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