Open source / Open Standard CAD development?

Mark Arvidson sagacis at
Wed Apr 9 04:49:39 CEST 2008

On Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 7:52 PM, Mats Eriksson <datorfixarn at> wrote:

> First of all, thanks guys for interesting replies to my original post!

Thank you for posting.

> But the big difference between these image data and CAD data is that the
> specifications are open for the image data, but not for the CAD data. Please
> correct me if I am wrong.

Many of the specs are indeed published, if not "open".  STEP, DXF, DWF, STL
and some others are all published and usable.  Image processing had a huge
market to push toward openness and relatively standardized formats.  CAD
systems are just now gaining momentum.  The market is not moving very fast.
The industry is dominated by large companies, and much of the advancement is
coming from large customers.  The usefulness of precise CAD models is a much
smaller target than images.  Everybody takes pictures, and websites display
images all the time.  Even the 3D work that is out there now doesn't really
fit this bill, since it's not made up of precise solid or surface models.

I think before long computers will be powerful enough to use precise models
and calculations for common tasks, which will bring these standardization
issues forward.  Right now, Vista, OSX and Compiz use 3D and high-cost
computations just to move windows around and make funny noises.  Surely we
can harness some of this upcoming power to create stunningly complex,
interconnected precise to 128 decimal places to project onto a 1600x900
pixel space.  (Gee, that sounds like Marvin the Paranoid Android).

>  Since it's unlikely nor desirable that a single standard will emerge for
> > mechanical or schematic capture, we came up with the idea of putting out a
> > call to the open source community to develop tools to convert from from one
> > format to another.
> >
> > Some of this exists already, for example in Blender's ability to import
> > from a number of different file formats. But we would like to see a project
> > dedicated to creating a collection of tools to do this.
> >
> >  Could "CAx functionality" be built on top of Blender?

Yes and no.  Blender could be a front end.  You could (and some have tried
to) make a plugin for blender to modify models parametrically, which is a
start.  Unfortunately, this is adding on from the outside, so is very slow
and crude.

Conversion tools exist, although I don't know of many in the open source
space.  It seemingly would not be too hard to do, but those formats are
immensely different in the way they handle data.  Every CAD program reads a
wide variety of formats, just like Blender.  No company wants to lose a sale
over such a silly reason.

To answer the original question, I'd help with a project (I'm not signing up
to maintain ;-).   The task of a conversion utility would be something any
random developer could work on without any special knowledge.

--Mark Arvidson
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