3D Printing - "It's all about design and quality output. Not how fast the printer can run."
This week in mid January, 2017 started a new adventure for me into the world of 3D CAD drawing. FreeCAD is now installed on both the Ubuntu and Windows 10 computers in my design studio. Here is a link to the FreeCAD Website. I don’t need to go into detail about the all the features and details of the product. Follow the link if you want the full scoop. I practice conservation of computer resources. That’s what links help do… Ha.
The reasons and the learning experience are what I want to communicate. The primary reason is having a low-cost alternative to high cost for the home and in my case retired person budgets. The initial and ongoing costs of good 3D CAD is not friendly to the non-professional user.
The second reason is an alternative to the MS Windows operating system. FreeCAD works the same on Windows, MAC and Linux. I haven’t tried MAC but I am sure it is just fine. I do have the other two OSes with which to experiment.
Linux (Ubuntu) is a free operating system so is in keeping with the low-cost user system. Let me point out that Linux Ubuntu is making huge advances as the system of choice for all my 3D printing and soon CNC machining operations. Three time so far, I have had Windows 10 kill a long running printing operation, do an OS update and reboot the computer. All while I was away. Linux has never done that. The only cure is to stay disconnected from the network. But then I must “sneaker net” files from the design computers to the printing computers with a mem-stick. Back on topic…
I will use FreeCAD on Windows 10 and Ubuntu since I have both and can manage OS issues with either.
FreeCAD is what is called a Parametric CAD program written in Python language. You need to look-up those two P-words. They are bantered about freely in the 3D printing world. Every line and point in a drawing is defined within a written text file or table, in every parameter of its creation. It’s the use of parameter files that can be edited that make CAD Parametric.
I also have Blender on the Linux computer which is a more graphical or artistic 3D Parametric CAD and animation software also written in Python. It is far more graphical than is required for engineering type CAD drawing. I will be investigating what I can do with Blender when I need to create more organic 3D artistic drawings. It has an optional $10/month Cloud service fee which I have not yet required.
OpenSCAD is also a no cost parametric type CAD but doesn’t appear to be written in Python. No drawing with the mouse is utilized. Every object is created by written text in an executable program. I find it very unusual. I like the use of the mouse in CAD rather than just writing lines of code.
Parametric CAD is a totally new concept of drawing for me. At the moment, I find it horrendously non-intuitive because I am conditioned to AutoCAD and Rhinoceros type interface and mouse drawing moves. FreeCAD and all the others, require spending time reviewing the how-to tutorials. There are plenty of them available.
The software investigation here is a work-in-progress. The various programs are also in constant development and will certainly remain that for some time to come. Since this is new for me, I have no idea how the revisions will change the programs I use in the future. My goal is to have a useful and most importantly free tool for creating 3D CAD.
My very first positive impression of FreeCAD is that it is a viable alternative to expensive commercial CAD software. I have used other free (but 2D) CAD programs in the past with success. Free and open source software is not bad software. So far FreeCAD is totally free, contributions welcome, of course. If I can make money using it, I will be glad to contribute. That is a wonderful way to operate.
I will certainly fall back to my Rhinoceros 3D as it is very comfortable for me in creating CNC milling objects. I invested in this software long ago because of its tie to RhinoCAM, the program that creates CNC G-code from the 3D drawings.
I also have Vectric Aspire for 3D CAD creation and it too includes G-code generation. It is not free but I am highly dependent on this easy to use software. I use it probably more than Rhino these days.
With the drawing slicer used in 3D printing creating the G code, the CAM portion of Rhino and Aspire is not required. That makes FreeCAD suitable if the only need is to produce the .stl or .obj files used in 3D printing.
I’ll post more on this CAD software investigation and also post whatever CAD I have used in designing a new project.