By James Booth
Vectric User Group Meeting 2012 – Report
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This year's User Group meeting was our largest to-date and based on the feedback from those in attendance it was a great success. The location at the Embassy Suites River Centre in Cincinnati (actually in Covington, KY – just across the Ohio river) was chosen to be accessible to our customers in the Midwest. We did not realise before we booked it that so much was happening that weekend in the city and the hotel had unfortunately filled up very quickly. It appears in the end that everyone managed to find room within the vicinity though and we were actually oversubscribed having to eventually limit the attendance to 140 people, sorry to those who we could not accommodate!
Myself, Brian, Edward and Mark arrived in the US on the Wednesday which gave us a full day Thursday to get the room setup and prepare the registration material. As we were setting up a few early arrivers came by to say hello and drop off some of their samples. Michael Tyler, Tim Merrill and Michael Mezalick were a great help setting up the room. Tim had excelled himself this year making a set of ply-wood projector stands, cut using Aspire. These worked perfectly to position the two projectors we brought with us. After the success of last year we opted again for this two display approach with wireless audio and this proved to be the right choice as it appeared everyone had a good view and could hear what we were saying.
Thursday we were up bright and early for a 7:30 start to registration but were beaten to it by some early risers! We hastily got our registration table setup and started to give everyone their welcome package which contained the agenda, certificate of attendance, a Vectric hat, the user group disk and name tags for themselves and their samples. It was nice to see a lot of previous attendees but also to meet so many new customers and put faces to names from the forum.
At 9am Brian Moran, Vectric's CEO and founder gave a short welcome and overview of what we planned to show during the meeting. Then Edward Powell, Vectric's Development Manager spent almost the next two hours showing some of the new features the development team have been working on for the upcoming releases of VCarve Pro 7 and Aspire 4. To read a summary of these features on the Vectric forum please Click Here. The response to the new tools was very positive with a number of spontaneous rounds of applause and oohs and aahs along the way. The only disappointment was this it was not yet available for everyone to use.
After the break I spent 90 minutes covering a wide variety of vector drawing and layout examples. In this we discussed how important vector work is and how the 2D design requirements vary depending on what type of job you are doing. Each of the examples showed how the vector creation and editing tools can be used along with the organisational tools such as the layers and groups to produce the layout required. Many of the examples created vectors for parts that were used throughout the other presentations.
After a long morning we broke for a cooked lunch and a chance to meet and chat with each other.
The afternoon started with a look at the modeling side of Aspire, specifically looking at the concepts, process and practice of modeling low relief jobs. The first part was spent discussing theory particular to Aspire such as working with a pixel based model and approaches to building different types of shapes. Then I worked through 2 examples to demonstrate some of these ideas in action. The first was a set of comedy and tragedy theatre masks; the second was a group of mushrooms. During these we examined how to build up simple shapes using the Create Shape tool and the ability to crop back to an outline vector. As new shapes were built I adjusted the position and attributes of the components as well as altering their depth relationships using tilt, fade and the sculpting. Finally in each project we assembled the smaller groups of shapes to make our finished design. The session was concluded by looking at the work Rebecca Jeremy (3D modeler for Vector Art 3D) has been doing since she joined the company in January and some of her tips and tricks for successful modeling, everyone was seemed impressed and motivated with her progress.
After another break we had a very interesting duo of presentations on finishing techniques. Michael Tyler (who creates the Vectric Monthly Projects) discussed a faux metal finish called Sculpt Nouveau, highlighting his use of it, what types of finish they have available and some tips for success. Then Tim Merrill (forum guru and sample cutting maestro) talked for a while about his technique for glazing 3D carvings, this led into a discussion about his favourite tools and practices that provide the best results with 3D parts. There was an excellent concentration of information on what to do during and after CNC carving and both these talks generated a lot of questions from the audience.
Finally to finish the presentations for the first day, four customers had kindly agreed to give a short overview on what they make in their business or on techniques to produce something specific with the software. Brian Quinter from Quint Creative Signs started by showing his portfolio of jobs created using Aspire. It was interesting to see how he applies a combination of layered 2D shapes, 3D elements and large format printing to provide his clients with an excellent finished product. Next up was Steve Godding, he started by showing a selection of the ornate millwork his company D&S Artistic Woodworking make and then went into a detailed description of how he has used Aspire to make Cabriole legs. His 3 sided setup technique was a good solution to a challenging part and I particularly liked the way he added material to leave enough wood to carve a decoration into the front of the leg. Third on was Nick Bukky from The E&I Company. His business makes everything from store fixtures to high end furniture and covers a large variety of materials and shapes. He showed retail displays made using relatively cheap materials but with a high-end finish. He had also brought along a pedestal table which used the rotary part from one of the presentations as the center column. Another hit was his skull-column bar-stool! Last but by no means least was Randy Johnson, he has written a number of how-to articles for American Woodworker magazine on using the CNC for different projects. His presentation focused on a spring-joint box and had a good selection of information on toolpath setup and also hold-down jigs. As he progressed through his presentation he showed the assembly of the box which was a very elegant solution. We had excellent feedback on the customer presentations and we are very grateful to all those who participated, it was a good mix of application specific information and production ideas.
After these presentations we spent in informal hour and a half in the meeting room looking at the excellent collection of samples everyone had brought along, answering questions and discussing all that had been seen during the day.
Day 2 also started early and we were all sat down by 8am for my first presentation which was a mix of tips and tricks along with examples using specific applications like the rotary wrapping. The first part of this was spent going through quick-fire suggestions and ideas, these ranged from where to get help through to managing your textures, templates and other user controlled data and then a large number of ideas for working with the toolpath side of VCarve Pro and Aspire. The next section looked at techniques for cleaning up vertical part edges when working with 3D data. The first one showed how to model planes to limit the 3D toolpath to improve edge quality and allow the full use of the 2D Profiling on 3d parts. The second showed how to use a "fake" component to adjust the height of a Profile toolpath projected onto a 3D shape when cleaning up text. This was followed by an examination of getting the best from the new "Weave" function which is coming in Aspire 4. We looked at the options for adjusting the weave and also ways to deal with some difficult shapes to get the best results with this very powerful tool. The last hour was split into two sections, the first looked at modeling complex rope borders; again the new Extrude tool was showcased as a good way to do this along with another method for creating mitre corner borders on the same complex shape. The last half hour was spent working through a rotary example to show how to setup a wrapped job and use the vector unwrapping and two rail sweep to model a twisted octagonal pedestal table column.
After this we took a break before the session focused on the 2Rail Sweep function. In this presentation I started with a basic introduction to the tool and how it works then we worked through all the tools options using a couple of simple examples. From there I moved into three more complex examples to show all the different type of shapes this flexible modeling tool can be used to create. The first of these was a church window model which was made up of many different symmetrical components. Next we looked at a modelling a low relief box/cube shape, this requires very specific setup with the cross section sizes and positions and showed useful techniques for modeling any box-shaped object, such as a building. Last we looked at two examples which showed how to break up complex rails into shorter parts to help you control the shape you are creating. One of these was the border we drew in the vector layout session and the other was a violin scroll. This is a very difficult shape to model unless it's broken down into smaller sections. By the end of this presentation we were pushing the boundaries of complexity but during lunch I had some positive feedback that the techniques shown were helpful in the work customers are producing.
After lunch Ryan Patterson gave a presentation covering more efficient job setup and toolpath creation. The first part of his talk focused on using the Gadgets in VCarve Pro and Aspire. He showed a number of the ones that he has created for different processes and also discussed how to install them. After this Ryan talked about using features like the Toolpath Templates to help in doing work that requires a similar set of toolpath operations. He showed how this could be used with output from a cabinet design program to automate a lot of the toolpath creation tasks. In particular Ryan focused on using the Cabinet Parts Pro software that he develops. He finished by running through notes on part hold-down, tooling and feeds and speeds and general good practice when machining.
After our last break we had one more session which was designed to be both educational and a bit tongue in cheek. The "Iron Modeler Challenge" was loosely based on the Iron Chef TV program with the twist that instead of a secret ingredient myself and Edward would start with a single piece of clipart and create a selection of variations all based on the original. This really showcased Aspire's power with editing and manipulation of an existing component and as we showed our finished parts we pointed out various techniques and tricks used to create the models. The session ended with I think what can only be described as some pretty surreal ideas such as Edwards Halloween themed ghost and monster. This seemed like a good way to finish and again we had some nice comments at the end of meeting about how everyone enjoyed this session and also learned a few things along the way.
Finally it was left to Brian to wrap up the meeting, provide some information on the upcoming release of Aspire and VCarve Pro and to say thanks to everyone that helped (more on that below). Overall we had great feedback from those we talked to at the meeting and hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as we did.
Every year the User Group takes a lot of time and work but this is always repaid in the inspiration and motivation it provides to all of us at Vectric and the unique chance to meet and discuss the software with customers face to face. Thanks again to all of you who took the time and expense to attend and help make this year's User Group very possibly the best and biggest one we have held.
Finally we would like to say a huge thanks to all the people who helped us with making presentation samples and those that took the time to prepare and present talks to the group. In alphabetical order they are: Nick Bukky, Don Gilmore, Steve Godding, Dale Grabowski, Randy Johnson, Bill Lebeda, Tim Merrill, Ryan Patterson, Brian Quinter, and Michael Tyler – Thank you all!