There are many challenges faced by engineers today, and the common thread that links them is ‘time’: lack of time caused by a higher volume of projects, shorter time-to-market windows, and shrinking engineering departments leading to a loss of specialist knowledge and skills. 

At the same time, the relationship between the electronic and the mechanical design engineer has evolved. Whereas 15 years ago these two functions were distinctly separate, today’s end products are much more focused on aesthetics, which has led to the circuit and the mechanical aspects, such as case design, being done in parallel.

This merger of the engineering disciplines has introduced complexities to the design flow that can result in major bottlenecks, often adding weeks or more to a project. Access to tens of thousands of freely downloadable 3D models, which RS has offered for some three years now, has gone some way to help claw back this lost time, with each model download potentially saving the engineer up to two days of manual creation.  And yet, only 5% of the world’s engineers currently have access to powerful 3D modelling tools, largely limited to CAD specialists who have trained for many months, or even years, to become conversant with the complexities of traditional feature-based 3D CAD tools. This low figure is no surprise when you consider the prohibitive costs of these tools, which restricts their use to larger companies with the budget to invest in them.

Thanks to a recent collaboration between RS Components and 3D modelling software vendor, SpaceClaim, these two major barriers to entry have been lifted through the availability of DesignSpark Mechanical, a 3D solid modelling and assembly tool that is simple to use and totally free of charge.

DesignSpark Mechanical employs a powerful methodology called ‘direct modelling’, which is very different from traditional feature- or parametric-based 3D CAD software. The tool uses simple gestures that enable real-time editing and instant feedback, making it possible for engineers and others to create geometry and easily explore ideas and product concepts in 3D. All basic designs can be achieved quickly and easily via the use of the software’s four basic tools – Pull, Move, Fill and Combine – in addition to its employment of familiar Windows keyboard shortcuts such as cut/paste, undo/redo, which makes it highly intuitive for new users.

The software can also be used as a complementary 3D tool in the product development process for the creation of early concept designs, for instance, alongside 3D CAD tools that are already in use today. The tool can remove bottlenecks in the early design process by allowing changes and additions in seconds, rather than having to wait for the CAD department using the traditional 3D tools to rework the design.

3D designs can also be exported in STL, the standard file format to enable rapid prototyping builds through 3D printers and computer-aided manufacturing, in addition to providing the ability to quickly obtain Bill-of-Materials (BOM) quotes via the RS website. The tool can also import circuit layout files in IDF format from any PCB design tool, including the award-winning DesignSpark PCB software.

DesignSpark Mechanical has been developed to be inclusive. Any engineer, regardless of experience, can learn to use it quickly, and it costs absolutely nothing.  Available in multiple languages, the tool enables engineers all over the world to bring innovative products to market quickly, avoiding the bottlenecks that so frequently stifle creativity.

DesignSpark Mechanical is available for free download via with support available through the DesignSpark community at