Efficient 3D CAD Manipulation and Improved Ergonomics


Spaceball 5000

When I worked as a design and manufacturing engineer, I did a lot of 3D design work in SolidWorks, AutoCAD, and various other packages.  It didn’t take me long to look for an alternative to the traditional mouse to manipulate my designs in the digital 3D environment.  After a little searching, I found the 3D Connexion line of products, and purchased a SpaceBall 5000 (replaced by the SpaceExplorer). Here’s why you should get one immediately.


It takes a week or two to familiarize yourself with these devices and to customize them to the kind of work you do, but 3D design becomes vastly easier and surprisingly more fun.  The ability to spin and zoom is is incredibly lifelike.

Each of these devices (except for the compact SpaceNavigator) offer numerous conveniently placed and customizable buttons, and the simple software makes it easy to assign these buttons to nearly any function in almost all software, not just CAD.  After a few weeks, I found myself using my Space Ball to manipulate spreadsheets and images in Photoshop.

You will be surprised at how quickly you can spin an object 180 degrees and zoom in on the smallest details, something that often requires multiple clicks and frustrating repositionings of a traditional mouse.  The result is lifelike manipulation of objects and incredibly precise control of movements.  (search for a video of someone using these devices to manipulate stuff on screen.)

These devices also allow you to use both hands to do your work.  3D manipulation products in addition to the mouse for traditional point and click is surprisingly functional.  With a properly configured system, you will hardly ever need the keyboard.


When doing intensive 3D design work I often experienced pain in my hands and wrists.  Manipulating objects all day in a digital 3D environment with a traditional mouse is bound to result in some level of repetitive stress injury.  Many people won’t admit it, but watch for your coworkers massaging their hands and rubbing their wrists.  We simply are not built for precise, minute, and repeated movements.

My SpaceBall greatly reduced the repetitive stress symptoms I experienced.  It split the workload between both of my hands, reduced the number of clicks i needed to make, eliminated the need to click and hold buttons to manipulate objects, and reduced the overall movement I had to make in the physical world to manipulate my designs on the computer.

*I also strongly recommend using a trackball over a traditional mouse and an ergonomic keyboard.  Neither offer much of an efficiency boost, but the health benefit is well worth the week that it will take you to get used to them.

Pricing and Purchase

These devices are expensive peripherals but gains in productivity will pay for them in a matter of weeks.  If your boss doesnt’ believe you, remember that the mere mention of carpal tunnel will get you a host of ergonomic equipment at any good company.

Technical Product Reviews

Many people have already done detailed reviews of the features these products offer.  Here is a list of the three best I’ve found.

Share your success or struggles with these devices in the comments below.  What other peripherals or software add-ons have you found useful when doing 3D design?

Category: 3D Design, Efficiency, Tips and Tutorials for our Users

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One Response

  1. Andreas says:

    This article looks like a simple ad for 3DConnexion, and I totally disagree of it. I’ve had Space Pilots and Space Explorers, and right now it’s just standing there collecting dust. I used to like them alot, but now I work much faster with one hand on the keyboard (custom hotkeys) and one on the mouse. Yes, you can program the hotkeys into the space pilot, but the layout of the buttons is just terrible. Waste of money if you ask me.

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