I play in the higher end cad systems, but I have downloaded a while back Autodesk's 123D. Last I checked it was still free, and it had reasonable capabilities. There is one open source cad that I remember looking at a while back, but it was the worst cad experience I have ever had (CATIA has 100X better user interface, and that is saying a lot). There is also Sketch-up, but I do not have experience with that one. I think that there are some mesh based, open source modelers, that while they will not make a lot of friends in the MCAD world, they will do some very organic shapes. I hear that the DesignSpark group will be coming out with a 3D modeler here soon.
In the professional world, some of the mid end systems ($2-8k) would be Rhino, SolidWorks, and Solid Edge. There are a few others as well such as Keycreator, but all of these are rather expensive.
What types of shapes are you trying to design, and what is your end desire with the products? These will also help you to narrow down your selections.
@aeroengineer: What types of shapes are you trying to design, and what is your end desire with the products?
I can think of all sorts of smallish things that it would have been great to build for hobby projects in the past.
For the moment, did you see my blog Are We Losing the Secrets of the Masters? In thsi blog I mentioned an amazing book "Five Hundred and Seven Mechanical Movements" -- I'm thinking of starting off by replicating some of the gears used to implement these movements to play with them.
Sorry, I did not post any links, I just has a small break between projects at work. I did see your blog post that you mentioned, and for what it is worth, I also agree with you that many have lost some of the basic skills. I am not sure, though, if it is that there are less people with those skills, or if it is just that there are more people that are button pushers, and hence by percentage there are fewer that have those skills compared to the whole.
I had the opportunity to get my start doing aircraft restoration when I was 12. This helped pay my way through engineering school. As of about 5 years ago, I branched out and started to learn electronics, so I commend you for branching out to the mechanical side of things. There are a lot of fun things that can be done. I might end up starting a personal blog, I am not sure, but these are some of the things that I want to write about. The integration of electronics with mechanical hardware. I think that most consider it a bit of voodoo magic, but in reality it is no more challenging than designing the electronics. The biggest issue with the mechanical side of things is that tooling for production is rather expensive. It is a whole different though process, and hence the greatness of the expansion of 3D printers.
I think, though that Autodesk 123D will meet the immediate needs that you have. I found it rather intuitive for simple stuff, but I may not be a good benchmark for this.
@aeroengineer: I think, though that Autodesk 123D will meet the immediate needs that you have. I found it rather intuitive for simple stuff, but I may not be a good benchmark for this.
This does look interesting -- I'm going to be busy for the next few days, so I'll wait to see if anyone else has any input here, then I'll decide which package to play with and download it and install it and start preparing for the arrival of my 3D printer (I smile whenever I say that :-)
@aeroengineer: The book that you mentioned, is very similar to a set of books that I loved to check out from my high school library. They were called Ingenious Mechanisms for Designers and Inventors. I would spend hours going through those books.
It looks liek they have folks who love them and folks who hate them :-) Plus they are mega expensive ... but maybe after I've finished reading my "507 Mechanical Movements" I'll be earger to read more...
While blender is free and impressive in its ability to pull off some of the same features as bigger software by bigger companies, it isn't great for designing for 3d printing. CAD software would be better for this.
You can do it in blender, but measurement of items after their initial construction is done by eye. This is less than optimal.