New DesignSpark Mechanical is free 3D CAD for electronic and mechanical design

SpaceClaim has teamed up with Allied Electronics and RS Components to create DesignSpark Mechanical, a subset of SpaceClaim Engineer. The tool offers 3D design and access to the vast line of electronic components in the Allied Electronics and RS Components catalogs. 

The parent company of electronics component distributors Allied Electronics and RS Components has introduced a free 3D CAD product based on SpaceClaim technology. DesignSpark Mechanical is designed to give electronics and mechanical engineers an easy way to migrate from 2D design and take full advantage of the vast library of Allied and RS electronics components.

DesignSpark Mechanical is a free 3D CAD product based on SpaceClaim. (Source: Allied Electronics)
DesignSpark Mechanical is a free 3D CAD product based on SpaceClaim. (Source: Allied Electronics)

DesignSpark Mechanical is riding two current technology trends; direct modeling and social media. The simplified version of SpaceClaim—already noted for ease of use—is being distributed through the existing DesignSpark online hub for Allied/RS users, with a current active membership of more than 40,000 users. The CAD software is directly linked to both the DesignSpark library of more than 37,000 Allied/RS Components models, and to a special YouTube channel with tutorial videos. RS and Allied have also collaborated with 3D content company TraceParts to provide access to 100 million models from the online CAD portal.

Delivering a subset of SpaceClaim to these engineers overcomes two barriers to entry: cost and learning time. The DesignSpark team estimates there are currently 1.5 million active users of 3D CAD but an additional 20 million engineers globally who do not currently use 3D CAD.

The typical engineer will be able to start using DesignSpark Mechanical within minutes, using its four basic tools of Pull, Move, Fill and Combine. It also encourages engineers to specify Allied/RS components early on, and to use a more modern parallel design methodology where the electronics and the physical/mechanical portions of a product are developed simultaneously. “Each model download saves the engineer between two hours and two days of manual creation,” says Martin Keenan, DesignSpark product manager for parent company Electrocomponents PLC, a UK-based public company with 2012 revenue of $1.9 billion. “But only 5% of the world’s engineers have access to powerful 3D modeling tools. Engineers designing in 3D enjoy huge advantages over those still using traditional 2D methods. There is too much use of paper and too many bottlenecks when changes are proposed,” using existing 2D methods, Keenan adds.

Keenan says many electro/mechanical engineers find themselves trapped between their older 2D methods and the tide of 3D data. To bridge the gap and allow more engineers to work in 3D, DesignSpark Mechanical imports STEP, SketchUp and stereolithography (STL) 3D file formats, as well as eCAD IDF files and OBJ formats. It exports OBJ, STL, DXF, and XAML 2D/3D CAD formats; two photo formats (JPG and PNG), and its own RSDOC file format.

DesignSpark foresees the new CAD program being used as a complementary 3D tool in the product development process alongside 3D CAD tools already in use. The ability of DesignSpark Mechanical to export in STL format allows it to be used for rapid prototyping builds (3D printing) and computer-aided manufacturing. The software also uses its connection to the various parts libraries to provide Bill of Material information.

Our take

There are no barriers to entry for anyone who would like to use DesignSpark Mechanical; one does not have to be an existing customer to download the product and create models. As word gets out, there should be plenty of downloads outside the targeted market of existing electronics and mechanical engineers. The Maker community now has one more powerful tool for creating 3D printable models.

The integration of social media technology into CAD has become a significant trend in 2013, one DesignSpark mechanical is riding with its integration into a parts library, a user community, and YouTube. But there are no tools for collaboration, beyond question and answer in the DesignSpark forums. Perhaps a future alliance with GrabCAD or Sunglass is possible, although nothing the DesignSpark team said during product introductions suggested this.