UPDATE (May 5, 2016): It’s now possible to import (custom) STEP models. It’s available in 1.3 which is in now in open beta. More info can be found here: Importing CAD 3D models.
UPDATE (January 11, 2016): We recently got the foundation of this feature working: STEP import! Importing your own models, sharing them with the community, forks for custom materials and a lot more will be released in the March update that is scheduled around March 20, 2016. We have written a blog post about our progress in this area and how the new feature will exactly work.
In Version 1.0 of Copper (current release) it’s not possible to import your own 3D models. Instead you will have to use the library that is provided by us through are cloud service. We have good reasons for this strategy and we want to outline the reason why we have decided to do it this way:
Copper is designed to be sharable. There are hundreds of boards out there. A lot of people are willing to share their layouts and schematics, but they very often do not share their BOM, 3D parts, and so on as this is not very easy to do. You have to sanitize your own documents, upload or archive them.
Copper saves all data in a single file that can be shared by posting it to a forum, board or blog or by sending it per eMail. Larger files like 3D models and images are hosted by our cloud service and is downloaded on demand. If you share your completed board with the community, it will see the board exactly as you have set it up, 3D models will be downloaded by Copper automatically.
If we would allow custom 3D models to be imported we would give up one of Coppers strength, and that is ease in file and data management. You would have to add the models in an archive, and we would have to add a lot of file management functionality to the application to find these missing models.
Another reason is file formats. Our 3D model library is created using specialized software that imports STEP-models, translates them to VRML 2, transforms this into a data format Copper needs to have for optimum render and application performance. This special software also let’s us unify materials and also acts as a photo studio which generates images of the 3D part of the same angle and light settings for nicely rendered preview images.
This process works well on our machines, but needs quite a complicated setup with FreeCAD involved and it’s nothing you would consider a solid product. It get’s the job done – for us, but it’s kind of a hassle.
3D parts are typically provided in Solidworks or STEP files. These are quite complicated file formats and its not easy to transform them into meshes that Copper needs. Our first attempts of importing them directly into our software had been promising, but it needs a lot more time to make sure it works most of the time. We also need to build a user interface that makes it easy to modify and unify materials for our customers.
Our current solution
At the moment we stick to what we have. A very comfortable solution that let’s you just add parts from a library and tools for us to create these models. If you cannot find a model in our part library, but have access to the STEP file of the part, just let us know. We’ll transform the model for you as fast as possible. The good thing is, that the more customers we have, the faster our library will grow and the less requests for missing parts will be necessary.
As we control the pipeline this way it will be much easier for us to create new features. If we have been missing anything, we will adjust the pipeline and rerun the whole library through the new process. We will not have to take care of all your own custom workflows and we think that will result in a more robust and solid product and user experience.
Our future solution
We love to hear your feedback on this topic. We are working on different way to solve this. Our favorite is, that you can import your models but they are uploaded to our cloud service for easy sharing and to ease your own file and data management. These parts will be connected to the Copper file. If anyone opens your Copper file Copper will download your private parts to make sure the recipient of your board will have all 3D parts available. You will be able to share a part with the community. But we will only release parts to our library if we have tested them before. We do not want hundreds of 0603 packages from hundred of different community members, as our mission is to ease the process. Sourcing the right 3D part would feel like a fail in this area.
Request a part
Just send your request with the STEP file to firstname.lastname@example.org and either attach the STEP model to the eMail (archived please) or send a download URL where we can download the part.
As our technology currently does not provide personal parts please make sure you have the right to make the part publicly available. We have official partnership with traceparts-online.net and 3dcontentcentral.com. If you download the STEP model from these webpages you should be fine. STEP models provided by the manufacturers (Digi-Key has lots of CAD models to download) can be transformed by us, too.