D3D Live! Conference review 2012


Ironman, Space rockets and how to avoid using CAD at all costs!

Develop3D Live 2012 - Cadaroo as the Ironman

If you’ve never read Develop 3D (D3D) magazine – you really should. D3D is a magazine which is passionate about design and engineering. CAD features in Develop 3D, but as part of the context, rather than as the star.

The team from D3D tell the stories of the interesting, the unique, and the innovative in product design and manufacturing – and this year (for the first time) they decided to bring these ideals to a FREE conference – D3D Live!

CAD Vendors – ‘We are all friends now’.

Over the years of writing Develop 3D the team have built up personal relationships with many of the CAD vendors and Industry leaders. This puts them in a unique position to bring competing parties together in an unprecedented manner.

This event was not a simple Geek fest for UK CAD users. Martyn and the team from D3D had used their apparently considerable influence to bring in top level CEO’s and executives from the major CAD vendors.

Al Dean and Martyn Day at D3D Live! 2012
Martyn is uncomfortable at being seen in a suit.

Nowhere else could you see Creo, Solidworks, Inventor & Spaceclaim almost cheek by jowl in the same exhibition hall. For a CAD geek like me this unprecedented opportunity to compare products was worth months or trawling Internet reviews or watching canned demo’s.

There is simply no easier way to find out about a product, than to sit down with an experienced user and have them show you the guts of the programme. For a company considering getting in to 3D modelling, or any company who is re-considering their choice of 3D CAD software, this opportunity alone was worth the day out.

 ‘The CAD Industry has needed an event like this for a long time’

– Blake Courter, Co-Founder SpaceClaim

It’s interesting to note that Blake didn’t say ‘The North American CAD Industry’ or even ‘The UK CAD Industry’ – which gives you some idea of how unique and important this conference was.

I personally wish to extend my thanks to the various CAD vendors who sponsored the event, making it free for us to attend. I hope that the CAD vendors continue to offer their support to this unique conference for many years to come.

Technical previews

Alongside their presence in the exhibit hall, many of the CAD vendors gave presentations on their vision of the future of the CAD industry and the future of their products. Unfortunately, some of the CAD Vendors squandered this opportunity by presenting some canned power point guff, so I’m going to highlight one of these presentations that I found genuinely informative and interesting.

Autodesk Inventor Fusion 2013

Kevin Schneider from Autodesk comes across as a rare man for an company executive. I got the impression that he is a genuine CAD geek. I don’t know how he came to be a high roller at a leading CAD company, but I am sure that he is CAD first, Executive later.

Autodesk Inventor Fusion 2013 will be cross platform, making it one of the first 3D engineering tools to be available on both Windows and Mac. In this latest version of Fusion, Kevin’s team have completely re-thought the idea of assembly constraints, coming up with the idea of ‘Magnet points’ – essentially assembly constraints that are pre-built into features as they are created. For example, cylinders know that they can connect with holes and so on.

Kevin also showed us a preview of Autodesk’s implementation of T-splines inside Inventor Fusion. Which will probably made available through Autodesk Labs for testing in the near future (I had been wondering where T-splines was going to wind up!).

Kevin’s demonstration of the future of Inventor Fusion 2013 showed a product that was smoother, slicker and more user friendly than its predecessors.  I can’t wait to get my hands on it to see if really is slick as Kevin made it look on screen.

Compelling stories

Without the support of the CAD vendors, D3D Live! Simply wouldn’t have happened, but the real highlight was the stories from real CAD users, showing us how they design and manufacture their products and, of course, discussing their use of CAD on the way.

Whilst there were many great presentations, I want to highlight the three that have stayed with me.


Jason Lopes Is the technology manger for Legacy effects (previously the Stan Winston Creature Workshop).  The Stan Winston workshop has long been known for the high standard of its animatronic puppetry for films such as Labyrinth & Terminator.


Faced with the challenge of keeping movie visual effects ‘in camera’ – rather than losing out to post production CGI,  Jason is leading Legacy effects use of Laser scanning and 3D printing to coordinate animatronic puppets with their computer animated counterparts.

The team behind Iroman and Avatar use various CAD programmes from Z-brush and Modo to Solidworks to design the animatronic puppets. Even puppets that have been hand sculpted in the traditional manner can be 3D laser canned to bring them into the computer as digital assets.

The advantage of this is that the same 3D computer models can be used by the post production CGI team to provide a seamless integration of Actors, puppets and visual effects. The end result of the Actors having ‘real’ creatures to act against is a much more involving experience for the viewer.

Jason  told us the story of how he can take a handheld laser scanner to an Actor or Actress anywhere in the world, scan their face and Email it back to the office. By the time he returns, the rapid prototyping team have printed an exact copy of the Actors face ready for the sculptor to begin applying clay to the print. The sculpt is cast to make a mould for the prosthetic make up, which can be applied directly to the Actor with no further need for fitting or tests.

What really struck me about this new process is that Legacy Effects are building a database of ‘Digital Assets’. 3D scans of the great and good actors and actresses of our generation. Want Robert Downy Jnr to appear in your new Sci-fi movie? No need to have an expensive scan done, Legacy Effects has him down already.

Who knows – maybe a digitised version of your favourite Actor or Actress will continue to be in Movies long after they’ve passed on to that great big after show party in the sky…

Takeaway: New technology may not just be a way of doing an old job cheaper. New technology may also become a new business.


‘At Bose – we don’t use CAD’

– Gustavo Fontana, Advanced Development Industrial Design, Bose corporation.

Gustavo Fontana of the Bose ‘Future Design’ Lab gave us a fresh look at what the process of Design is all about. In the workshops at Bose, the future Design team have the space and the tools to go straight into making real; physical mock ups of future products that you can hold in your hands (or in Gustavo ’s case, put in your rucksack, or leave around your house; which takes ‘living with your design decisions’ to a new place).

The team will iterate through many variations of a potential new product. While they do have access to CAD, the main use of CAD is to provide geometry for 3D printing of mock ups, or to create the visual presentations they pass on to the Design development team who will eventually turn the concept into a product.

At Bose, the Future Design team are hired for their ideas and talents, not their ability to use CAD software. In fact Bose will support whatever CAD software the employee already uses. This approach gives the Future design team an un-fettered approach to Design, bringing the focus of Design back to Ideas, rather than trying to work out how to get your CAD system to interpret the ideas that are in your head.

‘Our staff can see from their peers what works – the trouble with Demo’s of CAD software  is that they always look beautiful!’

– Gustavo Fontana

Takeaway: Like Zaha Hadid Architects, Designers at Bose are not expected to conform to a preconceived idea of what CAD software is appropriate for them to do their job. Whilst this attitude may not be practical once you pass from Design into Engineering, the team at Bose demonstrate there is certainly a benefit of having a choice of CAD tools to ensure that you have the right CAD tool for the job.

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UK Space

CAD and space ships – what’s not to like! And all designed and engineered right here in the UK by Piyal Samara-Ratna of the Space Research Centre at the University of Leicester.

When you are responsible for manufacturing sensitive optical equipment for the latest deep space telescope, your Engineering must be second to none. Whilst your CAD software won’t (quite) do your engineering for you, the ability to test and optimise your design inside the computer can save months of physical prototyping and testing. Importantly for the Space Research Centre team, every Kilo is sent into space at a vast cost, so maintaining strength whilst keeping the weight to a minimum is extremely important.

After spending Millions of pounds on design and development, Piyal’s team place the product of all their hard work on a vibrating jig, which is designed to simulate the stresses of being placed on a Rocket and fired into space.

You would not want to be the one responsible for all this, if the delicate instruments flew to pieces.

Like something out of your favourite Sci-Fi move, Piyal’s team are making full use of 3D printing, not for making prototypes, but instead for printing actual parts from titanium resin which will be sent into space. This process saves a lot of time in the machine shop, and saves a lot of waste material. The biggest benefit to Piyal’s team is that they can optimise the hell out of the parts, to keep the parts a strong and as light as possible.

Takeaway:  There is possibly no feat of engineering more demanding than sending men and machines into space. This session was a reminder that some companies need to trust their CAD software in a way that you and I might not be able to imagine.

The Panel discussion and the end of this year’s D3D Live!

The final session at D3D Live! Was a panel discussion featuring the great and the Good of the CAD world. The line up was almost an allegory of the event, with representatives of the CAD vendors being interspersed with the other speakers.

The Panel at D3D Live! 2012

Unfortunately, due to the event over running, the panel discussion never quite got up to speed and there was no fisticuffs! which left me wondering why Al Dean didn’t host this session – ‘Cats’ & ‘Pigeons’ spring to mind.

The general consensus was that much of CAD is ‘People working around the problem’ with none of the CAD vendors quite managing to deliver a product that is easy to learn, easy to use and offers downstream benefits to engineering and manufacture. However, if the passion of the representatives at the table can be taken as a litmus paper, then we are in interesting times indeed!

Make sure D3D Live! Is on your calendar next year – I look forward to seeing you there!



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