Finding Software for Design and Visualization

      It's hard to find one application that will quickly create design visualizations for a customer during a sales meeting, but also generate good designs suitable for construction in the shop. This thread offers some insight into software capabilities and some nice example drawings. December 28, 2010

I have a small shop (2500 square foot) with basic equipment Ė a ten foot sliding saw, small edgebander, and etc. I build custom ultra modern European style kitchen cabinetry (no face frames). I use AutoCAD for all my drawings and eCabinet for 3-D drawings to show clients what their kitchen is going to look like. I participated in a home show and now have lots of jobs coming in.

I hired a sales person whom I'm trying to teach eCabinets so she can design with the client what the client wants but eCabinet does not do some things I need and I keep having to do tricks to get the program to do what I need or somewhat close to what I need most of the time. I've been told that if I'm AutoCAD oriented I should go with Microvellum. What I need is a program that my salesperson could use with a laptop to design the kitchen with the client and email me the finished drawing approved by the client so I can begin construction.

One of the problems I've had so far with the programs I've tried is that I can't get them to build cabinets the way I build them. The other problem is that most of the time the client wants something weird built in to the kitchen and I end up having to draw it up in AutoCAD. Iíve been looking into Planit's CV and Microvellum.

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor M:
Just because you use AutoCAD does not mean that Microvellum is for you. I'm a smaller operation who uses AutoCAD as well, and we went down the Microvellum road. The cost of the program is one thing, but the investment of time and money to implement is another. In my opinion, it's very hard for smaller shops to absorb that cost. Don't ignore the learning curve warnings that I'm sure you have heard about Microvellum. I attended two training sessions in Medford, Oregon, (each a week long) and invested six months of honest effort before we cut our losses. I have talked with many others who have had the same experience. When shop owners/cabinetmakers struggle with it, I think it would be tough road for a sales person.

From contributor D:
Go with SketchUP. Itís easy to use and learn, thereís lots of info and tons of free components, plug-ins and renders. For a sales person would be very hard and time consuming to learn complicated CAD software. You can automate the process by using dynamic components.

From contributor R:
If youíre already using eCabinets why not invest in some eCabinets training courses? It would cost a lot less than getting Microvellum and going through that learning curve. There is usually a way to do almost anything in eCabinets if you know the tricks.

From the original questioner:
ECabinet's limitations for me have been, for example, Blum's new space corner drawer system, or their new Aventos hardware for horizontal doors. Also multi level countertops (island in the air bar tops), lights under the top cabs, and sometimes just having to shut down the program and bring it back up to get it to work. I can't get it to display pulls on doors set to a 45 degree angle on a corner Lazy Susan. I spend way too much time drawing lines in AutoCAD, and too much time trying to trick eCabinets. There has to be something that works out there.

From contributor G:
I have tried a lot of cabinet programs and I would say eCabinet is a great program. Itís very easy to use.

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Here is my bedroom

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From contributor K:
I think what you are going to find in your search is that the programs that are capable of drawing and detailing all of the unusual stuff you want are going to be too complicated and time consuming for your idea of having a designer draw the design while with a customer. The software that is simple and fast enough to use while with the customer will not be able to draw anything unusual or will not give you the manufacturing info that you need. It will just draw a picture and you would have to draw it again for your shop use. In the end I think you will have to compromise one way or the other.

In your email you ask about round cabinets. I am posting a picture of one that I did as an exercise. It too is a compromise. I can cut list the top and all the bracing but the software won't uncurl the two curved vertical panels and lay them flat for a cut list. I am able to show the finished design but I would have to manually figure the vertical panels or use different software. Let us know if you find a one size fits all software.

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From contributor W:
I too have been an AutoCAD user for many years, but am now using Autodesk Inventor for all of my woodworking projects. The cost is low and easy to learn and the output sells the jobs. I have posted some presentations on YouTube. You can view them below.

From contributor K:
I had to give the cabinet from your video a try.

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Here is a detail of the dovetail joinery.

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From contributor W:
Great job. What are you doing for panel optimization and cut-lists? What i-features and i-parts are you using?

From contributor K:
It is all inclusive. The software gives me a complete cut list, a bill of materials, sheet optimization and job costing. It also creates the CNC information for a Thermwood or ShopBot router. The carvings I put on this piece as well as the moldings for the base could be modeled with the router. The carvings are available through the software. It has been a good fit for me.

From contributor W:
I am working on a parametric spiral staircase at this moment - all stringers will be able to be flattened - strip lamination. I will be driving it through Ilogic so it will be used many times.

From contributor K:
I would like to see the spiral staircase when it is done but i don't think the original poster was looking for software for stairs. He just needs a good solution for cabinets and as I told him above I don't think there is a one size fits all for the cabinet shop. He already uses eCabinets and I think it will draw any cabinet that he would ever want, he just needs to explore the software a little deeper. Inventor might be great for some of his more difficult cabinets but from what you have shown I don't think it is the best solution for laying out kitchens and baths every day. He may have already had his best solution, eCabinets for the bulk of the work and AutoCAD for the rest.

Contributor W - in your video it looks as though you are using solid modeling to create the cabinet. When you are done does Inventor provide a cutlist for various materials such as hardwood frames and the sheet goods with all joinery and positions shown? Does it provide you the sheet optimization and bill of materials including all hardware down to the number of screws and shelf pins you will need or do you use something else for this? Could that cabinet be re-sized in width or depth or the openings changed easily to create another cabinet or do you start from scratch each time?

From contributor W:
If the majority of the work are kitchens and boxes with minimal customization I would agree that most of the software out there will work. There are plenty of products, and some of them are free.

From contributor G:
It has been a while since I looked at Alpha Cam or Master Cam but as I recall there are some limiting factors (with automatic tool path) with Solid Modeling. ECabinets looks good IF you have a Thermwood or Shopbot. As a one man shop there is no way you should consider MV.

From contributor C:
Take a look at Pytha. It can be used by a sales rep in the field with the drag/drop parametric libraries, create any unique pieces that a customer might want - then close the sale with real time renderings/animations/walk-throughs/etc. Then you can receive the complete files with parts lists - export the DXF's for machining - anything you need to do. We can also create the skin for the radius die wall that was presented earlier in the thread - ask about the 2-D Revolve Function.

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From contributor I:
It is not so much what can you do, but how efficient is it to do it that way. It took five minutes in AutoCAD to draw an icosahedron. It took the best in Inventor, days, to accomplish the same. Autodesk says the design in design/build is the design of the formulas to drive the drawing. I feel it is allowing one to be an artist with complete freedom and build from there. It is faster for most things that are repetitive. Anything repetitive can be done with pretty much any software and at that point, who cares, as the costs for engineering are distributed over mass manufacturing of the same or similar thing. I am not saying everything others do is wrong, but I believe their starting point is flawed. Put everything on the table and then go from there.

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