Free Product Configuration With IRONCAD COMPOSE

The other day Cary O’Connor from IronCAD gave me a quick briefing on his company’s new free tool called IRONCAD COMPOSE, which serves two main purposes. Firstly, you can use it as a free viewer to view IronCAD formats as well as mesh formats like STL, OBJ, 3DS, etc and collaborate with others. And secondly you can use it as a sales tool to quick configure products right in front of your customers as you are discussing the project with them.

There are many free viewers for mesh formats. I was interested in knowing more about the free product configuration part of IRONCAD COMPOSE. So here is the deal. IronCAD products have this concept of catalogs which are essentially part libraries built right into the product’s user interface. You can set up attachment points to these parts so that they can be dragged and dropped into the 3D scene and then snapped together like Lego blocks. IronCAD has basically carved out this feature and added it to its free viewer to create IRONCAD COMPOSE.

The software is free for life. You need to register for a key but do not need to activate it every year or so like the free DraftSight from Dassault Systemes. I asked Cary a simple question, “Why?” He explained that they noticed some of their customers use IRONCAD to as a sales tool to quick mock up and configure products for their customers and sometimes offer instant quotes. A full blown CAD system like IRONCAD is an overkill for something like that. Hence something as light weight and purposeful as IRONCAD COMPOSE.

Then I asked him “Why free? Seems like you are leaving some money on the table here.” He laughed and replied, “This is about entering into market segments where we don’t have a presence yet. Our existing products can already do everything IRONCAD COMPOSE does. However, we don’t think many companies will buy full blown licenses of CAD systems to give their sales guys to make sales pitches. Apart from paying for the training they need to use those CAD systems.

With IRONCAD COMPOSE IronCAD is trying to gain mind share. Giving away a free tool that solves a problem is always a good idea to gain mind share. You don’t need to model your parts and assemblies in an IRONCAD product to let your sales guys use IRONCAD COMPOSE. Simply let your CAD system spit out your models in a mesh format, import them into IRONCAD COMPOSE, define attachment points and other parameters, create a catalog from them and hand it to your sales guy. He can then drag, drop and snap fit pieces into place right in front of the customer.

In a matter of seconds I dragged and dropped a few parts from the Piping catalog that comes with IRONCAD COMPOSE and got this. The short blue lines describe the attachment points.

In a sales pitch presentation is key. So IronCAD has added photorealistic rendering and animation to IRONCAD COMPOSE as well. All for free.

It is important to note that all the geometry in IRONCAD COMPOSE is faceted and meant for visualization and presentation only. Cary tells me that in the future they may offer a paid version where users can load in solid NURBS based geometry and configure parts by adjusting their parameters. I guess that depends on the success of this free version.

Another cool feature is the ability to use the IronCAD Triball to quickly modify the underlying mesh geometry – things like rotate parts, scale them, etc. You can also assign custom numeric  properties to each part in the catalog whose value gets adjusted as you edit the part in the scene. So for example, I could make IRONCAD COMPOSE calculate the total length of all pipes in the assembly above, which would help me arrive at an estimate in terms of cost. You can also add 3D dimensions and call outs once you are finished configuring and then publish to a bunch of mesh formats including 3D PDF. However, I noticed that the dimension are not carried though to the PDF.

There are quite a few more features that I haven’t had the time to delve into. But as you can see IronCAD is giving a lot of useful stuff away for free.

You can download IRONCAD COMPOSE from here. Give it a try and let me know what you think.