Richard Nass

October 1, 2013

2 Min Read
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch, or Is There?

We are constantly reminded that you get what you pay for, and there's no such thing as a free lunch. (Any other cliches come to mind?) So, when I met recently with the folks from Allied Electronics, RS Components, and SpaceClaim (yes, the room was crowded), I had those two adages in mind as they presented their "free" CAD tool.

(Note that full-blown free tools are rare in the industry. Other vendors might offer a "pay as you go" or a limited version of a tool for free. But this tool comes from a different type of source -- a distributor rather than a tool developer.)

Interestingly, RS and Allied aren't new to the free tool game. A few years back, they came out with DesignSpark PCB, which is circuit-design software that can be used for schematic capture, PCB board design and layout, and generating manufacturing files. So, I shouldn't have been skeptical, but it's my nature.

On top of that, what did a pair of distributors know about creating design software? Well, that's where SpaceClaim comes in. They actually know a lot about the topic. SpaceClaim specializes in 3D modeling software, and the two distributors specialize in, what else, distributing products (and now software) to design engineers. Sounds like a great combination, and from early indicators, it's just that.

Dubbed DesignSpark Mechanical, the tool can produce detailed dimensioned worksheets, quickly make amendments and additions to a design, and employ intuitive gesture-based modeling. According to RS and Allied, DesignSpark Mechanical, which is available in multiple languages, overcomes two key barriers for designers. The first is obvious -- it's free. The second is its simplicity. It has a pretty short learning curve, as I found out after playing with it for a short time. Through a partnership with TraceParts, users gain access to millions of models from the company's online CAD portal.

Clearly, if you want to do complex designs and connect to other complex tools, this isn't the tool for you. But it's certainly worth a look. The price is right.

Speaking of cool and useful tools, have you checked out Design News Direct, the online directory of products and suppliers? Developed internally by the folks at Design News, the directory contains listings of more than 3,000 vendors in the design engineering community. It's filled with product information, whitepapers, videos, and so on. And it's all easily searchable. If you're in the sourcing stage of a design, check out Design News Direct.

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