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Jeff Rowe
Jeff Rowe
Jeffrey Rowe has more than 40 years of experience in all aspects of industrial design, mechanical engineering, and manufacturing. On the publishing side, he has written well over 1,000 articles for CAD, CAM, CAE, and other technical publications, as well as consulting in many capacities in the … More »

Geometric’s STL Workbench Released For Cloud-Based Onshape

July 14th, 2016 by Jeff Rowe

With all the fanfare that took place a couple years ago with the launch of cloud-based Onshape, we thought we’d weigh in with partner Geometric’s announcement of its STL Workshop.

Onshape is by no means the first cloud-based/mobile CAD application. It was and still is, however, a unique true cloud-based technology and not a desktop/cloud hybrid.

Onshape began with what was one of the best and worst kept secrets in the engineering software arena. Worst, because even early on, it was evident that the technology would be cloud based, even if virtually no details were disclosed. Best, because virtually no details were disclosed, and that just added to the anticipation for the official launch of Onshape.

One of the inherent advantages that Onshape has always had is the fact that it was created from scratch by a team used to creating things from scratch with no legacy baggage to overcome and work around. Of course, the development team has not done everything themselves, because Onshape includes software components from Siemens PLM (Parasolid; ironically the same modeling kernel used by SolidWorks) and D-Cubed. This component licensing has let the Onshape team focus its efforts on what it does best.

Geometric_STL_Workbench Reduced

Geometric’s STL Workbench for Onshape

Onshape touts itself as cloud-based CAD, but can alternatively be said to be server-based CAD (SBC). Again, this is not a brand new concept, but one of the big differentiators of Onshape is that it employs different servers for different functions. For example, design, simulation, and rendering are handled by different servers. This makes sense from a functional standpoint, as well as for server load balancing.

Because it is cloud/browser based, Onshape runs on a just about anything – Windows PC, Mac, Chromebook, Android, iPad, iPhone, etc. I’ve only tried Onshape on a PC and iPad, but the claim is indeed true – it works! Keep in mind, though, it absolutely requires an Internet connection to be used. If this is an issue, then Onshape may not be for you. On the other hand, Internet connectivity is practically ubiquitous, so for most users this will not be a concern.

Jumping ahead to this week, Geometric Americas announced the launch of STL Workbench, a powerful set of tools to assist a diverse set of requirements associated to creating and processing STL 3D meshes.

As widely used as STL meshes are for 3D printing, the tools needed to fix, modify, and analyze STL meshes have not really been available. STL Workbench, available for Onshape, attempts to resolve this issue.

STL Workbench provides tools to heal, offset, simplify, and hollow out meshes, providing support for fixing and modifying 3D meshes. To provide this toolset, Geometric collaborated with Polygonica, the mesh processing software toolkit provided by MachineWorks Ltd., a developer of CNC simulation and verification component software.

STL Workbench has automated functions for analyzing and processing STL files or meshes with features that include:

  • Healing – for analyzing and repairing holes in solids and for fixing self-intersections in defective polygon meshes where defects in 3D models can prevent parts from being manufactured, STL Workbench’s healing capabilities offer a way for manufacturers to overcome missing and overlapping polygons, which can be a barrier to further processing.
  • Offsetting – allows 3D solids to be offset either inward or outward. Solids may be offset by a specified distance in all directions, which is known as a spherical offset, or may be offset by another solid. The offset that STL Workbench performs is purely polygonal, meaning that there is no sampling involved and every polygon in the original geometry will be offset to produce an identical, but offset, polygon in the resulting geometry.
  • Simplification – STL Workbench can simplify the geometry of complex 3D models by reducing the polygon count to the required number of triangles while maintaining their shape and visual appearance.
  • Hollowing – hollows out the geometry of complex 3D models, in both inward and outward directions.

It is critical to ensure that users can create watertight meshes and modify meshes as required for successful 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM).

Geometric’s Swadhin Bhide said, “We are excited to bring STL Workbench for Onshape users, who can now view imported STL files and perform mesh repair/simplification operations for 3D printing. We will continue to add more features to prepare models for 3D printing. This marks our first step in bringing out additive manufacturing solutions for Onshape users”.

Onshape’s Joe Dunne said, “STL Workbench has delivered a very unique and beneficial product. Our users often receive STL models from many different sources. The reality is these STL files can often have many errors. Now our users have a tool that will allow them to fix these issues. As an Integrated Cloud App Onshape, users can access STL Workbench just like Onshape, any platform, any location. Just login and it’s there along with Onshape.”

STL Workbench is an integrated cloud application, and can be accessed from the Onshape App Store. Like Onshape, STL Workbench does not require any download or installation – it is available anytime you use Onshape. You can try it out with 10 parts for free. Monthly unlimited access is $30.

During its relatively short lifespan, Onshape has managed to convince an impressive and growing number of technology partners, including Geometric, that the cloud is an increasingly vital part of the future of engineering software/services.

Editor’s Note: Last month we spoke with a Geometric product manager at PTC’s Liveworx 2016 in Boston in a video interview.

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