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Free software brings 3D CAD to non-experts

18 September, 2013

RS Components and its North American sister company Allied Electronics have released a free 3D solid modelling and assembly tool that can be used by CAD novices and is said to make it easy to move from 2D to 3D design. The DesignSpark Mechanical package, developed for RS and Allied by the 3D software specialist SpaceClaim, uses a gesture-based modelling technique to create concept designs quickly.

The software is claimed to overcome the two main barriers faced by potential users who do not currently have access to 3D design tools, but who could benefit from using 3D modelling to develop concepts and products. These barriers are the high costs of the tools and their use (especially for SME customers) and the learning time associated with traditional 3D CAD tools.

Engineers and others involved in product development can be using the new software within minutes, rather than the weeks or months needed to become skilled with traditional 3D CAD tools. The software is suitable for a variety of tasks from designing custom enclosures for PCBs to laying out control panels.

At present, there are about 1.5 million active “seats” worldwide where people are using 3D CAD. RS estimates that there are another 20 million engineers globally who do not currently use 3D CAD, but could benefit from a tool such as DesignSpark Mechanical. The company reckons that 95% of design engineers do not currently have access to 3D CAD tools.

As well as helping design engineers to be more creative, the new software will also support more efficient product development, through to detailed and dimensioned manufacturing blueprints.

“The launch of DesignSpark Mechanical is the first time a 3D design tool with this level of sophistication has been made freely available,” says Dan Stewart, Allied Electronics’ vice-president of marketing. “Engineers will love using modelling software that is so intuitive and flexible.

“The use of DesignSpark Mechanical early in the design cycle can eliminate much of the time-consuming rework associated with traditional product development processes,” he adds. “This is a highly significant initiative that helps engineers to bring innovative products to market quickly, and DesignSpark Mechanical's STL output format enables direct export of designs to 3D printers.”

RS and Allied have collaborated with 3D content provider TraceParts to allow access to more than 100 million models in the DesignSpark Mechanical format from the tracepartsonline.net CAD portal. Users will also be able to download more than 38,000 3D models of components from DesignSpark’s own online component library.

Users will be able to import files in the ECAD (IDF, IDB, EMN), OBJ, SketchUp, STEP and STL formats. They will also be able to export files in the AutoCAD (DXF), OBJ, 3DPDF, XAML, JPEG and PNG formats, as well as the STL format for creating rapid prototypes using 3D printing. (If there is sufficient demand, RS and Allied may offer 3D printing services.)

DesignSpark Mechanical uses a technique known as “direct modelling”, which is very different from traditional feature- or parametric-based 3D CAD software. Four simple gestures – pull, move, fill and combine – which can be learned in minutes, allow real-time editing and instant feedback, making it possible for users to create geometries and explore ideas and product concepts in 3D. The software also uses familiar Windows keyboard shortcuts such as cut/paste, undo/redo, making it intuitive for new users.

DesignSpark Mechanical can be used to draw 3D extruded, revolved, and swept geometries without leaving a 2D cross-section. It can scale from simple shapes through to complex blends and surfaces, and hints can be added for thin walls, and mirrored, concentric, rounded, and chamfered geometries. It can also turn parts into assemblies, or vice versa. There is no unnecessary mode switching – the same tools can be used to edit assemblies, parts and drawing views, as well as for 3D mark-ups.

The software can also be used to create early concept designs alongside 3D CAD tools that are already in use. It can remove bottlenecks in the design process by allowing changes and additions in seconds, rather than having to wait for the CAD department to rework the design using the traditional 3D tools.

Another function provides Bill-of-Materials (BOM) quotes rapidly via the RS and Allied Web sites. This makes product costing a simple part of the design process from first concepts through to eventual production.

The tool can also import circuit layout files in IDF format from any PCB design tool, including the DesignSpark PCB software.

RS and Allied says that the new software will create solid models without the complexity of traditional “feature-based” CAD which builds designs from smaller, interdependent parts. In this traditional approach, when an engineer changes one feature of a design, all connecting features are changed with a ripple effect across the whole design. This approach is not suitable for every task.

DesignSpark Mechanical, which runs on PCs, can now be downloaded from www.designspark.com/mechanical. Support and tutorials are available through the DesignSpark community of more than 250,000 engineers at the same site.




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