3D CAD software has come a long way over the past few years, and the technology is only getting more accessible. Not too long ago, I had to lug a desktop computer around to perform demos, but now I can run SOLIDWORKS on a 15” laptop and still have more horsepower than my old desktop. But there seems to be a lot of conjecture about the eventual demise of the laptop to their cousin mobile devices and touch screens. As people are becoming more and more enamored with the ease of use and power of tablets (Apple iPad, Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, etc) and smartphones, it’s easy to see where they could potentially fit in to the daily design work of an engineer.
You’ve probably seen that eDrawings is available on mobile devices, and that you can interact with design concepts on a touch screen (video) . You may have even seen the awesome augmented reality running on an iPad (video) where you can view the 3D model as if you’re watching it in person (if you haven’t seen it, check out that video ). In terms of real applications, these may be a great way to get the point across to people in the field, and to communicate your designs and possibly even work instructions to someone who wouldn’t need to have a whole printout or be reliant on getting access from a computer.
You may have also seen the new SOLIDWORKS Mechanical Conceptual software, introducing social interaction to designers and engineers regardless of platform - mobile devices, tablets, laptops or just a normal web browser on a desktop (video here). It doesn’t seem very far-fetched that before long we’ll see 3D CAD and mechanical design in general available to any device anytime. At the very least, for the short term, Mechanical Conceptual is a great way to collaborate with other people who might not necessarily be in charge of designing, but who want to communicate their ideas in real time without having to rely on meetings or email chains to get things done.
Personally, I'm even more excited about the Microsoft Surface Pro, where you can actually install a full license of SOLIDWORKS and drive the software from a tablet even when you’re on the go. Granted, the horsepower might not be there for doing any serious modeling. I haven’t tried it out yet as I’m still saving up for the Surface Pro 3, so we can’t officially recommend it. However, SOLIDWORKS has actually come up with a few things that might make it easier to run on a tablet, like the option to make icons much larger and to turn on mouse gestures for quick access to commonly used tools.
So that’s where we are at – you can leverage your 3D information downstream easily with things like the eDrawings app for iOS and Android (download it here) and you can collaborate your ideas with social interaction tools inside SW Mechanical Conceptual. You can even run the full design software on a tablet if you’re so inclined. Even though Moore’s Law may have seen its day, it might not be long before we see programs like SOLIDWORKS and others running 3D design on tablets and smartphones. This could be a great idea for people on the go who just want to capture a quick idea or a snapshot of a design and then refine it later. It’s a cool concept, and I’m excited to see what the future brings.
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