Just a generation or two ago engineers developed rather large biceps and suffered sore backs and frequent paper cuts due to daily handling of heavy parts catalogs published by industry suppliers. In keeping with advancements in modern technology, large inky paper tombs have been replaced by digital internet catalogs and search engines.Gone too are specialized pads once used to design new products with paper and pencil.
One can almost hear the trees exhaling in relief. Now CAD software allows products to be designed in a virtual world, refined, produced, tested, manufactured and endlessly tweaked. The final piece of the puzzle is new 3-D printers to which engineers send their designs to be printed in an instant.
An Example of Technology Changing How We Get Things Done
Two of the largest parts catalogs come from Electrocomponents PLC’s Allied Electronics in the US, and RS Components in Europe. These catalogs feature 550,000 electronic and maintenance products from over 2,400 parts makers worldwide. The company operates in 32 countries, runs 17 warehouses and ships 46,000 parcels a day to 1.6 million customers.
As has become common, communities have been sprouting up around CAD software to promote the sharing of ideas, a lessening of the learning curve and higher productivity. An engineering community called “DesignSpark” was started by Allied and RS in 2010 and it has grown to more than 250,000 members. The community provides engineering resources, tools and technical support through its forums, not to mention increased sales.
DesignSpark has since offered a PCB design environment, an online database of free engineering models called ModelSource, a collection of open source projects from DesignSpark members and partners and most recently “DesignSpark Mechanical,” a 3-D design and visualization software.
Key Capabilities of DesignSpark
While this free software may not be quite as robust as some of the pricey alternatives, DesignSpark imports ECAD, OBJ, SketchUp, STEP and STL formats and exports AutoCAD, OBJ, XAML JPEG, PNG and 3-D printer files. Many parts in the catalog can be imported as the designer creates a product. Once the design is completed, parts can be ordered directly from within the software saving considerable time and effort.
For more information, the following video describes advantages of Designspark or visit DesignSpark Mechanical.