New 3D Printer under $5000!

SD 300 Pro
SD 300 Pro

Solido has announced that they will introduce a new commercial 3D printer that will sell for “considerably less than $5000″, at SolidWorks World 2010.  If the announcement holds true, this has the potential to be a game changer in the industry.

Helping Solido to showcase their product are Scott Harris, co-founder of SolidWorks, and Terry Wohlers, president of Wohlers Associates.  This will be at a press conference on Monday, February 1st (day 2 of SolidWorks World 2010).

Solido states that their goal for this product is to provide casual 3D printing of CAD models, just as one might print out a paper document.  They claim that their product, called Solido SD300 Pro, will print models quietly, accurately and inexpensively right in the office with no toxic or messy materials.

They also claim that the SD300 Pro is suited for all stages of production with accuracy within .004”, including flexible living hinges.  Printed parts could be drilled and finished, all without any outsourcing.  Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to check out their product and claims.

Move your head!

There is some press recently on Apple’s application for a patent covering a technology that moves a 3D model based on head movement or hand gesturing.  A demonstrative video is included which shows an individual moving their head to peer around a model from different angles.  This is pretty cool, expect for one minor detail.  Are they really marketing this to CAD users?  This is about as silly as voice command.  Can you imagine this combined with voice command, with engineers weaving and bobbing about as they bark off orders “line!”, “extrude!”, “measure!”, “change my bed pan!”?  I would start feeling like I’m playing one of those boxing games on PS3 or Wii.



This is a great tool when applied to the right application.  Gaming comes to mind (as noted above).  Remote control of deep-sea robots may be another application.  Sales gimmick, er, I mean sales display in a department store may yet be another.  But CAD?  Can you imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to move your head from right to left just to rotate a model during a design review, or with your CEO looking over your erratic shoulder?

You know where this would be useful in CAD?  When we finally have the type of display that Ironman has (from the recent Ironman movie).  By the time we have that sort of thing, I fear the patent on this technology would have expired.

I asked Houston Neal of Software Advice about how CAD users would use this application.  I ask this because Apple is developing this application and we all know how Apple is about stuff they develop (it only runs on Macs).

Unfortunately CAD users would likely have to run Bootcamp, Parallels or some other application to run Windows on the Mac, thereby allowing them to run their CAD app.

iTunes did eventually run on PCs, but Apple may have lost early market share and revenue by limiting their iPods and iTunes to Mac in the initial release.

If Apple is serious about supporting the CAD industry on its platform, this new head-bobbing application is welcome, but not nearly enough.  Further, use of this technology shouldn’t be limited to just Mac usage at any time.

Stump the Chumps submission form

See if you can stump the chumps with your SolidWorks questions at our session in SolidWorks World 2010:

Stump the Chumps question submission form

Also, if you have files to submit as part of your question, please email your question and files to

3DVia on iPhone!

Now any 3D model can be viewed and inserted into a photo with the new 3DVia iPhone app. Check out the video:

The SolidWorks Blog states:

…you can use 3DVIA Mobile to get your SolidWorks models on your iPhone.

This is big news, as it directly impacts when and where 3D models can be shown.  Check out the instructions for using the 3DVia iPhone app to view SolidWorks models: Get your SolidWorks models on your iPhone with 3Dvia.  One limitation is that 3DVia save functionality requires SolidWorks 2009 SP2 or later.  This is a great idea that is past due!  Now, only if they’d develop something for Palm and Crackberry.

“Mommy, what’s a keyboard?”

Even with the explosion of the QWERTY keyboard being plastered on to almost every type of electronic device these days, I’m going to go out on a limb here-and-now to declare that the QWERTY keyboard will be obsolete within my lifetime.  This prediction is not limited to the keyboard device I’m using to type this article.  I’m referring to any type of letter based data input that takes the form of QWERTY.  The beginning of the end for QWERTY is not the Dvorak keyboard.  Nor is it speak [mis]recognition technology.  In my view, the signal of the end is technology such as predictive text input, search assistant and other peripherals.

Predictive text input is where an author enters the first couple of letters and then is presented with a word or list of words that most likely match the author’s intent.  The author keeps typing until the correct word appears, then accepts the entry.  On a cell phone number pad, each number represents 3 or 4 letters.  Predictive text input can quickly find the desired word, often with the push of only a couple of numbers.  In addition, more sophisticated systems will learn which words are most commonly used by the author and present those as first choices to the author.

With predictive text input, a person can drastically increase their typing capabilities.  I’ve seen individuals text with cell phone numeric pads faster than what is even possible on a smartphone QWERTY keyboard.  In fact, I would suggest that average wpm speeds of numeric pad texters with predictive text input even exceeds that of experienced typists on traditional full size keyboard devices.  That’s not hyperbole, and I’m not kidding.

Search assistant is similar to predictive text input, except a little more sophisticated and low key.  Competing peripherals have a lot more buttons than they used to.  Function keys are slowing being replaced by clicks on buttons on devices such as the mouse.

All combined, the QWERTY keyboard’s current Golden Age will be over soon enough.

SpacePilot PRO 3D Mouse: New Software Updates

3Dconnexion recently announced another free software update for the new SpacePilot PRO 3D mouse.  The most visible portions of this upgrade include new functions called Model Properties Applet and Intelligent Function Key Notification.  Both of these new functions add functionality to the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD.  If there ever was a device feature that needs added functionality, it is the LCD on the SpacePilot PRO.

Model Properties Applet

This new applet enables engineers to quickly view supposed key model information on the SpacePilot PRO’s LCD.  The claim from 3DConnexion is that this somehow increases productivity and makes things easier for workgroups to collaborate. I’m not sure how this applet makes collaboration easier.  The applet just displays fundamental document information on the LCD.  It doesn’t transmit this data or pull information from my PDM.

For a drawing, the function is very basic, indeed.  The applet tells me that I am looking at a drawing (go figure), and shows the computer network name of the drawing’s author, file size, file creation date, file last saved date, and the computer network name of the last person to save the file.  There is nothing particularly “key” or “vital” about any this information.  The applet would be far more useful if it allowed the user to modify the information on the display.  For example, for me key information from a drawing would be a list of particular custom property names and their values, and the name of the model in the dominant pre-defined view (the view from which the part custom property values are derived).

Slightly more useful information is available for models, including mass, volume, material and density.  This same information is displayed for assemblies, though I’m not sure why.  Wouldn’t it be more useful to show me the total number of parts in the assembly, or an estimate on how many seconds would be required for a force rebuild (CTRL-Q)?  My suggestion to 3DConnexion is to completely dump the file information and add these kind of data for all document types.

Intelligent Function Key Notification

This is a fancy name for the fact that the LCD now displays a quick pop-up window which shows the user which button command they activated.  It does this regardless to the applet that is running on the LCD.  This way, the user will always have visual confirmation as to which command they just executed.  This is a moderately useful function for someone who has just finish mapping their programmable buttons and needs queues to help reinforce the memorization of that mapping.  If the user has already memorized their button mapping, this function provides little benefit. For now, I like this function, but I can easily imagine that I will ignore it eventually.

“S” Shortcut key

One bonus for SolidWorks users is that 3DConnexion recently added support for the “S” shortcut key.  It can now be added to the programmable buttons directly without having to create a device macro.  This function was secretly added to the previous software upgrade for the SpacePilot PRO, but 3DConnexion is now bragging about it.  They also stated that this “S” shortcut key support has been added for SpaceExplorer and SpacePilot Speed Keys. My only criticism here is that any key and key-combination should already be supported by the software for these devices.  My 1990’s programmable keyboard supports any key combination in its “PF” keys.  Why are these not fully supported by 3DConnexion’s 21ST Century product offerings?


Having just recently updated my SpacePilot PRO drivers and software with this new announced version, I can say that installation was easier this time around.  In the past, installation has been a bit of a pain.  One problem plaguing the SpacePilot PRO is that its software and drivers need to be the last item installed on your computer.  This means that if any supported application is installed after the SpacePilot PRO software, the SpacePilot PRO software needs to be reinstalled afterwards.  Crazy, huh?  Anyway, this upgrade was pretty painless this time, and I didn’t even lose my programmable key mappings, unlike previous upgrades and re-installs.   New 3DConnexion 3D mice shipped in September 2009 will have the new version of the software and drivers included.  Otherwise, for Windows, download them from this location here.