May 31, 2016 | By Benedict

Onshape, the collaborative, cloud-based 3D CAD system, has released FeatureScript, a new open programming language that lets users create and modify parametric features. The language can be used to create 3D printing-specific functions, such as internal geometry modifiers.

For designers who need to collaborate remotely, Onshape is proving to be something of a CAD revelation. Since the commercial release of the service in December 2015, which followed 9 months and 400,000 hours of hardcore Beta testing, users have been able to collaboratively design 3D models in real time via the cloud, using tablets, smartphones, and computers.

Thanks to its entirely cloud-based service and commitment to ease of use, Onshape has opened up a whole new world of possibilities for long-distance design partners, school projects and international businesses. It even offers users a completely free version of its CAD service, giving beginners and inquisitive users a chance to play with the game-changing 3D design platform before potentially upgrading to a fuller package.

Not content to sit back and receive the plaudits for its creation, Onshape has today announced a new feature for its service that could add a whole new dimension to the Onshape user experience. That feature is FeatureScript, an open programming language which can be used to create and modify the parametric “features” of the software.

“For 30 years, feature-based modeling has relied on a limited set of off-the-shelf features,” said Onshape founder Jon Hirschtick. “With FeatureScript, we are ushering in a new era of custom parametrics. Our early adopters have proven that with the ability to use custom features that they write or have others write for them, they’re able to significantly speed up their design process.”

In Onshape, parametric features are design functions which allow the user to change elements of a 3D model by specifying certain parameters — dimensions, geometric rules, relationships with other elements of the design, and so forth. Examples include the “Extrude” feature, which adds depth to a selected region by a specified amount, and the “Fillet” feature, which rounds sharp edges.

The introduction of FeatureScript allows user to literally rewrite the rulebook on how features within Onshape behave. And what’s more, since existing Onshape features were themselves written in FeatureScript, users can even copy, modify, and transplant the original feature scripts written by the Onshape developers. This gives an extra level of insight into how the language behaves, enabling even entry-level programmers to sink their teeth into the juicy internal organs of the software.

“This is the first time that a professional CAD system has made the implementation of its parametric features open and extensible,” said Ilya Baran, Director of FeatureScript at Onshape. “In the past, the only way to change your feature toolbar would be to submit an enhancement request to your CAD vendor and wait forever. And most of those requests are never fulfilled. FeatureScript swings the pendulum back and puts you in control.”

Using the new “Feature Studio”, users can create new features within Onshape, which can then be implemented directly into the features toolbar. “In traditional desktop-installed CAD systems, it is possible to write add-on or macro features, but they are never as good as the built-in ones,” Baran said. “FeatureScript offers the first opportunity to create features that are first-class citizens—as much a part of the system as the ones the development team wrote themselves.”

Additionally, and in what could be seen as exciting news for up-and-coming developers, creating and distributing new Onshape features is basically a free-for-all: users can share their custom-made features online through a dedicated platform, or even sell them for profit. “Customers who develop new features in FeatureScript are free to do with them as they please,” said Hirschtick. “Some may wish to sell them or share them with the community. Others might choose to keep their FeatureScript features proprietary as a competitive advantage.”

So what might one do with FeatureScript to enhance the CAD experience? According to Onshape, the key is customization: all designers have different ways of building 3D models and, indeed, different models to build. Therefore, if one user regularly needs to create riveted tubular sections protruding from a certain region, they can write a new feature for doing so. If another user regularly needs to import data from a CSV file, they can write a feature which inputs that data automatically.

Other possible uses for FeatureScript include:

  • Creating new features that perform customized geometric modeling tasks
  • Customizing existing features to suit user preferences
  • Combining existing features into one
  • Building specialized patterns with unique per-instance behavior
  • Filling in current gaps in CAD functionality

A handful of users have already had a chance to use FeatureScript for their own specialist design purposes, some of which include additive manufacturing. Mitch Free, CEO of CloudDDM, is using the new language to improve the industrial-use 3D printed parts, molds, and prototypes made by his company. CloudDDM developed a feature called “Hex Infill”, which fills a solid object with a hollow hexagon pattern, enabling Free and his team to use less 3D printing material while maintaining the strength of a given part. The feature can be applied to 3D design instantaneously.

“I think FeatureScript will help us create unique tools to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the 3D printing space and give more options to our customers,” Free said. “Sometimes it’s reduced cost, sometimes it’s reduced weight or reduced running time with the machines. Being able to customize features will allow us to get more utilization out of our equipment because we can print parts faster. I think we could get 30-40 percent more utilization.”

Although Onshape’s new FeatureScript programming language does have its limits—users cannot, for example, write code which interacts with external online parties (Onshape’s security is too stringent for that) or generate drawings—the introduction of an open programming language certainly takes the CAD service to a new level of customization and detail. For that reason, Onshape’s stock can only rise.

 

 

Posted in 3D Software

 

 

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