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Find out how and why we're modeling our products in 3D... and how you can help!
Computer drafting technology has come a long way in just a short time. That makes sense, I suppose, because computers haven't been around for very long. Even the mathematics to describe curves in a computable way is fairly young. Only a few decades ago you had to use CAD (Computer Aided Design) software without a mouse, typing every coordinate and describing every curve. By the time I started using CAD, it was a click-and-drag sort of operation. Some math was still involved but getting an idea from your head to the page was a lot more intuitive. You were still limited to flat cross-sections, though, if you wanted to describe a 3D surface. The first time I saw 3D CAD software, it blew my mind.
Now? Now you can go download any number of free 3D CAD programs and start virtually prototyping. My personal favorite is SketchUp, which was developed at Google and recently acquired by Trimble. I don't know what you do on a long airplane ride, but I like to get out my laptop and fire up SketchUp. It satisfies my urge to create while I'm stuck in a decidedly "screwdriver free" environment. Modeling something in 3D has become an integral part of the design process for me. Often it helps me figure out whether or not to pursue a project in real life, sometimes it's satisfying enough just to model something.
One use that I've found for it is in modeling an enclosure for my electronics projects. If I can make models of the different boards and sensors, I can experiment with different layouts without ever cutting holes in a real enclosure. And with the advent of desktop 3D printing, you can even design a custom enclosure specific to your project and have it in your hands within a few hours!
It turns out that more and more of you are either doing this or are interested in doing it, so we decided to help out by providing 3D models for some of our products that we think need them most. Right now, we're a small team: Paul (Our Minister of Machinery), Nic (Graphic+Motion Design Extraordinaire) and myself. Nate (our fearless leader) sprung this idea on us a few weeks ago and since then we've been working on ways to approach it. We have a lot of questions: What file types are most universal? What software are people using? Are people using these for 3D printing or virtual prototyping? Can we get some help?
So we figured we'd just ask.
Of course, we need structured feedback, so here's the plan: We've set up a GitHub repository for 3D models. Check out the guidelines below and if you think you've got a model that we need then clone the repo, add it in and send us a pull request! As we go forward, every product that has a 3D model will get a special icon (like the OSHW or RoHS icons) as well as a link to the model.
The things that need models the most are the items that are likely to be mounted in some way: switches, breakout boards, LEDs, Liquid Crystal Displays, anything that pokes out of an enclosure. Pay special attention to the dimensions of mounting holes, headers and connectors (get out your calipers!) If you submit a model to the GitHub repository and we pull it in, we'll give you a shout-out in the readme file so people know you contributed!
The basic guidelines for submission are:
Also, before you start working on a new model, check the "bare components" folder in the repo. We're putting together some basic component models for generic ICs, capacitors, etc. which will help all of our models look uniform and also save us all a lot of time. If you end up having to model a component, send that to us too!
There are already a lot of you making 3D models of our boards (we've seen your work) and hopefully we can all help each other do less redundant work by pulling our resources into a shared repository. So what do you say, give us a hand?
In the comments, let us know if you're using a 3D modeling program to prototype and, if so, which one? Oh yeah, and if you've got a 3D printer we'd love to see your projects that incorporate 3D printed parts made from our stuff!
Update: It looks like a lot of you (and some of us) have vouched for 1000x as the new sizing standard! We'll re-scale the models that we've already made to keep the repository consistent. So if you want to submit a model to us now, make it 1000x life-size. We won't change this again, promise!