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Expert Interview with Chris McAndrew on Innovations in CAD

January 30, 2015 Leave a comment Go to comments

Innovation in CADWe asked Chris McAndrew what innovations he’s most excited about today in the world of CAD.

“The explosion of cloud computing and user interfaces are on the cusp of breaking the CAD world into a new time,” replied the owner and editor of 3DEngr.com.

And it’s a good thing, too.

CAD is ripe for change since the major players in CAD software, including ProE, Solidworks and AutoCAD, are still rooted in clunky engineering principles, Chris says. Even newer programs like Sketchup, Rhino and Blender are resource intensive and tough to figure out.

“As a new class of developers starts to develop tools that are made for the masses, using things like virtual reality and a backend that is powerful enough to render and update a design instantly, it’ll be cool to see what sort of fun platforms are created!” he adds.

Here, Chris talks about 3DEngr.com, the buzz surrounding 3D printing and what you need to know about buying your next CAD workstation. Read on:

Tell us about 3DEngr.com. When and why did you start your site?

3DEngr was started as a place to capture information on 3D design, CAD work and engineering. Initially, 3DEngr.com was created as a study tool for the Solidworks Certification exam, and it still is a great resource for the 50,000+ designers and engineers worldwide who have their certification and are looking to further their expertise. It also has become an outlet to cover the intersection of Engineering CAD design with practical implications of manufacturing. This has led to looking into 3D printing in a big way as it has increased in popularity and become the new hot topic in the world of manufacturing.

Who should be reading it?

Doers! Those people who understand that 3D printing is not going to revolutionize the world by itself, that it will need an educated mass of designers and engineers who understand the nuances of 3D printing and are able to incorporate traditional engineering principles with the amazing new abilities for design that 3D printing provides. In short, engineers, designers, and consumers who are excited by design and engineering.

3D printers have been around since the mid-1980s. So why is there so much buzz surrounding 3D printing right now?

There are lots of reasons, but basically the whole world has changed since the mid-80s. Materials, computing power and access are the three reasons that come to mind.

When 3D printing was first introduced, there was a very limited material list; but now, prints can be created using standard paper (the kind an inkjet printer uses), titanium and living cells. That’s an incredible increase in potential from low-grade plastics.

Computing power is the next most important development. 3D Printers still need software to tell them what they are printing. Learning to design a three-dimensional part file used to be reserved for engineers at multinational companies that had thousands of dollars to spend on software licenses. These days, there are free and open source design programs which are so easy that kids can use them (and do!). Couple that design potential with web-based sharing platforms where you can download existing designs, and all of a sudden the accessibility of 3D printing is transformed in a revolutionary way.

What excites you about the possibilities of 3D printing?

The ideation and iteration process it opens up. The ease of creating a sample or prototype with 3D printing is remarkable. So many great inventions and developments were created through painstaking trial and error, and today the effort required to undertake that process is dropping rapidly. Developments in 3D printing of living cells means that what would have required decades of research can now be packed into days and weeks. The same holds true for other industries. There will be a massive amount of failure with new designs coming off of 3D printers, which means we’ll be able to learn so much more quickly.

What trends do you think those who work with CAD should be following?

Storage costs and IP control. For those looking to build companies and products they want to monetize, it will be critical to understand how their designs are saved and shared. As long as value is still being created, someone will find a way to capture that value for their profit. Hopefully, that profit will be shared with the designers and not middlemen.

How have CAD workstations evolved in recent years?

CAD stations have slowly started to become less relevant. And that’s a very good thing. The first time I tried to buy a laptop that could run CAD software, it weighed a ton and was clunky. Though it rendered quickly, I literally couldn’t fit anything else in my carry-on bag if I flew with it. Thankfully, computing power has continued to evolve and lighter software has made it possible to run sufficient products on all sorts of devices.

What do you think are workstation must-haves for every CAD pro?

Comfort and portability. Why be tied to a physical work station when you can access computing power remotely? Not all CAD workstations make this easy, but planning your station this way will make it easier to keep the touch point that you work with and upgrade that back end as things get better.

What considerations should CAD pros make when updating their workstations today?

Whether or not you care that the key feature you want is going to be outdated in a matter of months. I’ve been sold a number of times on graphics cards that were way too powerful for me to ever use, boot up times that I never reaped the benefits of, and storage space that I simply did not use. Learn to customize your software and hardware. No two CAD pros work the same way. Find a workstation that is easy to personalize, and the benefits will greatly outweigh the incremental feature improvements that can be purchased.

Connect with Chris on Twitter.

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