Computer Aided Design (CAD) allows teams to prototype robots and components electronically, document their designs, and create impressive design renderings. CAD is a good way to identify potential design flaws early, and for a team to share ideas and detailed plans. The highest-quality competition robots have a compactness in their design that comes from being planned in CAD, saving countless hours of refitting and rebuilding required for comparable results.
There are many CAD packages, and all of them have available VEX part libraries and free educational licenses. The basics of assembling & constraining existing parts are easy to learn, especially if you have access to a mentor to help get you up to speed. As a first project, model your existing robot or subsystem. Once you’re comfortable with recreating an existing design in CAD, you’ll be ready to try designing something simple using software instead of hardware. Fully learning CAD is a bigger commitment, and using the built-in training sessions or even taking a CAD class can help.
Which CAD Software Should I Use?
Your choice will be guided by your computer, your mentors, and ultimately your personal preferences. Some packages require high-end computers, others run in the cloud. If a mentor has experience in a particular package, you can leverage their experience to get up to speed quickly. If your career goals include CAD, that might guide your choice. Free educational licenses mean that you can and should try out multiple packages to see which work best for you, and learning multiple tools has no downside.
The major CAD packages right now are Fusion 360, Inventor, SolidWorks, Onshape, and Solid Edge. SnapCAD is also a great option for VEX IQ students who are just starting out in CAD.
Autodesk Fusion 360
Autodesk® offers free software, models, and datasets for students, coaches, and mentors. Autodesk Fusion 360™ software is a cloud-based 3D CAD/CAM tool that helps teams explore design ideas and create models for 3D printing and machining. Teams can quickly modify robot designs, create assemblies, produce photorealistic renderings, and fabricate the parts they need to succeed. Student accounts provide access to tutorials, self-paced courses, and interactive learning resources.
Autodesk offers free software, models, and datasets for students, coaches, and mentors. Autodesk Inventor® Professional software enables teams to produce 3D models that can help with the design, visualization, and simulation of the robot’s functionality. Student accounts provide access to tutorials, self-paced courses, and interactive learning resources.
Student teams can apply for a sponsorship that includes free use of the SolidWorks desktop suite for team members for one year, which includes over twelve powerful design and engineering products, and/or the 3DExperience platform, a cloud-based portfolio of integrated tools and apps. SolidWorks can help student teams with sponsorships and an array of resources, including software, curriculum, parts designs, design tools, and more.
Onshape enables teams to digitally create 2D drawings and 3D models of their robots—before they’re built in the physical world. Onshape allows students to explore different builds, test designs, and communicate improvements—all online. No need to download or install—teams can all work together in an Onshape document at the same time, from any device, anywhere.
Solid Edge Student Edition allows teams to design assemblies, with capabilities including exploded view creation, animation, advanced rendering, and simulation. A student account provides access to tutorials, self-paced courses, and interactive learning resources.
SnapCAD is a community-built solution for designing virtual VEX IQ models and creating printable, shareable instructions for them. Teams can use SnapCAD to test out an idea in the virtual world before building it physically, or to share their creations with the world in the form of step-by-step build instructions.
Where Can I Find Parts Libraries?
The official CAD for every VEX Robotics part can be found on the products pages at VexRobotics.com. Go to the part’s listing on the site, and you can download a .step (.stp) format file of every VEX and VEX IQ part. “Step” is a universal ISO part format that can be imported to most software packages.
VEX Robotics does not have a “parts library,” they only maintain the .step files for downloads. Autodesk engineers build (and sometimes maintain) unofficial libraries, and others are made by users who are students or mentors. Shared libraries come and go, but at the time this article was written, all of these libraries (and many more!) were available for download.
- Autodesk-engineer-created libraries for Autodesk Fusion 360 & Inventor libraries for VEX V5 and VEX IQ
- Student-created Fusion 360 library
- Fusion 360 library by Ohio State University’s VEX-U team
- Student-created, high-quality Inventor library
- Purdue Sigbots Inventor library
- Inventor library by team 5062E
- Inventor library by team 6142W
- V5 Clawbot Trainer created in Inventor
- SolidWorks library by Team 7479
- 3d Content Central includes many VEX parts
- SolidWorks library by Team 169
- V5 Clawbot Trainer created in SolidWorks
- Onshape library by Team 2114A
This article is an updated and revised version of the 2020 VEX Team 3547: Virus article “CAD for VEX Robotics,” and is used with their permission.