Since RP usually requires a 3D solid model I have watched the low cost 3D
CAD programs with great interest, especially Trispectives (now IronCAD in
its latest version). It had been originally offered as a $500 Trispectives
Pro "Pro/E Killer" (which it never was - I know- I bought a copy!), then as
a $55 (yes $55!) 3D graphics low end version (TriWizard - which apparently
never shipped) and at several price points in between. The original
versions, even the low end, were great for a drag-and-drop approach to quick
sketching using the provided shapes. I was a strong booster within my
company for use of this program for quick concept designs and to create the
first simple models for our SLA parts. The program would run well on a
typical 486 PC or laptop, which could not be said about most 3D CAD
programs. But even the Professional version lacked several basic drawing
features (things like offset and trim) which were required to easily draw a
2D view. The 2D view, of course, was needed to extrude a custom 3D shape.
At this point I belive that a timely low-cost upgrade to add these basic
drawing features and solve a translation problem or two would have made this
a very successful low end 3D CAD product.
Apparently the original company, 3D Eye, then went through a series of
moves, mergers, buyouts or whatever. They did not release a revised version
to correct problems in the initial release for more than a year. New
versions and variations were advertised, but never available. Calls to the
company about upgrades were never returned.
I was finally invited to upgrade but at a price higher than I had paid for
the original product. The list price continued to ratchet upwards passing
$1000 and now apparently settling at $4000. Obviously they thought that the
original product was priced too low! Its a shame because I thought that
this one product (coupled with low cost high performance PCs) had the
potential completly transforming much of the design industry from 2D to 3D.
People seemed to have real feelings towards this product (almost like the
Apple or the Palm Pilot PDA generate). It would never have taken over the
Fortune 500 heavy duty 3D design market (which is extremely support oriented
and is willing to pay as required), but it seemed to me that all of the many
small design and machine shops, individuals, part time 3D users in major
companies, schools, etc. would flock to the product once they learned about
it. This market should be much larger than the Fortune 500 (in numbers of
programs sold but perhaps not in program $ and support $).
This $4000 is serious CAD price territory: In the same range as Solid Edge,
Solid Works, the low end Pro/E package and dozens of others. The new
company (VDS) is claiming that "The number of IronCAD seats sold prior to
shipping is probably a new record for the CAD industry," and that "Our
extraordinary sales are the result of the pent-up demand for a better, more
productive solid modeling solution."
While that may be true, I am afraid that they are now going to be perceived
as just another Windows-based solid CAD program, rather than the innovative
high value leader which gained so much original attention. Even though I
have been recently offered a relatively low cost upgrade I for one will wait
awhile and see what happens to both the program and the company.
Questions for the group to discuss:
We have talked about the low cost RP "Printer" future potential. But
somebody still has to design the part to be made. Is there a large enough
companion market for a high value (but under $500) 3D solid model CAD
program to be successful? ("Solid Modelling for the People?") Will other
vendors in the crowded $2000 to $5000 Windows 3D CAD arena drastically drop
their prices? or will Microsoft buy one of them and transform them into a
$300 CAD module for Windows NT 2000. What about when a full-blown high end
graphics-capable PC sells for around $500 (perhaps next year from third tier
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