAP interface for Nastran, I have had very little experience with Autodesk’s new In-CAD UI. I thought that this article would be a good time to get in and try it from the perspective of a new user. (I should mention that I crashed an In-CAD seminar at Autodesk University for about an hour, so I did have an hour jump-start)

It should be noted here that Autodesk is selling In-CAD directly with Autodesk Inventor, as if to say “Here is our Nastran solver with an Inventor front end”. I am however writing this for everyone’s benefit, including existing Inventor users that are considering a Nastran solver.

Setup

The setup workflow is the same as one would expect:

  • Establish materials, boundary conditions, and loads.
  • Double-check everything
  • Run the solution which fails [beat head on desk]
  • Adjust the model and rectify and oversights
  • Run the solution – success
  • Review the results
  • … a laundry list of review and comparison to ensure that you are confident in the analysis model and results

Material Properties

Nastran In-CAD sorts components into material categories that are easily defined. It will pull in the material properties from the CAD model with the push of a button. In addition it can import material properties from any of the Inventor or Autodesk material libraries, or allow users to create their own.

Tip: Non-linear material types are supported, but will need to be created as these definitions are not in the existing Inventor Library (as far as I know).

Setup

Constraints, Contacts, and Loads all use similar dialogs that permit faces and bodies to be selected and deselected as desired.  Once selected, the particular conditions can be configured and applied as required.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Setup Panels

The Constraints dialog also contains buttons that identify limiting concepts (i.e. no rotation, free, symmetry, etc.) that directly relate to the 6 degrees-of-freedom check boxes that most analysts relate to.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Constraints Setup

Discerning between various surfaces is handled through the Inventor alternate surface explorer popup.

5 Contact types are available: General, Slide, Welded, Rough, and Offset Weld.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Contact Setup

Various limitations to contact proximity, penetration, etc. are available to configure.

Tips: Autodesk suggested using Welded for ‘Bonded’  types, and General for most other applications.

Load applications are equally simple. Load direction is applied by:

  • Individual component coordinate systems (X,Y,Z axes)
  • Normal to face
  • Geometric entity (by edge of selected geometry)

Tip: boundary conditions such as constraints and the like can be applied to different subsets

Meshing

I have always loved Nastran’s adaptive meshing. It does it well and effortlessly. I typically (not always but often) get mesh concentrations how I needed them without a lot of manipulation.

Meshing is carried out with both global refinement settings and individual component settings. One feature I like is the mesh properties table, where all the component mesh settings are managed in one setting, and are easily editable.

 Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Mesh Table

I liked this a lot. Nastran In-CAD also offers an element check, where In-CAD will inspect the model meshes for inconsistencies, such as Skew, Aspect, and Jacobian limits. The results of these can be highlighted in the model, making detection and adjustments much easier.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD failed elements

Tip: In-CAD will allow you to return to Inventor to work as normal. Be very aware that once component geometries that are connected with an In-CAD study are altered, anything applied to meshes, including constraints and contacts will be fouled and subsequent runs will require the boundary conditions to be meticulously corrected unless very broad automatic detection settings are imposed (which can be costly in run time)

Solving

I chose to setup a simple linear static analysis for this article, so that it would solve quickly and I could get a feel for basic activities. Additionally, we were using a Lenovo P500 Thinkstation CAD platform provided by Lenovo for these “CAD user” type evaluations in order to frame this in a “CAD user” perspective for solve times. While most companies purchasing a Nastran license will be mating that to a serious workstation, I wanted to understand how the solving would fare on their existing workstations, should they want to hold off on an upgrade until later.

My first run was shoddy, and I was getting Jacobian warnings and an unexpectedly long run-time. I found one surface contact that was left to the system to determine, as well as some poorly defined mesh areas. I increased the density slightly, defined the last contact manually (which I prefer to do in Nastran), and added another constraint. The subsequent runs were cleaner with a speed that was on par with an upscale 16 GB CAD platform.

Autodesk Nastran In-CAD Output in Browser

Tip: Watch the convergence in the Output panel. This is a clear indication how Nastran is handling your model setup. If the convergences won’t get close to 100% and the iterations keep rising (within a reasonable amount of time) you may want to cut your losses and stop the analysis (and possibly reduce the model DOF).

Results to Come

Setup was quite easy to pick up on. The UI has been simplified in such a manner that it takes little review in order to setup what you want. Experienced users will get it immediately, and new users should find these methods quite easy to learn.

After the review I realized that I really need to spend a couple hours setting up a simple transient analysis with some alternate elements in order to get a better feel for the setup procedure, accessibility, and capabilities. We’ll do that in the future.

In the mean-time, I will return with the post-processing and results of this review, as well as an overall perspective for adopting this software.

Windows 10 Tech Preview Reviewed | The best new features

Windows 10 New Old Start MenuI couldn’t help myself, I had to sign up to the Technical Preview and get Microsoft’s latest operating system, Windows 10, installed in a virtual machine immediately. Ultimately I will try out some CAD software to see if it will install and run appropriately. I will try out AutoCAD, Inventor and possibly even SOLIDWORKS. In the meantime, I thought I would share some initial observations.

Installation

To get started I swung over to the Microsoft Insider Program website and signed up. Super easy, especially since my browser was already logged into my account. After accepting the agreement, I had my pick of which installer language I needed. 4GB later, about half an hour, the ISO file was ready to be mounted to a VMware instance. Once that was configured, the install process was no different to the Windows 8 process. I had the choice of upgrading or installing a fresh copy. Since it was a VM, I went with a fresh copy. I have my VM’s running on my local Samsung EVO SSD drive, so the installation was done in just under 10 minutes.  From booting the ISO image to logging into Windows within 10 minutes!!! It wasn’t that long ago with Windows 7 where you would easily be waiting nearly an hour to get the operating system installed. Once I gave the install my Microsoft credentials, it asked me which PC I wanted to copy my settings from, or if I wanted to create an independent computer. That isn’t something I’ve seen with Windows 8, and to be honest, it’s a welcome addition. I wonder if there is a setting somewhere to retrospectively ‘detach’ the PC from your group of sync’d devices.

Windows 10 PC Sync SetupFrom there, Windows does it’s usual setting up routine, then within a few minutes I’m in. I have to say, it was the easiest operating system install I have ever experienced.

Naturally I started poking about, so what’s different? At this early stage, I can only hope to discover some visual changes and areas of the system I use regularly. Let’s get cracking.

Start Menu

Context Menu

The first thing I did was check the power user context menu on the Start Menu button was still in place. Thankfully it is. That in my opinion is reason enough for people to upgrade to Windows 8.1 from 7, so I really didn’t want to lose that. If you aren’t using it already, direct access to useful tools such as; running the Command Prompt as Administrator, Programs and Features, and the Run command mean you are missing out big time. Get in there.

Search

Windows 10 Start Menu SearchStart Menu based search in Windows Vista and Windows 7 is woefully underutilized by the vast majority of PC users. In my opinion it was that skill / habit gap which made the Windows 8 user experience so many pundits refer to as ‘Jarring’. The reality was, if you were half decent at typing, pressing the Windows key on your keyboard, then starting to type what you wanted is a far more productive way to work. The Windows team knew this and enhanced search brilliantly in Windows 8.1. The Start Menu, yes, a Start Menu, because that’s exactly what the Windows 8 start screen is, has now become a one stop shop to acquire whatever you need at any time from any where within the Windows operating system. Windows 10 brings this functionality to the forefront by placing a Search button smack bang on the taskbar, right next to the much loved Windows icon. I can only hope this encourages more users to take advantage of the excellent search tools within Windows. I’ve already noticed the search results favoring recently used files, which is handy indeed.

The ‘New’ old Start Menu

It’s baaack, but frankly I don’t care, I’ll still be pressing the Windows key and typing the same way I did with Windows 7.Windows 10 Start Menu All Apps I am glad they have updated it though, and it does look pretty swanky. Tacked onto the side of it, is a hark back to the Windows 8 Start Menu, with a Live Tile section. This can be fully customized by pinning anything you turn up in the left side of the Start Menu or via a Start Menu search. At this stage, you can’t pin any results via the aforementioned Search button on the task bar, personally I will be turning that off if I can. Admittedly, I am happy to see a folder based hierarchy return, just for when I need to rummage for Apps of the same name, but different release years. For Autodesk Inventor users, that will be things like Task Scheduler and the Styles Manager.

Going back to the Live Tile section of the Start Menu, you can move the tiles around and choose from four different sizes. Some people don’t like the constant movement of Live Tiles, so Microsoft have provided the ability to turn that functionality off on a tile by tile basis. As you add pin more tiles, the width of the Start Menu grows. I haven’t tried to overflow the menu yet, but I will eventually. If need be, you can increase the height of the Start Menu in the same way you can with a normal window. So essentially you could almost create a full screen ‘New’ old Start Menu which.. at which point you may as well revert to the Windows 8.1 Start Menu, which can be done within the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties dialog. Accessed from the taskbar context menu.

Snaps & Apps

Alt + TAB

It works the same way it always did. Except now it has to consider the Virtual Desktop feature. As a result all the open apps and applications currently running within the operating system are displayed when you press this age old key combination. Personally I barely use it, but I know others love it, so it’s good to see Microsoft have preserved its behavior.

Virtual Desktops / Task View

Windows 10 Task View - Virtual DesktopsThis is a biggy. At first I thought, meh, I kind of wanted it to allow me to have work and play desktop layouts. But I quickly realized it had precious little to do with the desktop itself, rather it’s all about grouping open applications together. One of the reasons I didn’t like using Alt + TAB in the past was for when I had applications snapped side by side. As soon as I Alt tabbed, I would lose my layout and find a need to keep mashing my TAB key until I got back to it. With this, I can just switch between organized app groups. I will share some CAD related productivity thoughts on this in a later post.

However, I’m not a fan of one feature here. All running apps still appear along the taskbar, only the ones available in the active Virtual Desktop appear to be running. The rest just look like they have been pinned to the taskbar. Upon closer inspection you will notice, the ‘running’ version of the icon is hiding just off screen, with its edge just poking up. I think this makes the taskbar look a tad messy, but at this point I can’t think of a better way of handling that, other than removing it entirely. Having them, does mean you can quickly switch to its Virtual Desktop just by clicking on that edge, instead of having to click on the Task View button just to the right of that handy new Search button.

Snaps

Windows 10 Snap AssistI’ve always liked using the Windows Key + Directional arrows to evenly dock windows around my screen. With Windows 10 that has become enhanced. You can now dock / snap windows into the corner of your screen as well, meaning you can have four apps evenly docked on your screen, perfect if you have a mahoosive monitor dominating your workspace. There has been talk of Snap Assist suggesting apps to fill in the spaces, but in my testing that only seems to be the case when you snap a window full height to the right or left of the screen. It doesn’t appear to be working for the four corner snap yet, hopefully that is on the way.

Charm Bar

Windows 10 App Charm BarIf you have a keyboard and mouse, and an ‘old skool’ sticky finger free monitor, like my Gen 1 HP ZBook 15, then mousing over the right side of the screen won’t reveal the Charm Bar. The little flyouts in the top corners and bottom left corner of the screen are no where to be seen either. However, the Windows + C Keyboard shortcut will force the Charm Bar to reveal itself within some installations, as it did mine. One aspect I do like, is if you have a modern app window open, and you press Windows + C a mini charm menu appears in the top left corner of the window. You can also access this by clicking the ellipsis button found up there. This is handy because you get access to a few other commands, Play, Print and Project… now project is nice to see. I can’t wait to get a WiDi Miracast enabled TV for my lounge (living room).

Command Prompt

Windows 10 Command Prompt Experimental SettingsAutodesk power users will be very familiar with Windows Command Prompt, they will also know how dated it is. Surprisingly, even in the presence of the much vaunted Windows PowerShell, the lowly old Command Prompt has received some attention. I didn’t even realize this until today, but you can access the Command Prompt Properties dialog from the Title bar context menu. In there Windows 10 has an Experimental tab containing a host of new goodies. As you can see in the image above, we can now control the opacity of the window, which is rather swanky. But the big win is the ability to highlight text like a normal person and when you hit Ctrl + V on your keyboard, you aren’t greeted with ^V. THANK YOU Microsoft!

Verdict

Yes please! I liked the progression of Windows 8 from 7 and I really like this update as well. At this stage it feels a lot more like Windows 8.2, but there is nearly a year of further development here. There will be a lot more going on in the background here with respect to harmonization across devices and being more sympathetic to enterprise admins and users. I’m pretty stoked to see Microsoft are being sensible here and I can’t wait to see how Windows Phone 10 shapes up.

In the meantime, keep an eye out for a couple more Windows 10 posts from me over the next week. Cheers for taking the time and I hope you have found this useful, have a good day.

3Dconnexion SpaceMouse® Pro Wireless Review

SpaceMouse Pro Wireless Female hand

Around a month after 3Dconnexion announced their latest product, I received a test unit of the new 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse® Pro Wireless. I’ve only ever owned and used the entry level 3Dconnexion devices in the past and always thought the professional series, although nice to have, really were a little bit over the top. Admittedly, if I’d had some spare cash lying about or I could have written off the purchase cost against my business taxes, I probably would have at least purchased the SpaceMouse Pro. I am a tech geek after all. With that in mind, I was keen to see how this shiny new toy? shaped up over the next couple of months. I decided on roughly two months, since that was the stated battery life. So how does it stack up?

Stated Benefits

  • Complete Wireless Freedom — Real-time 2.4 GHz wireless connection and a two-month battery life. When it does need recharging, for uninterrupted productivity simply connect one of the supplied USB cables.
  • Professional Performance — SpaceMouse Pro Wireless automatically recognizes your application environment and based on your personal configuration, maps commands to its four Function Keys.
  • View Your Work From Every Angle  Detect errors, explore alternatives, and present your work more effectively for review with SpaceMouse Pro Wireless’s 6DoF navigation and QuickView Keys.
  • Minimize Hand Movements —Conveniently positioned keyboard modifiers provide quick and easy access to Control, Shift, Alt and Esc functions, reducing the time you spend moving your hand to the keyboard.
  • World-Class Ergonomics And Build Quality  Full sized, soft-coated hand rest for maximum comfort.15 tactile, fully programmable buttons.
  • Flexible Connectivity  With a choice of two USB cables, either plug the USB receiver directly into your workstation or use the included Twin-port USB Hub.
  • The 3Dconnexion Experience – 3DxWare® 10 allows you to customize and optimize your SpaceMouse Pro Wireless for peak performance. Easily tailor settings and buttons to your application and needs.

Connectivity

The wireless benefits are clear, if needed I can re-position the device anyway on my desk unconstrained. I have enough cables kicking around my desk as it is, so this was a welcome addition. As it was with the SpaceMouse Wireless when it landed on my desk. I did find it curious that 3Dconnexion provided the Twin-port USB Hub, they mentioned it would come in handy during meetings in the board room where the PC being used for the presentation maybe be stashed away somewhere. The 1.5 meter cable would to expose the USB receiver in those instances. I honestly have never had any issues with connectivity, although to my surprise a couple of CADPRO’s clients have suffered some issues. They were each solved by moving the USB receiver away from the metallic casing of their workstations. I’ve since heard of people having connectivity issues with 2.4 GHz wireless keyboards and mice as well, again extending the receiver away from the case solved the problem. I’ll chalk that up as a win for 3Dconnexion.

3Dconnexion USB-Hub Right-Iso_Receiver

But, there is a less obvious, albeit inconvenient benefit, of 3Dconnexion providing this Twin-port USB Hub. I now have access to two 3Dconnexion space mice, this puppy and the SpaceMouse Wireless I received last year. While I’m at my primary desk I now use the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless exclusively, but with the SpaceMouse Wireless hard sided Carry Case, I’m able to safely cart that about with me on my travels each week. So what’s the inconvenient benefit? 3Dconnexion haven’t managed to unify their USB receivers yet, and although there are a decent number of USB ports on my HP ZBook 15 mobile workstation, they aren’t in abundance and certainly not enough to justify taking up two slots for 3Dconnexion. I need to keep one USB port spare so I can plug in devices Ad-Hoc. This is where the Twin-port USB Hub comes in handy for me. I have both receivers plugged into that, then it plugs into the slot which used to be exclusively occupied by the SpaceMouse Wireless receiver. A bit of a pain yes, but all I have to do is hide it around the back et voila, no big deal. Of course, 3Dconnexion’s well established attention to detail dictates they wouldn’t be happy about this either, I’m sure they have their reasons and I have no doubt they are working to rectify the situation in the not too distant future.

Alright, enough of the moaning. There are two great things I have discovered about using a Professional 3Dconnexion device. They are both the reason why the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless has earnt it’s permanent space on my desk, it’s not small, so it does need a right to be there.

6DoF navigation and QuickView Keys

SpaceMouse Wireless 6DoF navigation and QuickView Keys

This collection of buttons were the ones I was most eager to get my thumb on. While the Autodesk view cube is pretty handy, there are times I find it fiddly to get to the view I need. I’ve been using SolidWorks a bit as well recently as a result of supporting Autodesk’s CAM product in Australia and New Zealand. So this has been my savior, because, well, the SolidWorks view cube sucks in comparison to Autodesk’s. However, it wasn’t any of the four peripheral buttons in this set that I have found the most useful. It’s the Axial Rotation lock button which sits proud, all important like, just above all those around it. That self confidence justifies this little buttons power… I’ve often found myself having to go back to my keyboard, or regress to the orbit command just so I can rotate and pan my 3D view or 2D sketch without tumbling the view away from the orthogonal elevations. It really does break your train of thought, you don’t realize quite how much, until you are able to tap that button and nudge the puck to pan around the sketch you’re trying to manipulate.

Keyboard Modifiers

The next major realization I had with the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless was the collection of four buttons on the left side of the device. The Keyboard modifiers. Honestly, I haven’t used 3 of them all that much… yet. SpaceMouse Pro Wireless Keyboard Modifier ButtonsI’m sure I will get to using those more as time goes by and my hand relaxes into using it more naturally. But it’s the very real benefit of using the CTRL modifier button with Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks when orbiting around your model and selecting multiple and possibly random objects. In the past I would orbit my model, then move my hand to press the CTRL key on my keyboard, left click on my mouse to add that object to my selection set, theeeen back to my 3D mouse… urgh. It’s hard to read, let alone do. The crazy thing is I thought it was acceptable until I’ve experienced this first hand in a few different situations. Not only is it more productive (the most important part after all), but I can now create way cooler tutorial videos for Inventor, Inventor HSM and HSMWorks. I only have to pause orbiting momentarily now, just enough time to position and click my mouse, then immediately start orbiting onto the next object. I love it, and so will you, if you get to sit down and use it this way for an hour or so.

Battery Life

I’ve had this productive belle sitting on my desk now, for just over two months. I think I’ve turned it OFF a few times overnight. I didn’t put it on charge as soon as I received it and started using it immediately. I’m NOT designing 8 hours a day, but I’m in and out of Inventor and SolidWorks a number of times a day and generally that means I’ll have a fiddle and poke. So in all reality, I’m not using it anywhere near as much as a full time drafter should be. I’ve charged it twice. So my particular version isn’t really meeting the numbers stated by 3Dconnexion, but it has been on, albeit inactive, 24/7 for most of that time. In all reality, I still think that is quite impressive and it seems to recharge pretty damn fast. It just hasn’t bothered me in the slightest.

Final Words

Once again 3Dconnexion have turned out a fine product. The versatility of having a wireless device is a no brainer, you can move around the office with it far more easily, either collaborating with colleagues or presenting in the boardroom. The SpaceMouse Pro wasn’t a broken product, it’s proven and well designed, there really wasn’t a need to deviate too far from that. So would I pay for one out of my own pocket now? Yes! The prices have come down for these devices compared to a few years ago and I think once you have spent a little time with one, most people will realize a ROI pretty quickly. If not it simply makes using CAD more fun and precise. For those bouncing between multiple CAD products, the SpaceMouse Pro Wireless means they can force a consistent navigation and interaction experience across all the applications, when the standard user interface methods are completely different from one another. That’s a huge boost and has certainly proven useful for me now, switching between Inventor and SolidWorks so often.

It still surprises me that most CAD users still have no idea these things exist! Virtually every time I go to see a customer, one or more of their staff will be immediately intrigued by my SpaceMouse Wireless when I pull it out of my laptop bag and place it next to my workstation with a satisfying thud. We need to find ways to get the word out there further and get more CAD users buying and making use of these wonderful tools.

Why is everyone going head over wheels for Keyshot 5?

A render of Dino-bike created using Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcyles)

It’s hard to imagine how you could take the most loved-up rendering software of 2013 and make it better. But they have, and they’ve done it in style. I’d buy it just for the new user interface, but there’s so much more in this release. Is it perfect yet? Well, you’ll need to read on to find out, but if you’re looking for a canned demo of what’s new, there’s a video further down this page that wraps it all up nicely.

The rendering software market is a crowded and often confusing place but Keyshot pitches itself as “fastest and easiest to use 3D rendering and animation software available” so I’m going to take a look at both claims. Keyshot 5 is the “fastest” – at what? Fastest at sucking you in with its new slick new user interface – yep. I’ll give them that one. With most rendering solutions, you can quickly lose your model under a pile of dialogs and windows, but the new UI in Keyshot 5 keeps these windows in check by allowing you to stack, dock, stack-tabbed and so on. It makes focussing on the task of say lighting, or texturing, an absolute joy without having to close a bunch of other windows. But you’d hardly describe the product as being the “fastest” when discussing model import workflows. You’ll very quickly discover that the importers for mainstream CAD products like Solidworks & Inventor are 2 years out of date, Alias needs to be installed, Maya needs to be licensed… (Hang on – Maya? Why would you render in Keyshot if you already have Maya installed and licensed?) So if your CAD software is up-to-date, you’ll have to export your models as an alternative format, then import them into Keysot. That’s not particularly “fast” in my book. If you are lucky enough to have either an old copy of your favourite CAD product, or other geometry-creation software that’s one of Luxion’s favoured partners, then the new “Live Linking” your models will certainly be of interest. Change the CAD model and the Keyshot scene updates – I would describe as “fast”. Bring on some updated importers and this might catch on!

“Easiest to use”. Let’s be honest, “easy to use” usually translates as “limited features”. But Keyshot really is superbly easy to use: Import – wait – image! You can then spend some time lighting and texturing, but that almost-instant image surprises you every time. So if you want an image-in-a-can, then I really can’t argue, it’s certainly down there with the easiest of all the rendering software. If you want a bit more, then you need to go digging. Software only becomes “easy to use” as you become familiar with it. It’s not a living organism that changes between uses, you just get used to where the buttons are – so “easy” is a bit of a meaningless quality here. Sadly, this is also where I started to find some limitations. Functions like motion-blur and caustics are on/off toggles. To blur one object more than another becomes a complex task of animating objects at different speeds. It’s time consuming and certainly not “easy”. There’s a collection of canned animation cycles, but if you want to get a bit more advanced, it’s certainly not the animators dream. To be fair though, I don’t have the $500 Animation add-on, I’m only driving the “Pro” version so I know I’m missing out on some more goodies.

Looking at the marketing images, the target audience appears to be existing CAD users, or creative media-types who’ve probably already invested in good hardware. So why is “CPU rendering only” a good thing? There isn’t even an option to invoke the 600 Cuda-cores on my laptop’s standard graphics card. It seems a bit of a “missed opportunity”, not a feature. Sure it makes sense on a consumer-grade computer that only has basic on-board graphics, but even the most basic gaming graphics cards have GPU capabilities begging to be used.

Dino-bike rendered in Luxion Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcycles)

Getting back to the good stuff (because there’s plenty of it), if you watch the video at the end of this post you’ll appreciate the ability to wind back the number of CPU cores used for the real-time rendering. (It’s a handy way to regulate the temperature of your coffee if you leave the mug by the vent on your PC.) Importing models can be a disappointing exercise if you’ve already textured it in the host application, but the new Keyshot library of physically accurate materials, coupled with the scene tree, makes texturing easy. It’s actually fun watching the model come to life as you drag and drop the materials into place. The library has a good selection of pre-built materials that you can tweak, and then there’s always “Keyshot Cloud” where you can upload your hard work and share it with others.

Lighting in Keyshot 5 received a boost with the Sun and Sky System (Pro version only). There’s plenty of granular control in this lighting system and when you’ve created your perfect daylight, you can save it out just like other HDRI’s for re-use on another model. On the subject of HDRI’ – there’s now an HDRI editor (in all versions) that make tweaking the scene illumination quick and easy.

Perspective Matching (again only in Pro) is so easy it’ll make you laugh – watch the “What’s new” video to see it in action. (Was this tool lifted directly from last year’s Autodesk 3d max? It’s almost identical!)

NURBS Ray Tracing (Pro feature) is a very clever addition in this release. Prior to this tool, you would typically have to strike a compromise between mesh quality and rendering time. The finer the mesh, the better the curves on your model look, but the longer it took to render. The NURBS Ray Tracing tool reads NURBS data from your model (the actual curves – not the faceted approximation) and then renders stunningly smooth curved edges.

Scene sets (Pro feature again sorry!) It’s an update on last years “Model Sets” and lets you switch between various setups within a single file. The scene sets remembers camera views, object visibility, environments, and back plates.

There is something curiously appealing about Keyshot 5 that quickly draws you in. Maybe it’s that damn good UI, or the rave reviews it gets in online forums, or the almost-instant renderings, but once you’re in, there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while. There is a lot to like about it. But if you already have experience with other rendering products, or you’re looking for something that’ll let you choose how to utilise your hardware, or give you super-high-level control over all rendering elements, then maybe it’s not quite ready yet.

If you are coming from the dull-grey world of your existing CAD system and looking for something to motivate you to get into work early, then Keyshot 5 really is hard to beat.


Keyshot 5 “What’s new” video

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