The final CAD program we will be looking at in this series is Autodesk Fusion 360. At first glance, Onshape and Fusion 360 are rather similar. Both are a sketch/feature based modeler where you define a 2D profile and then convert that into a 3D shape. Both also offer the ability to create an assembly (or collection of parts) without drawing a hard distinction between a part or assembly file. So what sets Fusion 360 apart from Onshape?
Onshape is the first sketch/feature based modeler we are looking at in this series. To create a part, you create a 2D sketch to define a feature. Subsequent features are then built on top of one another. This is the same modeling paradigm that is used by many professional CAD programs (Solidworks, Inventor). The thing that really sets Onshape apart from these programs is the fact that it is completely web-based.
OpenSCAD is not what most would consider a conventional CAD package. In most CAD programs to create a shape you have to in some form draw or sculpt the desired shape; this is not the case in OpenSCAD. In OpenSCAD shapes are defined by functions and you don’t draw shapes but program them. Each 3D model is defined by a script that is then compiled into a 3D shape. It is after all called The Programmers Solid 3D CAD Modeler.
Before starting the demo for my review of CAD for Hobbyists I had never used PTC Creo Elements/Direct before. Years ago (about 10) I used PTC Pro/Engineer for a short while. PTC Creo Elements/Direct is a decedent of Pro/E. A few years ago Pro/E was renamed Wildfire, later to be again renamed Creo. The standard version of Creo is a parametric feature based modeling program. I had initially assumed that Creo Elements/Direct was a stripped down version of Creo, I was wrong.
In this CAD for Hobbyists series I am going to be comparing four CAD packages that are available for hobbyists: Creo Elements, Fusion 360, Onshape, and OpenSCAD. In order to compare these four packages I am going to use an example project where I create the same simple CAD model in each.
In my previous post in the series I talked about my experience with CAD and some platforms that are available for Hobbyists. What I did not discuss was the history of CAD software and some of the key concepts that may differentiate one platform from another. However, I am not going to write the unabridged history of CAD, if you want to read that, I highly recommend going to Wikipedia and falling down the rabbit hole.
First, what do I mean when I say CAD? CAD, or Computer Aided Design, is a rather broad topic. It encompasses pretty much any software that can be used to aid in the process of designing something. This could range from PCB layout software (such as EAGLE or KiCAD) to a 2D drafting package (LibreCAD, AutoCAD, etc) to a full 3D modeling suite (Inventor, Solidworks, Fusion360, etc). I prefer to think of each of these as ECAD, 2D CAD, and 3D CAD respectively. Based on the content of the first post in the series it should be no surprise that when I say CAD I am referring to 3D CAD, or more specifically a 3D CAD modeling package. It should also be noted that there is an entire other world of CAE, or Computer Aided Engineering, software out there. This consists of specialty automated design and simulation software. While CAD software can be classified under the CAE umbrella, I am not going to talk about much about CAE software in this series.
This post is the first of a series on CAD for Hobbyists. Be sure to check back for more posts in the series.
I get to use CAD software almost everyday. There are so many programs currently available it can be hard to choose one. At work, I alternate between two of the larger players in the CAD game, Inventor and Solidworks, dependent on client needs. I’ve been using both off and on since the mid-2000s, and over the years I’ve seen each one add a ton of features (and fix a ton of bugs). More often than not, when one of them adds a great feature, in the next year or two the other will add a similar feature leveling the playing field in the CAD software feature arms race. With the current versions of both packages it is hard to say who is currently ahead. Certainly, each package has its quirks and you have to take a minute to adjust to how each functions, but to the average user the packages offer the same features.