3D Printering: Making A Thing With AutoCAD, Part I

printering

Octopodes and useless plastic baubles begone. It’s time yet again for another installment of learning how to make a thing with 3D design tools. This week, we’re making something with AutoCAD. It’s an amazing piece of software that costs $4000 per seat. Hilariously expensive for any home tinkerer, but if you go to a university with an engineering program, there’s a computer lab with machines running AutoCAD somewhere on campus.

Last week we took a look at making something with OpenSCAD. AutoCAD is much, much different. Where OpenSCAD is sorta, kinda like programming, AutoCAD is just a digital version of t-squares, triangles, straight edges, and people getting uppity when you don’t call their drawing device a ‘lead holder’.

I’ve broken this tutorial down into two parts: right now you’re reading the tutorial on drawing 2D objects in AutoCAD. This weekend I’ll publish the transformation of 2D objects into a 3D printable part. Read on for how to create a 2D object in AutoCAD.

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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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3D printed arc reactor replica

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[James] just keeps cranking on the idea of the perfect arc reactor replica. This time around he’s made most of the parts using a 3D printer. His write-up covers the basics of the build, but he also used this opportunity to make some tutorial videos on designing the parts using Autodesk 123D.

This is definitely an improvement on his last prop, which was built out of dollar store parts. When designing the components he tried to be as true to the original movie design as possible, while keeping in mind the limitations of using a home 3D printer; he printed them on a Lolzbot AO-101.

The videos below give you a good idea of what it’s like to model parts using 123D. The tool set is pretty simple compared to something like Blender 3D. But [James] uses them in such a way that the components get complex fairly quickly. The second video includes some footage of the parts being printed, as well as the assembly process that adds wrapped wire for looks, and LEDs for illumination.

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Script lets you import Eagle boards for use in FreeCAD

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[Christian Aurich] wanted to use his Eagle CAD circuit board design in a proper CAD program in order to design enclosures. There are already a few options along these lines, but they didn’t quite fit his needs so he developed a script to import Eagle boards into FreeCAD. The script is packaged as a python macro for FreeCAD.

In describing the shortcomings of what’s already out there [Christian] does mention the use of EagleUp to model boards in Google SketchUp. But he feels the way the data is produced by SketchUp makes these models work well with 3D printing, but says they’re not easy to use with mechanical design CAD software. He also feels that the photo-realistic renderings are useless when developing enclosures.

It’s worth mentioning that this approach is only possible because CadSoft’s migration to XML makes it dead simple to get at the data.

Design a Gingerbread House in CAD, then cut pieces with a laser

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This is one of those ideas that’s so simple we can’t believe we haven’t heard of it before now. [Johan von Konow] is upping his holiday decorating game this year by designing his Gingerbread House in CAD and cutting it out on a laser cutter. If designed well this will easily allow you to increase the complexity of your design by orders of magnitude.

We remember making Gingerbread Houses with mom when we were little. She would bake a sheet of gingerbread, then pull out stencils she had made from file folders to carefully cut the walls and roof of the houses. But these were the homesteading equivalent of candy construction — one room consisting of four walls and two roof pieces. [Johan’s] design uses roofs with multiple pitches, dormers, and an entryway off the front of the main building. Quite impressive!

He mentions a few things to keep in mind. The gingerbread should be an even thickness for best results. You’re also going to want to plan for ventilation during cutting and give up the idea that you might eat the house when the holidays are over. The cutting process creates quite a stink and leaves a horribly burnt taste in the baked goods. Of course you could always cut out templates and use a knife when working with food.

Tutorial designs 3D printed cases for your projects

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[Landon Cox] recently finished up a 3-part tutorial on designing project enclosures for 3D printing. The series is great if you have not yet tried your hand at this realm of the 3D printing universe, but there’s a lot to take away about design and modeling even if you don’t plan to print your creations.

He starts off part one of the tutorial by explaining the need for 3D printed cases. He believes it’s the natural progression after you’ve made it far enough to have your own PCB manufactured. Why not add a well designed and fabricated case to compliment your meticulously laid out circuitry? In part two he gets the design ball rolling by modeling the top and bottom portions of the case seen above in blue. The final step is to design a face plate that matches the needs of your circuit; in this case it’s DB9 and RJ45 connectors.

It’s not all smooth sailing along the way. [Landon] does actually print the case and the faceplate is just a bit too big for the the rest of the enclosure. But better too big than too small as shaving away a bit of the edges fixes it right up.

[via Adafruit]

Comparing Altium and Cadence PCB layout tools

We see a lot of projects using Eagle for the schematics and PCB layout. There are a few that use Kicad, but we hear very little about other alternatives. Recently, [Limpkin] has been working with Altium and Cadence and wrote about how they compare when it comes to PCB layout. Neither are free packages so it’s good to know what you’re getting into before taking the plunge.

[Limpkin] begins his overview by mentioning that the schematic editors are comparable; the differences start to show themselves in the PCB layout tools. Here you can see that Altium always labels the pads so you know what net each of them belongs to. Cadence (whose PCB layout tool is called Allegro) will display the net if you hover over the pad with your mouse. Both have 3D rendering, with Altium’s looking a bit more pleasant but what real use is it anyway? Okay, we will admit we love a good photorealistic board rendering, but we digress. The most interesting differences show themselves once traces are all on the board and need to be rejiggered. Cadence will actually move traces on other layers automatically to avoid collision with a via that is late to the party, and Altium shows some strange behavior when dragging traces. [Limpkin] doesn’t register a final judgement, but the comparison alone is worth the read.