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Open Source Engineering Tools? 73

ThosLives asks: "It seems to be the case that most open source projects fall into the software development, business, and desktop realms. I have done a bit of unfruitful searching for good FOSS engineering tools. By this I mean: 3D CAD/CAM, FEA, fluids, and math simulation tools. I have been able to find various 'academic quality' FEA, fluids, and math sim tools; those are, however, not sufficient for even hobby-level production work because they: have a lacking interface; don't have a standard file formats; and are not standalone products (i.e., they require Matlab or some other expensive package). If you were going to set up an engineering shop to design and produce mechanical devices, what FOSS software tools, if any, are available and recommended? Commercial options are out of the question for the hobbyist, when even basic 3D CAD functionality typically costs more than $100 (and typically run over $500), and 'consumer-level' analysis packages are practically nonexistent. If there are no free options, what could be done with a budget of $500 or $1000? As an aside, are there any thoughts on why the engineering applications appear to be so overlooked by the open source community?"
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Open Source Engineering Tools?

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  • KTechLab (Score:2, Informative)

    While still in alpha, KTechLab [ktechlab.org] looks pretty promising for layout and simulation.
    • Re:KTechLab (Score:4, Informative)

      by harrkev ( 623093 ) <kfmsd AT harrelsonfamily DOT org> on Monday November 14, 2005 @11:06PM (#14032085) Homepage
      In a similar manner, look at http://www.geda.seul.org/ [seul.org]

      But these are electrical engineering tools. The original article seemed to be more about mechanical engineering tools. My guess is that people write what they need and what interestes them. Mechanical engineers might not have as much software skill as other diciplines. Mechanical engineering seems more "physical" and likely appeals to a different type of person than electrical engineering and computer engineering. Of course, I could just be a biased EE.
      • Re:KTechLab (Score:2, Informative)

        by Skagit ( 910458 )
        The parent is right. MechE and CivE students come out of college with little or no formal programming classes under their belt - unless it is a hobby. There are courses in using CAD (which have replaced mechanical drafting courses) and usually some courses complementary to finite element method software and matrix structural analysis. There, the focus is on figuring out what the software does (ie. building and decomposing degree-of-freedom matrices) rather than how the software does what it does. In order t
  • BRL-CAD (Score:5, Informative)

    by NaNO2x ( 856759 ) on Monday November 14, 2005 @10:47PM (#14032003)
    Haven't looked at this much, but I remember when someone was asking about the same sort of thing this link came up and looked fairly interesting. http://brlcad.org/ [brlcad.org]
  • Dear Slashdot, I am looking for an open source versions of some obscure expensive niche software that is only of interest to a tiny audience. Why can't I find it? I don't have much money, so it would be great if you guys could hurry up and write something which meets my needs.

    (Meanwhile back in reality, open source users are overjoyed that they finally have a wordprocessor that arguably equals MS Word.)

    • Gee that is helpful. Actually you can find alots of obscure niche software for Linux. GRASSGIS and AirfoilX are two good examples.
      For CAD you may want to look at http://www.brlcad.org/ [brlcad.org]
      Good luck.
    • Apart from its misguided sarcasm, why is this marked as a troll? This is the whole point of the free software movement: to rewrite what has been developed and to write what hasn't under an OSS license so that everyone should be able to use the software regardless of their income.

      Now of course the latest, greatest software, and the software with the most effort into it, will be released nonfree first. If you want someone to work on it full time you'll need to pay him. But CAD has been here for years. The res
      • Thanks for the defense, but it was more of a point about the open source gift culture being treated as an entitlement on every other Ask Slashdot.

        As for Open Office, I wonder if any of it was written in people's spare time. Everything I've read indicates a cathedral project that's 90% Sun, 10% Other corporations.
        • For the record, I haven't just been sitting here - I have actually started working on a CAD program to do what I need; the issue is that I'd rather spend my time designing parts than tools to design the parts.

          That said, I find that software is a bit nicer than parts since massaging code is fundamentally less resource-intensive than matter bashing (time vs. time plus matter). I've often thought that I should sit and write my own CAD/simulation app (I have several started but, like most programmers, my code

          • Ok.
            Post your idle software to Sourceforge, and then an Ask Slashdot like this:
            "Any good developers that would like to help me with making a free CAD tool? I have already the 5%, I need you to help me with the rest!"
      • Apart from its misguided sarcasm, why is this marked as a troll? This is the whole point of the free software movement: to rewrite what has been developed and to write what hasn't under an OSS license so that everyone should be able to use the software regardless of their income.


        WRONG!
        The whole point of the free software movement is not monetary, ut ethical.
        Free software ideals state that proprietary software takes freedom away from users.
        The freedom to modify it, the freedom to share, and the freedom to sh
      • to write what hasn't under an OSS license so that everyone should be able to use the software regardless of their income

        I'm sorry, but I don't remember income ever being apart of it. It's always been about Free as in Freedom, not as in beer.
    • I am looking for an open source versions of some obscure expensive niche software

      Actually, the only app I've had real problems replacing is MS Project, ironically I need it for my Software engineering degree; You'd think developers had no need for project management tools. Maybe I should submit an ask slashdot? ;)
    • It should be, "Dear Slashdot, I am looking for free versions of the above because I am a tightwad. I have used the phrase Open Source so that you publish my submission and geeks will flock to it"
    • I'd mod you up, but just spent my last point. So I'll give the common response instead:

      "I just looked up what programs seem to be dedicated to doing what "obscure expensive niche software that is only of interest to a tiny audience" does. I used Wikipedia's List of open source software [wikipedia.org] or a google search or something similar. If I actually cite my source, it is only to ridicule 1)you for asking in the first place 2)Slashdot editors for actually posting your garbage. I haven't actually used the software,
    • only of interest to a tiny audience

      These sorts of software tools are useful to anyone, and any organisation, that deals with engineering or invention. Any application where mathematical and scientific theory can be analysed and applied to the 'real world' is undoubtedly useful to all users of the end product. Whether this type of software is used by a majority or not, the majority of the world's population will feel it's effects through the improvement of products and services analysed by the software.

    • by Frumious Wombat ( 845680 ) on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @05:00PM (#14038539)
      Molecular Physicists/Computational Chemists have made available through a variety of open licenses, including GPL, highly complex, well-developed, robust simulation codes. We're undoubtedly a smaller niche than MechE's, but we have a good couple dozen solid production codes to choose from (if you mix the quantum people and the classical MD people), for between Free (beer/speech) to Freeish (moderate license fee, or restrictions on code redistribution).

      Maybe the problem is cultural: people who can write such software, write it for money. There isn't enough money in electronic structure packages, so at least half of them remain free. The money that's charged is frequently to cover duplication costs, and to chase off dilettants.

      Maybe the bigger problem is the parent poster is expecting a level of user-obsequiousness from his software. Most of my community's free codes are somewhere between User-Indifferent to User-Surly, but you get used to the ones that are relevant to your own work rather quickly.

      However, I would list Octave http://www.octave.org/ [octave.org] and OpenDX http://www.opendx.org/ [opendx.org] as good starting places for tools. That will get you a good programming environment, and an absolutely killer visualization framework.
  • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <qg@biodome.org> on Monday November 14, 2005 @11:03PM (#14032077) Homepage Journal
    As an aside, are there any thoughts on why the engineering applications appear to be so overlooked by the open source community?

    Because they're really really hard.
    • by idommp ( 134503 ) on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @10:04AM (#14034637)
      Humorous but true. I've spent 25 years writing engineering (and other scientific applications) software. The development cycle is LONG because the problems being addressed are complex. Most any idiot can program a text processor. Programming a complex mathematical analysis that guarantees the bridge won't fall down in a stiff wind is a bit harder. It requires a bit of skill and esoteric knowledge. Having that knowledge, I whore my services out to the highest bidder. Companies pay me to design programs that make their engineers more efficient. Why would they want to share that knowledge with the competition?

      There is also liability involved when doing engineering software.

      But OpenSource is alive and well in this arena. http://www.opendwg.org/ [opendwg.org] is just one example.

      • There is also liability involved when doing engineering software.

        Not really. The liability is on the person using your software. If a bridge falls, its the civil engineer who certified the plans that is held liable. The worst thing that could happen is that the engineer goes to jail and they no longer need a license for your software.
        • The worst thing that could happen is that the engineer goes to jail and they no longer need a license for your software.

          I normally write under a fixed sum contract and the company that hires me owns the code. I make a tidy income maintaining the code as the company upgrades to new hardware.

          If I sign a contract to produce code that implements a given algorithm and there is a hidden flaw that appears later, the engineer goes to jail and the company sues me. Not exactly the way I want to spend my retirement

    • Close, but not quite. Because you need domain knowledge. I have no idea of what a MechE does in his day to day worklife. As such, I'd be unable to design software to do it. Unlike a word processor, which I know and could whip out in a few months.

      You basicly need either the main developers to be experts in their fields, or to be working very closely with people who are. Otherwise such a product is doomed to failure.

      That said- I'd love to see some FOSS engineering tools. Its a necessary step to spreadi
      • Because you need domain knowledge. I have no idea of what a MechE does in his day to day worklife.

        I've found this to be mostly true, especially in the past. I've been looking for decent Electrical Engineering tools for Linux. Being a student, I can't really afford any of the commercial solutions (and they're actually not all that great either.. I find PSpice to be complete crap). I'd like to have some basic tools just for drawing circuits, never mind accurately modeling them, but the ones that exist are

        • I really enjoyed your rant about engineering. It's so true. I never went to university until 33, then I quickly dropped out as I realized that it's got nothing to do with learning, but rather transferring my hard-earned money into the university's pockets.

          The classes were awful, and being the oldest guy in the room didn't do much for me personally. I was a wiz in chemistry in high school, but very much tired of it by 33, yet they had me take high school chemistry AGAIN because I'm old.

          Well, the labs were

  • If there are no free options, what could be done with a budget of $500 or $1000?

    Not much, unfortunately. Most commercial grade engineering apps run tens of thousands of dollars, raising to hundreds depending on the area of specialty. Telco software (for example) can easily raise this by an order of magnitude.

    If your corporate budget is $1k, you should be happy with any FOSS software you can get.

    Personally, I use Eagle for circuit design (it's not FOSS, but they have free linux, os x, and windows versions
  • I hate to break it to you but here it is.

    As an aside, are there any thoughts on why the engineering applications appear to be so overlooked by the open source community?"

    See subject.

    Then, re-read the subject.

    There is only an extremely small fraction of open source enthusiasts that need this sort of software or are even interested in it. The people that know how to program them and are interested in doing the work for this type of program for free are scant. There are probably projects underway.

    File format
    • CAD is hardly niche. AutoDesk (makers of AutoCAD) made $1 billion in profits last year.

      Take the US Construction industry, 4.8 percent of the U.S. GDP [constructionweblinks.com]. That's $1.1 trillion [census.gov]. Now figure that most architectural firms I know (I'm an architect) have a copy for every intern, drafter and architect they have. That's a ballpark of 113,000 people [bls.gov]. The same then goes for the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, civil, landscape architect, and survey design professions. Also, most owners have a facilities d

      • I wanted to back up my parent thread holder here and say you can add the ship building industry in there too. Almost the entire Northrop Grumman sector I work in uses AutoCAD and ShipContructor (an AutoCAD add-on). That's an engineering core of over 400. Add in the other Northrop Grumman sectors I have worked with, whom also use AutoCAD, now you have well over 5000. As a defense contracting company, we work with other defense contractors, like, Lockheed Martin, guess what they primarily use......AutoCAD

      • CAD basically killed the concept of an independant "draftsman/designer", everyone is now a CAD operator (paid typist).

        The software used quite often dictates what a designer can do and individuality is gone, resulting in a much more structured format of creativity. Since every manager and his twin can now review drawings before they are finished, we have a "design by consensus" situation.

        That's good for people that are afraid of what they're doing, but bad for innovation.
    • I think the guy is looking at this the other way around, and with some corrections.

      Open source doesn't even mean free as in beer.
      Free software doesn't, either, but from a community POV, make more sense.

      The actual question is: why are the benefits of free software overlooked by the CAD community?

      3d modeling was arguably niche, and 3d enthusiasts joined together and liberated a great, but not commercially succesful project, Blender. They raised $ 100k , and now the software is free, GPL free, and it's movie-g
  • by RockClimbingFool ( 692426 ) on Monday November 14, 2005 @11:16PM (#14032146)
    For fluids, you really can't beat Overflow and its associated tools. Written by some of the guys at AMES, its open source and comes with decent grid generation tools. I am not a structures guy, but isn't NASTRAN an industry standard NASA FEA tool?
  • try octave (Score:4, Informative)

    by blackcoot ( 124938 ) on Monday November 14, 2005 @11:34PM (#14032233)
    http://octave.org/ [octave.org] i suggest you get the cvs version. most matlab scripts will just work, unless they're mex files (in which case you're s.o.l.). that makes a lot of the packages you mentioned at least possible.

    as for the meat of your question, i suggest you try to write one of the pieces of software you mentioned --- the exact reasons for why they're hard to find in general will become apparent pretty quickly.
  • Most of these labs have made their softwares available for download. Lots of modeling softwares to choose from. Just get a list of all of these labs and hit all of their websites, you might find the software you need. Certainly there are many FEM and fluid dynamics packages...

    Oh, and NASA too, as someone else said.

    I have seen these before when I searched for some such packages. Don't remember which site, as there was software at each site.
  • OpenCascade (Score:5, Informative)

    by jungd ( 223367 ) * on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @12:20AM (#14032432)
    http://www.opencascade.org/ [opencascade.org]

    It is a big package far more capable that most commercial apps and is open source.
  • X-Cad is pretty decent CAD software, and you can get a free version at www.x-cad.net I've heard GNU Octave is good as a matlab replacement as well. --buddy
  • Congrats, you picked a really expensive hobby. Now get a job to support your habit. Try to avoid wife/kids. Probably the most expensive hobby of all.
  • CAx software (Score:3, Informative)

    by Noksagt ( 69097 ) on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @09:17AM (#14034255) Homepage
    Mostly from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open_source_s oftware_packages [wikipedia.org]. I've used most, usually for some part of a design or analysis. You could do engineering with only these (people used to not use computers at all), but you are correct that they aren't always "polished." They do, however, work fine for the patient, idealistic hobbyist who doesn't want to spend much money:
    • CAE Linux [caelinux.com] - A LiveCD which lets you try out SALOME and Code-Aster
    • Quanitan [eddelbuettel.com] - A LiveCD with QCad,
    • Impact [sourceforge.net] - Finite element
    • QCad [ribbonsoft.com] - 2D CAD
    • BRL-CAD [brlcad.org] - 3D CAD
    • Open CASCADE [opencascade.org] - software development platform for 3D CAD, CAM, CAE, etc.
    • Code_Aster [code-aster.org] - FEM
    • Salome [salome-platform.org] - pre/post processing
  • I posted previously on CAD/CAM/CAE/FE. Now for more genereal purpose (numerical) math software.

    As has been suggested, GNU Ocatve is great. It is mostly compatible with MatLab, and even more powerful if you use Octave Forge [sourceforge.net]. It satisfies all of your requirements: it uses "standard" matlab-like files, and is stand-alone. Some of the apps which say they require Matlab may work under Octave. If they don't, a few bug reports might urge the developers to try to make sure their programs work on Octave too (ma
  • Yes (Score:3, Informative)

    by 4of12 ( 97621 ) on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @10:21AM (#14034769) Homepage Journal

    You can go one of two ways for FEA.

    • Shrink-wrapped software for the PC, with nice Windows GUIs, with proprietary file formats, with good support built-in for other proprietary file formats, particularly for geometry.
    • Open source software with greater cross-platform portability but decidedly less friendly GUI's, much less support for the variety of proprietary file formats.

    As one promising application in open source FEA, take a look at Gmsh [geuz.org].

    Part of the problem is that there is whole sequence to typical FEA

    1. Geometry creation, editing and repair.
    2. Discretization, meshing.
    3. Analysis.
    4. Visualization.

    Traditionally, analysis has been decoupled from geometry, using very simple low order elements to do the calculations. Visualization, likewise, can be done based on millions of linear tetrahedra, hexahedra, or surface patches.

    Now, it seems increasingly useful if higher order, global geometric information (eg, NURBS) could be made part of some finite element analyses and passed back and forth more easily through each phase of analysis. I keep hoping that OpenCascade or perhaps something like X3D provides a geometry engine that is open and is useful to FEA.

    When you get down to it, much FEA shares a lot with the gaming community in terms of needs for geometry, surface discretization, and visualization.

    Perhaps my dream FEA FOSS geometry representation will be realized when someone in the gaming community decides to use FEA to help render more physically realistic scenes rather than faking things that look realistic enough but cheat (and why not?) on the physics with a less computationally expensive algorithm.

  • by sysadmn ( 29788 ) <sysadmnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @10:45AM (#14034988) Homepage
    Scilab [scilab.org] is free as in beer, but not free as in libre. It runs on Linux, Solaris, HP-UX, and Windows. It's pretty similar to Matlab, as best I recall. It also includes links to Maple and PVM.
    Another possibility (again, not libre, but free) is LyME [calerga.com] for the Palm Pilot. LyME is a matlab-like environment good enough for simple what-if scenarios.
    • So why not use Octave, which IS free as in libre?

      Octave seems to have a bigger developer and user community (with Octave-Forge & similar repositories).
  • In general... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by stienman ( 51024 ) <adavis AT ubasics DOT com> on Tuesday November 15, 2005 @11:39AM (#14035526) Homepage Journal
    As an aside, are there any thoughts on why the engineering applications appear to be so overlooked by the open source community?

    In general open source programmers scratch an itch.

    Programmers don't always make good engineers.

    Engineers don't always make good programmers.

    If you really love programming, you'll typically want to spend more time programming than, say, engineering. Therefore you may not ever have the desire to write an engineering program unless an engineer challenges you.

    If you really love engineering, you'll typically want to spend more time engineering..ing than, say, programming. Therefore you'll likely never write your own tools if there's something available that you can use out of the box. Especially if it's an industry standard and can get your better employment.

    Programmers make programs that make them more efficient. You don't see many open source knitting programs. Same for cat breeding and many other areas where programming doesn't naturally flow.

    If anything, however, engineering is one of the closest disciplines to programming, and there is a lot of OS engineering software out there.

    -Adam
    • I know that you prefixed this with "in general," but I still think you're wrong.

      In general open source programmers scratch an itch.

      Ah...But who is to say what itch you have?

      If you really love engineering, you'll typically want to spend more time engineering..ing than, say, programming. Therefore you'll likely never write your own tools if there's something available that you can use out of the box.

      Ah...but writing your own programs can be quite helpful (many mechanical engineers do some machining (sometimes

  • Here is another program. I am not experienced in this type of application but it may be useful. http://www.opencfd.co.uk/openfoam/ [opencfd.co.uk] OpenFOAM CFD Toolbox
  • I've just downloaded Elmer, which looks promissing.
    http://www.csc.fi/elmer/ [www.csc.fi]

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