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Get the Feel for Modeling

By Jim Romeo

Kevin Atkins
Kevin Atkins

Today’s design environment is getting more complex, and designers are most reliant on precise and complex engineering software solutions to help them with sophisticated 3D modeling. Bringing forms and models from concept to design can be challenging "and that’s precisely the need that Sensable’s FreeForm Plus Organic Design System seeks to fulfill.

Kevin Atkins is a corporate applications engineer for this product line at the Sensable Corp., based in Wilmington, MA. DE spoke to Atkins to understand his product and how it helps the engineering design community:

Q. Tell us a little about the FreeForm Plus Organic Design System.

A. It is designed specifically to model complex, organic forms that otherwise take too long or are just not possible to create in traditional CAD modelers. It uniquely allows designers to combine multiple geometry types, including surfaces, solids, meshes and voxels, in one integrated environment. FreeForm is complementary to traditional CAD packages like Pro/E, SolidWorks and Rhino, allowing users to easily incorporate sculptural details into solid models and prepare models for tooling, whether for mold or die creation.

Q. How exactly does it work?

A. FreeForm combines voxels, haptics (force feedback) and an intuitive user interface to provide product designers with incredible speed, creative freedom and ease of use. Because FreeForm is based on voxels "think 3D pixels that can easily be repositioned in space "it removes the constraints of topology, such as mathematical definition, geometry format and order of operation, that are required in traditional CAD programs. Users model by holding a Sensable Phantom force feedback device instead of a computer mouse. The device pushes back on the user’s hand, allowing users to literally "feel" the digital clay model as they sculpt and carve in a manner similar to traditional clay modeling. They can even "pop through" to the inside of the digital model and sculpt from the inside out.

Q. How does this help shorten the time to manufacture, in your view?

A. Designers with products that need complex organic shapes, intricate sculptural details and textures face particular challenges, because most 3D design systems take far too long to create these types of designs "if they can do them at all. FreeForm provides fast 3D modeling as well as a full complement of advanced tools that enable designers to analyze how easily their models can be manufactured, tools such as draft analysis, repair tools and creating complex parting surfaces. These tools allow the designer to strike the perfect balance between aesthetics and manufacturability prior to handing them off "reducing engineering reviews and design iterations, and expensive and time-consuming retooling costs.

Q. What features do you believe are most appealing to end-users?

A. For projects requiring sophisticated, complex deformations, FreeForm’s Lattice Deform tool provides an interactive way to target and restrict deformations to very specific areas of the model "or allow multiple pieces to be deformed as a single unit. For example, working with a multi-piece model of a strategy-game miniature soldier with an intricately detailed uniform and accessories, the designer can simultaneously reproportion the 3D shapes of all items at once.

Some CAD systems are great for making manufacturable models, but cannot make complex organic models; others can make very complex models, but cannot evaluate or modify them for manufacturability. FreeForm is capable of doing both, with tools such as real-world units and measurements, draft analysis and automatic correction, articulation, thickness analysis and never-fail shelling.

Q. How is FreeForm priced, and what’s an expected return on investment (ROI)?

A. Sensable’s 3D Design products include top-of-the-line FreeForm Plus organic design system for manufacturability, FreeForm organic design system, and Claytools digital sculpting system. Pricing starts at $5,900.

The economic benefit and ROI to using FreeForm is huge. FreeForm helps companies save weeks or months from total design to manufacturing "getting their goods to market faster, and capturing timely market opportunities that otherwise would have been missed. We have many customers who recoup the cost of purchasing FreeForm many times over in just the first year of use. DE

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Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA.

About Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.