Google Sketchup is a 3D package that Google makes and distributes for free. Although I was skeptical of it’s usefullness at first, having tried it and given up on it in frustration, I recently gave it another shot. This time I gave it more of a chance and listened to some of the online tutorials available for it. Although I still don’t think it’s the correct tool for a professional engineer designing machinery on a day-to-day basis, for conceptual design it seems like a very good tool that is easy for a beginner to pick up.
As for how it “drives”, Sketchup has some similarities to AutoCAD when working in 3D. One doesn’t create parts and then assemble them (like ProE or Solidworks). Instead, one creates both assemblies and parts in the same workspace. Another interesting thing is the similarity in selection. If you select using a “crossing window” to the left, everything the window touches is selected. Dragging a section to the right produces a “selection window” that only selects what it totally encompassed by the window, similar to AutoCAD. Additionally, one can add the toolbars that are useful to one’s drafting style a la AutoCAD. If you’re looking for simply a free 2D version of Autocad, check out my review of Draftsight – it should be what you’re looking for.
If you’re used to using a “professional” solid modeling package like ProE or Solidworks, you might find the “sticky geometry” a bit confusing at first. When you extrude what you think is a part, it can be seemingly arbitrarily combined with another object. The very good video tutorials should help explain some of this, especially the section on “components”. Once you have this down, things may start to make more sense as they behave more like the components that you’re probably used to.
Also, the “follow me” tool is what Sketchup calls “revolve” in ProE (maybe other packages as well). It can also be used to do sweeps, which is pretty nice.
If you want a stock component, like the ipod shown above, there is a really good import function using Google’s “3D warehouse.” If you need something, you simply search for it, Google finds it, and the model can be imported directly into Sketchup. This is one area where Sketchup seems to be better than “professional” packages (at least what I’ve seen), as importing drawings of stock parts into a model is generally a pain.
If you’re not a professional that uses another package regularly, or haven’t used one at all, Sketchup may be a very good tool for expressing your ideas to someone else. To be fair, I’ve looked at this package from a mechanical design perspective, but it seems slightly more geared toward architectural designers. If you are a professional and would like something to sketch up (hence the name) your ideas to be refined later, or if you’d like something free to use at home, this may be for you.
There is a “pro” version for $495, which offers some extra functionality. Probably not for everyone, but it’s a very reasonable price compared to what other similar packages go for. Download the free or pro version here for PC or MAC.
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