One month passes bloody fast, doesn't it? So here we are again, for one more report about what I've been coding this month in FreeCAD. Looking at the text below (I'm writing this intro after I wrote the contents) I think we actually have an interesting set of new features.
None of this open-source BIM journey would be possible without the help of everybody who contributes to my Patreon or Liberapay campaigns, and therefore allow me to spend a good amount of working hours per month on FreeCAD. Thanks a million to all of you, it is really making a difference for FreeCAD, we're well on our way to a good, open-source BIM application.
The house illustrated in this post is a famous house built by architect Vilanova Artigas in São Paulo and was modelled by Wilson Melo.
So let's have a look at this month's features, but first, here goes our monthly video:
In FreeCAD, like in most other BIM applications, many 3D objects are based on 2D objects: Walls are based on a line, columns and beams on a 2D profile, etc. In most cases, you are not forced to draw that 2D object yourself: You can draw a wall directly in the 3D view, or you can place a structural component by selecting a preset profile from a list. However, all these objects can also be made from a custom 2D object that you draw yourself. There are many ways to do that in FreeCAD, this video will give you a quick overview of the available options.
As announced last month, we are reaching the first goal I have defined on Patreon, which is, a place where we can discuss BIM ideas and features to be implemented in FreeCAD, and you guys can vote for them, and I would do my best to implement the most voted ones. I had a look at the different (open-source and not) solutions available to do that efficiently, but unfortunately the results of this search are not very good. Most "feature voting" applications are very old and unmaintained, or require a heavy web infrastructure to be put in place, and you will certainly agree that our time should be spent better than in maintaining heavy web infrastructures just for that purpose...
So I thought, why not simply use the Github issues system? It is possible to vote there, submit new ideas, etc. Most open-source projects hosted on Github use it. It might not be the ideal (given the fact that Github is now owned by Microsoft, etc..) but at least it's easy to use, anybody can add new ideas, vote for existing issues (give it a "thumbs up", etc.
I am starting to put some ideas on the BIM workbench Github page, have a look there under the "issues" tab, I'll add more in the coming weeks. Don't hesitate to add your own ideas there, or comment as much as you like on the existing ones.
I discovered a small but bright IFC trick recently that might not be "proper" IFC behaviour, but that is definitely improving our FreeCAD workflow a lot: Groups, in IFC, are handled by an object called IfcGroup. However, groups are not really part of the standard way to use IFC, which is to use spatial structures (Buildings, Storeys, Spaces, etc..). As far as I could see, they are just offered as an additional way to create relationships between objects, if anyone really wants to. You will rarely see an IFC file that contains groups. Revit and ArchiCAD, although both offer the functionality, don't use groups much.
In FreeCAD, however, groups are a very important feature. All the objects of your model are appearing in the tree view, so it is very important to organize them. Grouping is an extremely powerful way to organize your model, and, unlike other methods such as using storeys or layers, it is completely free from any "meaning". You, the user, decide how you want to organize your model. Will you group all your walls under a "Walls" group? will you make sub-groups for different types of walls? Will you not use the materials system at all, and instead group all your objects by material? The model is yours, the choice is yours. Also, every project is different, it makes little sense to force users into one kind of arrangement. An office tower model should definitely not be organized the same way as a house.
In FreeCAD, you can mix everything together: Have groups inside levels (which are now handled by the BuildingPart object), levels inside groups, groups of buildings, anything your wild imagination (or very concrete requirements) dictates. But this was all lost when exporting to IFC.
Now I discovered that IfcGroups are actually derived from the same base entity as other IFC grouping features such as Storeys or Buildings, and, as such, they share some functionality. More important, it is possible to stack groups as part of these other entity types.
So from now on, you can export your wild model structure to IFC, re-import it, it will come back exactly as it was. Most of our BIM competing applications might still not be able to cope with such a complex model structure, poor them, but hopefully they will do their homework at some point.
Forgive me for the quite exaggerated last sentence, but I couldn't resist
Another IFC feature I've implemented in the last month, is support for IfcElementAssembly, which is the standard IFC way to define an element made of several other building elements. For example a truss system, or a bathroom unit. It is a bit like grouping, with the difference that the assembly is not just a group but a real, physical, manipulable object.
In FreeCAD, any BIM object can be an assembly of any kind of geometry or other BIM objects. You just need to add them to its "Additions" property. However, until now, if the host object was a wall, it will be exported as a wall.
Now, if you change the Ifc Role of any BIM object to Element Assembly, it will be exported as such. But even better, BuildingParts will also be exported as IfcElementAssembly when its Ifc Role is set as such. And it is much easier to add objects to a BuildingPart, as you can drag/drop objects into it in the tree view, and is a much more "intuitive" way to construct an assembly.
When importing an IFC file containing IfcElementAssembly entities, they will be rendered as a BuildingPart, so all their components will be available and manipulable.
On our way to a full roundtrippable IFC <-> FreeCAD workflow!
Finally we now have preliminary support for quantities. I say preliminary, although it works well already, because I'm still not sure about the future direction of this.
Basically, the IFC format supports defining objects by quantities. Together with the geometry of an object, for example a wall, you can also attach quantities to it, for example a height value of 3 meters, or a thickness value of 20 cm. This is all arbitrary, you can decide yourself what name you will give to these quantities (it it "thickness" or "width"? "largeur" maybe? or "??"?) and, even more problematic, you can make them lie (the "thickness" value you give is not the same thickness as the geometry you provide).
So it is complicated to trust these values. However, the point is not there. The idea is that an application that doesn't have geometry support, for example a spreadsheet application, would be able to open an IFC file and build a list of quantities of all the elements in the file, without the need to have very complex geometry tools to extract that information from the geometry.
The idea is brilliant of course. Imagine "opening" your IFC model in Excel?
So here is how it works in FreeCAD now. The IFC Elements Manager (sorry, the documentation is not there yet at the time of writing, will work on it in the coming days) of the BIM workbench now has gained a new tab that shows available quantities for BIM objects. So far, I only considered objects that had standard, universally recognizable quantities such as width or length. This will be developed further along the way.
For any of them, you can now mark if you want those quantities to be exported to IFC. That screen will also show a warning sign when such a value is zero, which probably indicate a problem somewhere that you should look at before exporting.
These quantities are then exported to IFC and attached to the corresponding object. When reading back an IFC file, the quantities are not read, as we prefer to get them from the geometry, which is more trustworthy. In the future, we could think of comparing what the geometry says with the given quantities (FreeCAD as a lie detector for IFC files?), but I can't think of much use for that.
I had been busy with this for some time, and it's finally ready. The old start page, which appeared when you opened FreeCAD, was something a bit clumsy and not very usable nor interesting. Now we have something that is much more useful, both for newcomers and experienced users. There are three tabs, one for your files, one for documentation, and one to have a quick peek at the recent activity in the FreeCAD world (latest changes to the source code and latest posts on the forum), which is a feature many users liked in the previous version.
All of this is customizable, translatable and themable, and you can even replace the start page by any HTML file of your own. That can be useful for example in companies or schools so they can display additional content.
There is also a "notes" area, that you can enable in the Start preferences, where you can write text that is saved across FreeCAD sessions. This could be useful as a kind of "FreeCAD to-do list".
There are still some small hiccups depending on the platform, but we'll address them on the way. Don't be scared about the colors in the images above, I adapted the start page colors to my desktop theme (you can do that in Edit->Preferences->Start), but by default it looks like this:
This was not done by me but by FreeCAD user AR795, with the help of many others, bu have you seen the gorgeous new FreeCAD website? Next we'll adapt the rest of the FreeCAD web universe (wiki, etc..) to the same aspect.
Until now, the BIM workbench featured, among its 3D tools, the standard Part Box tool. Using boxes is very practical in BIM, more than half of the geometry we create is usually made of these rectangular shapes, and the Part Box is a very simple and versatile tool that has 101 utilities. The way it is created, however, is often annoying: A 10mm x 10mm x 10mm box appears at the origin point when pressing the button, which requires several additional operations to move it to the correct location and set its length, width and height dimensions. Most of the time I was using a Draft Rectangle that I then extruded, which was faster.
Now I rescued an existing macro and turned it into a full new BIM Box command (sorry, no doc yet) command, that still creates a Part Box, but graphically in the 3D view. You give two points to define the base line (length), a third point to define the width, and a fourth to define the height. You can also enter length, width and height manually in the Task panel, but you still need to click the two first points to define the position and orientation of your box.
These boxes can be used as walls (just press the wall button with one selected), beams, columns or any other BIM object, or as a subtraction to any of them (select the box, CTRL+ select the host object, press the Remove button).
The Section Plane tool has also gained a series of improvements. First, when you create one, if you have objects selected, for example a building, the section plane will automatically be placed at the center point of the building and resized to encompass it.
Then, by double-clicking the section plane to enter its edit mode, you now have several controls to flip it in other directions and resize it to fit. So it is now much easier and faster to create multiple views and sections.
With Wandererfan, we are working on having proper support for Section Planes in TechDraw, which is the FreeCAD workbench used to produce ready-to-print sheets. At the moment, you must still use the TechDraw ArchView tool, which is the only one that supports Section Planes. However, that tool has many limitations, because it produces its view through SVG, and therefore looses many of the TechDraw features such as the ability to add hatches and dimensions.
But while proper support is not ready, I already experimented with caching. The contents of the TechDraw ArchView is now cached, and only recalculated if the objects seen by the section plane change. So you can now move, rescale, change thicknesses, etc... of ArchViews without redoing the heavyweight calculations, which makes it much faster.
This seems to work pretty well, so that might be a good idea to implement further in TechDraw later on.
Finally, I built this little macro the other day that builds a whole Site object out of a series of contour lines, that you can for example import from a DXF file. Your contour lines can be organized in any way you want, grouped in different layers, and don't need to be connected into wires (they can be a series of simple lines). The macro solves it all.
Internally, it breaks everything into separate edges, re-joins everything into wires, turns the wires into b-splines, sorts them by elevation, then builds ruled surfaces between the contours, then builds a shell object out of the surfaces. Finally, that shell is used as the Terrain property of a site.
There will be many situations where it won't work correctly (for example the sorting by elevation will produce wrong results if there is more than one contour with a certain elevation), which we can adjust later on, until it is good enough to become a real FreeCAD tool.
But the results are quite good already, and of a much better quality than the point cloud-based method I used some time ago. Plus, it is easily editable by editing the b-splines.
That's it for this month, see you in September!
This is the monthly development post about the development of BIM functionalities of FreeCAD. This month we won't have a video here, because there is quite a lot of stuff to show already, but next month I'll resume making videos, and I'll try to begin to show real projects in them too (not sure how doable that is, as it might easily make videos pretty long, but we'll try).
As usual, thanks a million to everybody who makes all this journey possible by supporting me on Patreon or Liberapay. As you might have heard if you are using Liberapay, they currently have problems with their payment provider, and operations are suspended there at the moment. Many of you who are using Liberapay opted to empty their online wallet by distributing their remaining money between the projects you sponsor, so I got quite an unusual amount of money this month (around 700 EUR). I am keeping this money intact for now, maybe there would be something cool to do with it, I don't know yet.
As I wrote here last month, by combining what I earn on Patreon (about 700 USD/month) and Liberapay (around 90 USD/month), we are hitting the first goal I had set on Patreon (750 USD), which is to set a site, or forum, where you guys can propose and vote for ideas to be implemented and I would try my best to make them come true. I lacked time to organise this, so it will be for next month. But it's definitely coming!
The project illustrated in this post is by OpeningDesign
So on with the stuff I did this month. Basically not much fancy graphical stuff, bu heavy work on the IFC side of things:
Last month I starrted with this by implementing support for property sets in FreeCAD. Property sets are a feature of the IFC format, where properties of an objects can be grouped into sets. As you can add any number or type of custom properties to any IFC object, you can also group them into custom sets. But the IFC format also provides standard sets, for example walls have a Pset_Wall_Common property set, that contains usual wall properties such as "IsExternal" or "IsLoadBearing". IFC Property sets are now fully supported when importing an IFC file in FreeCAD, and when exporting a FreeCAD model to IFC.
The other big feature I had been working on last month, the new BuildingPart object, which is made to replace the current Building and Floor objects with something more robust and versatile, is now also supported by the IFC importer and exporter. Depending on the IFC role that you give to your BuildingPart object, being Building or Building Storey, it will behave that way in the IFC file.
As important as the support for it in IFC, is the ability to easily edit, add and remove properties to/from your BIM objects in FreeCAD. So in the BIM workbench, we now have a full property manager tool. That tool can be launched directly from the BIM Elements Manager in the "Manage" toolbar or menu of the BIM workbench, or directly from inside the Edit Mode panel of BIM/Arch objects. If the BIM workbench is not installed, that option is not available.
I'm not a big fan of that, "plugins" that spread out new functionality inside existing tools, I find that confusing and hard to discover, so the idea is not to go that way, and keep things clear between Arch and BIM workbenches and not begin to mix stuff between the two. But at the moment I'm still experimenting with all this, trying to find where it fits best, so consider these "intrusions" of the BIM workbench inside existing Arch tools just an experiment to see how it works best. If it consolidates into some "ground" functionality, it will go to Arch. If it's just an additional layer of UI work, it will stay in BIM.
The general idea is that you might want to use the Arch tools sporadically but you work mainly with other FreeCAD workbenches. Then you don't want to be bothered with BIM stuff. Or you are using FreeCAD mainly for BIM, then you want the full-fledged BIM workbench.
We already had several Axis tools in Arch/BIM, that can already cater reasonably well for your axes/alignment needs. However, they weren't very compatible with the way these work in IFC, where each axis is an independent object, grouped under an IfcGrid object that defines which ones are in the X, Y and Z directions. The IFC importer and exporters of FreeCAD now support all this transparently. In FreeCAD, axes can now be only one axis, so IFC grids can be imported as they are (several independent axes inside one grid/axes system), and on export, FreeCAD systems made of several axes will simply be decomposed into their individual axes.
This is not a very good title for this feature, but it sounded powerful Basically this is something that Revit does, that is fully supported by the IFC format. When you have two objects that share, for example, a same point (0,0,0) or a same colour, or a same property (Height = 3m), this information is stored only one in the IFC file, and used everywhere it is needed. This results in drastic file size reduction (30 or 40% everywhere I tested) because in IFC there are a LOT of those simple, basic pieces of information, but makes the file more annoying to read by human eyes, because if you are reading about an object at line 3500, you might need to scroll all the way up to line 15 to know the position of the object, and then half-way back at line 1500 to know its colour.
So this feature is now enabled by default, because in most cases you will want that compression, but can be unchecked in IFC preferences if you need a more human-readable file.
Not every IFC information can be compressed/reused that way at the moment, I just implemented some of the most common ones, but the list is easy to extend.
This is coming from an old dicussion we had with Ryan Schultz and Jon Mirtschin, about how to store and retrieve parametric profiles in IFC. The idea is that several objects can be based on a same profile, a very simple way to convey some "model intelligence" inside an IFC file. You modify the profile, all objects based on it change.
It turns out the IFC format supports that in a pretty simple way, very similar to the previous topic here above, you simply use the same IFC profile entity in different extruded objects. So the IFC importer now implements this, when different FreeCAD objects are extrusions of a same 2D object, it will be saved that way in IFC, and restored that way too when reading the file back.
So with all of the above we can now begin to get pretty accurate "roundtrips" when working with IFC files in FreeCAD. That is, the file contents you get when opening an IFC file you just exported are 100% identical with the original file.
Of course the concept of 100% equality is debatable, you WILL find something that is different from the original file, that is inevitable due to the complexity of the IFC format. But my idea is that we can settle on a general agreement over what reasonably needs to be there in order for us to consider it identical. I would say basically the model tree must be identical, the geometry of all objects must be identical, and all BIM-related properties of all objects must be there and contain identical values.
I think in many cases we have that now fully working in FreeCAD. I'm proud to say that you won't find that in many other BIM aps out there, even the big players
A very simple addition, when an IFC extruded object is imported into FreeCAD, if possible (ie. it is planar and doesn't contain curves), the base profile is now created as a Draft Wire, making it easier to edit.
It's a very small and simple change, but I think we can go a long way like this. "IFC doesn't contain model intelligence", you will often hear hard-core supporters - or vendors - of a certain well-known BIM platform say. But if you think of what makes this intelligence, or in other words what is it really that you do when working with said platform, I think 95% of it are simple things, the ability to click an object and change its extrusion length, duplicate it but still be able to edit a common property of both, etc. All this is well supported in IFC, and can probably be recovered and used in FreeCAD with pretty little changes like this, and we'll be able to make IFC model much more editable.
Another very simple change: Until now, when importing IFC objects that were extrusions, a 2D profile object was created, then a Part Extrusion, then this was encapsulated inside an Arch/BIM object with the correct IFC type. Now, for Arch objects that can create an extrusion themselves (Walls and Structures, basically), the intermediate step is skipped, and the final object is using the profile directly, making the whole model tree a bit thinner.
The progress bar of the IFC importer never worked well, because it was interrupted and reset all the time by the shape reader (which "stole" the progress bar). The shape reader can now run silently, and doesn't perturb us anymore, so the progress bar displayed during IFC import show realistic progress and remaining time estimation. Plus, its abort mechanism is now functioning, and you can abort the import anytime by pressing the Escape key.
For IFC export, the process is so fast that I think we don't need a progress bar at the moment
We had some discussions about materials recently, and, since they are used everywhere in BIM, I thought they could be a good way to handle these characteristics and properties that you want to give to several objects at once. In fact, IFC doesn't give you much option to give extra properties to materials, you have to give these properties to each object that uses the material. But we can do better in FreeCAD, and allow materials to have any number of custom properties (that is implemented already). So materials become a kind of "host" for these properties, and on IFC import/export there would be transferred to/from individual objects transparently.
But that means that if you have two objects made of concrete, but one of their "common" properties has a different value, you need two different concrete materials. This will quickly become annoying. So we need a system to be able to have one concrete material, but with sub-materials, which would change only one value, but keep all the others from their parent.
This system existed already in FreeCAD materials, and is now reflected in the tree. You just need to specify which other material is a parent of this one. There is still a lot to implement (additional properties, the ability to remove a value so it takes its parent's corresponding value, support all this in IFC etc), but I think we are on the right track to get an easy and flexible system that won't overcomplicate the model tree.
A simple addition to the ShapeBuilder tool, an option to build a Wire from a selected set of Edges. It doesn't need to be closed or planar.
A new series of American Wide Flange steel profiles (W profiles) was added to the Structure tool, and the profile object, that is used structural objects when based on a "built-in" profile, was also upgraded. It now uses an own icon, and it has gained an edit mode panel where you can change the profile definition.
At the moment you can only change to another profile of the same type (H, rectangular, etc...) because I am not sure it is a good idea to permit cross-type changes, model-wise (it will need another object, which as consequences on your whole model hierarchy), but we need to study that point further.
This is another rather simple to implement but major improvement. Classification systems are common since quite some time in the construction world. Basically instead of your own description like "concrete pavement tile for exterior use", you would use a number from a classification system that has an " 01 Exterior pavements" categories, with a subcategory " 03 tiles" with different categories for " 05 concrete", " 06 stone", etc. So your number would look like 01 03 05. You get the idea.
That way, you can give your file around, and there is a much higher chance that everything will be correctly understood, even by people in different countries, as the whole system can be faithfully translated. This is not used much for small projects of course, but think of stadiums being built in other countries, you might see the interest there can be in such systems.
There are many classification systems in use around the world already. Most of them proprietary unfortunately (you have to pay to obtain them), some open and free, and most countries are also developing their own which might or might not be compatible with others. In other words, this is a jungle
In FreeCAD, materials already had a "Standard Code" property, which can hold any text value. Now, all BIM/Arch objects also have a "Standard Code" property. The idea would still be to use materials for that, but you would be able to override the material code for any individual object.
Last month I stumbled on this repository made available by Graphisoft with many of the most used standards available as xml files (an open format). So now in the BIM workbench we have a Classification Manager tool, that is able to read these xml files, and set the Standard Code property of a material or BIM object with any its values.
So far this is not exported to IFC (I still need to understand better how it works) but we have a fairly decent classification system in FreeCAD already!
Note that these xml files are provided there by Graphisoft on their own good will. We cannot include these files in FreeCAD because they don't have any license allowing us to do so, so the responsibility to download and use them is yours (how to do it is explained when you open the Classification Manager in FreeCAD). They might change their system or simply remove those files anytime. Some of these, however, such as GuBIM, are open-source, and also provided on the website of their author. So it's important to keep fighting for open standards that we can really rely on on the long term.
Finally another small experiment: In the BIM workbench, there is one new tool beside the Move tool (which is the pain old Draft Move tool): A copy tool. It is simply the same Move tool, but with its "copy" option turned on by default. I think it is pretty handy, so you can start it by another shortcut (C,P instead or M,V) and perform a copy instead of a move. One click or key press less.
And another one, the Clone tool in the BIM workbench now works differently than the original Draft Clone tool: Immediately after creating the clone, the Move command is launched so it works more like in other applications: you select an object, press the clone button, and drop the clone at some other location (since you rarely want the clone to stay at the same place of its original).
I am not sure yet if these changes should go to Draft or not. Tell me what you think!
So that's it for this month, once again thanks a lot if you are supporting this effort, one step closer to our dream BIM application!
Time for a new update on the development of BIM tools for FreeCAD. There is some exciting new stuff, most of it are things that I've been working for some time, that are now ready. As always, a big thank you to everybody who helped me this month through Patreon or Liberapay! We are very close to meet our first goal on Patreon. We would actually already be there if we sum up both platofrms, so next month I'll lower the goal accordingly and declare it achieved and set everything up accordingly!
So here go the new stuff of this month:
This month's video is a presentation of the new BIM workbench, so in next videos we'll use it instead of Arch. As always, your comments are highly welcome (here or directly in youtube comments).
You will remember last time that I told you about the impressive series of FreeCAD-related videos made by Regis, you might also be interested in this other very nice series about BIM and open-source, with a very large part dedicated to FreeCAD, made by Nirbhay, another well-known member of the FreeCAD community. We begin to have pretty decent FreeCAD BIM learning material!
The BuildingPart object I have been working on during the last months is finally ready and is part of the Arch workbench already. It is meant to replace the Arch Floor tool. For the time being, the Floor button is still there in Arch, but it already produces a BuildingPart object with its IFC role set to "Building Storey".
The BuildingPart object is still based on a classical FreeCAD Group object. I played a lot with the idea of using an App::Part instead, because it looked interesting because of its ability to automatically move its contents when you move it, and also that you can make it "active" and automatically add contents to it.
However, I discovered that it was relatively easy to reimplement these two features in another object, and also met some particularities that made me decide against using the App::Part:
The App::Part only allows its children to be part of this App::Part. They cannot belong to any other. This, summed with another particularity, which is that all descendents of an App::Part also become its direct children, makes it impossible to use, for example, a same profile to build two columns placed in two different App::Parts, since the profile will become a direct child of the App::Part. This is not of big importance when designing, for example, mechanical parts, but is very common in BIM.
When you add objects to an App::Part, then move the App::Part, the Placements of the objects don't change. Only their visual appearance gets moved. So if you build a column on the ground floor, then move its containing App::Part 3 meters above, the internal coordinates of the column still indicate the ground floor. And when you remove the column from the App::Part, it pops back to its original location on the ground. This is all "fixable" of course, there are methods in place to obtain the "summed up" placement of the column + its App::Part, and you can add code when removing the column from its Part to deal with the change of location, but this all seemed to me like trying to patch up something that's not really made for that use case.
For part design workflows, this is exactly what you want: Draw your elements at (0,0), then add the to the Part, then move the Part around. If you remove elements from the Part, you want them back to (0,0). You want their internal coordinates to reflect that. In BIM workflows, I think we prefer all our elements to have real-world coordinates. Tell me in the comments if you have a different opinion!
So the BuildingPart is basically a Group, like the old Arch Floor. But with a lot of enhancements:
It can display a "mark" in the 3D view that shows the origin point and optionally the label and level (its z coordinate) . If you move the BuildingPart in Z direction, the level updates. You can give an artificial offset value, so for example if the offset value is 700, but your level is at z = 30, the displayed level will be 730. This is useful to work with geographic coordinates and elevations. You can also select the BuildingPart by its mark in the 3D view.
It can be made "active" by double-clicking it, like an App::Part. When a BuildingPart is active, all new objects will be added to it automatically, like the App Part or PartDesign Body.
When moved/rotated, all its children that either have no "Move With Host" property, or have it turned on, will move/rotate together.
When moving an object out of a BuildingPart, it will keep its current position, not "pop back" to its original position (different from App::Part)
It can be cloned. Internally, the BuildingPart stored a Shape, which is a compound of all its direct children. This shape is used by the clone, also keeping individual face colors. This shape is also stored on disk when saving the file, I think you'll be able to guess where we're heading for next
It can take any IFC type, like other Arch objects. The idea behind the BuildingPart is not only to serve as a Floor/Level/Storey, but to group BIM elements in any other possibly useful way in a replicatable manner. One obvious use would be to make a typical storey of a tower, then replicate it for the other floors, but we can also think of other replicatable things like a toilet stall, a wikihouse component, etc.
It can set the height of included walls and structures automatically. The Arch Floor could do that already. If a height value is set for a BuildingPart, any wall or structure inside it, that has its Height value set to zero, will adopt the BuildingPart height.
It defines a working plane automatically. When double-clicking a working plane, in the tree view or the BIM views manager, the working plane will be placed on the XY plane of the BuildingPart. Later on, I'll also implement the same functions that the Draft WP proxy has, which is to be also able to restore a view angle, and show/hide other objects.
So the idea here is that you would be able, for example, to double-click a BuildingPart which represents a level of a building, and set yourself automatically in top view above this level, hide all other levels, and set the working plane to the floor plane of this level, just like if you were working in a 2D plan. When deactivating that level, you would have everything turned back on, and pop back to the view you were at before activating.
But I found it safer to go step by step, and let people play a bit with the BuildingPart first, before implementing more stuff.
This is another big thing I have been working on for many months. It stayed a long time on hold because we were waiting for FreeCAD to reach a good Python3 compatibility. This is now done thanks to the hard work of several FreeCAD developers, specifically looo and Werner (and a bit of myself too). The issue there is that Blender only uses Python3 while FreeCAD was still not fully ported to it, but Python2 and 3 modules are incompatible with each other.
You can already use the importer, it is pretty stable already, but you'll need to get your hands on (or compile yourself) a version of FreeCAD compiled with the same Python version you use in Blender. The minor version number must match too, so if for example Blender uses 3.6.1, FreeCAD must use also 3.6 (the third digit can be different)
After that, it's just a matter of saving the code from the gist as a .py file (for example io_import_fcstd.py) and place it in Blender's addon folder, then enable it in Blender's addons preferences. If your Python3-compiled verision of FreeCAD is in an unusual location, you might also need to set its location in the addon's preferences.
This is all still a bit uncomfortable, but with time this will get addressed properly. The important part is that it already works pretty reliably.
You will then get a new option in Blender's File->Import menu to directly import a FreeCAD file. You can set a scaling factor between FreeCAD's internal unit (millimeter) and Blender (at the moment I set the default to 0.001) which will import as one Blender unit = 1 meter, and set a couple of other handy options.
The importer will at the moment only handle Part and Mesh-based objects. That is, basically, no texts and dimensions. Groups are also not yet supported, and either are clones (each comes as a separate object). But the geometry comes pretty accurately. Curved faces will be triangulated, flat faces imported as ngons. Materials are also correctly handled and attributed, and materials have both Blender internal settings and cycle nodes (I stil need to implement a proper cycles transparency node for transparent materials).
There is also one feature that will be specially interesting in viz work: The ability to replace objects with similar names. FreeCAD holds an internal, unique name for each object. Blender doesn't have that feature, but has something similar, where an object holds a mesh that can have a different name.
So what happens now is that the Blender object name is set to the FreeCAD object label, while the mesh name takes the FreeCAD object unique name. This allows to match each FreeCAD object with a corresponding, unique Blender object. If you enable the appropriate option when importing a FreeCAD file, if a corresponding object is found in Blender, only its mesh will be updated, the current Blender materials will be kept (and reattributed per-face).
This allows you to work on a FreeCAD model, import it in Blender, makes some changes to materials in Blender, setup your scene, add more objects, etc... Then reimport your FreeCAD files, and keep the object positions and materials that you changed in Blender.
This is a small change, but that will be great for backwards and forwards compatibiliy between different versions of FreeCAD. Basically objects loaded from an older file will now have their properties updated when loaded in a newer version of FreeCAD, so they'll be albe to use all the new features.
In the same way, objects loaded from a file made with a newer version will be able to "auto-fix" to work with this version.
Walls can already use all kinds of 2D objects as their baseline, but by default, new walls will have their base line created as a sketch. This is not always the most interesting thing to do, in many cases a simple Draft line is more efficient, as it can be edited by Draft tools like Edit or Stretch, which support snapping. So now there is a preference option to make new walls create a Draft line instead of a sketch.
This is still a work in progress and not ready for merging, but it's an interesting subject anyway. In IFC, objects can have custom properties. These properties can be grouped into property sets. At the moment, when reading an IFC file, FreeCAD will read and store all properties of an object, but not the property sets they belong to. So when reexporting the file, properties will loose their property set information.
I tried for some time a complicated way to handle these property sets, but recently found a much easier (json-based) way which will also serve for other things (speckle?). So this part can almost be considered as solved.
There is another interesting feature available in the IFC specification, which are pre-made, or standardized property sets. These define, for example, some common properties for walls, that all walls should have. Same for almost all IFC entity types.
These standard property sets are not mandatory. In fact I have very rarely seen an IFC file that uses them. But using them in FreeCAD would be a very good way to create more standardized IFC files. These property sets are not defined in the IFC schema, so I already coded a small utility to download these definitions from the net, and pack them in an xml file. This xml file will be bundled with FreeCAD, and the IFC property editor I'm working on will be able to use it, so we can easily, for example, add common property sets to our objects.
So far, once a window was created, it was possible to change its width and height via its properties editor. To change more advanced details such as frame thickness, you had to edit the window components parameters or the base sketch directly, which was tedious. Now, windows have two new properties: Frame and Offset. As with width and height, changing the frame or offset values will change the window accordingly.
If you wish to use this in your custom windows, it uses the same system as width and height: In the base sketch, if you define two length constraints (horizontal or vertical) and name them "Height" and "Width", they will be controlled by the host window's "height" and "width" properties. To have other length constraints controlled by the "Frame" property, just include "Frame" in their name, for example Frame04.
In the window parameters editor, you now have two new checkboxes to make use of the offset and frame properties.
This is not the end of the path of course, but slowly we'll get there to a friendlier window object...
By right-clicking a material group, you now have an option to merge duplicate materials. That is, materials with a same name but with 3 digits at the end. For example Concrete and Concrete001 will be merged. Any object that used Concrete001 will be changed to use Concrete instead. Very useful when importing susequent versions of IFC files.
Now this dialog from the BIM Workbench also allows you to check what object uses what material, and make sure you have everything properly configured before exporting to IFC.
Time for a new update on BIM development in FreeCAD. Since last month saw the release of version 0.17, we now have our hands free to start working again on new features! There is quite a lot of new stuff this month, as usual now, spread between the Arch and BIM workbenches. For who didn't see the previous posts where I explained the idea, I am now basically more and more trying to split BIM stuff between what goes into the Arch module, which is included into the FreeCAD source code, which will contain all the "hard-core" stuff (object definitions) and will probably grow more and more deprecated as a workbench, and the BIM workbench, which will contain all the UI (User Interface) work.
This split has many advantages, mainly 1) to make it easier for other people to contribute to BIM development without the need to dig into the FreeCAD source code, and 2) be easier to experiment, outside of the FreeCAD source code itself.
For the FreeCAD user, these distinctions don't really matter, you should basically now use the BIM workbench, and everything from Arch will be there too.
As always, the time I can spend on FreeCAD is a diret consequence of the help I receive from many of you on Patreon or LiberaPay. Thanks a million to everybody who is contributing already, and if you aren't, what about joining the family? Also, helping me with a couple of bucks is just one way to help. Python coding is easy, and the Arch/BIM split makes it even easier to get into it. There is a forum thread dedicated to BIM development. All the help is welcome!
Also: Some pleasant things can happen while you work with FreeCAD...
This month, the video is about windows. Hope you'll like!
This is an item that was annoying me since a long time and has now gained a good update. Panels were already able to be displayed as a flat plate, or as a corrugated panel. But the system was very slow, because a small curve section was generated, then copied over, then extruded, then unioned to the next curve section, resulting in a lot of boolean operations, which, in any CAD system, are an expensive operation that you as a developer must try to use as little as possible.
Besides, that system didn't do a very good job with multilayer panels, and couldn't have a different bottom face, which is both common in sandwich panels and convenient when you don't need to show the curves on the bottom face.
Both these issues are now solved. Now, internally, the code generates one big profile for the whole panel, which is then extruded and doesn't need to be unioned anymore, which makes it way faster to calculate. Additionally, there is one more wave type ("spike"), and you can make the bottom face flat.
This is another long-time request, it is the ability to "draw" beams directly in the 3D view, like walls. So now, when pressing the Structure button, you have an option to switch to that beam drawing mode, instead of just placing an element. I'm not too happy about that interface yet, it seems annoying to me to have to click that control to switch modes, but it is more important to have the tool to work well first, sooner or later an idea will arise to make the UI workflow better.
Another related idea I am always toying with, is if it wouldn't be more interesting to split the "internal" functionality offered by the different BIM tools into separate toolbar buttons, in other words, less complex tools, more toolbar buttons. For example, instead of one Window button that has 6 window presets, have 6 window buttons, each running a different preset. I have no clear idea about that yet, I am not convinced that it is an interesting trade-off, it seems to me it's only moving the compexity to another place...
More thinking is needed there
The Draft Scale tool, when I coded it, was very remotely molded upon the AutoCAD scale tool. One feature I used a lot in AutoCAD was reference scaling. You take one distance, and you say "I want this distance to become that other distance". But this made the Draft Scale tool horribly clumsy to use, specially with 3D objects. In fact, nobody was using it and people were using the Clone tool, which allows to set a scaling factor in an easy and intuitive way like (2.0, 2.0, 2.0) for scale factors on the X, Y and Z axes.
So a while ago I remolded the Scale tool to have the same, simple system. Now you choose your objects, set the scale factor, and choose if the result is a Clone object, or if the original objects must be modified directly (this doesn't work for all object types ATM).
Now we finally have the best of both worlds: The scale tool still works the simple, reliable way, but you can also define the scaling ratio by picking a reference distance and a target distance in the 3D view. The scale factor will be the ratio between these two distances.
This is a very simple change, but that open large possibilities. All Arch objects already had a "Role" property that could be used to fine-tune the use of each object, for example a Structure could have its Role set as Beam, Column, Slab, etc.. But this was basically not used anywhere, except when exporting to IFC. And each Arch object type has its specific list of possible roles.
Now the Role property has been renamed to IfcRole (this is part of a larger effort I am beginning, to group all Ifc-related properties into some specific group), and it can take any IfcProduct role. The IfcProduct is the master class of all "physical" (and a couple of non-physical ones too) elements found in a building, such as column, wall, door, etc (full list here).
In other words, from now on, any Arch object (or, in fact, any FreeCAD object, as you can just encapsulate it in a Component) can be exported to any IFC type. This is something surprisingly simple, offered by very simple apps like Sketchup, but that is curiously hard to do in many BIM applications...
The Draft Text tool, until now, was using a basic App::Annotation object, which was not very handy to use and lacked a couple of features. Now the tool is using its own python object, which is much more comfortable to work with. The two immediate results is that the text object now has a placement, so it can be rotated and placed in any custom position you may want, and it is now a common scene node, so it won't appear through other objects anymore, like the old object did.
From python, you can use Draft.convertDraftTexts() to convert old-style Draft texts in a document to the new format.
A new "manager" tool is now functional in the BIM workbench: The IFC elements manager. What it does is basically shows you all the Arch objects of your document, together with their IFC role. Here you can easily manage all these roles individually or several at once, and make sure everything will export as you want. That screen also allows you to rename objects.
Accurate window placement has always been a pain in FreeCAD. So much that me and others ended up advising to disable snapping when placing windows, then reenable it and move the window to its correct position. Hopefully, thanks to a very simple change, this is history.
Now, when placing a window, when hovering with the mouse over a face, the window will take and keep the orientation of that face, until you hover on another face. This allows to both align a window to a face, and take advantage of the full snapping tools, for example to place a window on an edge or a vertex, like one would expect.
This is not yet 100% perfect, one would still like to be able to place a window at a certain position relatively to another element, but this is a larger question that relates to other elements too like walls or columns. In any case it is already a good step forward, now the window tool finally works properly.
It can happen, when working with Draft Wires,that the wire is not exactly flat. Nothing in FreeCAD or OpenCasCade prevents that. But it might not be usable to form a flat face anymore. This is specially often the case with geometry that you import from other applications, where rounding could occur. The DraftGeomUtils module already had a flattenWire() function that would project all the points of the wire onto its median plane. Now, a right-click context menu option has been added to Draft Wires to perform that action, so it has become a piece of cake to fix those problems.
This is only an experiment so far.
It is a recurrent request from new FreeCAD users coming from AutoCAD: They want an AutoCAD command line. I don't like the idea, basically because it conflicts with a shortcut-based UI like FreeCAD has. If you look at how other apps with both shortcut-based UIs and command line do, for example QCAD or LibreCAD, it doesn't work really well. At some point the app needs to decide if the L key you pressed is a shortcut or the first letter of a command line command. You need either to move your mouse over the command window, or press SPACE to "switch" to command-line mode, which kills a bit the efficiency of it all.
But I have this idea that it would be possible to "fake" the system, and offer the user not a "real" command-line system, but a keyboard-only workflow with the same speed and easiness of the famous AutoCAD command line. To make it simple, pressing the keys would still trigger shortcuts and UI actions, but you would get a "feedback" of it in the output window of FreeCAD, making it look exactly as if you were typing stuff in it.
So far two Draft tools have been adapted to that system, as a proof of concept: Line and Wire. There are a couple of improvements to bring to the console, like the possibility to show stuff in bold font, or maybe enable clickable links, I will look at that later on. But I am not convinced yet if this is usful at all. After all, it is totally possible to pilot most of Draft and Arch commands via keyboard only since a long time...
Please test and give your opinion! There is a forum thread dedicated to this topic.
The Multimaterial dialog already allowed you to define different material layers, to be used by walls, panels, and windows. In the case of windows, it was a bit clumsy to use, you had to create one material layer for each window component. So if you had 20 panels in a window, you needed 20 material layers too. And take care that it uses the same name.
Now instead of a layer name in the Multimaterial editor, you can also click the drop-down arrow and select a window component type. That material layer will then apply to all window components of that type. So you now just need to create a Multimaterial with one material as "Frame" and another as "Glass panel", apply it to all your windows, and you are done.
Another new widget is available in the BIM workbench: A Views manager, that will open inside your Combo View. It is basically a small widow that will list all the Draft WorkingPlane Proxies of your document. You often need to double-click them to set the corresponding view, but they are often buried deep down your model tree. Now they can always be conveniently be available there, no more endless scrolling!
Later on, as the BuildingPart object evolves and can also define a view, it will also appear in that view.
Finally, this is not mine but the result of the hard work of Wandererfan, the TechDraw master, and of huge importance to Arch/BIM users, TechDraw pages can now be exported to DXF. Every single TechDraw feature is not 100% supported yet, but Wandererfan is working amazingly fast on this, and it is very usable already. The result is a very clean and compact DXF file.
If you haven't tried to use TechDraw for Arch/BIM work yet, give it a try, it is still a bit slow for production use, but most of the needed features are there already, no doubt we are getting very close!
That's it for this month, thanks for reading, thanks for the support, more to come next month, don't forget, if you are new to these pages, I can go faster with your support!
This is time for a new report on FreeCAD development, particularly the development of BIM tools. To resume the affair for who is new to this column, I recently started to "divide" the development of BIM tools in FreeCAD between the original Arch, which is included in FreeCAD itself, and the new BIM workbench, which is a plug-in, and is now easily installable right from within FreeCAD, under menu Tools -> Addons manager. The idea is to keep the "technical" side inside the Arch module of FreeCAD, and concentrate, in the BIM workbench, on workflow and interface. This makes it clearer for me, allows for more experimentation without touching the "core" stuff (and therefore keep existing users happy), and also makes it easier for other people to contribute, since there is much less code to deal with in the BIM workbench, and you don't need to know much about FreeCAD internals, nor need to compile anything.
As you certainly know already, this month we released version 0.,17 of FreeCAD, I wrote about it in another article. This was a long-awaited one, and a lot of things were kept back to make sure we fixed as many bugs as possible and delivered a reasonably clean and stable version. Now that this is done, experimentation and new features can start again!
As always, all this is possible because many of you are sponsoring me on Patreon or Liberapay so I can steadily and increasingly spend some working hours on FreeCAD every month. Thanks once again for the wonderful support, together we're firmly on the way to a fully functional and professional-grade open-source BIM tool. I sincerely believe there is not much missing. If you would like to help me, head to one of the two crowdfunding platform, any help is welcome! Also, we now have a Bountysource account for the FreeCAD project (not just me), although at the moment the money received has not been used for anything yet.
So this month's video will be about generic Arch/BIM objects, and how to get started with BIM modelling.
One feature I had been working on before the release already, that was ready and just waiting to be merged is a wall blocks feature. Now, walls can be made to display as blocks instead of the normal, solid wall. You can specify the size of each block, the size of the joints, and an offset for the first and second rows. In blocks mode, the wall will also calculate how many entire and how many broken blocks it contains.
So far this works only for walls based on a single line or on a wire. In case of wires, it can give wrong situations at corners, like blocks not properly cut like in real life. Walls based on faces or on solids cannot display blocks yet. Subtractions are supported, but additions not. This all will be addressed in due time.
At least for simple wall cases, you can now do pretty accurate wall design based on concrete blocks or brick size, check interferences, easily get the number of blocks, etc. This is only a start of course, but I think it will allow well to see if this goes in the right direction or not.
What I spent most of this month working on is unfortunately half a failure. But we shouldn't consider failures as less important than successes, they teach us a lot and are fundamental to get it right next time. Besides, as we are not totally stupid, we made things such as we can still reuse most of the stuff developed, so it is only a partial failure
Basically my idea was:
1) to make the Arch Floor object a bit more generic, allowing you to group BIM objects in different ways than just stacking building storeys. For example a lift, which traverses a whole building vertically, cannot be inside one particular storey. Or you must cut it in little pieces, which is illogical. Resuming, we need less restrictive ways to group building objects. There was also a discussion about what name such an object should have, right now my favorite is BuildingPart, as it says pretty clearly what that object is, and is semantically in sync with the general FreeCAD naming of things, specially given point 2 below.
2) Instead of being just a group, I wanted to make this new object based on the new App Part feature of FreeCAD, which is the base used in the PartDesign Body. The main advantage is that it is a mix between a group and a shape. It has a placement, that defines a "local coordinate system". The objects that you place inside such an object have their coordinates not anymore defined relative to the global (0,0,0) point, but to the placement of their host Part. So you can move and manipulate a Part like if it was a single object. This looked (and still looks) perfect for our BuildingPart. This also links to another idea we raised with Ryan some time ago, that we should be able to design buildings much more based on components, and that component should be treated like any other BIM object (or family in revitspeak), you should be able to make other objects based on it, etc. And it should be whatever you need it to be: A shipping container, a restroom stall, a lift machine, etc...
So far so good, The main problem is basically that the App Part is too restrictive, it doesn't allow a same object to be in several Parts, and doesn't allow cross-Part links, both things that are used pretty often in BIM models. So in the next month I'm going to look at how to solve that, probably by "forking" the App Part (which is fortunately an extension now, so in theory it shouldn't be hard) into a less restrictive version that we can use in our case.
But all the other stuff I developed for the BuildingPart object is still there (you can test it by using this branch or looking at this commit and will be easy to adapt to any solution we come up with, so this is not lost work.
Basically, the BuildingPart can show an "origin" mark, so you know where its (0,0,0) or "insertion" or "pivot" point is, it can display a level mark, it can be a clone of another BuildingPart, it can act as a floor/storey, or as a gathering of Arch Spaces, in which case it will compute areas (and later on other properties of spaces) and of course it has a Height property that can automatically set the heights of included walls and structures. Within the ArchFloor module there is also a python function to easily convert existing Floor objects to BuildingParts.
Other ideas I have planned is to make it behave as a WorkingPlane Proxy, so you can double-click it and automatically set the view and working plane and display of other BuildingParts according to it, and also make it automatically create a view in TechDraw, not sure yet if by creating an Arch SectionPlane automatically, or maybe try to using TechDraw views directly (and therefore stop relying on the ArchView), which is something else I want to experiment with anyway.
I think that will give us a pretty cool tool to work with, I dare to say better than many commercial counterparts I wished I had it ready this month, but it shouldn't take long.
Deleting things forever is something we don't want to do with our computer files, why do we need to do it in CAD/BIM apps? So now, in the BIM workbench, besides the standard "Delete" option, we also have a "Move to Trash" option, which will simply move selected objects to a "Trash" group (that will be created if not existing, you can rename and move if you want) and turn them off. There is no "Restore" option, I don't think that would be very practical because it might not be able to recreate the original links without destroying something, so I thought it safer to just let the user restore objects manually if needed, for now.
Anyway, since I implemented it, I find myself using it all the time (you never know if you won't need that window again later on), I'm curious to hear about you.
I added a new Window type too, which is a simple 4-pane sliding window. We use these a lot here in Brazil. I think we should add more prest types here... Remembering, of course, that the idea is not to have all possible window types listed here (that's the job of the library, see below), but let's say very common, or "archetype" window types. Any suggestion?
If you have the Parts Library installed (easy to install via the addons manager), then window tool will now include all the doors and windows found in the library (inside Architectural Parts/Doors and Architectural Parts/Windows). You might find that some of these library objects don't respect all the conventions, for example their width doesn't update correctly, but these are easy fixes that we must add to the library objects at some point. The fact is, it becomes easier than ever to add new window and door presets, without a single line of code.
This year, like the last two years, FreeCAD will be part of the Google Summer of Code program, together with our other open-source CAD frends BRL-CAD (who are the brain behind the whole affair), LibreCAD, StepCODE, OpenSCAD, LinuxCNC and Slic3r. This year, we have one one student, Kurt, who is a well-known community member and already participated last year. His project this year is about implementing and bettering configuration and packaging management in FreeCAD. This is a rather generic project, but that is a good thing because it is also flexible and adaptable, and can make a big difference in the way we manage to make releases, which, you will certainly agree, will be highly welcome.
When the coding period starts, Kurt's project will mostly "happen" on the forum, which is now the standard way we do GSOC projects at FreeCAD. I'll announce it here too, so stay tuned to watch him closely! As he is the only student, all eyes will be on him!
In case you are wondering like me, all our other CAD friends also had few students this year, and generally many other projects too. Maybe anything changed at Google? In any case, let's not depend too much on Google, and be happy with whatever they want to sponsor. I'm sure we'll have a great GSOC experience this year again.
In case you are wondering, the above image is the world-famous Google Summer Of Code Chocolate Table, that gets set up during the mentors meeting, of which I have been lucky to participate last year. Every participant must bring chocolate from her/his country, they all go on that table, and you can eat as much as you want of it during the week-end. Believe me, even with the best efforts, we were hardly able to eat half of it...
Last weekend I was giving a FreeCAD workshop at the FLISOL, and, although women's part increases in such events (more or less one third of participants and speakers were women, my own estimation) I read some tweets afterwards complaining about some gender discrimination and argueing. This reminded me that we're doing pretty bad at FreeCAD, all developers are men, sometimes a woman appears on the forum, and, although I don't think there were any gender discrimination, for some reason none of them stayed until now. I would very much like that to change, I'm not sure how yet but I'll try to come up with ideas... If you are a woman and know (or would learn) some python and would like to get into FreeCAD, please, we need you!
Finally, after two years of intense work, the FreeCAD community is happy and proud to announce the release 0.17 of FreeCAD. You can grab it at the usual places, either via the Downloads page or directly via the github release page. There are installers for Windows and Mac, and an AppImage for Linux. Our Ubuntu Stable PPA is also updated with the new version.
The list of changes and new features is big. Check the Release notes for a full dose. I will resume things a bit here, and, for once, I won't talk about BIM or Arch but about other workbenches. There is also a video showing the main highlights on the forum.
Basically the most fundamental change, and also the main reason why this release took so long to come, is that the PartDesign workbench has been drastically reworked, in preparation for upcoming Assembly system. As FreeCAD's father Jürgen once explained, the PartDesign workbench suffered from several flaws that prevented to implement Assemblies the way it needed to be. Several FreeCAD developers took upon themselves to dig into the already quite large PartDesign code and implement the necessary changes. This obviously caused a lot of new bugs, and it took a long time to bring it to a state where we feel it is suficently stable and solid for everybody to use.
The principal change is that now everything you do happens inside a Body. The Body is a hybrid between a container and a shape. It also contains many helpers such as planes or axes that you can use in different operations. The ultimate goal is that the body is what will allow for one FreeCAD file to be a part of an assembly in another file.
You might feel a bit lost when starting to use the new PartDesign, but fear not, after you pass through these new things, everything still works pretty much like before. And everybody who went through it agrees that it is much better than before.
The Path workbench also got wildly extended. From its embrionary state in FreeCAD 0.16, it has now evolved into an increasingly impressive CAM platform. Yo have now a wide range of tools to perform CNC operations, several filling algorithms to fill areas, fin-tuning and gcode inspection tools and a voxel-based simulation tool like in your favorite commercial CAM software.
There is a long path to be done for Path yet, sorry about the bad joke, but it is no more an infant, it is now a real CAM tool, that can do the whole thing from the 3D model to the machining.
TechDraw is the new Drawing. It is another of these workbenches that has been carried successively by several developers, and on the way has gained impressive features. It still accepts the same templates as Drawing, has much finer control over aspect and linestyle than Drawing had, plus a load of new features: Most of the dimensionning tools of Drawing Dimensioning, hatching (both geometry-based and image-based), support of bitmap images, etc. But I kept the best for the end: The dimensions you add in TechDraw are parametric. You update the model, the TechDraw view updates too, and all the dimensions attached to it.
Finally, and not the least important, the number of new workbenches being developed outside of the FreeCAD official source code is growing frenetically and exponentially. FreeCAD 0.17 now features an easy Addon installer, that allows you to install any (or all, why not) of these juicy workbenches with a mouse click right from inside FreeCAD.
Go get it, it's free!
I hope you noticed the small improvement in the title... It's not that I became suddenly a big fan of the "BIM" term, but really the word "Arch" is too narrow in todays construction field. Besides, as I explained last month, I am now starting to split the BIM stuff in FreeCAD in two parts: One is the Arch workbench that you already know, that stays integrated to FreeCAD, and that will carry all the "dirty stuff" (objects, tools, base functionality), and the other is the new BIM workbench which will contain only UI elements (wizards, managers, etc). Starting from FreeCAD v0.17, installing the BIM workbench is very easy with the addon manager.
Talking about v0.17, the release is a bit late (we wanted to do it before end of February), but bugs kept coming in, and we are fixing them all! So it got a bit delayed, but we are finally there. In the coming days we should have it released. I'm adding he latest translations from crowdin as we speak. You can already check what's new in the 0.17 release notes.
As always, thanks to everybody who is contributing to my crowdfunding campaign on Patreon or Liberapay. I am now more and more able to regularly dedicate a good portion of working hours per week to FreeCAD, that I try to balance between developing new stuff, fixing bugs, and do all kinds of maintenance tasks. The main focus, of course, is still to push BIM development forward. As soon as the 0.17 release is out, I have already a few features that are ready to merge into the main FreeCAD source code. More on this next month!
Last month, I posted a first video introducing the Arch workbench. I made a new one this month, showing how to set things up and get started to do BIM with FreeCAD. Thanks for the many of you who left comments under the first video, this gives a lot of further ideas. Please keep going on!
One important thing I forgot to mention last time: There is no need to wait for me to make all these videos (Anyway, the idea is not to make a full course, rather toillustrate the concepts of how things work). There is already a lot of material on the internet, and specially the very impressive series of tutorials by Regis about FreeCAD and BIM, and other ways to do architecture and BIM work with free software like Blender. What you have there is a more than complete course of FreeCAD BIM, and for free... Amazing work Regis!
So, here is this month's video. Hope you'll like, please keep commenting!
While FreeCAD was in "feature freeze" mode this month, the new BIM workbench, being developed outside of the main FreeCAD source code, allowed me to keep working on some cool features there. There is not much of a revolution there yet, but I believe this is going in the right direction. What we have so far is this (keep in mind that all this is experimental, it can change in the future):
This screen is shown to you the first time that you switch to the BIM workbench. The idea is to tell you, in a few words, "what to do next", and offer you to follow a tutorial (yet to be written). You can still show that window again anytime from menu Help -> Show welcome screen. I must think a bit more about the tutorial but the idea is to do like in games, where when you take the tutorial, you are usually playing the first chapter of the game, but with an assistance that tells you what to do.
If you pess OK, you go to the next step, which is:
The Preferences system of FreeCAD is becoming huge and complex. And some preferences get loaded only when the corresponding workbench is loaded. It is very hard for a newcomer to find what options he/she needs to set. So we have here a summarized and unified set of the most important preferences for BIM. Some are grouped, for example when you set your preferred text font, it will set all the places in the preferences where a text font can be configured, for example in Draft, Arch and TechDraw.
This is a new dialog that allows you to quickly setup a BIM project. It will optionally create a new document, create a Site, a Building and a couple of Axes, Levels (the Floor object in Arch will soon be renamed to something less ambiguous, my favorite at the moment is "Level", although I would like to find a word that doesn't necessarily suggests that things must stack on top of each other, maybe Zone, or Cell?) and a rectangular outline of the building.
With that done, you have something to start building walls on. What you fill in that screen can be saved as a preset, so you can have several building templates around. The axes and outiline are linked, so moving the outline around will move the axes together, a good example of the powerful expression system of FreeCAD (check the Placement property of the axes).
This is a simple interface to manage the different levels (Floors currently) of your document. At the moment you can only do basic things such as changing their properties and add or remove levels, but the intent here is to add more dependent functionality to levels, like WP proxies, which would allow neat things like, upon double-clicking a level, hide all other levels, and set you in a configured view (for example a top view above the level plan). This would mimmick quite well how other BIM apps work, where you can isolate a particular level to only work in it.
Another idea I have is to have a section plane automatically associated with a level, and make it (optionally of course) cut the view above it when you select the level
This is a simple screen that allows you to manage all the windows and doors of your project. So far it doesn't do much more than list all windows and doors, and allow to group them by type or dimensions. But the idea of this screen is basically just that, allow you to have a clear view of all the windows and doors, see what is missing or wrong, and in the future, or course, allow you to export this to a spreadsheet.
If all this thrills you, I would encourage you to help me. Of course an easy way is to contribute to my Patreon or Librepay accounts, but I would also encourage you to help in other forms. There is more in several heads than in a single one, my grandmother used to say...
We have a forum thread where you can contribute to the discussion, but working directly with the source code is not hard. In a next report I will explain better how it is organized, but you have basically, for each tool, an .ui file which is the design of the dialog, made with QtDesigner (which is part of the QtCreator suite), and a corresponding .py file that has the code that runs "behind" the .ui dialog (ie. what happens when you click such button, or click on such item, etc..)
QtCreator is a complex application, but the QtDesigner inside is very simple to use, it is very easy to constructs dialog boxes with it. And when designing User Interfaces, a great deal of effort goes into thinking and constructing intuitive dialogs. This effort is often bigger than writing the code behind. So playing with these dialgos and proposing ideas with it would be helping the project tremedously, even if the code is to be written by someone else later on.
But the python code behind these BIM dialogs is not too complex either, have a look
(image swallowed from the speckle.works blog)
Thanks to Ryan I discovered Speckle last month and got fascinated. It is a free & open-source 3D model server, a bit like BimServer, but, instead of being based on IFC, it is built for parametric 3D models. It is basically everything I wished BIMServer would be: It speaks json, a widely used transfer protocol, and it is totally system-agnostic. In it, you have collections of objects (streams), each object being a collection of properties, and that's it. The parametric "engine", that knows what to do with these, stays in the original application.
So for example, a cube would have a name, a text describing its type ("cube", for example), and length, width and height properties. That's all that would get stored on the Speckle server. But FreeCAD would know exactly what to do with such info. And so would Rhino, Blender and anything you would plug Speckle into. It is particularly well adapted to those so-called "visual programming" interface such as Grasshopper or Dynamo, of course, but a FreeCAD model could also be transferred to/from a Speckle model with almost 1:1 compatibility. This is something I experimented in IFC a while ago, that can be carried on here way further.
So I started working on a Speckle interface for FreeCAD (probably will be part of the WebTools workbench). I believe this can yield wild results...
That's it for this month, thanks again to everybody for your support, see you next month!
Time for our monthly development update. This month again, no new feature has landed in the FreeCAD codebase, because we are still in "feature freeze mode", which means no new feature (that might break something) can be added to the FreeCAD source code, only bug fixes.
We hoped to release version 0.17 in February, but, as usual, this has been delayed a bit. There are still some bugs remaining, and there is also some documentation missing. The whole community is working hard to fix this, so it won't take long and we will have a release with the documentation in a very good state, much better than it has ever been before.
Translations are also basically done, we have 16 languages over 90% translated and 5 100% done, which is more than we ever had in the past. It is still time to help us!
I have myself been busy touching all these areas, and also done more bugfixing in Arch and Draft. I think these two workbenches are getting pretty robust now, which is basically the level I wanted to reach at this point. My intention after the release is not to touch these features too much anymore, and concentrate on building better UI tools to manipulate them.
By the way, TechDraw is becoming more and more useful for BIM work, hopefully we will soon be able to retire the old section planes system for something much better... It is still a bit slow and not totally adapted to architecture/BIM (you must produce the elevation before the plan, for example), but those are all solvable issues. The results are very nice already...
As promised last month, I tried to record a video this time. Let me know what you think of it, sorry about the non-professional quality, I'm not a professional youtuber yet I propose to do more later on, about specific parts of the Arch workbench.
Since I was in Europe last month to attend FOSDEM (read about it in my previous post, and the video of my talk is here), I also took the opportunity to visit the Pionierswoning (Pioneers housing), another WikiHouse-based construction that happened in the same time as the WikiLab (We even had a dummy "competition" to see who would finish first) and talk with Vincent and Ivar who are behind the project.
This was a very, very interesting visit. The Pionierswoning is part of a bigger experience in Almere, to build experimental tiny houses. The number of single-person houses is climbing strongly in the Netherlands, and this becomes a very real question to solve. On the same site as the Pionierswoning are 5 or 6 other tiny houses made for one person, all of them with different approaches and solutions, definitely a very interesting place to visit if you are in the area (it's only a 15 minutes train ride from Amsterdam).
The Pionierswoning itself is definitely a very interesting achievement. Contrarily to our WikiLab, where we tried to be didactical and keep the wooden construction as apparent as possible, the aim of the Pionierswoning was opposite, they try to show that it could make a house like any other. As a result, you don't see the WikiHouse structure anymore. Most solutions that they adopted as finishings, both inside and outside, follow the same direction. It is amazing to see two projects built basically on the same structure, give such different results.
And I must say, the finishings they did are gorgeous. While on the WikiLab we had principally to deal with very short money (the whole construction cost no more than 15000 EUR / 20000 USD), which led to drastically simple solutions, they made a point to demonstrate the validity of the WikiHouse technology for "day-to-day" construction.
The other interesting thing is that both them and us came to the same conclusions afterwards: If the built result is not particularily impressive, in either cases, it is the process that is potentially revolutionary. The fact that it is possible for non professional people to build their own house, without any super-human skills or equipment.
All of us also had to deal with a construction that had phases dones by volunteers and other phases done by professional builders, and we all think much more should have been done by the volunteers, and things should be organized in a manner that lets the volunteers finish the construction. It was very frustrating on both sides for the volunteers to participate to the building, feel all the excitment, only to have to leave the field at some point, to let the professional team finish the job.
This is an experiment I am currently working on, and that you can already test. It is basicalyl an effort to re-think the whole organization of BIM tools and workflow in FreeCAD, with the aim of making it easier to learn and use. The basic idea is not to modify any of the existing tools of FreeCAD, just gather them in a more intuitive way, and provide a couple of useful macros to glue it all.
If using FreeCAD 0.17, you can test it immediately by installing it from menu Tools->Addon Manager. Or manually from here
So this workbench is, at the moment, a collection of tools from several workbenches: Draft, Arch, Part, Flamingo and Fasteners. There will be more later on. On top of that, a simple "setup" screen that will set all the most common FreeCAD settings used for BIM, and later on a couple of interesting macros from the Macros repository.
As I often say in these reports, building User Interfaces for BIM or CAD work is a very complicated task. Simple tools, like Sketchup or TinkerCAD have very good, simple and intuitive user interfaces. In FreeCAD, especially when dealing with BIM, we deal with much more complex situations. If we look around, other BIM apps also have very complex interfaces, and the learning curve is also steep. And when you look at, for example, BIM plugins for Sketchup, you also see that the complexity raises very quickly.
So there is no easy, straightforward answer to "solve" the steep learning curve of FreeCAD. But that doesn't mean nothing can be done either. But it needs some experimentation and step-by-step improvements. That is precisely what I want to achieve with this workbench: Find the good parts that run well, identify what doesn't work as smooth, and what can be done. It's all about details. The rest, the technical part, will stay in Arch.
I had this aim for the Arch workbench at first, to be the "all-in-one" BIM solution of FreeCAD. But the exponential growth of the addons being developed around FreeCAD, made me rethink that approach. The Arch tools, as said above, begin to be reasonably solid. They lack some polish, and better interface. That will be a main focus point for me this year. But it might be time to also think better in more global "BIM workflow". I have no clear idea of what that would be, that is the reason of existence of this new workbench.
Another motivation behind this is also to split things more between the "technical" part (the Arch Workbench), and the "interface" part (the BIM Workbench), and make the latter much more simple, so hopefully more people will be able to contribute to it, without having to merge much into the FreeCAD source code.
So, please use it, test it, be aware that it willbe an experimental test bed so it might change often, and share with me any thought you might have (that is reasonably doable, please!) to make the BIM workflow better, and the learning curve smoother.
Sorry about the late news again, but it would have been a pity not to include a fresh feedback from the FOSDEM that happened this weekend. So here are the main topics that happened in the last month. Once again, thanks a million to eveybody who helps the effort by contributing to my Patreon campaign or on LibrePay. Not only it's highly appreciated, but it allows to do more and more long-term planning, and 2018 promises to be rich in BIM features in FreeCAD. I also believe we are really closing the gap with commercial BIM apps out there.
Since FreeCAD is close to the next official release, that we plan to unleash this month, the development is now in "feature-freeze mode", which means nobody is adding new features (to avoid the risk to break anything and introduce new bugs) and instead concentrates on fixing bugs. Consequently, this month was pretty low on new features, so there won't be much appetizing BIM stuff to show here. On the other hand it was intense in coding and bug fixing.
Basically I have been busy thoroughly testing the BIM functions and workflow in FreeCAD, and fixed a lot of bugs on the way. I think it is now pretty stable, more than it has ever been in the past. Also all the main Arch/BIM objects (Walls, structures, windows, etc...) now have their base code pretty well consolidated and reliable, so the next step, which is working on making them a bit more user-friendly, can now begin.
To do this testing, I have built 3 house projects with FreeCAD. The internal organization of these files differs a bit from one to the other, but they are all pretty simple. I think they show well the "stage" you can now reach with FreeCAD easily and reliably, and extract from it all the data you need (2D drawings, decent IFC files, spreadsheets/schedules, and mesh models for rendering). Not yet a full large-scale building with all its details, but we'll get there.
In any case this is already a full BIM workflow, all objects are parametric, all export to IFC with all the properties you wish to add to them, everything can be modified, and the 2D drawings update automatically (or not if you choose not to, to have a faster workflow).
You will notice that these models don't use TechDraw for the 2D views, but that is because I specifically needed DXF files from these 2D views, which are at the moment easier to produce with the Draft workbench.
But that doesn't mean TechDraw is not up to the task, far from it. If you wish to produce good-looking documents right from within FreeCAD, give it a try, it works impressively well already.
There are also several interesting things that are available to you due to the very generic nature of FreeCAD, that are sometimes hard to obtain in commercial apps, such as mixing 2D and 3D elements in your models. You can easily keep these 2D elements out of IFC export (or not, your choice), simply by grouping things the way you like best. In FreeCAD, you don't really need to use Floors/Storeys/Levels. You can, if you need (for example to produce sounder IFC files), but you can perfectly well stick with groups. I often think BIM and IFC files would give much less headache if everything was simply properly named and organized.
The whole cycle of placing section planes, getting 2D views from it and exporting them to DXF/DWG is now pretty straightforward and hasn't given me anymore problems recently. Draft Shape2DViews objects now have a switch to disable automatic recompute, so they won't be recalculated automatically everytime you change an object, which can have a huge impact on performance if you have a lot of views. You can then recompute them manually whenever you want.
As we are coming close to our 0.17 release, there are a few areas which would welcome some help, if you have a bit of time to spare. The main one is to finish the translations, so we can include them in the release files. As I'm writing this, 6 languages are fully done already, and 10 others are at more than 90%. The other 34 also need some love. We won't wait for all of them to reach 100% ofcourse, but the more we get, the better!
There is also currently heavy work being done on the documentation to update it with all the latest changes that have been added mainly to FEM, Path and TechDraw, and to make it easier for users of earlier versions to make the transition to the new Part Design workflow. If you know some of these tools reasonably well, please help us to make sure the documentation is accurate and up to date!
So this weekend I was at the FOSDEM in Brussels, and gave a talk about the WikiLab project we've been doing last year, and how FreeCAD was used in it. The talk went pretty well, lots of people in the room (some FreeCAD forum members were there!), and very interesting questions raised. Thanks to FOSDEM blazing fast video processing, the recording of the talk is already available (the slides are here):
Right-click -> Play to play the video above or watch it here
Other than that, I watched a couple of talks (a big part is online already, browse here), hanged around the different booths, and because the FOSDEM is so huge, couldn't meet almost anybody I knew was there.
I got a bit surprised how the FOSDEM is still predominently a male event (around 95% males, my own estimation), while many IT/open source events around the world (FISL in Brazil for example) are very close to 50/50%. Mystery... But there were fries!
That's it for this month, stay tuned for the FreeCAD 0.17 release annoucement (or follow it on the forum), and after that, expect new BIM features to land in!