After grabbing headlines going from a regular price of $999 to $99 in August, Alibre Inc. most recently released Alibre V12. As with earlier releases, the new version comes in three different flavors: Alibre Design Standard, Alibre Design Professional (reviewed here), and Alibre Design Expert. The Professional edition offers more than the bare essentials of the Standard Edition, but without the data management, motion analysis, and integrated CAM functions found in the Expert edition.
Alibre V12 lets you apply separate colors to individual features, allowing you to differentiate identical features to avoid confusion.
2D Sketch Mode
In 2D sketch mode, V12 introduces Real-Time Dimensioning. With this function turned on (by going to Sketch > Real-Time Dimensioning), you can enter the length, angle, ratio, and other values of your lines and arcs while sketching. The software automatically completes the sketch with the numeric values you entered. This approach, which is different from sketching a rough profile first and modifying its dimensions later, gives you a way to develop your sketch with precision from the start, as you might in 2D drafting packages like AutoCAD LT or DoubleCAD XT.
The Paste Stamper function lets you drop identical copies of a sketch at precise locations.
Normally, when you copy and paste a sketch in Alibre, the duplicate copy is placed slightly off center to the original. But with the new Paste Stamper function (Edit > Paste Stamper), you can place the duplicate items precisely where you’d like. If you need to position a series of identical sketches on a surface in a certain alignment, this tool makes the task easier. The tool is available only in the 2D sketch mode (Sketch > Activate 2D Sketch).
Color-Coded Features and Embossed Text
If your part happens to contain various identical features (say, a pair of holes), but each serves a different purpose (one for fitting a shaft, another for fitting a boss), Alibre V12 gives you a way to color-code these features. To access the dialog box, you can right-click on the feature, then select Feature Color > Specify Feature Color to activate the color palette. Since you can also color-code a part in a shade of your choice, you may use this color-coded feature to ensure your parts get mated to the right features and surfaces in the assembly mode.
In V12, you have the option to project a string of text onto a surface (doesn’t work on curved surfaces), then extrude it to create an embossed look. You can access the dialog box by selecting a surface, then choosing Sketch > Activate 2D Sketch > Text. The dialog box gives you a way to shrink or enlarge the text string and position it on the chosen surface in preview.
This is an illustration of the real-time dimension function in Alibre V12. It is shown here with an enlarged view of the menu (left panel).
Lines and Profiles to Sheet Metals
In Sheet Metal mode (not available in Alibre Design Standard), V12 gives you the option to convert a 2D line or profile into a flange. After developing your sketch, you can select it, then go to Feature > Contour Base Flange to activate the dialog box. This gives you the ability to specify your flange’s thickness, bend radius, then automatically generate a sheet metal part corresponding to your sketch’s profile.
Using the Lofted Flange function (Feature > Lofted Flange), you can create sheet metal parts by selecting two profiles (for example, a rectangle for bottom, a circle for top), then specify the dimensions of the profiles, alignment of the two profiles, thickness, and automatically generate the lofted flange. The input dialog box provides the user with a controlled way to create the flange, but it also works to prevent you from freely exploring the lofting options that are available by positioning the bottom and top profiles at various points in 3D space.
Using the Contour Flange command, you can turn your 2D line drawings into sheet-metal parts.
Alibre Design Professional comes with a series of direct-editing functions. (Note: some may argue they’re not direct manipulations of geometry but merely parametric transformations that mimic the history-free modeling methods. Nevertheless, they work in a similar fashion: You can reshape your model by pushing and pulling on certain faces and edges.)
Alibre is, and has always remained, a parametric modeling program at its core, so the direct-editing tools to be found in it are somewhat limited. You’ll find them under Feature > Direct Edit. As with other direct editing programs such as SpaceClaim or Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology, you’ll be able to select a face, an edge, or a circle radius and simply push or pull it to reshape your model. The operations work efficiently on planar surfaces, but tend to run into problems when you deal with surfaces involving, say, rounded edges or blends.
Analysis and Rendering
Alibre Design Professional comes with ALGOR DesignCheck, a first-pass stress analysis application, and HyperShot, a rendering application from Bunkspeed. ALGOR offers ALGOR DesignCheck as a free download, so even if you’re not running Alibre Design Professional, you can install ALGOR as a standalone program and use it in conjunction with Alibre Design Standard, or any other CAD programs supported by ALGOR.
Both Alibre Standard and Professional come with basic import options (DXF, DWG, IGES, SAT, STEP, SolidWorks) and export options (DXF, DWG, IGES, STEP, SAT, STL). But to make it fully interoperable with other popular formats, you might need Alibre Translate, an add-on that gives you additional import (Autodesk Inventor, Pro/E, CATIA, Parasolid, Solid Edge) and export (SolidWorks, Parasolid) options.
Often in 3D mode, and especially in 2D sketch mode, selected edges and lines are difficult to discern in the default color scheme, because the bright-blue highlight blends into the light-blue gradient backdrop. To address this, you can go to Tools > Options > Color Scheme, then pick an entirely different color scheme or change the background color.
Also new in V12, you can create extruded text string using the Text dialog box.
In V12, you can control how many virtual lights you want in your modeling environment. You can adjust it by going to Tools > Options > General tab > Number of Lights. The purpose of this option is to let you improve the visibility of your modeling field, thus making it easier to select certain edges. But sometimes a brighter look makes it harder to discern the highlighted edges. You may find that changing the selection highlight and backdrop color scheme (for example, a dark-blue backdrop, offset by yellow highlights) is more helpful than increasing the number of lights.
Regularly priced at $1,499, Alibre Design Professional is one of the most affordable and comprehensive bundles of 2D, 3D, analysis, rendering, and sheet-metal tools. If you’re familiar with parametric CAD, you should be able to master Alibre with minimal effort, because its menus and commands operate similar to the ones in standard CAD packages. You could deploy Alibre as a primary CAD program if you choose to, but the low cost also makes it a good supplementary CAD seat to refine, edit, and modify files supplied by others, created in another CAD program.
Kenneth Wong writes about technology, its innovative use, and its implications. One of DE’s MCAD/PLM experts, he has written for numerous technology magazines and authors DE’s Virtual Desktop blog at deskeng.com/virtual_desktop/. You can follow him on Twitter at KennethWongCAD, or send e-mail to DE-Editors@deskeng.com.
Addendum: Soon after the article went to press, Alibre implemented a drastic price cut, reducing the cost of Alibre Design Standard to $97. Unlike its previous $99 offer, which was for a limited time only, this price is to remain permanent. The $97 package includes file import/export functions, previously sold separately as Alibre Translate module. The new pricing makes Alibre Design Standard the most comprehensive parametric CAD modeler you can get for less than $100.