In Development: 3D Plugins

Seasoned KiCad users are familiar with the venerable 3DViewer tool which has traditionally been used to help verify design by visual inspection and to create images of what a project may look like when it is finished. Historically the 3DViewer could only process a very limited implementation of the VRML2 (aka VRML97) specification as produced by the Wings3D modeler.

In the past two years various developers contributed support for VRML1 and a very limited implementation of X3D, which improved the support for VRML generated by FreeCAD. Although this gave users greater freedom, users remained unable to exploit the IGES and STEP mechanical models of components as provided by many manufacturers and retailers easily.

The ability to view such mechanical models within KiCad would give users access to a much larger collection of models on the internet; furthermore IGES and STEP mechanical models can eventually be used by KiCad to provide a direct export of solid model files for use by mechanical designers and hobbyists.

With the intention of eventual support for direct mechanical model export as outlined long ago in CERN’s KiCad roadmap, a 3D Plugin system was developed to make it easier to support arbitrary 3D model formats in the future. After almost 8 months in development the code branch has been merged with the product branch in revision 6664 and has since been available in the nightly builds of KiCad.

The code branch contains the plugin system with plugins to support IDF files (emn + emp), IDF component outlines (idf), VRML1, VRML2, and X3D. A separate plugin project is available to view IGES and STEP files via OpenCASCADE Community Edition (OCE) and is available at kicad_oce_3D.

STEP file shown in the 3D previewer in KiCad
Figure 1. STEP file shown in the 3D previewer in KiCad

The code today gives users a view of what’s to come. At the moment the 3DViewer cannot handle the new data formats used to visualize the models so models other than X3D, VRML1, and VRML2 will only be visible as a 3D preview in the 3D File Browser and 3D Settings windows. A new 3DViewer is under development which can take advantage of the new 3D plugin system and will eventually replace the existing 3DViewer, the current development branch for this can be found on:

All this was mainly developed by two developers. The 3D plugin system was written by Cirilo Bernardo and the rendering code was written by Mario Luzeiro.

Note
UPDATE 2016-09-07 The OCE plugin for STEP and IGES 3D viewer support was merged with the offical development branch recently and should now be available in the newest nightlies.

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