Modelling software for construction/manufacturing vs. presentation/rendering (nurbs vs mesh)

At the moment I am looking into software for a small company that designs and builds cabinets/kitchens/book cases etc. to customer specification. There are several packages available that we can choose from, that have been developed specifically for this purpose (Imos/WoodCADCAM (AutoCad-based), VectorWorks (Parasolid-based), Woodwork for Inventor (ACIS/ShapeManager based), etc. etc.).

We like to be able to make (sometimes quick and dirty) concept renderings and also make detailed parts/assemblies for production purposes. The latter is the primary goal, but it would be so nice not to need a second program to make presentations/renders. So ideally, we would like to have a piece of software that does both... however, in my mind this is where you run into a problem...

In my mind, in construction/manufacturing you use Nurbs/Solids based models and software. When your goal is to make a slick presentation/render, it is much more common to use mesh-based models and software.

To be able to also make presentations with the engineering software, ideally it should be able to fluently import and handle all kinds of both mesh- and nurbs based models. However, if I understand it correctly, with engineering software it is very hard to import mesh-based models without running into all kinds of problems (huge filesizes, long conversion times with no guarantee of success, no cross-sections in drawings unless you are able to make a solid from it).
Earlier I worked in another company that used Solidworks and one big problem with making renders was that a lot of 3D-models are only available as mesh based models (Sketchup, 3DS, STL, OBJ). For example, when I want to place a vase with flowers on a table or a statue in the corner, I could find several beautiful mesh based models, but only a few rough surface/solidmodels. The more complex the shape, the bigger the chance that we could only find mesh based models for obvious reasons. Also I have the idea that certain suppliers don't want to distribute nurbs-based models, because it makes it easier for competitors to copy their products.

This brings me to believe that we have to choose between two semi-optimal solutions:
- go for a program with good rendering capabilities and accept that we are somewhat limited in the kind of 3D-models we can add to the render.
- go for a possibly cheaper program that we will only use for construction/assembly and buy a second piece of software to make the presentations/renders.

I hate the second idea, because it takes extra time and it is cumbersome to make changes in the design afterwards. I also don't know how easy/difficult it is to export a model from a nurbs-based program and import it into a mesh-based program without loosing all kinds of information (textures/colors).

Am I right in all my assumptions? What are your experiences with this? Would you advise to go for a do-it-all solution or to go for two seperate programs? All input and suggestions are appreciated.

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4 Answers

Could you post a couple pictures of the work you've done so I can have a better idea of what the work must be like? Images of models, and renderings?

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Sadly I can't because at the moment I have no access to any data and because till now proposals are being made in Sketchup and are detailed for production/assembly in AutoCad (2D). We want to shorten engineering time and be able to show the client more fancy pictures of what he can expect.
Think kitchens, bookshelves, cupboards, bathroom cabinets, all custom designed and produced in-house. Think designer interior for clients with money to spend. Sometimes straight(forward) and almost similar to an off the shelf product, sometimes curved with components and features that you need to design from scratch, designer hardware, special lighting and expensive finishes. Hope this all gives you an idea.
Renderings should be of a quality comparable with for example Solidworks Photoview or better. Generation should not take more than a couple of hours; main goal is to show the client 3D views in which textures are clearly recognizable. Walk through animations would be nice but isn't necessary.

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Then you will definately want to switch to either solidworks, or autodesk inventor. Both have 3D design and rendering environments within the software, as well as material specs and properties.

I know the pain of sketchup. Used it in college architecture courses... those were sad days. My main area of study in engineering and using inventor and solidworks make sketchup look like a joke.

You may want to look at some tutorials of the two softwares first before you decide. They are identical in capabilities. The only real difference is user interface. There are plenty of videos on youtube to give you ideas. Good luck on your sofware decision. Changing out of those softwares you are using now will be life saving for your team!

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For most of my work I use Geomagic design I mainly work on mechanical products and the manufacture of mechanical equipment. I purchased this software as coming from a background of using Solid Works and Solid Edge in this type of work for several years I was looking for a product at reasonable cost and functionality that was suitable for some work that had been offered to me. After an Internet search I came across this product, called Alibre Design then, downloaded a demo, found it ideal for the work I needed it for and purchased the product. The price and performance made this software one of the best purchases I have made. I have used this software to produce a range of industrial fans and dust filter equipment, manufacture drawings as well as all files to laser cut and turret punch all parts.

The bonus that came with purchasing this software was, that included was a license for Keyshot photo-realistic rendering software. Though not requiring this type of software or looking to acquire this type of product I have found it a useful extra tool, easy to use and learn. As the rendering software and modeling software work well together taking a model and rendering it is simple and quick and an excellent way to produce presentations to help sell an idea or product.

Geomagic Design is basically a mechanical design package with tools for mechanical components, sheet metal parts and mechanical assemblies. I have had no real experience of designing kitchens, cabinetry and bookcases, but could be done with this software. The price and usefulness of this software make it worthwhile to check it out, download a demo and try it out. If cost was not an issue I would purchase this product ahead of Inventor anyway.


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