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A Comparative Analysis of 3D Parametric Surface Modeling and Freeform Mesh Modeling as Tools for Investigating Student Learning

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Assessment in Graphics Education

Tagged Division

Engineering Design Graphics

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.26.1 - 25.26.12

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Paper Authors


John Burke University of Limerick

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John Burke is a graduate of a B.Sc. in product design and a Ph.D candidate at the University of Limerick. Having completed a specialist diploma in teaching, learning, and scholarship, he teaches and researches in the area of design visualisation and complex surface modeling in 3D CAD. He is a Certified SolidWorks Professional (CSWP) including certification in Advanced Surface Modelling and is certified to Associate-level in AutoDesk Inventor.

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A Comparative Analysis of 3D Parametric Surface Modelling and Freeform Mesh Modelling as Tools for Investigating Student Learning3D parametric surface modelling is a method of creating organic geometry face by face usingvarious modelling tools. Freeform mesh modelling differs in that organic geometry is usuallycreated by manipulating existing geometric entities with “push and pull” approach. Theadvantages and dis-advantages of parametric and freeform modelling of organic, complexshapes are numerous and disputable. Parametric surface modelling is advantageous increating well defined functional geometry but does not easily allow for design iteration.Freeform mesh modelling alternatively allows a more flexible approach in design butcommonly results in unusable geometry from a manufacturing or rapid prototypingperspective. There are various software packages that facilitate each approach moreeffectively than the other. This study aims to investigate the learning of these approaches to3D modelling from 3rd level students’ standpoints. As each approach has its merits invisualisation, manufacturability and difficulty to achieve design intent, they allow theresearcher to investigate the learning activities of such approaches in relation to students’graphical competency and analytical skills among others.Students in the study participated in 2 design projects, the first project to create a designusing the parametric approach, and the second project using the freeform mesh modellingapproach. Each project involved the creation of similar real world objects that employorganic form. A separate (and determined appropriate for the task) 3D modelling softwarepackage was used for each approach and project. The concept of organic surface creation wasnew to each participant, all of whom had 3D graphical experience exclusively in solidgeometric modelling. Through the paradigm of Project Based Learning a scaffolded approachencouraging student exploration and experimentation was used in each project. Ademonstration was given in the basic surface creation tools in each of the software packagesat the beginning of each project. The instructor acted as a facilitator while projects weretaking place.Students’ outputs in each project were comparable in that a stereolithography file (STL.) forrapid prototyping was produced, as well as a 2-dimensional visual render in both projects. Byreceiving this output from each project/approach, analytical and visualisation skills wereallowed to be observed in addition to the suitability of each package to create both outputs inthe hands of the student learners. Each participant kept a design diary throughout the processto document their experience and allow reflection on their learning. Design diaries alsoallowed the researcher to gain the students’ insights into their learning process of two newCAD approaches.

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