At long last, it appears that Blender will soon be able to perform proper CAD functions.
Blender is the well-known open source 3D modeling tool. Like most popular open source projects, Blender is a complex collection of functionality donated by contributors. Today you’ll find Blender is able to perform almost all types of 3D design, including sculpting, solid modeling, rendering, texturing, animations and much, much more. There’s so much function that it is actually quite challenging to get started in Blender.
But one feature that has consistently been missing from Blender’s array of capabilities is CAD functions. Specifically, these would be the ability to have parametric objects where dimensions and angles can be specified numerically; and secondly constraints, where objects and sketches are held to specific restrictions, such as “at the midpoint”, or “in parallel”.
Without these functions, making mechanical parts in Blender was challenging, particularly if you had to redo a part design if it didn’t fit. The difficulties were so great that many 3D printer operators looking for a design tool simply moved elsewhere to proper CAD tools that offered parametric and constraint-equipped tools such as SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk Fusion 360, FreeCAD and others.
But now things may change as it seems that Blender will very soon gain both parametric and constraint-based modeling capabilities.
The changes are not part of the Blender core software, however. Instead they will be provided by a separate add on called “CAD Sketcher”.
The addition of CAD Sketcher enables a number of new interface elements to the Blender screen that can be used to manipulate CAD-style designs.
The tools allow a designer to create a parametric, constrained sketch, which can then be extruded into a solid form. Changes to the parameters then dynamically adjust the solid model, just as you’d expect in a CAD system.
This video shows what you can do:
As you can see, CAD Sketcher is still in development, and there are bugs in the software. However, the code has been posted to GitHub so anyone with a Blender installation is able to download and try it out.
At this point Blender will not replace full CAD tools; there is vastly greater and more advanced function in commercial tools and even open source CAD tools. But realize that this is the very first release of CAD Sketcher, and it may grow in complexity in years to come.
My suspicion is that CAD Sketcher may enable many casual 3D modelers to create their own parts for 3D printing. The prospect of committing to, paying for and learning a commercial 3D modeling tool is certainly too much for many operators.
We may soon see many more makers producing their own 3D printed parts.