In my continued excitement to use FreeCAD at home, I downloaded the latest Pre Release of FreeCAD to test it out. For starters, I like the new look of the start page. It has a nice clean and even more welcoming feel to it. It shows little previews of recent CAD documents too which is a fantastic touch.
I had some real work to do with it in modifying a design and it worked very nicely. It is extremely easy to update a design with FreeCAD. I have a few criticisms but they might be based on what I am used to using as opposed to a problem with FreeCAD. What is important is that I was able to update the design and print the parts and put them to work.
Downloading and Running
To download the pre-release, visit their GitHub page, at the time of writing it was, FreeCAD_0.18.14796.glibc2.17-x86_64.AppImage.
I created a folder where I keep all my AppImage files. Using Dolphin, I made the .AppImage executable so that you can just double-click to execute the file and run FreeCAD.
No special work is needed to run this AppImage, no installation or anything of that nature. It’s kind of nice but it also has its drawbacks. I generally prefer the openSUSE software management system to automatically take care of my software but I’ll make an exception in this case.
The new Start Page looks great. I really appreciate the tabs and how they have separated out the information into sections. The first tab shows you your recent documents and some example parts.
The Help Section is more than just a help getting started but gives you a great snapshot about your current FreeCAD Setup: General documentation, Workbench documentation, getting help from the community and available addons for FreeCAD.
You can click on the different available addons and read more about them and install them. It will even indicate what addons are installed from this screen.
The third tab shows the “Activity” of this FreeCAD project. I appreciate how much work is going into FreeCAD, to make it a better product.
Modifying an Existing Part
I have a Home Education Command Center where I created some parts to hold the Geography Maps in place. After some time of using my first revision of parts, it became apparent that they were not meeting expectations. I took the previously design parts, modified the necessary dimensions based on the usability failures I experienced with the first design
I had to not only make the whole part taller and wider with more overlap for the holder to map interface. When increasing the size of the base part, the child features adjusted as expected which is a great sign for the quality of the parametric modeling “intelligence” of this software. I have only one criticism with the sketch mode. I often have to redo lines because I am unable to make coincident constraints stick to where I want them to stick. It’s not bad but just mildly irritating at times.
The resulting update was complete in short time and I was happy with how it looked. The rounds and chamfers calculated to look exactly as I expected.
Exporting for Printing
Since the whole purpose of creating this part was to print it and a mirrored version of it off, I needed to export the model as an STL.
As a note, when exporting the part to STL, you must select the last feature on the model tree then go to File > Export…
There is a drop down where STL file type is an option.
If you do not select the last feature, it will export up to the feature you select in the tree when it makes the calculations.
I thought I’d give the Assembly module another shot as I was not able to get it to work under the official release. This time, the module loaded in without any issues. I became very excited at this point. Here is what I did to install it, instructions adapted from the Assembly2 Module GitHub page:
On other Linux distros you may try to install manually via Bash and git but I use openSUSE Tumbleweed as my daily driver and this is how I installed it:
In order for the Assembly Module to work, there are some more python software packages that are required. To install them, oen up a terminal and enter:
sudo zypper install git python-pyside python2-numpy
Next was to install the Assembly Module from GitHub. This is installed within the User home directory.
First will be to create the necessary directory for the modules. If the directory doesn’t already exist.
Change to that directory
Then perform the cloning operation from GitHub
That’s all there is to it. Run FreeCAD and you should see the assembly module.
You may want to periodically update the Assembly Module. Since you have already performed the cloning, you will need to pull for updates to get the latest version:
It’ll give you a nice little output of the updates and your done.
I will cover the Assembly Module at a later date as I need to learn how to use it properly. I am still working on an assembly and will subsequently work on the assembly drawings for another project.
What I like
There are MANY things that I like but most notably as a comparison of Official v.17 to Pre-.18 are the incremental improvements happening within FreeCAD. Even though this is a Pre-Release, there are already many improvements over the official .17 release. Most notably, the start page and the reintroduction of the Navigation Cube.
The navigation Cube is a fantastic way to see what your orientation is around the part. I know that there are other CAD packages that use a similar tool but my regular proprietary package I use professionally does NOT have this feature.
The part design module seems to have become more intuitive and it’s ability to automatically adjust dependent features seems to have improved dramatically.
What I wish it would do
Thankfully, FreeCAD is under active development so it is only a matter of time that these little paper-cut issues will all be resolved. One issue I have, from a usability standpoint, the select to recompute function doesn’t always recompute recursively through the tree. I might also suggest that selecting the base node to have it all recomputed or have the recompute option default to top level if nothing specific is selected.
Some of the geometric constraints don’t seem to work as expected so I do have to delete and redraw some of the lines in order to complete the sketch. When doing this, it often makes child features, like fillets and rounds fail and it can be a challenge to figure out which one has failed.
As I continue to use FreeCAD, I am becoming a bigger and bigger fan of the project. They are really doing a fantastic job of making a professional level parametric modeler, among other CAD functions, that can really enable the regular folk to do some real CAD work. I will continue to follow this project and use it whenever possible to perform the various problem solving activities I do. I can only hope that there will be continued momentum behind this such as other large open source projects.