@TonyTib I agree... one other tool that is more CAD-friendly is Rittal / ePlan's harness & connector design tool, ePlan3D. One nice thing about this tool is that it lets you calculate the equivalent length of straightened cables (nail board model) before you can shape it in 3D. It supports all major CAD tool formats.
Yup, that's fine for chips and such (which are pretty simple mechanically), but pretty useless for connectors (which I use a lot). Here's a model of a break out board I designed in Eagle PCB, and then did the 3D model in Alibre Design (now Geomagic Design Elements).
How easy is it to create an equivalent model in PCB software only?
BTW, I haven't got played with it yet, but my quick impression of RS Design Mech is that it should be pretty good for PCB modelling, but not competition for traditional MCAD (e.g. Solid Edge, Solid Works)
@TonyTib typically one has to define the package dimensions and store in the library for 3D visualization. At the bare minimum, one has to define the component height.
Regarding usable output formats like STEP or IGES, very few or none(?) do that at the moment. Cadence's Allegro does have 3D visualization of the board assembly but the current version does not export to the mentioned formats. STL is good for 3D printing (as are the other models) but not ideal for importing to CAD assemblies.
Where does the PCB software get its information for the 3D model? Also, can they output the 3D model is a useful file format (e.g. STEP, not just STL)?
At work, I design our PCS (which are pretty simple) in Eagle PCB, and then pass a DXF footprint over to the ME's, who use 3D models from the manufacturers (typically STEP or IGES) to model the board (occasionally they have to model a new part) This process works well for us; the ME's can model a board pretty quickly, and we don't do it that often.
MP, I am glad that you have enjoyed the articles, and yes I have seen that I have a few mechanical guys and gals following along. I really do appreciate the support. If there are topics that you would like me to write on, please let me know. I am always open to considering new things, or perhaps I may already have some experience in these areas.
As to the mention of KiCAD, I had not see that thread that you mentioned. Thanks for pointing it out. I look forward to seeing the promised blog posts. I have heard that KiCAD is planning on making a few upgrades. I had heard that they upgraded their 3D viewer and I hear that they will soon have a footprint generator. This was the biggest thing for me. I am not a fan of having to go and dig up something similar to make a new part. It is just a poor workflow.