A moment with FreeCAD

It’s the one program that I always installed with any Linux distribution. Because of the word CAD and because I am a Civil Engineer (first and foremost). It’s really where my two passions collide, the opensource passion and engineering passion. It also has been the program I used very rarely.
Some insight is required for that last statement as it is a little regressive. My experience with doing professional work on Linux has always been a little shunted in the Linux world. I was a little slow in learning the methods and ways of doing work in Linux, often side tracked with exploring other passions (mainly coding and designing) and always arrived to the conclusion that doing real engineering related work was Windows related. All the programs I knew to use were Windows only. Autodesk AutoCAD, Revit and Robot. But after mastering those and using them, I still had the urge to see if it was possible in Linux.
The first real CAD work I done on Linux is with DraftSight, a CAD clone of AutoCAD classic. It was a good experience. Not nearly as productive as the AutoCAD but still it gets the job done. There are other alternatives to this, LibreCAD being on top of that list. However the workflow and the learning curve is higher, but I tinkered with it long enough to know that it is possible. But my drafting days are already over, drawing lines and curves been fun but the real deal is BIM software now. I don’t want to harness anymore knowledge in that area, I’m done for with it. That’s where Revit comes in and that’s where FreeCAD also comes in.

The CAD in FreeCAD had mislead me for a long time, as I always thought it to be an alternative drafting tool, and it is, to the extent that you can draft in Revit using model lines. The Draft Workbench is certainly capable of it in FreeCAD. But it is the parametric modelling that I am more interested in. Specifically, the Arch Workbench, that’s improving with every release. Another workbench of great interest is FEM workbench, which I haven’t explored at all, but I’m going out of my way to hope that this a Finite Element Analysis workbench. Structural analysis and design is really under developed in Linux, almost no where to be found, the only thing that I have come up with any hope is Code Aster and Salome. They didn’t run in my Arch box so I’m crossing my fingers in hope that FEM workbench is the savior.

My first attempt with FreeCAD, to learn it, was in FreeCAD version 0.14, in 2014. That is about 6 to 7 years since I started installing FreeCAD on my box! Not really fast at learning or even starting to learn then. But the reason I always installed the software is because I known it was impressive. Following through the arch tutorial found here, I made it all the way to drawing the roof. The software crashed when I deducted the volume from the walls and I was stuck.

Stuck I was for another year until now. Still following the same tutorial and without any unexpected crashes, I’m almost reaching the end of tutorial and ready to dive into more. A word of caution, I had to wing it in some occasions of the tutorial, had to do some research to get some things done. It is a really good tutorial, but it’s been the same for forever, has not been updated with the version releases. FreeCAD is now into version 0.15 and some few additions into the Arch Workbench has been mentioned but not explored.

My initial review of FreeCAD while doing this kind of work? Mixed really. The parametric features is a real bonus and trumps those of Revit (which doesn’t really advertise that it is parametric). However, there is much to be said about the controls and user interface of FreeCAD. Complexity of buildings adds to the overhead, making the program slow, editing controls can certainly be more fine tuned and user friendly. The outstanding feature of FreeCAD for me is something few people will care less about; the ease of work plane selection. Once I got hang of that, the modelling got really easier. Another avenue to explore is using Blender to make the model, which means, learning Blender (a work in progress, actually)

The general consensus in the opensource community is that if you think it could be better, you should make it better. Not something I think I’m capable of doing but I would give it a try. I would assume that FreeCAD is one of those programs with a lot of potential that has been left ignored in the Linux world. The fact that popular icon themes have not made a good looking icon for FreeCAD over these years points to that. Before I start to rant, I’ll stop right there.

FreeCAD and DraftSight, pretending to belong among other apps on my dock

The bottom line? FreeCAD is something definitely worth learning in the Linux world, if you are an Architect or an Engineer.


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