Sharing 3D Data with Non-CAD Users… for Free!

If you’re spending your precious time reading CAD blogs, it’s very likely that you’re the resident CAD Monkey at your company. And with that esteemed title comes every CAD-related question your co-workers can throw at you…

“Can you open this and take some screenshots?”

    “I just need to know this one dimension.”

        “Can you just make a quick drawing to send to our vendor?”

            “It just needs one small change. I’d do it but you’re the CAD guy”

The tips below are aimed at helping you – as they’ve helped me – educate your colleagues that they too can get the information they need from 3D models, without pushing everything through the overburdened CAD team. This post is broken into two parts: First, teaching your colleagues how to view, measure, and sometimes even edit incoming CAD models; and second, how to send 3D data to vendors or clients who may not have access to CAD software. And the best part is, if you’re already using SolidWorks, these solutions are all free.

Viewing and Measuring 3D CAD Data Provided by Clients / Vendors

External parties will often provide your engineers with 3D models in a variety of formats, which you’ll need to subsequently measure and analyze for inclusion in your designs. Depending on the type of file sent by the client, there are several free programs and tools that can be used to view, measure, and edit the files.

eDrawings Viewer

http://www.edrawingsviewer.com/

OS:
Mac / PC

Apps:
Android / iOS

The free version of eDrawings can view and measure certain 2D and 3D files. Many of us already have this program installed, but it’s limited in the types of files it can read. Install the correct version using the links above, and drag any of the following file types into the window:

With this tool, anyone can then measure, cross-section, and mark up a 2D and 3D file, but can’t edit existing geometry or drawings.

Pros: Free; Mac version available; Views 2D and 3D files; Measure and markup tools; Retains component tree
Cons: Limited file type compatibility; No editing tools; Requires installation; Newer eDrawings files cannot be opened in old versions

DraftSight

http://www.3ds.com/products-services/draftsight-cad-software/

OS:
Mac (x64 only) / PC / Linux (x64 only)

DraftSight is an entirely free 2D drawing editor, which supports the most common drawing formats, .dwg and .dxf (the same formats used by AutoCAD). Like SolidWorks, DraftSight rolls out major enhancements in yearly releases. DraftSight allows users to edit text and geometry, or even create drawings from scratch. After installing and activating, use DraftSight to open and edit 2D drawings using the ribbon UI, or the familiar Command Line.

Pros: Free; Mac version; Full 2D measuring and editing capabilities; Command Line familiar to AutoCAD users;
Cons: Limited to 2D formats; Requires installation

Onshape

https://cad.onshape.com/

Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

Apps:
iOS / Android

Onshape is a Cloud-based CAD system that runs in your browser. It can import dozens of 2D and 3D file types. Once imported, files can be measured, sectioned, and modified. However, all files uploaded to a free account are visible to the general public. Onshape features free and paid add-ons to extend its functionality, as well as FeatureScript, a coding environment which lets you write and publish your own features.

Part files

Parasolid B-rep (.x_t or .x_b) from v10 to v29

Parasolid mesh (.xmm_txt or .xmm_bin) from v28 to v29

ACIS (.sat) up to R21, 2016 1.0

STEP (.stp or .step) AP203 and AP214 (geometry only)

IGES (.igs or .iges) up to 5.3

CATIA v4 from 4.15 to 4.24

CATIA v5 from R7 to R25 (v5-6R2015)

CATIA v6 R2010x to R2013x, R2015x

SolidWorks (.sldprt) 1999 to 2016

Inventor (.prt) 9 up to 2015

Pro/ENGINEER, Creo from Pro/E 2000i to Creo Parametric 3.0

JT (.jt) up to 10

Rhino (.3dm)

STL (.stl)

OBJ (.obj)

Assembly files

Parasolid B-rep (.x_t or .x_b) from v10 to v29

ACIS (.sat) up to R21, 2016 1.0

STEP (.stp or .step) AP203 and AP214 (geometry only)

SolidWorks as Pack & Go .zip files from 1999 to 2016

Pro/ENGINEER, Creo from Pro/E 2000i to Creo Parametric 3.0 as .zip files

JT (.jt) up to 10

Rhino (.3dm)

Drawing files

AutoCAD (.dwg) up to 2013

DXF (.dxf) up to 2013

Pros: Free; No install needed; Full 2D & 3D measuring and editing capabilities; OS-independent; Parametric modeling system familiar to SolidWorks users; No file version conflicts.
Cons: All documents created by a free account are public and searchable.


Sending 3D Data to Clients for Review

It’s even more common to work with clients who rarely touch 3D data, and assume they have no way to review your designs without 2D drawings. In fact, there are several ways to share 3D models with your clients for preliminary review. This practice allows interferences and other issues to be caught and corrected before time and resources are spent detailing drawings.

eDrawings

http://www.edrawingsviewer.com/

OS:
Mac / PC

Apps:
Android / iOS

In addition to reading CAD data, as mentioned above, eDrawings can create compressed packages of parts, assemblies, and drawings, which are small enough to be sent via email and opened with any other version of eDrawings. Simply open any CAD file in eDrawings (as explained above) and save it as an eDrawings file (.eprt, .easm, .edrw, etc.) before sending. A client, having installed eDrawings on their own computer, can then open, measure, and markup the 3D file, and return it to us. All these features are also available on the mobile apps.

eDrawings also allows the export of Executable (*.exe) files, which include the entire eDrawings program, and therefore does not require a separate installation. Hoever, these files are difficult to send via email and are routinely blocked by spam filters and anti-virus programs.

Pros: Free; Views 2D and 3D files; Allows markup; Password protection (Pro only?); retains component tree; Attach simulation results;
Cons: Requires installation; Newer eDrawings files cannot be opened in old versions.

3D PDF

SolidWorks allows 3D files to be saved as a PDF, complete with measuring and viewing tools. In SolidWorks, save the model as a PDF, then check the ‘Save as 3D PDF’ box:

The resulting file includes the assembly tree, as well as tools for rotation, lighting, cross-section, measurement, markup and more. This file can be opened in Adobe Acrobat Reader and other modern PDF readers. Additionally, other files – such as 2D drawings or documents – can be attached directly to the PDF, or the 3D PDF can be appended to a PDF report (requires Acrobat Pro). This is by far the best technique for sharing data with clients who are restricted from installing programs or using cloud-based tools.

Pros: Free; Lightweight, universally accessible format; Retains component and body tree; No download required; Password protection available; Can be merged with other files or reports.
Cons: No geometry editing features; Created through SolidWorks;

Onshape

https://cad.onshape.com/

Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

Apps:
iOS / Android

Any model uploaded to Onshape can be shared with anyone via a link, even if the recipient does not have an Onshape Account. Additional features, such as export and re-share, are available if the recipient signs in, but simple tasks like measuring, sectioning, and manipulating are available instantly. Permissions can be set by the sharer, and revoked at any time.

Pros: Free; Retains feature tree and assembly tree; No install or login necessary; revoke access any time; Full measuring and editing capabilities; OS-independent; No file version conflicts;
Cons: All documents created by a free account are public and searchable.

A360 Online Viewer

https://a360.autodesk.com/viewer/#

Apps:
iOS / Android

Similar to Onshape, the A360 viewer lives in the cloud and is linked to an online account. After creating an account and uploading a model, you can do two things:

  1. Create a regular sharing link, which allows recipients to rotate, measure, section, etc. without creating an account or signing in.
  2. Start a Live Review session, which allows multiple people to simultaneously review the model via screen share and chat. Any participant can manipulate the model, and the driver’s cursor position is shown to all. Again, recipients are not forced to sign in or provide any information to take part in Live Review. The Live Review can take place even while others are viewing the part individually.

Uploads automatically expire after 30 days, but can be extended by the uploader.

Pros: Free; No install required; Files are private; OS-independent; retains component and body tree; Live Review; Supports most 2D and 3D model types;
Cons: Requires free account creation (for sender only); No editing tools; Limited comment tools

SolidWars: Episode 2017 – The Phantom Edges (What’s Coming in SolidWorks 2017)

There’s nothing hotter right now than Star Wars. That is, unless you’re a SolidWorks user attending Day 3 of SolidWorks World 2016, where you’ve just learned about some of the new enhancements you can look forward to in SolidWorks 2017. The clever skit, which somehow made it past the Dassault legal department, featured such cringe-inducing characters as Luke Sketchdrawer, Princess Layout, Over-Bend CanSolveIt and Hans Preview (along with his trusty sidekick Queue Backup), who battle the evil Old Empire of CAD, led by Dark Screensaver.

 

The scene opens with that familiar title crawl…

 

Yeah, that’s right. We’re doing this… You’re already thinking how this could go, and all the ways we could possibly tie in SOLIDWORKS 2017 functionality…

It’s a period of unrest in the design universe. Rebel Designers are battling against the evil empire to Make Great Design Happen. Princess Layout, custodian of the secret plans to expose the ineffienencies of the Imperial Design Tools, arrives at the office early to prepare for a gathering of like-minded rebels at a local SWUG Tech Summit…

Soon enough, however, the brave princess finds herself in the clutches of the evil Dark Screensaver, who attempts to extract information from her by subjecting her to the torture of a lengthy cost review meeting. During this meeting, imperial commander General Tolerance makes the grave error of using up the last of the cream cheese. Dark Screensaver rightly punishes the general for this transgression.

Stop hittin’ yourself, stop hittin’ yourself.

Stop hittin’ yourself, stop hittin’ yourself.

Luckily, Princess Layout has already sent her droid (a Sphero BB-8) to find sympathetic rebels, and share her plans to defeat the Old Empire.

The droid find itself in the hands of Luke Sketchdrawer, who – once he finds an appropriate VGA-to-DVI-to-mini USB-to-HDMI adapter – accesses the plans and consults his mentor, Over-Bend CanSolveIt. After vaguely insulting the English and dropping some subtle hints about the true parentage of young Luke, the two set about planning how to use the new features in SolidWorks 2017 to defeat the evil Empire…


Part Modeling Enhancements – 1

Bi-Directional Circular Pattern

This enhancement adds a secondary direction control to circular patterns (similar to the current “Direction 2” control for extrudes), allowing you to pattern about an axis both clockwise and counterclockwise. You can choose different spacing parameters for each direction, or just check the “Symmetric” box to keep spacing constant.

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Solidworks World 2016 Top Ten List

#10 – Revert to eDrawings 2013 Engine and Interface for Desktops

#9 – Automatic Fastener BOM for Large Assemblies

#8 – Ability to Use End Points of Sketch Lines for Hole Wizard Holes

#7 – Automate Explode Line Creation

#6 – Enhance Fillet, Chamfer, and Other Functions for Multi-Body Parts

#5 – Bounding Box Values for any Component

#4 – Move Assembly Sketch to Component

#3 – Use ALT to Temporarily Hide Face Under Cursor when Mating

#2 – Ability to Export BOM Table with Thumbnail Images of Components

And Dark Screen Saver presents number one…

#1 – Create a “Classic” mode GUI option in SolidWorks 2016 that emulates SolidWorks 2015

Be sure to check out my newly-updated SolidWorks Top Ten List Data page for information on all these requests, as well as those from the previous 15 years.

Testing the eDrawings Virtual Reality Prototype with Google Cardboard

In the Partner Pavilion at SolidWorks World 2016, the mobile products team demonstrated a prototype of the eDrawings mobile app, with support for Virtual Reality via Google Cardboard.

Cardboard is an inexpensive, open source virtual reality viewer, meant to be used with apps on your phone. An alternative to expensive VR rigs like the Occulus, Cardboard uses the high-quality graphics, accelerometers, and processing power already in your pocket. Inexpensive Cardboard headsets are available available from many outlets, such as this one from Amazon.

The eDrawings team has worked quickly to integrate this technology into their product, and were able to demonstrate a functional prototype at SolidWorks World 2016. The prototype was hosted on an iPhone 6 Plus, but the team assured me that iOS and Android versions are being developed in parallel.

Viewing a model in eDrawings virtual reality allows you to add an extra layer of immersive realism to your design, using the movement of your head, rather than your finger, to manipulate the model.

Similar to other Cardboard apps, the VR function of eDrawings mobile generates two images of the object being viewed, with a slight offset to account for stereo vision, making the object appear three-dimensional. Convex lenses in the Cardboard headset resolve the two images into one, and make it appear farther than a few inches in front of your eyes. The accelerometers in the phone also track movement, so the object moves and rotates, changing your perspective as you move your head.

 

As a prototype, the new eDrawings VR mode I tested was certainly unpolished, but the basic functions – stereo imaging, head tracking, etc. – were implemented well. However, more functions will need to be added to make VR viable, rather than foregoing the goofy-looking box and simply using your finger.

If all goes well, the team hopes to release the VR feature update sometime this year (possibly alongside the release of SolidWorks 2017). Be sure to stop by the SolidWorks area in the center of the Partner Pavilion at SolidWorks World 2016, to try out the Cardboard prototype, along with a bunch of other great projects now under development.

The incomparable Michael Lord modeling the Cardboard headset

Google Cardboard Kit

Capture Some Enhancements! What’s Coming in SolidWorks 2016

On the final day of each SolidWorks World, the Portfolio Marketing team unveils a sneak peek of several new features which will (hopefully) be included in the next major release of SolidWorks. However, instead of a dry technical presentation, the team never fails to put on a show that’s funny, engaging, and only mildly humiliating. This year, David Pattern Borer presents… Designers in our Midst.

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What’s New in SolidWorks 2015 – Chapter 10: eDrawings

Congratulations! You’ve made it to double-digits! eDrawings is SolidWorks’ solution for sharing 3D data in a 2D world. Every standard communication tool we use today is made for 2D files. Emailing images, PDFs, and even videos only tells part of the story. The eDrawings Free viewer lets designers communicate with their clients, who don’t have or need access to a full-fledged CAD tool, but still need to get their point across quickly and accurately.


Honorable Mentions

Support for SolidWorks MBD

Last year, eDrawings added the ability to view DimXpert dimensions and annotations, and we predicted the coming of full Model-Based Definition capabilities. Now that SolidWorks MBD is finally a reality, the functionality has been integrated into eDrawings Professional Desktop and Mobile versions. eDrawings now supports 3D Views and Annotation Views created by the SolidWorks MBD product. To show a 3D view or Annotation View, those views must have been created using the MBD product. Simply select 3D Views or Annotations from the bottom toolbar, and select the desired view.

In the Annotations or 3D Views menu, if you select the dot button, it shows the annotations in each view. However, if you select the view name, it shows and orients the annotation view. Multiple annotation vies can be shown at once, even if the orientation is changed.

 

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SolidWorks 2015 Launch Event – Twitter’s Favorite Enhancements

The SolidWorks 2015 Launch Event took place last week and Dassault Systemes’ headquarters in Waltham, MA, and as a “user advocate” I was happy to be invited. The SolidWorks team presented a huge amount of information on the dozens – if not hundreds – of enhancements available to users in the 2015 version. If you were following along at @MegaHertz604 or #SW2015, you may have seen that we were doing our best to pass the information along in 140-character chunks to those who are eagerly awaiting the new release.

Because of the way Twitter works, it’s relatively easy to see how other users responded to each enhancement, and what they like most. By favoriting or retweeting a post, SolidWorks users following along from anywhere in the world can tell us what they think. Of course, I wasn’t able to Tweet out every last cool feature we were shown that day, but we should be able to get a good idea of what users are most excited about.

The table below is limited to enhancements in SolidWorks 2015 (excluding other SolidWorks products like Mechanical Conceptual) with more than one interaction, tweeted out by @MegaHertz604 on launch day.

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SolidWorks 2014 What’s New – Chapter 11: eDrawings

The list of enhancements to eDrawings is about as short as it can get. There’s additional content available on the iPad app, and the ability to view SolidWorks 2014’s enhanced explode steps. Additionally, there’s an important step towards full Model-Based Definition.


Honorable Mentions

3DContentCentral on iPad

According to the What’s New document:

You can use eDrawings to view 3D ContentCentral on iPad. 3D ContentCentral is a free service for locating, configuring, downloading, and requesting 2D and 3D parts and assemblies… Start eDrawings on your iPad and click www.3dcontentcentral.com/.

I assume this feature is still forthcoming, because I haven’t seen it on my version of eDrawings yet.

Update: I’ve discovered that the What’s New document is (again) worded very poorly. What they mean to say is, 3DContentCentral is now available on the mobile Safari browser, and components can be opened in eDrawings directly from the mobile site. All standard eDrawings tools (section, measure, configure, etc.) are available to parts opened via 3DCC.

2013-12-18 10.44.22

2013-12-18 10.44.29

2013-12-18 10.44.42

Viewing Rotational Explode Steps

Now that rotational explode steps are available in Solidworks 2014, it only makes sense that the eDrawings viewer should be able to view them.

Winner

Viewing DimXpert Dimensions From SolidWorks Part Files

You can now view DimXpert dimensions from files are saved in SolidWorks 2014 or later. It’s a small enhancement, but what this means is that all geometric information is now available in the eDrawings format. This is the next big step necessary for making 2D drawings obsolete.

 


Check out the video below for even more eDrawings 2014 enhancements:

eDrawings Augmented Reality – Unleash the CAD Genie

The eDrawings Augmented Reality feature has been available for some time now, and you’ve probably read several reviews that dive into the functionality and feature set. You probably know by now that it’s a powerful, sleek tool, but can you use it in the real world, at your job? YES. I want to tell you that this tool will be a turning point in the way you do business.

This is about all I can show you.

In my line of work – and presumably that of almost any engineer – we deal with that special breed of marketing management that can’t wrap their mind around 3D CAD. A lot of time and money has been spent on foam models and rapid prototypes, to be able to accurately share the progress of a design. Having a sense of scale and realism is important to everyone.  eDrawings AR goes farther than that, though. My new product is meant to attach to the front of an existing system. Using eDrawings for iPad, I’ve bee able to show managers what the final assembly could look like, before a part is ever made. Plus, there’s the all-important “wow factor.” Showing off this app to the higher-ups will earn you the awe-inspiring title of CAD Genie, along with the respect and fear of your peers.

By the way, SolidWorks, if you’re listening: more often than not, when I show eDrawings AR to someone for the first time, they ask “does it work on Android?” Don’t let the excitement die down before the Android release.

SolidWorks Catches Mobile Fever! eDrawings Pro for iPad

This morning, DS Solidworks released its fourth new mobile app of the year. In the last 8 months, they’ve released n!Fuze, the wildly successful SolidWorks World 2012 app, and an entry-level version of eDrawings.  After that initial release of eDrawings, there was plenty of excitement, but also lots of room for improvement, and the community didn’t hold back.

“I have a feeling that the app will continue to grow over the next few months and years, as SolidWorks realizes that it’s users need more mobile functionality.”

“…lack of markup, measure, section, and other basic review tools.  SolidWorks needs to realize that the goal of any mobile app, however unattainable, is to replace a computer completely, and if some brave engineer is going to bring only his iPad to a design review halfway across the country, he’ll need more than rotate and explode. “

“Personally I would like to see more focus on the features that made eDrawings my de-facto tool for communication by adding markup and measure capabilities. There are a number of things that are missing from the iPad.”

Within 4 months, SolidWorks delivered. Today, eDrawings Pro for iPad was released, and has many of the features that the community has been asking for, including measure, markup, and section view. I could gripe about the fact that they’ve saved the best features for the more expensive version, but honestly it’s just good business.  

I was able to test the three major enhancements of eDrawings Pro:

Measure

To measure, you drag a cursor to the appropriate spot, and tap it to select a point, edge, or face. The mouse-like interface is useful for selecting small details of complex models, but not exactly intuitive on a multi-touch device. Luckily, the help section is easily accessable and explains everything well. Filtering is completely intuitive, since the filter toolbar appears whenever measuring. There even appears to be a distinct filter for holes, but it was consistently greyed out for me (even when viewing parts with holes). This is also the feature that caused the most crashes. Although the iTunes description promises increased speed and stability, my ancient iPad 1 crashed constantly.

Image001

Markup

I was pleasantly surprised with the wide functionality of markup. It’s so much more than adding standard text, but even that part is well done. You can type text and enclose it in a box, ellipse, or cloud, and edit the text by double-tapping. You can add multiple leaders to a note, and the drag points of the leaders are a good distance from the arrowheads, so you can actually see where you’re dragging them. A nice little feature that could have easily been overlooked. What I’d like to see next is automatic text wrapping for long comments, based on the current field of view.

Image002

You can also add markups using multi-touch. Using your finger, you can draw out your suggestions and revisions. However, this feature isn’t yet sensitive enough for writing out text, even with a stylus. It came out jagged, like it was only capturing input a few times a second. You can even choose your markup color using RGB values from the settings menu.

Image003

The next markup tool is a dimension marker, which works in much the same way as the measure tool. However, there seems to be a couple big issues. Since markups have to be in one distinct view, you can’t rotate the model one you start this command. This makes it difficult to measure from the front to back of a part. Also, there is no filter toolbar for this command, even though it’s so similar to the measure tool.

Image004

The next two markup tools are my favorites. eDrawings Pro allows you to insert pictures directly into the file you’re viewing, either from your photo library, or using the camera on late-model iPads. So if you find inspiration for your design while looking at funny cat pictures on your iPad you can just save it to your library and insert it into your model. Or, if you drew a napkin sketch during lunch (while also looking at lolcats), just take a picture with your iPad camera and put that in the model.

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Finally, you can delete any of your own markups by tapping the trashcan symbol, and then the markup.

Section View

Section view, while trapped on the three orthogonal axes, still has a moderate number of features. You can choose the section direction, show the cutting plane, and show or hide the endcap, and drag the section location using either a slider in the control panel, or the section plane in the graphics view (section plane must be shown for this). What it’s missing is a colored section cap, and the ability to adjust the angle of the plane.

Image007

So there you have it, SolidWorks’ next big step in mobile computing. Does this downpour of mobile apps mean that something bigger is over the horizon? Only time will tell. Until then, if you want to get your hands on eDrawings Pro for iPad, it’s only $4.99 on the App Store for the next 90 30 days, before reaching its regular price of $9.99.