Tinkercad is like the hamburger helper of 3D design. You hate to admit you use it, and you know you should put in more effort, but — darn it — it’s easy, and it tastes pretty good. While I use a number of CAD programs for serious work, sometimes, when I just want a little widget like a flange for my laser cutter’s exhaust, it is just easier to do it in a few minutes with Tinkercad. However, I heard someone complaining the other day that it wasn’t of any use anymore because they took away custom shape generators. That statement is only partially true. Codeblocks allow you to easily create custom parametric items for use in Tinkercad.
If you’ve used parametric design in a professional package or even used something like OpenSCAD, you probably don’t need to be sold on the benefit. This is, of course, a simple form of it, but the idea is to define things as mathematical relationships. As an example, suppose you have a front panel with two rows of four holes for switches evenly spaced and centered. That would be easy to draw. But if you later decide the top row needs five holes and the bottom only needs three, it will be a fair amount of work. But if you have the math defining it right, you change a few variables, and the computer does the rest. Continue reading “Parametric Design With Tinkercad”→
Summer break has started over here, and my son went off to his first of a few day-camp-like activities last week. It was actually really cool – a workshop held by our local Fablab where they have the kids make a Minecraft building and then get to 3D-print it out. He loves playing and building in Minecraft, so we figured this would be right up his alley.
I had naively thought that it would work something like this: the kids build something in Minecraft, and then some software extracts the build and converts it into an STL file. Makes sense, because they already are more-or-less fluent in Minecraft modelling. And as I thought about that, it was a pretty clever idea.
But the truth was even sneakier. They warmed up by making something in Minecraft, then they opened up TinkerCAD, which was new to all of the kids, and built a 3D model there. Then they converted the TinkerCAD models into Minecraft, and played with what they had just built while the 3D printers hummed away.
The kids didn’t even flinch at having to learn a new 3D modelling tool, and the parallels to what they were already comfortable doing in Minecraft were obvious to them. My son came home and told me how much easier it was to do your 3D modelling in “this other Minecraft” – he meant TinkerCAD – because you don’t need to build everything out of single blocks. He thought he was playing games, but he’d secretly used his first CAD tool. Nice trick!
Then I look back and realize how much I must have learned about computers through playing as a kid. Heck, how much I still learn through playing. And of course I’m not alone – that’s one of the things that shines through in a large number of the projects we feature. Hack on and have fun!
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Google rarely fails to impress with technology demos. Their latest — Monster Mash — is aimed at using artificial intelligence to allow the creation of simple 3D animations without a lot of training or trouble. We’ll warn you: we aren’t artists so we didn’t get the results the demos were showing, but then again, if you are even a little artistic, you’ll probably have better luck than we did. You might want to start watching the video, below.
There’s also a research paper if you are more interested in the technology. The idea is to make simple line drawings in 2D. Then you inflate the object to 3D. The final step is to trace out animation paths.
We seem to want our PCB design software to do everything these days, and it almost delivers. You can not only lay it all out, check electrical and design rules, and even spit out a bill of materials, but many PCB tools produce 3D models that are good enough to check parts clearance or are useful in designing enclosures. But when it comes to producing photorealistic output, whether for advertising or just for eye-candy, you might want to turn to 3D design tools.
If you don’t know Blender, maybe you don’t know how comprehensive a 3D modelling and animation tool it is. And with the incredible power comes a notoriously steep learning curve up a high mountain. Anool doesn’t even try to turn you into a Blender expert, but focuses on the tweaks and tricks that you’ll need to make good looking PCB renders. You’ll find general purpose Blender tutorials everywhere on the net, but if you want something PCB-specific, you’ve come to the right place.
Simple drafting programs just let you draw like you’d use a pencil. But modern programs use parametric models to provide several benefits. One is that you can use parameters to change parts of your design and other parts will alter to take account of your changes. The other advantage is you can use one model for many similar but different designs. [Brodie Fairhall] has a nice video about how to use parameters in FreeCAD.
The nice thing about parameters is they don’t have to be just constants. You can put in formulae as well. For example, you could define one line as being twice as big as another line. You provide various constraints and parameters and FreeCAD works out the shape for you, keeping all the constraints and formulae satisfied.
There’s an old saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. If you’ve ever tried to build furniture or a toy with one of those instructions sheets that contains nothing but pictures, you might disagree. 3D design is much the same for a lot of people. You think you want to draw things graphically, but once you start doing complex things and making changes, parametric modeling is the way to go. Some CAD tools let you do both, but many 3D printer users wind up using OpenSCAD which is fully parametric.
If you’ve used OpenSCAD you know that it is like a simple programming language, but with some significant differences from what you normally use. It is a good bet that most Hackaday readers can program in at least one language. So why learn something new? A real programming language is likely to have features you won’t find readily in OpenSCAD that, in theory, ought to help with reuse and managing complex designs.
Instead, I turned to a project that uses C++ code to generate OpenSCAD output, OOML (the Object Oriented Mechanics Language)). OpenSCAD does the rendering, exporting, and other functions. Unfortunately, the project seems to have stalled a few years back and the primary web-based documentation for it seems to be absent. However, it is very usable and if you know how to find it, there is plenty of documentation available.
I’ve taken lots of reference photos for various projects. The first time, I remember suffering a lot and having to redo a model a few times before I got a picture that worked. Just like measuring parts badly, refining your reference photo skills will save you a lot of time and effort when trying to reproduce objects in CAD. Once you have a model of an object, it’s easy to design mating parts, to reproduce the original, or even for milling the original for precise alterations.
I’m adding some parts onto a cheap food dehydrator from the local import store. I’m not certain if my project will succeed, but it’s a good project to talk about taking reference photos. The object is white, indistinct, and awkward, which makes it a difficult object to take a good photo for reference use in a CAD program. I looked around for a decent tutorial on the subject, and only found one. Maybe my Google-fu wasn’t the best that day. Either way, It was mostly for taking good orthogonal shots, and not how to optimize the picture to get dimensions out of it later.
There are a few things to note when taking a reference photo. The first is the distortion and the setup of your equipment to combat it. The second is including reference scales and surfaces to assist in producing a final model from which geometry and dimensions can be accurately taken. The last is post-processing the picture to try to fight the distortion, and also to prepare it for use in cad and modeling software.