Software is constantly evolving, usually for the better. A case in point is the latest 2D and 3D parametric CAD program, Alibre Atom 3D, from Alibre LLC. Alibre began in 1997 and with the help of Microsoft became the first web-based collaborative 3D design environment. The environment operated on a web browser and allowed multiple users to work on the same design simultaneously.
Parametric solid modeling, both 2D and 3D, is driven by drawing dimensions, meaning that the software automatically recalculates the other dimensions of a design to accommodate changes of a single dimension. This maintains the design’s overall dimensional accuracy, both in the model of a single part or after parts are assembled into an object without having to calculate new dimensions in other portions of the part or in mating parts in the assembled design.
Alibre Atom 3D retails for $199 for use on a single computer. A one-year support and maintenance contract costs $249. There are no yearly subscription fees.
Alibre Atom 3D is a design-and-draw from the ground up type of CAD progam, as opposed to a program that pulls predominately from a library of sources. And because it can print plans, the program can be used by both CNC users and nonusers.
I’ve been a long-term user of Alibre Version 10, released in 2007. All of the base features remain in the latest release. Improvements include better interface controls and more accessible command buttons,
Changing from operation to operation changes the command buttons available. This seems odd at first, though as a user becomes more proficient with Alibre it becomes natural and saves enormous amounts of time. The controls that do not deal directly with designing and drawing are placed so they can be accessed from one button (called the “gem”).
The design process begins in a 2D workspace, which shows the X, Y and Z planes for proper orientation in the assembly workspace.
Alibre Atom 3D has a unique feature that contains all of the information about a design or an assembly, known as the Design and Assembly Explorers. After using Alibre Atom 3D for a while a user will appreciate all of the information the two Explorers present as it will make clear many aspects of the workspace and of the part.
At the top of the design and assembly workspaces are the various controls. In the 2D sketching mode workspace these buttons control everything from drawing a line to rounding the edge of a finished part. The dropdown menus are actually windows that contain information about the design action a particular button represents. When using the 3D sketching mode, the part being designed will be shown in an isometric view and all the tools available in the 2D sketching mode are available in the 3D sketching mode, except for the constraint and dimensioning tools.
From my experience, the constraint and dimensioning tools are what make Alibre so easy to use. Rather than having a 2D sketch or a part just floating in space, the part can be fixed in a certain place in the workspace relative to the sketching grid or reference geometry.
Creating an entire piece of furniture or a small cabinet is accomplished in the Assembly Workspace, which assembles all of the parts that were previously designed.
Any item in the drawing can be changed or moved. If a part or assembly is changed subsequent to creating a drawing, the drawing can be regenerated to include the changes.
Atom 3D comes with KeyShot, a rendering program. Simlab Composer is also available. There are CAM add-ons – AlibreCAM-Mill and AlibreCAM-Turn from MecSoft Corp.; EZ-Mill, EZ-Turn, and EZ-EDM (Electrical Discharge Machining) from EzCAM Solutions Inc., and SprutCAM from Sprut Technology.
Learning how to use Alibre Atom 3D is no more difficult than other 3D parametric CAD programs, though is can be a bit daunting as the program separates activities, like 2D sketching, 3D sketching, assemblies and printing plans, rather than having them all run together. One aspect that makes learning easier is the consistency of the buttons for the various functions.
Alibre Atom 3D has an optional support and maintenance program. A free 30-day trail is available. For more, visit www.alibre.com.
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.