Chris, a professional engineer reliant on ProCAD+ for his business(1), dropped in to the Blue Posts in Soho, to demonstrate ProCAD+, before departing for a cycle holiday around Iceland.
A StrongARM RISC OS 4 Risc PC and video projector were at hand to give most of those present their first glimpse of this software. ProCAD+ is a RISC OS CAD (Computer Aided Design) package actively developed by David Snell in Exeter. Chris Bell is a keen ProCAD+ user, making use of the package to design machine-tooled components for bicycles.
Chris began with a slideshow using Spacetech's OHP presntation package, pointing out the differences between vector and bitmap graphics, and the reasons why vector graphic design is essential in engineering applications, and extremely useful in others! Chris uses ProCAD+ for all his design work, then exports the designs to a BBC Micro. This runs his own software, written in 1985, and controls an industrial milling machine. When asked why he didn't run it all on the RiscPC, Chris stated that the BBC had been running non-stop 24 hours a day, and had never once fallen over, so why change something that works so well? He does have a spare BBC in his loft in case something dreadful happens.
The software can be used for a wide range of things, from laying out your new kitchen upwards. There were printouts of various designs Chris has made, although he emphasised the fact that (in his business) he rarely has the need for printing - everything goes direct to the machine.
Chris made special 8mm-pitch chainrings for the Burrows / Chris Boardman 1992 Olympic gold-medal 'Superbike'. These are EGGrings, so-called because they are not round.
Chris showed us two very different items that he had engineered from original ProCAD+ designs. One was a neat company logo milled from an aluminium block, the other a water bottle cage holder to sit behind the cyclist's saddle for aerodynamic efficiency!
Chris commented that more expensive "industry-habit" (his words) software on the PC does not have the reliability down to the micron level (thousandths of a millimetre) that ProCAD+ does. Aparently, AutoCAD's output needs to be editted by hand before you dare manufacture anything to close tolerances. Nor does it even meet the ISO standards for display!
He also stated the important difference between using RISC OS over Windows. Normally, it doesn't matter if Windows crashes occasionally, but using it to control a milling machine that could potentially cut itself in half if Windows screws up is not really very helpful! He also highlighted a concern that it is rather mindless for schools to be spending thousands on PC CAD/machining software when ProCAD+ obviously works so well for professionals, as a member of the audience pointed out.
It became clear that ProCAD+ was developed to emulate much of the interface of !Draw. However, in use it was clearly many orders of magnitude more powerful, and did not have Draw's poor selection methods. Chris showed how easy it was to design a simple nut, everybody grinning at the software's unique ability to pin menus to the screen, preventing their closure. One more feature to add to the RISC OS Wishlist?
Throughout the presentation, there were gasps of amazement from some, and laughter from others, and spontaneous applause showing appreciation for its impeccable design. After a while, the audience began testing Chris (and ProCAD+!) by demanding more and more of it. Never once could we trip them up, with our desires clearly reproduced on the screen within a short period of time. This software literally comes complete with the kitchen sink.
A number of members commented that there is considerable overlap between ProCAD+ and Vantage, with the two programs complementing each other greatly. It was even suggested that ProCAD+ could be used very effectively for website design, exporting to Vantage to create the pretty colours (should that be colors?) so desired by web users.
Smart-looking demo packs were given to all to take away - these also included a generous £60 discount voucher off the cost of the software for ROUGOL members. Most members left wondering what project they could start to justify its puchase.
Users of David Buck's RiscCAD, compared it favourably, although it is a professional's program. It is also considered far superior to the now no longer developed Apollonius PDT Parametric CAD. The webmaster commented that he had taught with WorraCAD for three years, and found it frustrating. Given the opportunity again, he could only consider using something as efficient as ProCAD+.
Membership cards were given out to all present, as these are essential to get ROUGOL members in free on the Sunday to the RISC OS 2000 Show in October. If you were unable to attend, make sure you are present at the next meeting for your £5 saving! Fliers were also distributed.
As usual, the latest issue of Archive was there for people to have a look at, and numerous free RISC OS 4 posters were taken away. AAUG Discount Scheme order forms were available for those who wanted them.