Let’s get real. We all live in a 3D world. The chair you sit in has shape. It occupies space. It has dimensions in X, Y as well as Z. But as our cave-dwelling ancestors knew, describing something in 3D is not so easy. You have to have the means. Our ancestors used a cave wall to make their representations—a mostly flat surface. Today we have flat panel, high-resolution monitors. We can build fancy 3D models of our products that we can rotate and zoom. We can capture design intent right in our models so there is no confusion about what we want. We can even send our 3D model directly to a machine and have the physical product fall out at the other end in a final form (sounds like the Jetsons). But there are many things that can still be described in a 2D manner—and that’s good enough.
“Whoa! Wait! Good enough?!” Are red flags going up inside your head? “I can’t afford to settle for just good enough,” you might be thinking. Patience—read on.
Good enough is not necessarily a bad thing. Many times, it can mean something has not been overdone or overengineered. Perhaps the term “just right” is more comforting. In any case, when you are creating a product that you want to become profitable, you don’t want to put more into it than it needs. Yes, you want it to be high quality. But when was the last time you needed to add a dimension to seven or eight decimal places to something that you make? Even in aerospace, there are practical limits. Things get very expensive very quickly the tighter you hold your tolerances, which can eat into your profits. You are, after all, employed not to build the ultimate widget but to create a product that satisfies the customer’s needs at a cost that is somewhat below what your customer will pay for it.
Depending on the product you make, you may not need 3D. Sacrilege! No, not really. Think about it. If you are a box manufacturer, do you really need to model your flat box pattern in 3D? Or, if you are a label maker, how much value does 3D bring to the table for you? And how about schematics? Flow diagrams? Paper products? The list of products with less need for 3D than 2D goes on and on. So 2D has a place in the modern industrial toolbox. It plays an important part in what we do. 2D is not going to go away. You need 2D sketches to build your 3D models. And when you’re done building your 3D models, to get them made you have to be able to describe them in such a way that communicates the details of the design to anyone who is likely to need them.
So, you have your 3D model. Before you can send it out to be made, you need to create a drawing. People need to see the design. They need to check the drawing’s dimensional values. They need to understand the parts included in the design if they are to sign off on them. How do you do that? Traditionally, that has been the strength of the drawing. Different views of the part are shown in what is known as “orthographic projection.” In a nutshell, these are 2D (there’s that term again) representations of how the model looks from a given angle. Left, front and right sides are but a few examples. Others include section views, auxiliary views and detail views. For hundreds, even thousands of years, these representations have excelled at conveying design knowledge to workers and craftspeople the world over. They have been indispensable in the evolution of everything from the humble wheel to the International Space Station.
The bottom line is that we need 2D now just as much as we ever have. There’s no getting around that. There are all sorts of people who use 2D drawings. Small shops often can’t afford the latest in high-tech 3D modeling systems (the hardware, the software or the training). Laser etching and cutting uses 2D drawings extensively. Some defense contractors, for security reasons, will not even consider sending their 3D models out of their sight. Architectural firms still use blueprints (yes, on paper). AutoCAD is a very popular choice for a lot of this work. A lot of people are used to it, but even it’s not cheap. So, what can be done?
Dassault Systèmes has an interesting product that is very good at what it does. DraftSight is a free download with a lot going for it. The download takes only seconds and is available for Windows (32 and 64 bit), Apple and even Linux (Fedora and Ubuntu). With DraftSight, you can view or create any sort of 2D drawing, make changes, and print it out for whomever you wish. It reads and writes native AutoCAD as well as other formats. If you are already an AutoCAD user, the learning curve will be minimal. Why? Because DraftSight looks and feels a lot like AutoCAD so AutoCAD users can be up and running in no time. And it’s no weakling when it comes to capability either.
The interface will be very familiar to AutoCAD users. Below the screen is a command line from where you can type in the very same key commands as you would in AutoCAD. (If you don’t like the command line, you can use the icons that populate the sides and top of the screen.)
DraftSight uses Cartesian coordinates you know, X and Y. It can both create and use blocks of entities. Detailing your model is quick and painless.entities to make selection and editing easier. It has layer control that allows you to organize everything. There is a property manager that helps you edit all kinds of things like color, thickness, length and so on. DraftSight has all the object types you have come to expect: lines, circles, rectangles, ellipses, notes and even polylines.
And once you get onto the drawing, you’ve got everything you need to produce excellent drawings for production and documentation. Dimensions available include linear, radial, baseline and ordinate, and you even have tolerances and center marks. Snaps and grids are present, as are chamfers and fillets. You can even measure distance, area and coordinate data. DraftSight tables can be exported to Excel if you need to. And with DraftSight, you can edit the daylights out of things! You can move, copy, rotate, scale, stretch, trim and extend—you get the picture.
Of course, not everything is free. Yes, some things come at a price. (When you download the software, it says it’s just for a trial period. But if you activate it, the software will remain free.) If you want API access or automatic upgrades—or the tons of productivity and customization tools that DraftSight offers—you can upgrade to a Professional license for just $99 a year (no contract required). You can also buy it outright for $298.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, if you have a need for 2D drawings, DraftSight can fit the bill very nicely. To get more information or to download the software, you can visit the website: https://www.3ds.com/products-services/draftsight-cad-software/.
[All images other than the Egyptian drawing are courtesy of the author.]