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Joined: 29 Mar 2005
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Location: Dillsburg, PA

PostPosted: Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:13 AM Reply with quoteBack to top

Although it would be hard to tell currently, I'm a mechanical engineer by education. I received my degree from York College and as part of the program we were required to complete three separate, one semester co-ops. I did my co-ops at three separate companies, and each of them used a different drawing package. Also, since we used two different packages at school, you could say I have had a lot of exposure to drawing packages.

We learned the basics of drafting at school on the good old standby, AutoCAD. We did a lot of 2D drawing, but we also worked in 3d (kinda painful if you have ever tried it). For our real 3D modeling work, we used Solidworks. I liked the program a lot when I was at school. The idea of drawing object abstractly and then mating them together later was very exciting. No more exact drawing where tweaking was a real chore. Just change a dimension on the drawing, update the model, and voila! Everything just worked.

My first co-op was at York International, Marine Systems Division. They used Pro-E and had an entire drafting department, so I didn't get to work with the app. But I did do a lot of over the shoulder watching. Pro-E is very powerful, but has a pretty steep learning curve.

The second co-op was at American Hydro Corporation, who used Unigraphics (UNIX based). Also insanely powerful and complex, Unigraphics wasn't the easiest thing to learn. But after a week or so of using it hard, I had 3D modeling and scripting down pretty well. The best thing about Unigraphics was the three button mouse, which allowed quick acceptance of commands.

My third and final co-op was at Capway Systems. They used AutoCAD for all of their drawing needs- most of the engineering department used 2D exclusively. A couple of the guys modeled things in 3D with AutoCAD and then made the drawings off the models. Having just come off our senior project where we modeled our entire walking robot in 3D with Solidworks, 2D was looking a little weak to me. I convinced my manager to let me use their newly purchased copy of Inventor to model a new machine I was designing in 3D.

Currently, I am back to using Solidworks on a consulting project with one of my profs from York. It has raised the question- Which is better, Solidworks or Inventor? We tried to answer that question before we purchased Solidworks for our consulting work. I think both programs have their strengths and weaknesses.

Solidworks is very cheap (comparatively), especially their educators license. This makes it attractive to schools and other education institutions. Also, the learning curve for Solidworks is very low. It is easy-to-learn and intuitive. I hear that the included tutorials are quite good as well (I wouldn't know as I hate reading tutorials and prefer to learn by example). The modeling and mating techniques are very similar to Inventors. I would like to see more options with the 2D sketching- I think they are a little weak in the dimensioning realm. One thing I miss from Inventor is the center mouse wheel control. Solidworks lets you rotate and zoom, but you have to hold down the Control key to pan- frustrating.

Inventor is a bit on the expensive side, but for a corporate setting probably not too much of a problem. I thought the curve on Inventor was much steeper than Solidworks- if I hadn't already had a background in 3D I think I would have been in trouble. I don't have any experience with the tutorials (see above), but I did have to use the included help rather extensively. It was OK and answered most of my questions on procedure. As I stated, the 2D sketching features on Inventor were definitely superior. For example, you can "relate" dimensions to each other- so one dimension (driving) could be half of another (driven).

All in all, both packages were pretty solid (no pun intended) in programming and construction. I didn't have too many problems with crashing with either, and I was running under the recommended system requirements for both. If you are a serious drafter, or have large, complicated models, I would suggest getting a fast computer with a lot of memory. It just works better. Final conclusion- I think either package works fine for 3D modeling and assembling. Pick the one that suits your needs, be it price or integration with other drawing packages or features, and then learn it. Like any software application, once you learn how to use it, working just becomes natural.

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