New Skills: Sketchup (CAD)

March 14, 2015

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.28.08 AM

Somehow, over the years of hammering away at programs like Photoshop, I’ve had sort of a mental block trying to learn even the most rudimentary CAD software.  Not too long ago Sketchup was a free program offered by Google, and I gave it a try…  and failed miserably.  Lately though, I decided it was something I really needed at the very least a basic understanding of.  So I tried again.

I fetched around the internet and found the official Sketchup training videos – here’s the first basic intro, here:

The next thing I decided after messing around with dumb objects that had no real purpose was that I should work on an actual part.  The dolly shown above was one that I’ve been wanting to draw, so, after chunking around with some not-so-actual parts, I decided to take a shot at an real design I’d been thinking about.  This is the universal-fit wheel assembly for the X-Y Easel.  That was the first step that made a real difference it learning this stuff.  Do something real.

As it turns out, it’s not such a steep learning curve after all.  It’s just, well, different.

Here’s the cool thing about a 3D modeling program.  You get to look all around it.  Here’s the bottom view:

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.28.48 AM

Once I got around the toolbar a bit I realized it’s a lot like building a real thing.  You need parts.  You can get parts from the online source, or you can make them yourself. Here’s the basic wheel mount, with the brake assembly:

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.29.54 AMThis is made up of a few “Components”, which are distinct parts that you can move in and out, much like a real assembly.  Unlike when you draw additional things on a model, components stay intact. The blue frame shows you the outline of the component, in this case the wheel brake idea I had:

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.30.10 AM

 

This is a spring that I found in the “Component Warehouse”, after trying in vain to draw one myself:Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.30.20 AM

 

After making some pretty rudimentary parts, with no curved edges or anything, I decided to try to figure out how to make curved edges and refine the shapes a bit.  The tutorials were OK, but when I just started Googling what I was trying to do I found some pretty helpful amateur tutorials.  Unlike the official videos, these are much more specific to one subject.

Here’s the wheel I made, using the actual dimensions from a Rollerblade wheel:

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.32.13 AM

And here’s how it fits into the assembly as a component:

 

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 9.30.31 AMSo using that, I now have real-life dimensions I know will work.  I can also see conflicts and problems before I start cutting stock – for instance, this slot for the brake spring mount is a problem if I don’t pay attention:

Screen shot 2015-03-14 at 10.02.14 AM

…and yes, of course you can move the light around and get a good look at things, just like real life.

Conclusions?  Well, first, it’s not such a big deal.  My biggest hurdle is to accept the fact that the tools aren’t the same as Photoshop.  I found it frustrating that my instincts and habits were so, well, just wrong, and I had to get over it.

Second, I’m coming to the realization that the program probably isn’t all that great.  It feels like one of those packages that tries to be simple, but in doing so is kludgy and does stuff you don’t expect or want.  It’s useful, but I suspect messing around with a more professional program like Solidworks or Autocad is ultimately going to be more satisfying – though a much steeper learning curve.

Probably the biggest hurdle is learning “the rules” – or, in other words, figuring out the behavior of the program.  What you can do, what it won’t let you do, especially since you’re moving things around in three dimensions.  I still haven’t figured out how to draw certain things on certain planes without having to rotate them after.  Really, that’s just a matter of practice and, as usual, digital hygiene.  Nothing new here, folks.

But, at the end of the day, is this a 3D model that I can use?  Most definitely yes.

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One Response to “New Skills: Sketchup (CAD)”


  1. […] don’t know what I’m talking about – I posted that on another blog.  Here, you can catch up here, if you […]


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