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Johnny B

Teaching & Learning Of Cad 3D Modelling Packages

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Hi guys,


I am undertaking research for my PhD in the area of the teaching and learning of CAD. I would love to hear some thoughts from you regarding experiences (good or bad) in learning CAD packages. The main focus of my research is the link between creativity and CAD and the possible barrier between the two. Do you feel your ability in a 3D package limits your abilities as an industrial designer? Also, I am interested to hear where you fit CAD into your design process i.e. do you use CAD to conceptualise or only at the design for manufacture stage etc.


Any thoughts or insights are welcome!


Kind Regards,


John Burke,

PhD Candidate & TA in Product Design,

Dept. of Design & Manufacturing Technology,

University of Limerick


Email: john.burke@ul.ie

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In terms of learning 3D Software, the best way I've seen it done is a method a professor of mine used after I had already graduated. I didn't experience it firsthand, but discussing the methodologies and seeing the results made me feel it was much more effective than typical approaches.


The approach used was very analogous to learning how to sketch.


When learning to sketch, the best way is to start learning very simple objects (curves, planes, primitives, etc) - so this method was applied to the teaching of 3D software. Whereas typical 3D software teaches via tutorials which cover a large range of tools at once, this method would only step through and apply to very limited sets of tools at once. By starting with simple objects and repeating the steps it allows for quicker learning and absorption of skills and tools rather than following instructions to get to a desired result with the hope that those applications will be understood by the student. In this case, Modo was the 3D package used because the nature of sculpting polygons is more analogous to something students understand rather than surfaces and solids.


Once those basics are understood than more advanced concepts like sculpting and manipulation can occur. From there the student has a basis around several tools on how to create 3D objects and can begin learning to understand the 3D form much better.


At the end of that first class/semester class students would build something and export it to a 3D printer and there were some very impressive results. A lot of very complex objects and surfaces which would never be achieved by a first time student using a traditional CAD package. (Motorcycle fairings, other very organic shapes which even Class A surfacers would have a tough time with).


After that the jump to more traditional CAD tools like Solidworks or Alias are more easily understood because the students have a better understanding of how to arrive at certain forms. That happens in a second class/semester.


I am also a big believer that in order for students to effectively use CAD, it helps to have a solid understanding of some of the math behind things - especially when talking about surfacing. Explaining the differences between tangency and curvature continuity are complex, but can be easily visualized with real world product examples. Same goes for understanding the differences and applications between different curve degrees, etc.


As a professional, 3D modelling is essential and is all handled in Alias. Freeform surface exploration can be quickly prototyped and felt in the hand. Once a real prototype is evaluated, the 3D Data can be modified and refined and is always directly related to the physical samples. Compare this to sculpting in foam or clay - you may wind up with a fantastic foam model, but the translation to 3D is never as refined or accurate as you would expect, even if working from 3D scan data.

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Thanks for the responce Cyberdemon! That is an interesting approach and seems extremely logical. I think understanding the form and its constituent geometry is of paramount importance when modelling, particularly in a program such as solidworks. Sculpting polygons in software such as modo is certainly less restrictive but in my opinion can be misleading as integrity of form can often be ignored. I have had experienced difficulty in Solidworks as have my students in the creation of advanced surfaces, but usually there is a reason for something not rebuilding successfully. I think that these forced errors can also help a student grasp concepts of zero thickness & self intersecting geometry whether they want to or not!

Certainly, the production of physical 3D models via 3d printing, SLA etc. is beneficial. In particular outputting models to 3D Cnc machines are a great way for the novice student to gain an understanding of a simple manufacturing process and the factors and limitations to take into account:length of cutting tool, avoidance of undercuts etc.


In your experience Cyberdemon, in a typical project do you prefer to present early concepts to clients in 2d sketches (or photoshop, sketchbook pro etc.) or would you mock-up a 3D model to produce renders?


thanks again!

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You are right about polygons being misleading, but I think it confuses 2 issues.


1 - The CAD software as a tool to achieve a design intent


2 - The CAD software as a tool to achieve manufacturing intent


The second issue is important, but if manufacturing is taught first, you wind up with a CAD monkey who is primarily concerned with how to structure their model tree and not how to experiment with form.


The real details of manufacturing are something that can be taught in school, but in reality there isn't enough time in a 4 or 5 year program to dive deep enough into that. Most students don't even begin learning 3D until their 2nd or 3rd year, and most schools offer 1 or 2 semesters of 3D at best. You'll almost never hear a studio professor say "This design is great, but you built an undercut". I bet in college they would have told me that you can't design a plastic part with 4 separate injection molding shots (and I bet most professional engineers would tell me the same thing) but that doesn't mean it can't be done.


If the student learns how to think in 3D and use that as a tool to improve their workflow, you get a much more valuable job candidate IMO than one who knows how to ensure all his parameters are valid. In many environments designers will still just throw the design over the wall to an engineer, which means that skill is valuable, but engineers will wind up rebuilding all of their data anyways.


Thinking in 3D quickly is hugely valuable...and often gets missed when you are more concerned about building a model than exploring.


I'm in the corporate world so there is no client. Initial concepts are usually sketches supplemented with 3D data as an underlay (mechanical components, existing 3D data, etc). Then form studies are all done in Alias, and then once a final approach is nailed all of the exterior surfaces are built and imported into Pro E and handed to the engineers so that no exterior rebuilding is done and no ID intent is changed.

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In terms of learning 3D Software, the best way I've seen it done is a method a professor of mine used after I had already graduated.


Sounds very enticing, and equally unorthodox... that's why I love the sound of this!

It's the right tool at the right stage, of your 3d modeling education

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I have learned that the ability to translate a concept sketch/idea into a feasible product with CAD is a valuable skill that an industrial designer should possess. CAD is part of the creative/iterative design process!


CAD should not be the main tool to conceptualize though. The creative mind and the ability to visualize with sketches are IMO the most important tools to create and develop concepts in terms of aesthetics, functions, etc.. Of course considering feasibility and manufacturing processes should be considered as well during the initial design process, but in most cases less relevant then the IDEA


Please note that design is an iterative process. For instance after we have developed a couple of designs on a concept level, we would like to prototype CNC'ed foam or ABS models to evaluate the design on form, mechanical principles or other features. In that case you have to work in CAD on a more conceptual level (manufacturing aspects might not be an issue to consider yet).

After evaluating, we brainstorm, sketch and develop again, and create a new CAD model to make another CNC'ed model to refine the design.


So the answer on your question where CAD fit into our design process, is that CAD comes in action when we need something physical in our concept development stages to evaluate design aspects, and ultimately CAD comes in action when we take the final concept into a fully engineered product to be manufacturing ready.

The other answer on your question whether there is a barrier between creativity and CAD or not, is that these two elements are not comparable on the same level. CAD is a part of the creative/iterative design process, as described before.


One more essential thing that I recommend students to learn before they get into the real world, is to learn a 3D surface modeling software such as Rhino or Alias, and also learning a parametric modeling software such as Solidworks.

As Cyberdemon mentioned, not all engineers are able to rebuild your 3D surface model in the way the industrial designer wants.

Also it might be more time effective when you directly works in Solidworks if the design has simple surfaces. No rebuilding needed then.

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