@Davy.Baker: I dabble with them all at work, but at home I prefer Sketchup with the third party .stl exporter added in.
Thanks for the great advice -- I must admit that I'm leaning toward SketchUp based on other things I've heard -- is there a website for the .STL exporter or do you get that from the SketchUp site also?
@Aeroengineer: At that point you might then start looking for a secondary package to back up the first one.
Oh joy! :-) All I want is a simple life ... initially I need a package that will allow me to capture things like gears (not just round ones -- ones with unusual shapes) ... maybe later I will move to a package that supports more "organic" shapes.
The trick is to find something cheap (free) that is easy to learn, reasonably sophisticated, and can drive my 3D printer (I still smile when I say/type "my 3D printer")
I dabble with them all at work, but at home I prefer Sketchup with the third party .stl exporter added in. Sketchup can NOT import .stl files though (or at least well ?) - for that I use NetFabb to slice, and/or rotate and/or scale donated .stl designs. This is more art than engineering though using Sketchup and NetFabb (compared with Solidworks (3D), Autocad (2D) and Inventor(3D)). Makerware (from Makerbot) is a great way to import multiple .stl's, and independently scale, rotate or move each, then export back out as a single .stl (or two different files if doing dualstrusion). This free package also exports to their proprietary editable format (.thing) and machine code .x3g (gcode choice no longer works), but don't let that stop you from trying it out ! (since it also saves out graphicly tweaked .stl's as another .stl) Best, Davy
One of the things that a lot of people do not know is that most mid level and above MCAD packages offer scripting. I know that both SolidWorks and CATIA offer VB scripting. I also know that both can be made extensible with custom programed interfaces that use their API's.
The reason most people do not do this is that for most shapes, it is much easier to use hot keys and a mouse. The other reason is that most mechanical parts will change in their lifetime. The GUI allows for fast modification of these parts.
This becomes readily apparent when you start to work with complex curvature. Most of these shapes are defined by higher order math, and it would be a nightmare to try and program that into a script. Even the programs do not always get it correct. I was helping a friend last night attempt to fix the leading edge of a wing model done in a MCAD program. Despite the inputs being correct, that particular MCAD package could not handle that shape.
Hence many companies will have two or three cad packages to be able to take care of issues like this. Each place that I have worked at has run no less than three MCAD packages. This is excluding modelers that are used for finite element programs.
As has been said below, each MCAD package will have its strengths and weaknesses. It is best to try a few and see which feels right. It will take a while to learn its limitations. At that point you might then start looking for a secondary package to back up the first one.
FreeCAD (From Germany) is also not too bad -- I have a friend from college that has done some really impressive stuff with Blender. The AutoCAD 123D online will allow one to have parts made, and shipped to you (Both Metal via CNC, and 3D Printer - Resin)
The Other Tesla David Blaza5 comments I find myself going to Kickstarter and Indiegogo on a regular basis these days because they have become real innovation marketplaces. As far as I'm concerned, this is where a lot of cool ...