When I shopped around for *reasonably* priced CAD software with powerful 3D-modeling features, VariCAD was the one offering that really stood out (read my prior Blog where I review VariCAD and discuss my trials of competing free and affordable 3D CAD products) to me after evaluating quite a few competing CAD products — so I bought it.
2011-04-18 — VariCAD 2011 1.x RELEASE SUMMARY: this latest releae includes numerous improvements to the 2D drawing functionality portion of VariCAD. This latest VariCAD 2011 release contains rebuilt and significantly better DWG/DXF interface, new or changed 2D functions, better support of 2D NURBS objects (splines), significantly improved user interface and improved STEP input. Available for Linux and Windows platforms (32bit and 64bit also).
Pen and graph-paper can only take you so far when planning out even moderately complex engineering or product-design projects, and the time-savings and accuracy that is obtainable with software like VariCAD can easily make the price well worth the investment.
VariCAD Example : Real-Life Time/Cost Savings
One of my more recent VariCAD 3D-layout projects that saved me a TON of time was, of all things, designing an optimal heating and air-conditioning (HVAC) ductwork system for a planned new geothermal system install at my residence. I started out taking measurements with a tape measure and then sketching some ideas on paper, but I was soon overwhelmed with overlapping duct trunk-lines that had all sorts of multi-dimensional constraints on their placement (especially due to immovable walls); it quickly became apparent that pencil and paper could not ensure success on this project — VariCAD to the rescue!
As the above VariCAD 3D scene rendering from one view/perspective demonstrates, this was a rather complex ducting plan to implement, and the color-coding of various trunk lines in VariCAD (for supply air and return air that would feed out and into the 6-ton WaterFurnace geothermal unit) saved the day and kept me from going insane as I tried to visualize how this would all work. I also placed a couple gray slabs into the drawing to remind myself of where I was passing through immovable walls, and this really helped with the visualization process too.
This 3-D CAD software mockup of how the proposed geothermal ducting could be implemented gave me the confidence I needed to know that if the project moved forward, it would work as planned — this is a confidence I could not have otherwise had, as the scene was just too darn complex to visualize with simple hand-drawn orthographic sketches or *attempts* at 3D. This model was created to-scale, and everything that worked in the CAD software would work in reality because of the accuracy the CAD software brought to the problem at hand. The bottom line here is that a $600 piece of software avoided what could have been countless hours of expensive reworking of ductwork "on the fly" from a lack of proper planning.
So, if you have any desire to expand your abilities as a home-improvement expert or hobbyist, perhaps the latest VariCAD 2D/3D CAD software (which has free 30-day trial) may be for you also. I found the software INCREDIBLY USEFUL as an individual that wants to ensure the best outcome for home-improvement projects, and I can only imagine how wonderful a tool like this would be to professional ductwork installers (especially where re-configuring existing ductworks for geothermal, etc. is happening). I can see this being used as a marketing tool also, so customers can visualize what it is you (the contractor) brings to the table and plans to implement.
Geothermal ductwork-planning in 3D is just one of the many uses I have found for this software. VariCAD 2011 furthers my appreciation for the cost-savings and time-savings that design-automation software can offer, and I have many more projects in the works that I am and will be using VariCAD to perform 2D and 3D CAD layout for. I find myself quickly going straight to the computer when I have ideas to "sketch out" now, thus bypassing paper/pen altogether. Hopefully you find this software to be equally useful and valuable.
UPDATE (2013): I have continued to use VariCAD 2012 and VariCAD 2013 and love the product. Additional features and enhancements have come along to make an already great product even better. Give it a try, and if it just "clicks" with you, productivity is bound to follow.
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