Today IronCAD released the IronCAD Design Collaboration Suite 2011 XG comprising of IRONCAD, INOVATE and a new 2D product called IRONCAD DRAFT priced at $595. Well, actually IRONCAD DRAFT is not a new product. It is a greatly improved and rebranded version CAXA Draft that was bundled with the previous version of IRONCAD.

A little bit of history may help understand this better. CAXA is a Chinese CAD/CAM/PLM provider which has a close strategic partnership with IronCAD. They share development resources. Worldwide sales are operated by IronCAD and sales in China are handled by CAXA. Up until a couple of versions ago, IRONCAD has its own 2D CAD system that was integrated with its flagship IRONCAD 3D MCAD product. That was replaced by CAXA Draft in the last version, which is a popular 2D CAD system in China. At that time IronCAD had promised its customers that CAXA Draft would be improved and integrated more tightly with IRONCAD and INOVATE. It looks like they have delivered on that promise with IRONCAD DRAFT 2011.

For some time now, I have been using a beta of IRONCAD DRAFT 2011 and I like what I see. First things first, IRONCAD DRAFT is not an AutoCAD clone. Well, you can used it as one if you want. But that is not how IronCAD is positioning the product, and for good reason. However, I fear that people will put IRONCAD DRAFT in the category of the AutoCAD clones, which would be very unfortunate.

2D Drafting

IRONCAD DRAFT 2011 is a full blown 2D drafting system. This is what the product looks like. I opened a sample AutoCAD DWG file. However, CAXA has its own native file format with an extension of EXB.

I turned on the command line window. It is turned off by default. The command names and shortcuts are not exactly the same as AutoCAD. For example, “L” starts the line command but “C” does not close the line segments. Also there is something known as an Instance Menu which sits just above the status bar and has command specific controls.

2D Detailing

One of the main strengths of IRONCAD DRAFT 2011 is its ability to create 2D detailing drawings from 3D models. When you click File -> New you get an option to create a IRONCAD 3D Scene or a CAXA Draft 2D drawing.

If you select Scene you can import a bunch of 3D formats which includes ACIS SAT, Parasolid, STEP, IGES, Pro/ENGINEER unecrypted (prior to 200oi) and CATIA V4. For an added cost (IronCAD hasn’t got back to me on exactly how much) you can import CATIA V5, Pro/ENGINEER encrypted, NX, SolidWorks and Inventor. This is what the File Import drop down looks like.

This is how I created a detailed 2D drawing of a part modeled in SolidWorks. I started out with one of the SolidWorks 2011 sample files – a two bolt flange.

Since the IRONCAD DRAFT beta that I was given didn’t have the SolidWorks importer, I exported out a Parasolid file from SolidWorks 2011 and imported it into IRONCAD DRAFT.

Next I created a new CAXA Draft 2D drawing. I then clicked on the 3D Interface tab on the ribbon.

As the name of the tab suggests, the commands on it are the interface to the 3D side of things. I clicked on Standard View and a dialog box popped up asking me to select the views I wanted to create in my drawing. I picked the standard 3 views and the isometric view.

After I hit OK I used the mouse to drop the four views into the 2D drawing.

Using the commands on the Dimension tab I then created a few dimensions.

Assembly Design

Now comes the fun part. Like I said earlier, IRONCAD DRAFT is not just an AutoCAD clone and now you will see why. This neat little product allows you to do assembly design using standard components. Yes, you read that right. This 2D drafting product can do 3D assembly design. Here is how. IRONCAD DRAFT comes with something called a Catalog Browser which is basically a collection of standard components like bearings, gears, fasteners, etc.

You can simply drag and drop these standard components in the 3D scene. I clicked the fastener icon in the Catalog Browser and dragged it onto one of the cylindrical holes of the flange. This popped up a dialog box asking me to configure my fastener.

I could choose between bolts, screws, nuts, washer, pins and rings. I decided to add a bolt and since I picked on a cylindrical face, the software figured out the body diameter of the bolt and did not allow me to change it. While I was at it I decided to added a standard nut and a plain washer as well. I hit OK and a new bolt assembly was added to my scene.

I repeated this for the other hole and added another bolt assembly to the scene. Plain and simple drag, drop and configure. The Scene Browser updated itself accordingly.

I saved the file and switched to my 2D drawing window. Since associativity is maintained between the 3D scene and the 2D drawing, I was asked if I wanted to update the drawing with the two new bolt assemblies. I say yes and the two bolt assemblies were added to the 2D drawing.

You can do a lot more like create a 3D BOM, generate part numbers automatically or manually, etc. The best part is you are not limited to the standard components that come with IRONCAD DRAFT. You can create your own standard components and add them to the Catalog Browser. This opens up a range of possibilities. For example, you can build full blown assemblies from your own standard components solely by drag, drop and configure. With a little bit of training a sales person can do this in front of a customer at his site. Essentially you can make IRONCAD DRAFT something like a product configurator with the added benefit of being able to have dynamic components. Like I said, this $595 product is much more than an AutoCAD clone.

And that’s not all. There is a Visualization tab in the ribbon that has commands to set up material properties for realistic rendering and even animations. There is so much more that I haven’t got into here.


A 2D user not accustomed to 3D design can use 3D models from other people to create 2D technical documentation. He can even take it further to create assembly instructions, renderings and animations. Sales people can use IRONCAD DRAFT as an intelligent product configurator. Companies that have 3D designers and 2D detailers can split the work accordingly. Apart from saving to its own native EXB format, IRONCAD DRAFT can write to AutoCAD DWG and 2D IGES. Here is the IRONCAD DRAFT 2D drawing in AutoCAD 2011.

This is a standalone product and does not need IRONCAD or INOVATE to be installed on the computer. And since it comes with translators for all the main MCAD systems it can be deployed just about in any company that needs to do 2D detailing and 3D assembly modeling. It also comes with a API and can be customized which makes it very interesting for third party plug-in developers like me.

Bottom line, I think for $595 IRONCAD DRAFT is great value for money.

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  • IRONCAD – $3,995
  • INOVATE – $1,295
  • IRONCAD DRAFT – $595