Open-Source Parametric CAD in Your Browser

Until recently, computer-aided design (CAD) software was really only used by engineering companies who could afford to pay thousands of dollars a year per license. The available software, while very powerful, had a very high learning curve and took a lot of training and experience to master. But, with the rise of hobbyist 3D printing, a number of much more simple CAD programs became available.

While these programs certainly helped makers get into 3D modeling, most had serious limitations. Only a few have been truly open-source, and even fewer have been both open-source and parametric. Parametric CAD allows you to create 3D models based on a series of parameters, such as defining a cube by its origin and dimensions. This is in contrast to sculpting style 3D modeling software, which is controlled much more visually. The benefit of parametric modeling is that parameters can be changed later, and the model can be updated on the fly. Features can also be defined mathematically, so that they change in relation to each other.

While still in its infancy, JS.Sketcher is seeking to fill that niche. It is 100% open-source, runs in your browser using only JavaScript, and is fully parametric (with both constraints and editable dimensions). At this time, available features are still pretty limited and simple. You can: extrude/cut, revolve, shell, and do boolean operations with solids. More advanced features aren’t available yet, but hopefully will be added in the future.

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Laser-Cut ArcSin Dress Is Wearable Math

Using sewing simulation, 3D modeling and laser-cutting [Nancy Yi Liang] makes custom dresses that fit like a glove. Her project documentation walks us through all the steps from the first sketch to the final garment.

After sketching the design on paper, the design process moves into the digital domain, where an accurate 3D model of the wearer is required. [Nancy] created hers with Make Human, a free software that creates to-size avatars of humans from tape-measured parameters. Using the professional garment modeling software MarvelousDesigner (which offers a 30 day trial version), she then created the actual layout. The software allows her to design the cutting patterns, and then also drapes the fabric around the human model in a 3D garment simulation to check the fit. The result are the cutting patterns and a 3D model of the garment.

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Scratch Your Itch for 3D Modeling with BeetleBlocks

If you want to create a 3D model, you’ll probably either use a graphical CAD tool or a programming-based tool (like OpenSCAD). Although BeetleBlocks is graphical, it is more akin to OpenSCAD than a graphical CAD program. That’s because BeetleBlocks is–more or less–Scratch for 3D modeling.

Scratch is the graphical block-structured language developed by MIT for teaching kids to program. You may have seen Lego robots programmed with similar blocks as well as Android App Inventor. In this incarnation, the blocks control a virtual robot (the beetle) that can extrude a tube behind it as it moves. The beetle is reminiscent of the Logo turtle except the beetle moves in three dimensions. The system is actually closer to Snap, which is a reimplementation of Scratch that allows custom blocks.

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BlocksCAD is Browser-Based 3D Modeling that Teaches You CAD

Considering all of the projects the Raspberry Pi is used for now, the fact that it was originally envisioned to be an educational tool is sometimes forgotten. One of the tools commonly available with it is Scratch, a programming language that is easy to learn and can be seen as a gateway into other computer science realms. Building on this principle, MIT has come up with a new block-based educational tool called BlocksCAD.

BlocksCAD is essentially Scratch combined with OpenSCAD and allows the user to use blocks (similar to Scratch) to build a 3D model. The interface is fairly intuitive, and with some practice even complex shapes can be created using the tools available. Also, everything runs in a browser like the 3D modeling tool we featured a few days ago, so there isn’t anything to download or install.

The key to this project (like the key to Scratch) is that the user isn’t bogged down by syntax, which is often one of the largest hurdles for anyone who is just starting to learn to program. Since it’s possible to avoid syntax but still develop 3D models, this new tool should help anyone interested in the field of 3D modeling or CAD get a start without getting scared away too easily. Of course, if you do end up deep in the field of computer science and want to learn more about this project, the developers have opened up the source code as well.

Thanks for the tip, [Matt]!

Otherworldy CAD Software Hails From A Parallel Universe

The world of free 3D-modeling software tends to be grim when compared to the expensive professional packages. Furthermore, 3D CAD modeling software suggestions seem to throw an uproar when new users seek open-source or inexpensive alternatives. Taking a step apart from the rest, [Matt] has developed his own open-source CAD package with a spin that inverts the typical way we do CAD.

Antimony is a fresh perspective on 3D modeling. In contrast to Blender’s “free-form sculpting” and Solidworks’ sequential extrudes and cuts, Antimony invites you to break down your model into a network of both primitive geometry and operations that interact with that geometry.

Functionally, Antimony represents objects as a graphical collection of nodes that encode both primitives and operations. Want a cylinder? Start with a circle node and pipe it into an extrude node. Need to cut out some part geometry? Try defining it with one or more primitives, and then perform a boolean intersection operation. Users can even write their own nodes with custom scripts written in Python. Overall, Antimony boasts the power of parametric design similar to OpenSCAD while it also boosts readability with a graphical, rather than text-based, part description. Finally, because part geometry is essentially stored as a series of instructions, the process of modeling the part does not limit the resolution of the output .STL mesh. (Think: vector-based images, versus pixel-based images).

Current versions of the software are available for both Mac and Linux, and the entire project is open-source and available on the Githubs. (For the shrewd-eyed software developers, most of the project is written with Python that interacts with lower-level routines handled in C++ and exposed through Boost.Python.) Take a video tour of an Antimony workflow with [Matt] after the break. All-in-all, despite that the software is still in its alpha stages, it’s highly functional and (for the block-diagram fans) intuitive. We’re thrilled to put our programming hats on and try CAD from, as [Matt] coins it “a parallel universe.”

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Geodesic Structures that aren’t just Domes

Geodesic structures

[Brian Korsedal] and his company Arcology Now! have developed a great geodesic building system which makes architectural structures that aren’t just limited to domes. They 3D scan the terrain, generate plans, and make geodesic steel space frame structures which are easy to assemble and can be in any shape imaginable.

Their clever design software can create any shape and incorporate uneven terrains into the plans. The structures are really easy to construct with basic tools, and assembly is extremely straight forward because the pole labels are generated by the design software. Watch this construction time lapse video.

At the moment, ordering a structure fabricated by the company is your only option. But it shouldn’t be too hard to fabricate something similar if you have access to a hackerspace. It may even be worth getting in touch with Arcology now! as they do seem happy collaborating to make art like the Amyloid Project, and architectural structures for public spaces and festivals like Lucidity. Find out what they are up to on the Arcology Now! Facebook page.

Would this be perfect for what you’ve been thinking about building? Let us know what that ‘something’ is in the comments below. Continue reading “Geodesic Structures that aren’t just Domes”

DesignSpark Mechanical – The Gift of Invention

Ever heard of DesignSpark? They are releasing a powerful CAD package on September 16th — for free!

The company is owned by RS Components, a distributor of electronics and maintenance products. They offer a large library of 3D models of parts that they sell, dubbed the ModelSource. So if you are wondering how they are giving out software for free, that’s how. They also have free PCB designing software, and something called DesignShare which hosts open-source project collaboration, sharing and discussions.

By the looks of the demo video, DesignSpark Mechanical is a well laid out CAD package that is rich in features. The software allows for the import and export of several file types, and it looks like ECAD, OBJ, Sketchup, STEP, DXF and STL are all there, as well as the native file types. While it looks like you can import any files, we are willing to bet adding ModelSource files are by far the easiest and most convenient because of the integrated ModelSource library. But we think that’s a small price to pay for an alternative to SketchUp. After all, the component models will be useful for assemblies, even if you don’t order through them. Oh, and it’s perfect for making free models for 3D printing as it includes the ability to export STL files.

Watch the software demo after the break.

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