RS Components aims to make 3D printing more accessible to electrical and electronics engineers with the launch of a free solid-modelling tool that works with the distributor’s existing DesignSpark PCB layout software.
Martin Keenan, head of applications strategy at RS Components, claimed just 5 per cent of the company’s customers said they are using 3D mechanical CAD software to help develop product designs, "but it’s much easier to get from concept to creation in three dimensions than with two-dimensional plans”.
RS already supports 3D design by providing a library of models for many of the components in its catalogue that can be imported into tools such as Google’s SketchUp.
“The 3D CAD-model program was where we really started to learn how we could help engineers with mechanical design,” said Keenan. “To date, we have seen more than half a million downloads and the rate of increase continues to accelerate."
But there are two problems with 3D design today: cost and learning time, Keenan added: “Making changes in traditional 3D CAD is complex and time-consuming”.
To expand its involvement in 3D design and offer its own tool free of charge, RS Components commissioned a version of the solid-modelling tool developed by US-based Spaceclaim on the basis that it offers a simpler user interface than competitive tools. The Spaceclaim software uses four core commands to move, stretch, extrude and bevel parts. Keenan argued that the software will expand the user base for solid modelling.
“Fifteen years ago, electronics design was done first and thrown over the wall to mechanical engineers. Nowadays, customers are under pressure to make their products more aesthetically pleasing," Keenan argued. “What if sales and marketing could get involved with the product development and not just the CAD specialist? Customers are telling us product proposals are sometimes presented in three dimensions and they are more successful. One customer told us: ‘We are losing business to companies able to invest in modern mechanical design software’.”
The DesignSpark Mechanical tool exports STL files used by 3D printers. “We are bringing 3D printing to everyone who wants to use it. To get a prototype printed in 3D is going to be very helpful to engineers: there is no need to spend tens of thousands to get moulding done,” Keenan claimed. “And it will allow companies to explore more options before committing to a design.”
RS will make the tool available for download on Monday, 16 September 2013.