Selecting a CAD Program

      The up and down sides of various CAD choices. June 28, 2005

Question
Does anyone have comments regarding Turbocad/ Intellicad? I am looking for an alternative to Autocad for 2d architectural drawings. I am fluent in Drafix (bought by Autodesk, sold as Quickcad and ditched as of this month) and Drawbase (too expensive).

Forum Responses
(CAD Forum)
From contributor D:
You probably need compatibility and something that is geared for what you do. Out of the box, every CAD engine falls short. For true customization ability to meet your shop's needs, you will need a programming interface to add your own code or a third party’s and neither software has a programming platform as developed as AutoCAD's.

A good example of this is FormZ. This is an excellent platform with many important features not found in AutoCAD. It does conversions to dwg pretty well also. It has C++ and script support, but no VB or LISP. I do not think it is possible to easily get a cut list out of this software.

AutoCAD runs about $3,000, however I am comfortable with paying an additional 3,000 for Mechanical Desktop ($6,000) just for the ability to create 2D drawings from 3D models without using SolView and SolDraw for sections.

I see my pc and my software to be the tools of my trade. I detail millwork for a living. I may not have the best of everything, but software cost is never an issue when I buy. I get what I need and charge or finance it if I have to.

If detailing is 15%-20% of your business and detailing a job takes a week, all drawings for submittal and the complete cut list, then if you pay yourself a fair wage, let's say $1,000 a week, the detailing cost you $1000. Now if you could tweak or modify your process and get it done in two days, with better drawings than before, with more accurate and complete cut lists, you start to realize that an investment may be in order.

IntelliCAD is a great platform. Its program interface is fairly developed. It is not quite on par with AutoCAD yet. It is open source, for the most part, and inexpensive. Because of your question, I am assuming you need a CAD program and not an off the shelf cabinet program like Cabintware, Cabinet Vision, Ecabinet Solutions and so on.

My company makes software that runs on AutoCAD and generates cut lists. It does not make money, but nevertheless it is the only software that will actually generate a cut list from what you have actually drawn and it only runs on AutoCAD because of the superior programming interface. I just cannot afford to have code translated and ported when the process is so much more difficult to code. So even if you spend $1,000 on a hefty version of IntelliCAD, if you are still going to want a cut list, you will end up buying AutoCAD later or going a completely different route and buying something else.

Basically, we are all in the same boat. We are cabinetmakers and not businessmen. These comments are realized and calculated instantly by anyone with a business education. Unfortunately, we have to be reminded and helped with the business decisions of our companies, as the majority of us are masters of a different trade.

Here are some options and comments.

IntelliCAD
Pros:
A great product that is developed by the Open DWG Consortium
Developed 2D drawing interface
Cheap
Pretty compatible with AutoCAD
Cons:
No object ARX programming support yet
Less third part add-ons for customization
No cut list
Cannot stretch assemblies

FormZ
Pros:
Nurb surface modeling to do helixes and carvings
Stretches assemblies (I am pretty sure the interface is really stretching 3D surfaces, but its export engine can convert these to true solids)
Pretty compatible with AutoCAD
Bang for the buck, pretty good. It is around $4,000 I think.
Cons:
Limited programming languages
Less third part add-ons for customization
No cut lists

Solidworks
Pros:
Surface modeling to do helixes and carvings
Nice rendering engine
Bang for the buck, pretty good - it is around $6,000 I think
Built on the parasolids engine by Unigraphics, so it is very accurate
Cons:
Less third part add-ons for customization
Cut lists are created in a database that drives the drawing, which requires parametrics and constraints to update
Cannot stretch assemblies without parametrics and constraints

Mechanical Desktop
Pros:
Nurb surface modeling to do helixes and carvings
Nice rendering engine
Bang for the buck, pretty good - it is around $6,000 I think
Generates excellent 2D drawings from 3D models
Built on AutoCAD, so you have both
Cons:
Cut lists are created in a database that drives the drawing, which requires parametrics and constraints to update
Cannot stretch assemblies without parametrics and constraints

Inventor
Pros:
Surface modeling to do helixes and carvings
Nice rendering engine
Bang for the buck, pretty good - it is around $6,000 I think
Cons:
Less third part add-ons for customization.
Cut lists are created in a database that drives the drawing, which requires parametrics and constraints to update
Cannot stretch assemblies without parametrics and constraints

Cabinet Vision
Pros:
Easy to use
Generates CNC code for point to point, routers and beam saws
Nice rendering engine
Generates cut lists
Fast for easy stuff
Change is good
Cons:
Formula driven, so you must be able to formulaically define what you want created or you are out of luck
I have found that it is very flexible, more so than most realize, but it takes me too much time to use for custom stuff as compared to some other software
Price
Previous customer service and the cost of it. I hear they are making changes, so see last line of pros

Prolidgum3D
No pros or cons here. All I know about it is that it is parametric driven so it can be limited by you and who created the this interface

KabNX
No pros or cons here. All I know about it is that it is parametric driven so it can be limited by you and who created the interface

Ecabinet Solutions
Pros: Free
Goes to machines
Cons. I was told it only goes to their machines
Parametric/formula driven so it can be limited by you and who created the interface

AutoCAD
Pros:
Very developed and customizable programming interface
Many third-party add-ons
Price
Excellent 2D drafting interface
Cons:
Lacks native cut list ability
Every few versions they introduce a new dwg format, which can force you to upgrade
No Nurb surface modeling to do helixes and carvings

AutoCAD add-ons:

Microvellum
Pros:
Machine output
Cut list output
Catalogue output
Good support
Cons:
Price
Learning time
I was told it does not handle face frame cabinets easily
Parametric/formula driven so it can be limited by you and who created this interface

SmartLister
Pros:
Stretches 3D solid assemblies
Generates cut lists
Price is $1195
No parametrics or formulas
Easy to use
Cons:
No parametrics or formulas (This can go either way! Sometimes parametrics are good)
No native output to point-to-point machines, yet
No enhanced 2D drawings from 3D models. You are forced to use the standard AutoCAD interface, MDT or Makeit2D
No released libraries yet
No cut list processing to modify your cut list. (It measures a filler at 2”. Because that is what you have drawn, but you really want to add scribe to it and have it cit at 2.75”, so you have to edit the list with excel or by hand.)
Small company
New releases with “big additions” are far and few between.

Pattern Systems
Pros:
Goes to machines
Generates cut lists
Developed labels
Cons:
Formula driven, so you must be able to formulaically define what you want created or you are out of luck
Learning time

This is by no means an all-inclusive list of pros and cons or a complete list of other software. Except for SmartLister, these are my opinions on the other software. I could be wrong about a few things. So please consult the vendors to clarify the points as they pertain to you and your shop. The lack of features may not be a problem for you and the way you do things.

Note: some parametric engines can do just about anything, but the time involved to set them up can be extensive. This is why I classify it as a limitation. If I can draw it in 2D and cut list it by hand or do it another way with different software then I consider the approach limited.

A few others are:
Cabnetware
KCDW
20/20
FastCAD
TurboCAD
BobCAD
Virtual Systems
Keytrix



From contributor T:
Try the free evaluation downloads before you buy. This way you can evaluate what is best for you (at no cost). If you find a program that suits your needs, then the price will automatically be acceptable.


From contributor A:
Contributor D's assessment of competitive products was pretty good, but only addresses 1/2 of Pattern Systems graphical approach. While DrawPOWER does have a component for formula driven execution on standard casework, custom engineered products can be designed and machined "on the fly" without assignment of rules. The result is DXF connectivity to CNC Machining Centers and/or parts files to automated saws... This is part of the DrawPOWER Machining product that was announced at IWF.


From contributor N:
Start with the pro version of Intellicad; it has the look and feel of AutoCAD. It has a lisp, VBA, and C/C++ API interface if you’re interested in automating and customizing your CAD environment. In fact, many Autolisp routines will work with Intellicad without modifications. If and when you outgrow Intellicad you can move to AutoCAD and still open your older drawings since they both work with the .DWG format.

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