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Professional level open source CAD/CAM system - FreeCAD Evaluation
  • Kostas wrote:

    I see there is now some active discussion on CAD/CAM so I would like to give you some hints about the status of FreeCAD:

    1. after my work on the sketcher mostly been finished, we can draw all parts of a 3D printer:

    2. jriegel (project founder/manager) is actively working on the assembly module, multidocument support:;a=shortlog;h=refs/heads/jriegel/dev-assembly after this step FreeCAD will be ready for real applications.

    3. Collaborative modelling, a revision system and an online parts library are further objectives of the project. e.g.

    4. Concerning CAM, some former HeeksCAD contributors have joined us recently, Daniel Falck is currently our CAM expert: Sebastian Kuzminsky from linuxcnc has also joined us recently:

    5. We have several dedicated testers and tutorial writers.

    6. In our forum you can find several OSE fans, e.g.

    It seems that the right persons are finally coming together to finish this extremely important task, create a professional level open source CAD/CAM system.

    I will be back contributing to FreeCAD again in approximately 6 months from now. My estimation is that within one year FreeCAD will be quite ready for production work.

    If you or any of your guys need further information you can find me on #freecad or #opensourceecology.

    See note on CAD/CAM Programmer in the Dream Team 16 Blog Post

    (Message found at this wiki page)

  • 26 Comments sorted by
  • Update:

  • Someone wrote:


    The basic problem statement is access to an open source CAD/CAM package that - outside of full parametric modeling - handles the generation of fab drawings, BOMs, exploded part diagrams - plus CAM for automating, specifically, all the GVCS fabrication machines as needed. 

    The closest is FreeCAD, afaik. That has zero CAM functionality.

    Then there's the problem statement of 3D viewing and online collaboration, but that is secondary to being able to generate these locally for agile team collaboration. The online part can come out directly from the local CAD. I state that online is secondary because the most potent development occurs in the agile development protocol for hardware: small teams of co-located designers/CAM/fab people who work locally on problems for which they are deep stakeholders. That is the case of Factor e Farm.

  • Analysis by Kevin Atkinson:

    >1. How much time do you have at present to develop the killer OS CAD/CAM solution?

    Depends. I'm currently considering what my next move will be. I just spent two years in New Zealand working at Weta Digital in the software department, and for the past 4 months I've been back in Canada taking a sabbatical of sorts to write some tools for computational design. I've just started looking for a new gig. But this is a project I could definitely throw myself into as a full-time gig, provided there was some kind of funding.

    >2. If we could get funding (we have the ears of powerful backers), can you move to factor e farm for at least some of the time and organize a development team to pull this off?

    For part of the time, certainly. For the CAM side of things in particular I would want to be on site. I have a wife, who might find the environs of Factor E Farm somewhat less commodious than she is accustomed to, or, alternatively, she might object to never seeing me. I'm sure a compromise can be sorted out.

    2.5. Yes, I will do this.

    >3. Are you one of the leading experts worldwide who understands this problem statement, and who knows the other players in the field?

    Dunno I'm a leading expert, but I stacked up well in the code department at Weta Digital, the world's leading visual effects house, which has some of the best programming talent in the world, and does world-class R&D.

    I don't think of it as a one-dimensional measure of expertise, but rather I fancy that I hit a certain sweet spot with respect to a variety of applicable expertises: software engineering (15 years professional experience), industrial automation, computer vision (I wrote a vision-based 3D tracking system used widely at Ford, which was nominated for the Henry Ford Technology Award), and robotics. Moreover, I'm philosophically on-board with OSE's goals and vision, and think I'm well-equipped to do advocacy in the developer community as well as software development.

    As far as knowing other players, a friend and colleague of mine wrote a parametric CAD system ( which was just acquired by Autodesk. He is a superb resource on all things CAD. I might be able to recruit him in an advisory role.

    What I don't have is the experience of a mechanical designer, who uses CAD tools all day every day. I think it would be crucial to have an actual designer on the team, someone with experience in a variety of mainstream CAD tools. It is essential to really nail workflow from the get go, if the tool is to have legs with the design community, and that can only come from a vocal and highly capable user doing actual design with the tool from the very beginning.

    When I was on the Mari team at Weta (Mari is the world's premier 3D paint tool, developed in-house at Weta, and now released as a commercial tool by the Foundry in the UK:, we were in the same building as the 50 texture artists who were our sole users at the time. There was an incredible synergy at work, with 4 super-bright, highly committed developers working on Mari features day by day, and getting constant daily feedback from some of the best artists in the world, who held us to the very highest standards, who always pushed for excellence, and endlessly compared us against some of the best software in existence: Photoshop, Illustrator, Maya and so on. It was an exhilarating experience, and one of the highlights of my professional career.

    >4. Are you a direct stakeholder in the outcomes of this work, ie, are you intereted in cam/cad within the framework of open source product development?

    I have personal passion for computational design and a growing obsession with digital fabrication. Creating an open source parametric CAD tool using OCC is a personal itch I have been longing to scratch for a good long time.

    >5. Are you interested in open enterprise being spawned from this platform?

    Absolutely. Isn't that the whole point?

    There may be an opportunity to create the "Linux of CAD." In other words, an open-source offering which is truly disruptive, ready for mission-critical applications, and the de facto standard in many important spaces. There is a troubling trend lately, where Autodesk has been acquiring every 3D vendor in existence -- i.e., it's well on it's way to being the Microsoft of 3D. This is an unfortunate situation, and ripe for challenge.

    A historical comparison: I think OCC is missing an end-user application in the way that the GNU project was missing a OS kernel. The GNU project was worthwhile, high-quality, but languishing in nerdy obscurity. And then Linus Torvalds wrote the Linux kernel. The rest is history. So I think we could be on the cusp of something similar -- once the critical missing piece is provided, everything else falls very quickly into place, and uptake is very rapid.

    And speaking of enterprise, here is a thought: part of Linux's success came from corporate sponsorship. I think there was a deep discomfort in the corporate world with Microsoft's monopoly, and when a robust open source alternative came along, corporate America jumped on it. I think open-source CAD may benefit from the same forces. There are many firms sick of shelling out literal millions for licenses to Autodesk. Despite my deep personal disillusionment with, and suspicion of, corporate America, and my earnest hope that it will be supplanted by something more sustainable and humane, I think there may be strategic potential to reap some benefit from these forces.

    CAD is too important to the enterprise, be it open or not, for one vendor to control.

    >6. How many man years of development do you estimate it would take to create a sufficient yet robust cad/cam solution for a wide array of cnc including robotics?

    There's a saying in my industry that "good software takes 10 years." But I think we could have something useful (as in, a viable GVCS design tool, and torch-table CAM frontend) in a few months, and feature-complete (as in, competitive with at least the low-end of mainstream CAD packages) in a year or two. I can also see the effort continuing for many years -- think Blender, Linux, etc.. The feature-richness and the spit-and-polish that you see in an open-source success story like Blender only comes from years of effort and the collaboration of many, many experts worldwide. But it was always a useful tool. And actually, Blender is at once an inspirational example and a cautionary tale: It's a famous open-source success story, of course, but they made very poor decisions about architecture and interface early on (the principle players had more enthusiasm than programming experience, I think) which really hobbled its uptake in mainstream 3D circles. (Thus my remarks above about getting workflow right from the start.) Had they done it right, Blender might be the dominant player in VFX, rather than being high quality but slightly fringey.

    So some kind of planned, phased development is appropriate -- always have a useful tool, but design to grow. I'll give more a more precise roadmap in my answer to 2.5

    When speaking of development schedules, my habit is to adapt the famous saying saying of Einstein: As fast as possible, but no faster. Hurried, flaky software is a net economic (and karmic) negative. On the other hand, a small, tight team of committed experts can sometimes do extraordinary things in a short time.

    I could write more, but I should probably wrap this up for now....



  • Mark Norton wrote:

    Concerning FreeCAD, it is an open software package that can be extended. There are provisions in the user interface to load and execute Python packages that have full access to the FreeCAD functionality and currently open data. This mechanism could be used to extend the existing functionality to include CAM file export.

  • Hosh wrote:

    gEDA Initiative

    This just dropped into my radar today:

    "One of the recent discussions was about the need for more open tools (and helping folks use them). Historically the open-source hardware movement has been tool agnostic, as long as you release your design files in the tools you made them with, along with documentation, schematics, etc – you’re set. However, the goal is to ultimately have an open export format as well as open tools."

    - Hosh
  • For those working on the software end of things, a few comments:

    (1) No single machine can produce all types of parts.  Each will have it's own capabilities and limits.  An ideal workshop would have a set of CNC machines with drivers on a controlling PC.  The drivers would feed back the capabilites of their respective machines, so that when you have a parts list with CAD files, the PC will know which machines can produce the part, and which you don't have the right machine to make it with.  If you are part of a community where other people have other machines, you could have everyone's capabilities on file, so when you attempt to produce an item, your PC feeds back a list something like:

    * Make part 1 on your Lathe A using X by Y round stock
    * Make part 2 on Multimachine B using ....
    * Send out part 3 to one of the following community shops: ....
    * etc.

    In industry terms, what this does is take the CAD design files and turn them into a set of work orders for the various machines, based on knowing what each machine can do.  Then when actually executing the production, once you have your Lathe loaded with the right raw stock, you hit "Make" or "Print" on the PC, and it commands the machine to execute the G-code or whatever CNC file it takes.

    So what I hope is the the people working on FreeCAD consider this type of operation, and either include a module to do the work orders and machine driving, or a separate program that can handle that task.

    (2) There are already international standards for exchanging manufacturing data, such as ISO 10303.  So rather than creating a new incompatible format from scratch, it is worth looking at those.  That way it would be possible to send off the files for a hard to make part to a commercial shop to make for you, while doing the others locally in your own shop.  Open is good, but compatible is also good.  At worst you could save to two different formats, but ideally you would like to have just one to program and maintain.
  • Any news? Some Blender guys are discussing CAD/CAM lately.
  • Hello folks. I'm a bloke from Norway who would love to contribute to this OpenSource Cad/Cam solution that you are proposing. 

    Some relevant experience:

    I work as an It-consultant, currently developing a GUI-control-library for a control system for large ships. I'm not an awesome developer.. but I have some years of experience ragning from writing engines for 2d-platform games in flash, software synthesizers to doing computer vision in 
     C++  with novel and computationally efficient algorithms written on realtime videostreems. I'we done well in university classes realted to graphics programming and development of graphical user interfaces .

    I have experience with 3d-modelling back from 1992 when I got hold of 3d-studio classic. In 1995 I modhelled and rendered the first virtual TV-sets ever used in Norwegian television, and in 1996 I modellede the first realtime animated virtual character used on Norwegian television. The same year I did a visualization of an offshore carbon capture and sequestration technology concept that was had been developed by a group of Norwegian scientists and engieneers at NTNU in collaboration with Norsk Hydro. In 2002 I learned Catia in school getting A on my Catia project... seriously the most awesome piece of software I have ever tried. I became quite proficient and produced some full detail assembley models for a startup company who had developed an closed offshore fishfarming concept called Ocean Globe shaped as a globe with a submersible rig that would pull the entire unit up and down. I did final element structural analysis of the central axis submersible unit. and later in cooperation with some classmates did a 3d-animated visualization DVD using Maya - describing the core featuers of the Ocean Globe concept.

    I hope there is some way I can be of help in such a project. I'we loong been wondering when a really good open source cad solution would appear, but still I haven't seen one. Maybe the open source ecology project has the ability to attract enough skilled people to finally pull this off. And I hope I can be of help in this.

    Best regards Jan-Erik Vinje
  • This is all awesome. I am currently a student studying Manufacturing Engineering w/ an Empahsis in CAD/CAM. Am a Dynamic person and would love to contribute my Ideas to this project. An open source CAD/CAM software would change the world in my opinion. It needs to have Cloud-Based support/collaboration at its core. This is the direction that everything is heading. If you look at what Google is doing with there Google documents. Gdocs makes it incredibaly easy to collaborate on documents. Imagine if this was at the core of an open source cad option where its available to the masses. 
  • About cloud.. I do agree.. but I think browsers and javascript isn't quite ready... You will still have trouble writing non trivial object oriented code in javascript... and I don't know of any object oriented framework building on javascript is commonly accepted yet...

    I think online gaming solutions where your non browser gaming app connects through the internet to other players could indicate a better approach in the short run.. but it should not have to rely on one central server park but be more of a peer to peer solutions where you hook up with a single peer or teams of peers around a project that can be spontaniously hosted on either the machine of a peer or on a simple webserver. That way one could create clients apps running on windows, mac or linux and you effectively have the same accessability as when going browser-app.
  • Jan-Erik: have you looked at FreeCAD? From what I understand, OSE wants to boost FreeCAD development.
  • Some things as a machinist I would like to reccomend for cad/cam software:

    1. Make the software able to use multiple processor cores this a big problem with current cad/cam software using outdated kernals ussually capable of only utilizing a single cpu core

    2.For makeing toolpaths for machining while is imortant to make as many aspects of editing the toolpath automated/simplified but have as many aspects munually editable as possible so the software can be used by a variety of skillsets and so if the program messes up you can fix it easily

    3. Make possible to change colors at any point for anything such as solids,surfaces, lines, arcs, points,lines representing tooolpaths and to chang colores for invividual parts of toopaths such as lifts, rapids, arcs, etc)

    4. Full machining simulation meaning testing for collision detection not just for the tool and tool holder but the entires machine and material holding tools.

    5. An easily editable speeds and feeds caltulator so machininst can use data collected from their own machin and tools

    Finally I feel it is very important that CAM software is made in very close collaberation with CNC Machinist as a manual machinist will not have knowledge of things such as High Speed Machining methods. I don't if this is already in the works or not but I wanted emphasiz it as a I feel it drastically prolonge the process or result in a horrible program if it doesn't happen.

    P.S. Is this also going to include CAE (computer aided engineering) i.e. simulation for CAD to make digital protyping possible?

  • If you want to help OSE by improving FreeCAD, take a look at

  • Beluga: Yeah I have tried it on a couple of occations. And not long ogo I downloaded the latest version. It is certainly ok, and as far as I know it is the best Open Source CAD tool available today. So maybe it is a good starting point for it to be the "Linux of CAD". But compared even to Autodesk Inventor wich is rather on the lower end of the commercial CAD-solutions out there for mechanical stuff it is far behind, and I havent used invetor since 2008. And compared to something like Catia wich I heard took hundreds of millions of dollars to develop it is way way behind. 

    I think it is a very good initiative to try to hire a small group of people to improve FreeCad through one year of intence work. But if we want it to be the Linux of CAD we have to have a longer horizon, we need to find another way to reqruit serious amounts of manpower, and I belive trying to get funding to pay for a small teams of developers is  going to produce a slower development than what is possible if we can reqruite people out of altruism, and historical purpose. I don't know the details of how Linux really took off but I assume that there at some point was a critical mass of people who joined the project because they really wanted to make this happen and it was a way they could help make a historic contribution and because of the pay.

  • ...and not because of the the pay. (a slip)

  • If you look at the Linux and free software world, projects are constantly being funded, by businesses and individuals. It's kind of like the emerging practice of fans paying recording artists directly, but the involvement of businesses gives a more powerful boost to the development. Open source projects that don't attract sponsoring companies progress much more slowly.

    FreeCAD could be lifted to a sufficiently advanced level with donations from private individuals, OSE money and similar and then it might grab the interest of businesses. Look at Blender: it took a while to mature, but now professionals everywhere are using it and investing back into the development.
  • The key I think is reaching a "critical mass"-point of quality of user interface and sufficient featuers and spreading the word around. Then it is more likely to be invested in by any actor either altruistic developers with a sence of history, or governments and bussiness who see the economic benefit of its development. Maybe a small team of payed developers can achieve that level in about a year. But its also possible that a small team of unpaid developers might achieve the same, and if some are getting payed it might be detrimental to bringing in contributions from the altruistic folks who will feal like suckers for doing for free what others get good money for.

  • Just for the record. I would be happy to contribute to this for free out of a sense of history and purpose. But in this brutal socio-economic system I could use money as much as anyone else and would experience some envy and motivation issues if other people get payed and not me for contributing in the same way to the project. I do however see the difference between leaving a day job behind and working full-time on this.. that would normally require some pay for normal people.  So if full time employees are required to get this started... well then find some money, hire and pay. I would be willing to give some of my limited discretionary spending money as donations to pay for salaries.

  • CADTools for Blender
    Currently only works with Blender 2.49b or a modified version, BlenderCADedition.
    The creator sends builds by email (Always write "CADtools - " at start of your email topic due to spam filter). He is working on the tools full time.
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    January 2013
    CADTools for Blender 2.65 coming soon with DXF support:
    2012 December:

    Weeks of massive testing and bugfixing were needed to bring the DXF
    importer to stable production level. With a big portion of luck I was
    able to solve plenty of import issues, e.g. non-destructive import of
    BLOCK-hierarchies, preservation of LAYER structure, proper import of
    ELLIPSEs for any orientation matrix.

    The new engine makes it possible to import DXF files of any largines and complexity with constant transfer rate
    which was since ever the most requested point by users. The 2.49b
    version is ready now. The 2.65 version will be ready in short (two

    (2013.01.02) be continued...

  • Hi,

    Where can I find the latest information regarding CAD/CAM software development relevant to OSE's needs/vision? Is it FreeCAD or something else that some people are developing? Are there any roadmaps or other plans around?

  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    February 2013
    To quote a FreeCAD dev: we need tons of developers to reach all that goals!
  • Vote Up0Vote Down
    February 2013

    I have thought about open source CAD, Building information modeling, virtual prototyping software. And now we formed team to develop such system based on “Blender” 3D modeling software. Now we have one developer. Now he is studying what is already done in Blender plugins field, FreeCAD. We focus on “Blender” because we feel it is more promising software than for instance FreeCAD or other open source CAD tools. 

    I look in to Blender from architect, designer point of view. It has amazing, professional UI, far better than many even proprietary software. Developers investigated possibilities to extend Blender. It's easy too.

    In April we are going to launch project on if we succeed we are going to hire more developers (now guy work as volunteer). We called our project DiGiDone 3D. Main goal is to aggregate everything what is already done, improve or create some new modules, and create user friendly system, capable of doing parametric models and other stuff needed by architects, designers, engineers. Integration with OpenPLM system.

    Short description:

    Our facebook page with fun intro video:

    I believe that for such kind of projects as Global Village Construction Set is essential to have open and powerful virtual prototyping system. It's firs steps for us, but we want join development of open virtual prototyping tools.
  • @ingglus: that's nice, as Cadtools for Blender is freemium and thus not completely open. I will market your Kickstarter campaign when it launches.
  • Thanks, Beluga, marketing help will be very important for us. Now we are preparing presentation material, video explaining how system should work etc. Nice and easy understandable presentation is important in Kickstarter. Will keep posting updates.
  • Agile Development is a good small team structure. However, how does the
    online collaboration work? There is another technique called distributed agile. Does this work by the online method too?

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