Choosing the right modeling software is an important consideration; this will play a key role in the overall success of your final project and can have a significant impact on how smoothly the process does – or doesn’t – run.
With so many options on the market, however, making the right selection can be a challenge.
In this case, we will be taking a closer look at FreeCAD: can it really achieve everything that it claims, and is it the best option for your business? Read on for everything you need to know…
What Is FreeCAD?
As you may already be aware, FreeCAD is a type of 3D modeler, used mainly by mechanical engineers and product design, and it is primarily used to design real-world objects and can be used to design items of any size.
The modeler also offers the option for scriptable CAD, and this means that it can also be very useful in both architectural and electrical engineering and design.
FreeCAD is a modeling option with a lengthy history – it has been around since October 2002, when the creators, Yorik van Havre, Jürgen Riegel, and Werner Mayer, aspired to design the ultimate open-source CAD software, and intended for this to be fully functional and useable across all platforms.
The open-source nature of the software is another major bonus; you can use it free of charge, no matter who you are or what your design aspirations are, and you can also use Python programming to add unique functions to the software, allowing you to tailor it to meet your exact needs and requirements.
This flexibility is important, and is a large part of the popularity of FreeCAD; this is a software that is used for hobbies such as making objects or computer-aided designs, as well as professional functions such as finite element method (FEM) analysis and mechanical engineering design.
How Does It Work?
The FreeCAD software works by primarily using a method known as “Boundary Representation”, also referred to as “BREP”. This is very similar to the methods and techniques used by other CAD software, as well as a range of other 3d modeling software.
Rather than simply combining primitive shoes together to produce simple results, Boundary Representation goes one step further, and offers the user the option of editing topography, rather than simply geometry, though this is also offered. I
n this, BREP also offers a range of more versatile, flexible, and complex operations, including:
Blending, also referred to as rounding, connects different surfaces with one another, and automatically trims their boundaries. With BREP, multiple surfaces can be blended, no matter how complex each individual piece is.
When a face of an object is “extruding” or “extruded”, it is contracting or expanding (also known as cutting against or through) another part of the object, or through empty space.
As a result of this, a part of the object has the ability to shrink or grow – this can occur based on a 2D sketch or drawing in a flat plane, or organically in a 3D environment.
A “chamfer” refers to a command that allows the user to cut the corners of two adjacent sides of any 2D shape.
This can be at any particular angle, or at any distance – all you have to do is enter the coordinates and specific values into the software to achieve your desired result.
In the simplest terms, FreeCAD allows you to make modifications and adjustments to edges, vertices, and faces, while making the most of more complex, advanced modeling operations – including chamfers, blending, and extrusions.
This means that FreeCAD will be familiar and easy to navigate, provided that you have experience with another 3D modeling software such as Blender, or any other well-used CAD software.
As a result, there is less of a learning curve, and this can be a welcome relief when you are short of time.
What Are The Main Features of FreeCAD?
The primary selling points and key features offered by FreeCAD include:
- Full parametric model
- Modular architecture
- Robot simulation
- Path mode
- Geometry kernel
- Standard formats
This means that designers and hobbyists alike will have access to the full range of capabilities and options needed for design.
What Are The Pros of FreeCAD?
Now that we have taken a closer look at the nuances and workings of FreeCAD, it is time to consider the main benefits and pros of the software.
Flexibility and Versatility
Without a doubt, one of the main advantages of FreeCAD is the flexibility of the software – this is an ideal option if you are working on multiple types of projects, or need to change what you are doing quickly and with minimal fuss.
The modular set up and design means that you can use FreeCAD to scale the features that you currently require on a specific project, ensuring that the software really is working for you, exactly as you need it to.
As an added bonus, the functionality and capabilities can be easily extended using a range of plug-ins.
FreeCAD also has the benefit of being open-source, and this allows users to access both external and macro scripts, as well as the Python Interpreter, to expand and configure the capabilities to meet your exact needs for each specific project.
Simplified, Straightforward Design Process
We live in a busy, chaotic world, and so anything that is simple and easy to use gets an instant gold star. FreeCAD uses a parametric model, and this allows you to choose to design your new object based on other unique specifications, or on other models.
The software also includes a model history, and this allows you to track changes when you are adjusting and altering specifications.
This means that if something goes wrong later down the line, you can refer back to a complete history of the project and the changes you have made, and this means that rectifying and correcting mistakes is faster and easier.
In addition, the graphical interface of FreeCAD is constructed on the Qt framework, which has a reputation for being fast and easy to use and also makes the most of a 3D viewer based on Open Inventor – perfect for helping you to manage any 3D scenes faster and with minimal stress.
Interface is Intuitive
Once you get into the software, FreeCAD is also super easy to use and navigate. Both the workbenches and the dashboard are fully customizable and are organized neatly to make it fast and easy to find things.
You can decide which tools you would like to be displayed, depending on your most commonly used tools and those that are most essential for projects – this is great for saving time while you are working hard at work.
The interface, rendering, and geometry can all be easily managed and navigated thanks to open API and fully integrated Python Interpreter, and you can also make the most of more complex design specs thanks to OpenCASCADE technology.
This means that creating more compound shapes, such as burns, surfaces, and breps is easy and painless, especially when compared to some of the other options on the market.
Free To Use
One of the main selling points for the software is that it is totally free to use at every point – there is no need to invest in an overpriced commercial solution or pay a large sum after a free trial.
As a result, FreeCAD offers a quality tool for anyone with the need to review 3D models, whether they are a hobbyist or a professional.
Backed by Experts
It is also worth mentioning that FreeCAD is also backed by a dedicated group of highly skilled, experienced, and knowledgeable developers, all of whom use CAD systems in their daily lives.
This is evident when you have had a chance to play with the software; it becomes clear that the brains behind the system know exactly what their customers will need and desire, and this is all packaged in an attractive, free and easy-to-use format.
What Are The Cons of FreeCAD?
On the whole, our experience with FreeCAD has been largely positive, and this is a great option for any designers who want a convenient, accessible, all-in-one package. As with any software, however, there are some downsides, and these are covered below.
Issues With Crashing
While on the whole, FreeCAD runs fairly smoothly and without issue, there have been occasions when it has crashed while trying to run and manage large data sets.
This is most common if you have had the software open and working for an extended period without saving your progress, and can usually be rectified by rebooting FreeCAD.
While this is not a deal-breaker, it can be frustrating if you are in the middle of a large project, or if you are working to a tight deadline.
Issues With Instructions and Commands
In some cases, there have been reported issues with common options, for example, “do not undo”, and the software seems to get “confused”.
It is likely that this is an issue with the development, and the team behind the software appears to be working hard to bring everything up to date, with new options available on a regular basis.
Some users have also reported FreeCAD responding to commands incorrectly, failing to follow instructions, and doing its own spontaneous thing, all of which can be unexpected and frustrating.
Can Be Slow
While FreeCAD can tick a lot of boxes, in many cases, speed is not one of them – the software does run a little slow compared to other products on the market, and this is exacerbated when you are trying to work with large, bulky datasets. If you need speed as part of your package, this may not be the best option.
Steep Learning Curve for Newbies
As we mentioned, if you are used to CAD or design software, then the chances are that you will have free issues with FreeCAD – its operation and design have a number of similarities to other programs on the market.
If, however, this is your first time using such a program, you may feel a little lost and confused. There are no real, clear instructions for beginners, and so you may find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed when you first boot up the software.
Fortunately, there are a number of useful tutorials across the internet and YouTube, which should help you to find your feet in no time.
No Built-In Prioritization
One of the smaller issues that are commonly reported with FreeCAD is a lack of built-in prioritization. This means that starting a new line from another line end, and then deciding to change the line of the former can be complicated, as the first line will also be moved.
This increases the workload of the user, who must then create additional constraints and new lines in order to fix the location of their designs – this is something that we would like to see the developers address in future patches and updates.
While there are a few issues with FreeCAD, we cannot deny that overall, it is a solid, reliable, and smart piece of software.
It is super flexible and versatile, allowing you to adjust functionality and design, add programming, and use plugins to create your ideal user experience, and this is a real advantage if you are looking for a single piece of software to cover all of your tasks.
This is also appealing for both hobbyists and professionals, and FreeCAD is designed to work well with both, offering an intuitive, easy-to-use interface and streamlining and simplifying the overall design process.
The option to customize your dashboard and workbench is a particular highlight, as you can ensure that you have the specific tools that you need for a project to hand, and switch these as needed when you start on a new challenge.
The lack of certain features, sometimes slow runtime, steep learning curve, and issues with crashing can be frustrating, but they are not enough to negate the benefits of the software.
Overall, whether employed as a personal design tool or a professional solution, FreeCAD ensures that the 3D design processes are manageable, effective, and easy to handle.