I left a short note yesterday about DesignSpark Mechanical, the new free 3D modeling software. Now I have actually had a chance to use and can give some real life notes about the software. For starters I want everyone to remember that this is a free program. I was hoping deep down that this would be the Solidworks/Inventor killer that I could levy to replace them with. It’s not, but that does not mean it has no place in the modeling world.
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The program is very much suited for beginners of the mechanical design and modeling world. The settings are very few and the interface is easy to follow for the most part. It might actually be a bit harder to use if you are used to a more conventional editor because it does things differently. (I am a solidworks user so my background may reflect that a bit)
The approach they use to forming solids is a bit like google sketchup. Take a face and just pull it up. while pulling you can just type in a dimension and it will auto change the extrude length. Adding a radius or chamfer edge is just as easy. Grab the edge and drag it in. The program will auto do which ever one you select. Again to set a specific value just start typing the value you want and bam its set.
Just like adding volume you can take it away by doing a subtraction drag through a solid. There is an interesting command called fill that will let you take a whole or opening and add material back in to fill it.
It does not include a traditional rotational array, but does have some tools to do the same thing. The pull command can be pulled around an axis. This allows you to select objects to rotate, select an axis point, and then rotate. Again once the pull starts you can type in a number in degrees to set a specific value.
A lot of what is different with this modeling program is the simplicity and reliance on the pull tool. It takes up a number of different tools in other software. This makes things possibly a little easier, especially for someone just starting out, but I think there will be a point where it could cause trouble doing more advance parts.
I have not imported any parts yet, but it is designed to import parts directly from RS Components. This has a huge convenience factor. It also aims you towards buying things from RS Components, but putting this out there for free really makes that ok in my mind.
What is clear is that this built primarily for 2 things. First is that its simple. Basic interface, a handful of tools, and just enough options to be dangerous. Secondly it’s aimed to be fast at developing parts. As engineers and designers we don’t want to get bogged down in little nuances, we want the tool to do what we tell it. DesignSpark mechanical may be limited in some ways, but these 2 points are really where it shines and I those points are huge in this world we are rolling into.
As I said above its not going to replace the 3D Modeling titans, but it does work well. It will allow more home users to design and make their own parts faster, cheaper, and with less headaches. It will allow schools to save money and and buy more printrbot jrs(great teaching tool). A 2 thousand dollar modeling package is enough to by 6 printrbot jrs. That’s money I think well redistributed.
A last thought is the licensing. They have left it completely opened. You can develop the next iPhone here any you do not have to pay a dime. I really like this aspect. Often times we are given a free program but there are gotchas. Not here. Enough talking from me. I am going to continue evaluating the program and will probably put up more info and a more refined look.