18 March 2016 / Last updated: 27 Jan 2017

Good, Better, Beast - #8

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After quite a long development process, the design of the Beast 2.0 system is finally worthy of a release. We’re looking to manufacture upwards of 100 units.
At the same time, we are reflecting on the nature of truly open-source hardware (OSHW) design and looking for the best possible way to share the mechanical design of the Beast with the wider community in a way that is open, inclusive and collaborative. In so doing, we’ve looked to the existing open design culture and community for accurate definitions and best-practice.
The Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA), provides a working definition for open source hardware, from which we’ve distilled a few basic principles. To paraphrase OSHWA, open source hardware should:
  • Be made publicly available to any- and everyone to study, modify, distribute, make, and sell the design or hardware.
  • Provide designs in their original design file formats, to facilitate modification.
  • Use readily-available components and materials, standard processes, open infrastructure, unrestricted content, and open-source design tools to maximize the ability of individuals to make and use hardware.
  • Give people the freedom to control their technology while sharing knowledge and encouraging commerce through the open exchange of designs.
These guiding principles promote an approach to hardware design that encourages collaboration and makes that collaboration practically feasible; and the latter is not to be taken lightly.
In the world of open design of mechanical hardware (and other forms too), an important consideration is the level at which design data is shared. For truly open hardware, the ideal would be to share all design data in the richest format possible, i.e. nothing is lost from the original designer’s work in the act of sharing. In terms of 3D CAD, collaboration of this kind has been hindered by the practicalities of existing CAD packages, the main problems being:
  • Non-compatibility of CAD file formats between software packages.
  • Lack of built-in parallel collaboration tools.
  • Prohibitive cost of industry-standard software
Free-to-use and open source software has done a lot to open 3D CAD to a wider audience but it doesn’t solve the core problem of collaboration in the face of compatibility issues and often lacks the capabilities of industry-level software packages.
Fortunately, the paradigm is changing. New players in 3D CAD software are making great progress in providing a solution that properly address the need for inclusive collaboration, and one really stands out…
Enter Onshape, an impressively powerful (and constantly improving) cloud-based 3D CAD tool that is totally free to use. Founded by Jon Hirschtick (the guy who founded SolidWorks), Onshape has been built from scratch, giving them full freedom to focus on the needs of today’s user without any legacy issues. Because it’s cloud-based it runs on any computer (or phone or tablet) with a suitable internet browser, and it can be regularly and seamlessly (and is) updated and improved, based on actual user behaviour and feedback. Plus, it has built-in support for collaboration, which is a huge step forward for a free package. We haven’t worked it all out yet and it’s by no means perfect, but at the rate they’re developing and improving it, there’s no doubt that they’re gonna make big waves. Whatever your experience level, Onshape is definitely worth a look.
Onshape doesn't solve the issue of file cross-compatibility. It is able to read in a wide variety of proprietary CAD formats, but only reproduces the geometry, not feature-level detail. Also, for the moment it doesn’t offer feature-recognition, but who knows what they’ll add in time.
What Onshape does offer is a powerful and well-presented 3D CAD workspace, with a permanently free to use version (not a trial) that has no restrictions on functionality. It supports remote collaboration between multiple users (each with configurable access rights) and it runs from your browser! What’s more, the paid version is subscription-based at $1200 per year, which is peanuts compared to current industry pricing models. Certain tools need to be purchased from the Onshape App Store, but we haven’t looked into that in any detail yet.
This tool is a great step towards hardware design that is inclusive and accessible to the wider population and supports collaboration that is practical and that many believe is the future. Simply put, we are really excited for what looks like the next-generation toolkit for hardware design.
We will be migrating the Beast design across to Onshape, re-cadding from scratch so that the design is shared in full detail.
Watch this space - we'll be sharing design files soonest.
Questions or feedback? You can find us on gitter.
Read the previous post.
by Team balenaThe global group of product builders that brings you balena

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