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

Mac / PC

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


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


Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

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.


Mac / PC

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.


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;


Browsers: Safari / Firefox / Chrome / Opera

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

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

It’s as Easy as 1, 2, 3-Sweep! Make Full 3D Models From a Single Photo.

Jared FormalIntroducing guest blogger Jared Drake! Jared designs injection molded parts at Micron Products, and is always on the lookout for awesome new CAD tools. This week he found a great one, and I invited him to write about it here. Say hi to Jared on Facebook, and maybe we’ll see more from him in the future!

Imagine that you have a brand new project to model, but the basic idea has already been designed by someone else and you don’t have the exact dimensions of the part or it is too time consuming to measure every little feature. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a starting point to work off of to minimize the time to a finished CAD model?

This happened to me on numerous occasions at work, as my role is the Mechanical Design Engineer at a plastics injection molding company. I often get parts or poorly dimensioned drawings from customers who need to restart production on an old product. I model every feature of the product to the best of my ability, but this sometimes takes a few days depending on the complexity of the part. For quoting purposes, a rough model is generally good enough for material volume and mold size, but if I’m going to model something completely I’d rather do it correctly once. Because of this, the roughing step doesn’t really fit into my idea of productivity and gets skipped a lot.

Let me introduce 3-Sweep, a brand new concept for 3D modeling. My coworker in the IT department somehow stumbled across this video and shared it with me. It demonstrates an early version of a program that might be able to generate 3D data from a 2D drawing or picture. This would be perfect for the rough modeling step which I so often skip, or for generating a basic model that can be detailed later! Basically, the idea is that you can trace the width and depth of a feature in the picture and then sweep or loft the geometry through the height. Any alterations to the geometry along the sweep path such as flanges or tapers seem to be picked up automatically when sweeping, so you don’t need to model each feature individually. The program seems to allow for easy scaling and addition or moving of components. I was really impressed with the closing part of the video where the development team pointed out the program’s shortcomings, such as parallelism issues due to odd viewing angles and the program picking up a shadow as part of the intended geometry. It proves that nothing is perfect, but the team isn’t trying to hide their flaws either.

This could be the next big step in 3D modeling, useful to experienced and novice modelers alike. With the idea of at-home 3D printing skyrocketing in popularity over the past year, I could see this growing right along with that.

After watching the video, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the product, especially if it would be compatible with CAD programs instead of just graphics modeling. Unfortunately, upon a quick search of the program name I wasn’t able to find any demos or release dates. I can’t try this seemingly simple modeling technique at the moment, but I’ll definitely be watching for this in the future!

Editor’s Note: Personally, my favorite part of this video is that they show how their software can fail. It’s nice to see a little humility and realism in the CAD world. Take a look at the video below, and then pick your jaws up off the floor.

Google Crisis Response

Google has compiled a number of emergency tools and information in one place.  Please use this page if you wish to donate, search for loved ones, or stay updated.  Save the page for the future as well.


People finder:

– – – Google Person Finder: 2011 Japan Earthquake Google Database of missing persons (2011 Japan Earthquake)

My Power Diagnostic Benchmark Tests

Update: Energy Diagnostic with Power-Hungry Programs

Continued from post on Power Efficiency Diagnostics Tool


iTunes (playing, includes audio drivers, etc)



  • High Definition Audio Device: “The device or driver has made a request to prevent the system from automatically entering sleep.” – Apparently iTunes prevents your computer from going to sleep, at least while it’s playing music. Makes sense.

Processor Utilization: 5.49%




Processor Utilization: 0.37%



SolidWorks 2011 (idle, no docs open)


Processor Utilization: 0.31%




SolidWorks 2011 (Simple Assembly Force Rebuild)

Processor Utilization: 2.66%



SolidWorks 2011 (Complex Assembly Force Rebuild)

Processor Utilization: 42.69%



PhotoView 360 (Rendering, Best quality)



“The program has made a request to prevent the system from automatically entering sleep.” – this makes sense. You don’t want your computer going to sleep in the middle of an 18 hour render.

“The program has made a request to enable Away Mode.” – not sure what this is…

“Total CPU Utilization is high” (100% of 3.05 GHz)

Processor Utilization :78.32% (PV360) + .043% (SolidWorks)




Little-Known Windows 7 Command Tool Generates Sustainability Report for your Computer

Everyone is going Green these days – there’s no denying that – and Microsoft is no exception.  But the computer giant isn’t just going green internally, they’re also developing tools to help every user save energy… and save the world.  I recently discovered the Power Efficiency Diagnostics tool in this article of useful Windows 7 tips and tricks (page 3).  This tool is run from the command line, but the output is a well formatted HTML report detailing your computer’s power consumption, and possible improvements to be made. 


The power Efficiency diagnostics tool not only provides the details of your power consumption, abut also allows you to change and improve your settings using the same command.  The full command line option set can be found here, but I’ve provided some of the more useful commands below.


Note: To run this tool, you must be running the command prompt as an administrator. The quickest way to do this is to click start, type cmd, and press CTRL+Shift+Enter


powercfg -energy

Performs a 60-second test, and generates an HTML report based on your computer’s power settings and energy consumption.  This option is only available on Windows 7.

powercfg -lastwake

Reports information about the event that woke the computer from the last sleep transition.

powercfg -devicequery query_flags

Lists all devices that can wake your computer from various states of sleep.  This is useful if your computer seems to magically wake itself up with no input from you.  Check the documentation for detailed options.


Now, as a test and an example, I’ll lay all my cards on the table.  I’m going to run though the diagnostic tool and see how I can improve my own consumption.  I can tell you right now, BAMF-Raptor is not the model of power-sipping efficiency.  The neon kinda gives that away…



To run the diagnostic: 

1) Click Start, type cmd (run as Administrator if necessary), open the Command Prompt


2) Type powercfg -energy to begin the diagnostic with default settings.  The test runs for 60 seconds…


3) … and returns information of the number and type of alerts, and the path to the full diagnostic report.  My test resulted in 16 errors, 22 warnings, and 14 tips. Ouch.


4) The diagnostic report goes into detail about each warning, error, and informational item. 

Most of my errors were redundant; 12 of them told methat my USB devices did not turn off when the system was idle.  Two of my errors warned me that my computer did not automatically sleep or hibernate after a period of inactivity.  However, I disabled these settings on purpose because, ever since upgrading to Windows 7, I’ve gotten the BSOD every time I try to put it to sleep.  The last two errors warned me of an unusually high processor utilization (14.9%) and a hardware incompatibility that forced PCI Express Active State Power Management to be disabled.


The warnings mostly had to do with various individual programs or processes that caused Windows to run inefficiently, either due to unusually high processor utilization, or overriding of the idle-state timer.  In may case, the greatest offenders in both catagories were:

  • Firefox (The highest power user. Also, ironically, what the HTML report was opened in)
  • Google Talk Plugin
  • ambx Illuminate
  • PlayOn Server
  • 3DConnexion 3D Mouse Driver
  • AIM
  • SolidWorks Background Downloader

Keep in mind that my computer was basically idle at the time, with no hardware-intensive programs running at the time.  I’ll run this diagnostic with a number of heavy programs open soon.

Also, although not important for my desktop, laptop users may be interested in the warning that states “The current power policy for 802.11-compatible wireless network adapters is not configured to use low-power modes.”  This may affect power consumption  and signal quality when on battery mode.


The information section included details on the process strings which returned the lowest platform timer setting, and therefore used the most power (I think).  For example, the highest consumer included Firefox and all it’s add-in and a bunch of Microsoft kernels, which were all part of one task.  Below that, the report listed the names and settings of the current Power Plan, including a value known as its “Personality.” Apparently my computer has a balanced personality. Who knew?

This section will also check battery and system inefficiencies, supported sleep modes, processor power management schemes, and so on.



Give it a try and see how you stack up. Leave a comment below with your results, and may the greenest machine win.

UPDATE: See my new post with benchmark tests of heavy programs.