Wednesday August 27, 2014

2D conceptual design, 50 years later

ivan pic 150x150Many years ago, an MIT graduate student named Ivan created a 2D conceptual design program that allowed users to interactively sketch out their ideas, and by applying constraints and dimensions to the sketch, have the computer calculate the ideal solution for their design. He never even tried to commercialize his program, because, at the time, computers that could run it were way too expensive.

hirschtick 150x150Some time later, a new MIT graduate named Jon founded a software company to develop a similar 2D conceptual design program. He too found that the time wasn’t right for the product, and he ended up selling his company to a larger competitor.

Fortunately, both of these MIT graduates did go on to have some successes in their careers. Ivan Sutherland went on to invent many of the fundamental technologies in computer graphics, and, in the process, won the Turing Award, the Von Neumann Medal, and the Kyoto Prize, among other honors. Jon Hirschtick went on to found SolidWorks Corporation, and while he didn’t win as many awards, he did transform the the MCAD market, and made a lot of friends while doing it.

What’s interesting to me is that Ivan Sutherland’s program, called Sketchpad, was shown publicly in 1963. Jon Hirschtick’s program, called Design View, came along about 25 years later, in 1988. And here we are, yet another 25 years later. Where is today’s Sketchpad? Where is today’s DesignView?

The simple answer is that you can find the most well-known successor programs to SketchPad and DesignView embedded within nearly every parametric MCAD system on the market, in the form of a “sketcher.”

But the sketchers in MCAD systems are limited. Most are designed solely for defining geometry as a starting point for 3D modeling. If you want to design a bridge truss (as you could with Sketchpad), or a complex linkage mechanism (as you could with DesignView), you might not be happy with how hard those things are to do with an MCAD sketcher.

Shyamal 119x150Though many engineers and designers use Excel for conceptual design, that’s not really a very good solution either. (Too easy to create embedded errors that can’t be easily found.) Another option is math software, such as MathCAD, Maple, Mathematica, or MatLab. But these are a bit “heavy” for graphically oriented conceptual designs. What engineers and designers need is something very much like Sketchpad or DesignView—something like a spreadsheet for graphics.

Enter Shyamal Roy. He too is a bit of an old-timer in the industry, having founded his first CAD company, Supercads, in 1981. (Like Ivan and Jon, his first product was a bit before its time.) In 1995, he founded Geomate Company, to create just the product I’ve been talking about: a spreadsheet for graphics.

TurboCalc, Geomate’s most popular product, combines sketching, calculation, and optimization. It’s useful for an incredibly diverse range of problems. To get a sense of it, take a few minutes, and watch this video (narrated by Shyamal himself):

To me, there are several things that make TurboCalc really interesting. First is that it actually works. It’s a rock-solid program that does what it says it will. Second is that it’s not at all hard to learn to use—Whether you’re a CAD guru or not. And third, it is just ridiculously inexpensive. Its retail price is $199, but it is on sale now at $99, if you order through this URL.

Shyamal can get away with selling TurboCalc at this price because he owns the company (no shareholders to worry about), the program is mature and fully capable (it doesn’t require large investments for development), and it is well-designed enough that support costs are almost nil (even though he provides support for free.)

But none of that really addresses the question of whether you need a program like TurboCalc. So, to help you determine that, here is the critical question: do you design mechanical things?

If your answer is yes, then you should buy a copy of TurboCalc.  It will more than pay for itself the first time you use it to solve a design or engineering problem.

Geomate Company   inventbetter.com