A new, free, simple to use CAD tool enables electronic engineers to quickly create and update 3D models for product concepts and prototypes. Produced by RS Components, working with CAD software company SpaceClaim, DesignSpark Mechanical will be particularly useful to those who want to import a printed-circuit board (PCB) design from RS’s existing PCB layout tool, DesignSpark PCB, model a simple enclosure for it, and then export the design to a 3D printer for fast prototyping.
The trend in making products more aesthetically pleasing means mechanical design, previously subsequent to electronic design, is now often run in parallel with it due to time constraints. An RS survey showed that engineers often have to wait up to a week for even minor changes to mechanical designs by internal CAD teams, made up of highly specialised people using highly complex feature-based CAD tools. Design iterations at the concept stage are therefore a big source of bottlenecks in the process.
RS’s idea is to allow electronic design engineers to create their own CAD models of enclosures, making the design iteration process quicker and easier and eliminating the bottlenecks caused by relying on specialist personnel.
To achieve time-saving benefits, the time overhead required to learn how to use the tool had to be minimised. DesignSpark Mechanical is a simplified version of CAD tools on the market. Functions like copy/paste and undo/redo, unheard of in feature-based CAD tools, help non-experts use the tool in an intuitive way. It’s based on direct modelling techniques and uses simple gestures like pull, move, fill, and combine to create 3D shapes (see the figure). Video tutorials help CAD beginners get started in minutes.
3D component models can be imported from RS’s extensive library, and PCB designs can be imported from DesignSpark PCB as well as Orcad, Altium, Pads, Eagle, and others. The resulting models can be exported in STL format, the major format for 3D printing, in addition to many major CAD software compatible formats (DXF, OBJ, 3DPDF, XAML, JPEG, and PNG).
DesignSpark Mechanical also will be attractive to small- to medium-size enterprises (SMEs) that are unable to invest in expensive CAD software and losing business to larger players. These SMEs typically reuse a product’s mechanical design many times because of the limited time available to create new concepts from scratch in a competitive way.
Since the tool is provided free of charge, what’s in it for RS? The company is hoping that engineers will also use DesignSpark Mechanical’s links to the RS online catalogue.
“We know that engineers don’t like sourcing products, so the tool makes it quick and easy to do that. You can extract a bill of materials (BOM) automatically and get a quote immediately. RS will then be on the parts list when the product goes to production,” says Martin Keenan, head of applications strategy at RS Components. “Ultimately we want to help customers design faster. If they make five products in a year instead of four, that is good for us!”