“Open” tools for Open Hardware project and First design tests with FreeCAD

“Open” tools for Open Hardware project and First design tests with FreeCAD

While being an Open Hardware Project, RuggedPOD is heavily designed with expensive efficient prorietary softwares, including Solidworks, Flotherm, or Altium designer, which has been dropped to the benefit of upverter.

As a community willing to expand and accept any potential contributors, we believe that we shall promote the use of tools which are freely available to RuggedPOD project contributors. This is clearly not the case of Solidworks (except if you are a student), or Flotherm. There have been a lot of debates within the community or even OCP community in the past about the tools.

It happens that hardware engineers do not really like to talk with software engineers, and are in some way reluctant to change especially when we speak about there daily tools. The worst things we heard was that this was a lack of time to change tools to address community expansion concerns, and this will slow down development roadmap.

I strongly believe that this argument is false and useless, it even goes against community spirit, where we also have a need to collaborate with other communities, and to teach new generations how to properly design upcoming hardware. So I started to have a look to alternative software and open source version. Let’s start with EDA, in some way the business model of upverter is compliant with our needs, and there is no need to have alternate tools even if gEDA or KiCAD might be some good candidate. Upverter is not a perfect EDA tool, but it is good enough to design high speed PCIe board, route DDR4 memory, so what do we need more ? The engineering team behing it is providing tremendous support, so let’s help them. The strong advantage that upverter has is that it has been designed for community ! The disadvantage is that if some wrong happens to the company we will loose the access to the tool. Amber, does the OCP foundation could run his own upverter server ?

What about mechanical ? FreeCAD is probably the only one candidate. It is still under heavy development, but the community behind it is very proactive and responsive. The software still contains a lot of bugs, is mentionned as not being production ready, but we soon can draw crazy things with it, generate STEP file, and 2D drawing for production release. The assembly module is not installed as a standard feature, but if you know how to compile a tool, you can even rely on Calculix an Open Software FEM (Finite Element solver) tool. I have been able to recompile it on my MacbookAir, and run a few simulations which are pretty closed to what we see on RuggedPOD. The interface is smooth and uses heavily Inventor with Open Cascade as a 3D engine.

What about simulation ? FreeCAD include an ongoing FEM module based on Calculix for FEM. there are some debates to include an interface with OpenFOAM another Open Source simulation tools focused on CFD and thermal analysis.

Just looking at all these tools, I got the feeling that we are not that far away from being able to use them if as an Open Hardware community we are helping these software community by testing there tools, and providing them feedbacks. If these tools becomes more efficient we might be expanding our community, leverage the knowledge acquired to teach how to design hardware to new generation, and use real collaborative tools designed for our needs.

I have decided to become an active FreeCAD user, and we will probably see some RuggedPOD drawing coming up under FreeCAD within the next couple of months, depending on the speed at which we will be able to debug the tool. Is it a pain to use these tools ? Some days yes, but the human relationship you can have with there developer is the best reliever you might expect, and it doesn’t cost you a dollar of support contract, that the proprietary tools vendor do not forgot to ask you for new year. The other thing is that I am amazed by the speed at which these tools evolve.

I am starting to believe that we shall accept OCP contribution only through open standard easily accessible tools, the only way to expand.

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