Distributor RS Components is extending its collection of free software aimed at electronics-equipment designers further into the mechanical domain with the decision to provide a solid-modeling tool that works with the distributor’s existing DesignSpark PCB layout software.
“Ninety-five per cent of engineers are not benefiting from 3D CAD design to date,” claimed Martin Keenan, head of applications strategy at RS. “But it’s much easier to get from concept to creation in three dimensions than with two-dimensional plans.”
RS already supports 3D design by providing a library of models for many of the components in its catalogue that can be imported into tools such as Google’s SketchUp.
“The 3D CAD-model programme was where we really started to learn how we could help engineers with mechanical design,” said Keenan. “To date, we have seen more than half a million downloads and the rate of increase continues to accelerate.”
To expand its involvement in 3D design and offer its own tool free of charge, RS commissioned a version of the solid-modelling tool developed by US-based Spaceclaim on the basis that it offers a simpler user interface than competitive tools. The Spaceclaim software uses four core commands to move, stretch, extrude and bevel parts. Keenan argued the software will expand the user base for solid modelling.
“Fifteen years ago, electronics design was done first and thrown over the wall to mechanical. Increasingly, case and mechanical design is happening in parallel or prior to the PCB design. In many cases, parts of the design may be outsourced. Coordinating the two is becoming a bottleneck. This gives some common ground between the electronics and mechanical engineers.”
“Customers are under pressure to make their products more aesthetically pleasing. What if sales and marketing could get involved with the product development and not just the CAD specialist?” asked Keenan. “Customers are telling us product proposals are sometimes presented in three dimensions and they are more successful. One customer told us: ‘We are losing business to companies able to invest in modern mechanical design software’.”
The DesignSpark Mechanical tool imports IDF files from PCB design software and exports STL files used by 3D printers. “We are bringing 3D printing to everyone who wants to use it. To get a prototype printed in 3D is going to be very helpful to engineers: there is no need to spend tens of thousands to get moulding done,” Keenan claimed. “And it will allow companies to explore more options before committing to a design.”
Although the tool will import PCB layouts from DesignSpark PCB and other tools that employ the commonly used IDF format so that the components can be modelled for form and fit using 3D shapes, it cannot feed changes back to those PCB tools. Software tools such as Pro/Engineer can use IDF or IDX files to provide that data to software such as Mentor Graphics’ Expedition or Zuken’s family of PCB tools.
Keenan said: “We will build the ability to export IDF as well.”
Rich Moore, vice president of business development at Spaceclaim, added export to PCB “is on our roadmap. We want to do a tighter integration with DesignSpark PCB”.