3D Printering: The Search For Better Search

There’s no question that a desktop 3D printer is at its most useful when it’s producing parts of your own design. After all, if you’ve got a machine that can produce physical objects to your exacting specifications, why not give it some? But even the most diligent CAD maven will occasionally defer to an existing design, as there’s no sense spending the time and effort creating their own model if a perfectly serviceable one is already available under an open source license.

But there’s a problem: finding these open source models is often more difficult than it should be. The fact of the matter is, the ecosystem for sharing 3D printable models is in a very sorry state. Thingiverse, the community’s de facto model repository, is antiquated and plagued with technical issues. Competitors such as Pinshape and YouMagine are certainly improvements on a technical level, but without the sheer number of models and designers that Thingiverse has, they’ve been unable to earn much mindshare. When people are looking to download 3D models, it stands to reason that the site with the most models will be the most popular.

It’s a situation that the community is going to have to address eventually. As it stands, it’s something of a minor miracle that Thingiverse still exists. Owned and operated by Makerbot, the company that once defined the desktop 3D printer but is today all but completely unknown in a market dominated by low-cost printers from the likes of Monoprice and Creality, it seems only a matter of time before the site finally goes dark. They say it’s unwise to put all of your eggs in one basket, and doubly so if the basket happens to be on fire.

So what will it take to get people to consider alternatives to Thingiverse before it’s too late? Obviously, snazzy modern web design isn’t enough to do it. Not if the underlying service operates on the same formula. To really make a dent in this space, you need a killer feature. Something that measurably improves the user experience of finding the 3D model you need in a sea of hundreds of thousands. You need to solve the search problem.

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EasyEDA Hack Chat With Dillon He

Join us Wednesday at 5:00 PM Pacific time for the Easy EDA Hack Chat with Dillon He!

Note the different time than our usual Hack Chat slot! Dillon will be joining us from China.

Since the birth of electronic design automation in the 1980s, the universe of products to choose from has grown tremendously. Features from schematic editing to circuit simulation to PCB design and autorouting can be found in every permutation imaginable, and you’re sure to find something that fits your needs, suits your budget, and works on your platform.

Dillon He started EasyEDA back in 2010 with Eric Cui, and since then the cloud-based EDA tool has become a popular choice. From working across teams to its “run anywhere” capabilities, EasyEDA has become the go-to tool for hundred of thousands of designers. Dillon will drop by the Hack Chat to answer all your questions about EasyEDA — how it started, where it is now, and what we can expect in the future.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 19 at 5:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

 

Mechanical Integration With KiCad

Eagle and Fusion are getting all the respect for integrating electronic and mechanical design, but what about KiCad? Are there any tools out there that allow you to easily build an enclosure for your next printed circuit board? [Maurice] has one solution, and it seamlessly synchronizes KiCad and FreeCAD. KiCad will give you the board, FreeCAD will give you the enclosure, and together you have full ECAD and MCAD synchronization.

This trick comes in the form of a FreeCAD macro (on the Github, with a bunch of documentation) that loads a KiCad board and components into FreeCAD and export them as a STEP file. You can align the KiCad board in FreeCAD, convert STEPs to VRMLs, check interference and collision, and create an enclosure around a KiCad board.

KiCad has gotten some really great visualization tools over the past few years, and we would be remiss if we didn’t mention it’s one of the best ways to visualize a completed circuit board before heading to production. Taking that leap from electronic CAD to mechanical CAD is still something that’s relatively rare in the KiCad ecosystem, and more tools to make this happen is always wanted.

Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat

Join us Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat!

Most of us have a collection of tools that we use for the various mechanical, electronic, and manufacturing tasks we face daily. But if you were asked to name one tool that stretches across all these spaces, Autodesk Fusion 360 would certainly spring to mind. Everyone from casual designers of 3D-printed widgets to commercial CNC machine shops use it as an end to end design solution, and anyone who has used it over the last year or so knows that the feature set in Fusion is expanding rapidly.

Matt, who goes by technolomaniac on Hackaday.io, is Director of Product Development for EAGLE, Tinkercad, and Fusion 360 at Autodesk. He’ll drop by the Hack Chat this week to discuss your questions about:

  • All the Autodesk design software components, from EAGLE to Fusion and beyond
  • Future plans for an EAGLE-Fusion integration
  • Support for manufacturing, including additive, CNC, and even mold making
  • Will there ever be “one design tool to rule them all?”

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Autodesk Fusion 360 Hack Chat page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 10, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Ask Hackaday: How Do You Draw Schematics?

The lingua franca of electronic design is the schematic. I can pick up a datasheet written in Chinese (a language I do not read or speak) and usually get a half-decent idea of what the part is all about from the drawings. Unfortunately, even as my design experience has grown over the years, I haven’t quite learned to think in schematics — I need to see it on paper (or on a screen) to analyze a circuit. Whether it’s literally on the back of an envelope or sketched in the condensation on the shower stall, actually drawing a design or idea makes a huge difference in being able to understand it. And, if you’ve ever tried to explain a circuit without a schematic — in an on-line forum or over the phone, for instance — you know how difficult it is.

So, given the importance of the schematic for design and communication, you’d think choosing a tool to draw them would be an easy task. Not so. There are dozens of choices, from dedicated schematic drawing programs to using the schematic-capture facilities of simulation or PCB design tools, or even old-fashioned pencil-and-paper and its modern equivalents. Each one has its pros and cons, and may be better suited to one specific application, but you have to choose something.

So, readers of Hackaday, what do you use to convey your electronic design ideas to the world?

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Ask Hackaday: Help Me Pick A CAD Package

Of all the skills that I have picked up over the years as an engineer, there is one that has stayed with me and been a constant over the last three decades. It has helped me work on electronic projects, on furniture, on car parts, robots, and even garments, and it is likely that I will continue using it periodically for the rest of my career. You see, I am a trained PAD expert.

Don't build this, it's fundamentally flawed! Sometimes the front of an envelope is as effective as its back.
Don’t build this, it’s fundamentally flawed! Sometimes the front of an envelope is as effective as its back.

PAD, you ask? OK, it’s an acronym of my own coinage, it stands for Pencil Aided Design, and it refers to the first-year undergraduate course I sat many years ago in which I learned technical drawing to the old British standard BS308. If I’m making something then by far the quickest way for me to visualise its design is to draw it, first a freehand sketch to get a feel of how everything will sit, then a series of isometric component drawings on graph paper with careful attention to dimensions and angles. Well, maybe I lied a little there, the graph paper only comes in when I’m doing something very fancy; the back of an envelope is fine as long as the dimensions on the diagram are correct.

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Lessons Learned From A 1-Day RTL-SDR Enclosure Project

[ByTechLab] needed an enclosure for his R820T2 based RTL-SDR, which sports an SMA connector. Resolving to design and 3D print one in less than a day, he learned a few things about practical design for 3D printing and shared them online along with his CAD files.

The RTL-SDR is a family of economical software defined radio receivers, and [ByTechLab]’s’ enclosure (CAD files available on GrabCAD and STL on Thingiverse) is specific to his model. However, the lessons he learned are applicable to enclosure design in general, and a few of them specifically apply to 3D printing.

He started by making a basic model of the PCB and being sure to include all large components. With that, he could model the right voids inside the enclosure to ensure a minimum of wasted space. The PCB lacks any sort of mounting holes, so the model was also useful to choose where to place some tabs to hold the PCB in place. That took care of the enclosure design, but it also pays to be mindful of the manufacturing method so as to play to its strengths. For FDM 3D printing, that means most curved shapes and rounded edges are trivial. It also means that the biggest favor you can do yourself is to design parts so that they can be printed in a stable orientation without any supports.

This may be nothing that an experienced 3D printer and modeler doesn’t already know, but everyone is a novice at some point and learning from others’ experiences can be a real timesaver. For the more experienced, we covered a somewhat more in-depth guide to practical 3D printed enclosure design.

[ByTechLab]’s desire for a custom enclosure was partly because RTL-SDR devices come in many shapes and sizes, as you can see in this review of 19 different units (of which only 14 actually worked.)