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Latest software for speedy service

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Here are some key technologies for creating designs and speeding production.

Proliner is a device that measures three-dimensional design spaces with a 21-foot-long wire drawn from a measuring head that rotates 360 degrees. The device is about the size of an old-fashioned typewriter and mounts on a tripod or any firm surface. The operator uses a metal measuring pen at the end of the wire to mark relevant points, which directly translate into a digital DXF CAD file. (DXF is a format that allows drawing interchange. CAD stands for computer-aided design.)

A Proliner user can measure any object in horizontal, vertical or diagonal positions and then email measurements back to the shop. The resulting digital drawing can be used to operate a CNC machine to print or cut plots for design.

In short, to design a boat cover, for example, you walk around a boat and, with the pen, touch what you want to measure. This creates a design frame you import to a design program. “The savings is in the time,” says John Richerts, a Prodim trainer and sales rep based in Fort Pierce, Fla., “and repeatability.”

PhotoModeler software lets boat-cover designers take digital photos at a boat’s or other location, and from those photos create a cover design. It means less time at the marina and “high accuracy,” claims Eos Systems of Vancouver, British Columbia. Alan Walford, Eos CEO, says his company’s PhotoModeler allows users with a standard digital camera to shoot about 10—maybe more in some cases—photos of the vessel and then load the photos into design software. No need to climb all over the boat. “Think of PhotoModeler as a very accurate tape measure in 3D,” Walford says.

It also means reduced field time—shooting photos at the scene is usually the only requirement. “The technique also allows you to return to the photos and pick up measurements you might have forgotten,” says Walford, “reducing the need to return to the original boat.”

PhotoModeler adjusts for lens curvature to help flatten a two-dimensional image, notes Mike Garrison, CAD manager with Canvas Designers in Riviera Beach, Fla. The software also can create a 3D drawing of the boat cover if target points are placed on the object that the software recognizes—and several photos are taken from different angles.

The PhotoModeler base package ($1,145) requires a standard digital camera. Time to learn to use the package may run from “a couple of days to weeks,” Garrison says.

Rhino, a popular modeling tool for designers, is from Robert McNeel & Associates of Seattle. Starting price for the latest version, Rhino 5.0, is $825.

SolidWorks, from Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corp. of Waltham, Mass., lets users create, simulate, publish and manage data for 3D designs.

MPanel software gives designers of tensile-fabric structures a set of tools that run in industry-standard CAD software including AutoCAD or Rhinoceros. Prices for MPanel, from Meliar Design, Builth, Wales, start at $3,995. Its 3D form-finding and 2D patterning software work for tension-fabric structures, tents, awnings, shade sails and such marine applications as bimini tops, enclosures and boat covers. It operates as a plug-in component, working with Autodesk’s AutoCAD (any version greater than R2000) or the Rhino 4 or 5 3D CAD platforms. It is sold on a per-computer basis.

Marc Hequet is a freelance writer from St. Paul, Minn.

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