In the mechanical engineering world software is big, complex and takes years to get a good tool going. That is why there are fields where sadly the free alternatives are not comparable with paid alternatives, some fields that come to mind are CAD, where Catia and Siemens NX rule supreme and finite element analysis where Ansys is a popular option.
Although some of these expensive software have cheaper student versions, sometimes if you want to learn about a new field, or you just want to get into a field as a hobby, you have to use free alternatives. Here is a list:
- Autodesk Fusion 360 – “Free for students, enthusiasts, hobbyists, and startups”. Easy to use for simple jobs, might be the ideal solution for hobbyist or professionals that do not have 3D design as their primary activity.
- FreeCAD – I would recommend FreeCAD to users that want to learn 3D design and do not have the option to use an expensive alternative. If you get comfortable with the way things work here you will have a smoother transition at a new job were you have to use another parametric design software. As a plus, it has some FEM capabilities
- Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express – users that have experience with Pro/ENGINEER will love this. It is bassically a free version of the rebranded Creo Elementes that has fewer features. It should be enough for small jobs or for someone that wants to get direct experience with Creo Elements.
- OpenSCAD – this is a special software that combines parametric modelling with programming, it basically works like a compiler. Engineers that also have programming experience might use this for creating complex parametric parts.
- Draftsight – although it is only a 2D design software, Draftsight is excellent at what is does, if you don’t need the 3D features, or you only work with drawings, this is a great solution for you.
- Onshape – we will keep our eyes on this product in the future. It is a cloud based software, that means you will use it in your browser window. If the team behind it can keep improving it, I can see a bright future for Onshape.