When I started the FarmBot project over three years ago, I began designing the FarmBot hardware using the 3D CAD software that I was trained to use: SolidWorks. While SolidWorks is an industry standard tool and a very powerful piece of software, it unfortunately requires a multi-thousand dollar license to use, and it only works on Windows. This means that most people cannot afford to use SolidWorks, which means they can never access the source files of FarmBot’s hardware design. So while I did publish the source files online for the first ten versions of FarmBot Genesis (v0.1 thru v1.0), these files were effectively inaccessible and useless to the vast majority of people. I got around that for a long time by also exporting the files to other formats (.STL, .IGES, .STEP, etc) for use with other free and low-cost CAD systems, but that was only ever a half-good solution at best because the conversion process is like compiling in software – it renders the files mostly useless to inspection and modification.
The main reason I continued to use SolidWorks for so long was because there were no free parametric 3D CAD systems available that were also robust and powerful. Additionally, I was the only one materially contributing to the hardware design, and so it didn’t make sense for me to compromise my workflow for contributors that didn’t exist. But then along came Onshape. Onshape is actually created by some of the founders of SolidWorks, but it is fundamentally different from the software to the business model behind it. Onshape is the first fully cloud-based parametric 3D CAD system that is not only powerful, but also free to use for non-professionals, and cross-platform because it works in the web browser and has top-notch mobile apps. They have a business model similar to GitHub’s – free for public documents, paid-for if you want a lot of private documents. Because Onshape is cloud-based, it also provides some interesting collaborative features such as multi-person document editing in real-time (like Google docs), and the ability to fork and merge designs. I really believe that Onshape is the future of CAD, and that it is the tool of choice for any open-source hardware project because it is free, powerful, and cross-platform.
So when we added a second hardware engineer to our team a few months ago, the time was right for us to bite the bullet and switch from SolidWorks to Onshape. This required a time-intensive process of rebuilding all of the FarmBot components and assemblies in Onshape while also making changes to the design to go from v1.0 to v1.1. Additionally, we’re now offering 2D drawings of every component, as well as alternate versions of some components for different manufacturing techniques (3D printing vs injection molding, and flat metal plates vs bent metal plates). All of this is available today in our FarmBot Genesis workspace – check it out! Note: that link will open up a read-only version of the CAD models. If you would like to copy and modify the designs you will need to create a free account with Onshape.
Cheers to the next chapter of open-source hardware!