Engineers and designers have always struggled with which design tools are best to use to capture concepts during the early conceptual phase of product development. The concept design is one of the most important phases of the entire product development process.
It is here when new product ideas are tossed around, flushed out, vetted, discussed, tested, refined and eventually pushed forward to detailed design. It is also here where most (60%-75%) of total product development costs are committed; making it very costly to make significant changes after this phase is completed.
The tools used in this phase must be flexible and intuitive so users feel free to explore options, wander about, and make mistakes. After all, making mistakes at this stage can actually lead to better designs later. Feature-based 3D modeling tools, which powerful, often force users to lock into design ideas prematurely. For this reason, many users prefer using simpler 2D tools for capturing concepts.
Other engineers still prefer to sketch out design ideas on paper or in engineering notebooks. While this might sound archaic in today’s high-tech world, it opens up the design exploration process to everyone and encourages rapid-fire idea generation without fear of mistakes. The downside is that these budding concepts can’t be changed easily, preventing ideas from benefitting from collaborative feedback and possibly evolving into even better ideas.
SketchUp provides the best of both worlds: flexibility and ease of use
While SketchUp is very popular in the architectural design community, this tool is also being used by engineers and designers to quickly create 3D models of product concepts. Originally developed and released by Google in 2000, SketchUp’s popularity stems from the fact that it’s easy to use, powerful, and free.
Last year the company that now develops SketchUp, Trimble Buildings, reported that the product had more than 30 million unique activations in the last year, making it the most widely used 3D modeling software in the world.
New features in SketchUp 2014
The new release introduces major enhancements to SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse, the world’s largest repository of free, high-quality, 3D content. Other new features include new tools that improve the classification of design objects, tighten interoperability with other products used in building information modeling (BIM) workflows, and 2D documentation improvements.
SketchUp’s 3D Warehouse is an online repository for finding, storing and sharing useful 3D models. In SketchUp 2014, the 3D Warehouse has been rebuilt, making it easier for users to quickly find the models they need, create and organize their own collections, and share them.
* The new 3D Warehouse now features an integrated WebGL viewer, enabling users to preview and orbit models in full 3D before downloading them into their own projects.
* Users can now upload 3D models directly from their Web browsers, without first opening them in SketchUp, while the maximum size of uploadable models has been increased from 10 to 50 megabytes.
* The new product catalogs feature speeds the task of finding specific manufacturers’ products, letting users start their models with the exact items they intend to use.
The new release marks Trimble’s second major update to SketchUp software in the past 10 months and reinforces the company’s commitment to continuously improve SketchUp with easier ways to create, access, share and collaborate on 2D drawings and 3D models. SketchUp Pro, designed for professional users, costs $595.
For a more extensive explanation of all the new bells and whistles of SketchUp 2014, go here.