Over the last few days, I’ve been looking for affordable (hopefully free) design software that I can continue to use for part design. I had a student version of Inventor who’s license was coming to an end. When I got this software I had a .edu email address that was still active. At the time, a .edu email address was required to get the software. Since I didn’t have one anymore, I began to look for other options that wouldn’t cost me $3000 to $6000+.
The first thing I looked at was FreeCAD. FreeCAD is an open source parametric modeling software that is based on the openCASCADE kernel. It is really nice software for open source solutions. That said, it currently lacks the ability to model assemblies of solid bodies. I do A LOT of this kind of modeling when I make woodworking projects. It helps me make sure all of my dimensions are correct before I start cutting parts and make sure that everything will fit. It also lacks the ability to export DXF drawings at the moment. So this would not suit my needs.
I then looked at Solid Works to see if I could qualify for some kind of discount. They do have student/educator intensives which bring the price down to less than $200, which is great. However, what I found really interesting was the veteran program. If you are a veteran and have your honorable discharge papers, you can get Solid Works for $20/year. That’s awesome! The only thing is I am not a veteran. My dad is, but the licence does not let my dad get it and me use it, so that was out.
I went through a bunch of other cad demos of mid priced solutions. The one I liked the best was Geomagic by 3D Systems (formerly Alibre). They produce an Inventor-Like program at a cost between $500 and $2000. Their solutions do allow both part and assembly modeling. The $500 solution is the personal edition. It would be fine, but the software is limited to 32 bits which makes the largest model usable at 2GB. The $1000 solution is the Design Elements. It is quite capable of doing what I need it to do. The only feature it doesn’t have that I would use is the import/export of native Inventor files. The $2000 solution does everything. I was going to go with the $1000 solution, UNTILL…
I went back to look at the Inventor free versions and found out that they now offer a 3 year license to students, teachers, and MENTORS. I am one of those as I mentor college students at work and church!!! YEAH!!! I can get free 3d CAD legally!!!!!