"To be blunt I've been literally appalled at the entrenched popularity of OpenSCAD in the RepRap community."
This is perhaps understandable. designing and building a whole machine is not a trivial undertaking. People are more focused on the designing than the tools. Being able to draw down on a pool of ready made components can not be underestimated for it's consolidating power. OpenSCAD was useable earler on in the 3D Printing timeline and many of the parts to be drawn down were writen in OpenSCAD. This together with the availability of an ever growing pool of source material via Thingiverse has helped it no end. Accesibility is the key.
OpenSCAD's limitations are teeth grinding. I guess why I have been lurking around FreeCAD for quite some time.
"You say you used commercial CAD packages, are you familiar with AutoCAD?"
My experience is with Pro Desktop, Pro Engineer and Solid Edge/Works etc. They do have assmebly contrasints and do exploded as a tick box.
"In my opinion it's already been the case for a good while!
I would say since v0.12.5284 was released in January 2012."
More so if you are either already CAD skilled or highly motivated to stick with a package through some of its early development ups and downs.
I am a qualified D&T Teacher and have taught 3D CAD to UK secondary level kids. So do understand fully the need for repeatability and stability when teaching CAD to new folks of wildly different skill levels. In looking to set up tutorials I am basicaly looking at using the same skills and comparing how the experience would come across to the learner. Where packages do random/odd things, non intuitive things or the things that are not obvious, that throws up issues for group teaching, as some of the group will fall into the holes and the pace of the tutorial be wrecked. It is a challenge to keep a group on task and progressing at a similar rate without loosing the less skilled or boring the more skilled. The success or failure of a tutorial session can be judged by how many of the learner group were lost en route. The contribution an application makes to this process can not be emphasised enough. Pro Desktop in particular had some very random failings that impeded it's progress.
"Sure, checking for clearances is a little harder but doable."
Sure assembly can be done by positioning parts in the 3 dimensions. It is a doable if time consuming work around. Assembly through constraints though is quick, intuitive and very easy, so boosting productivity and promoting accesibility. On checking clearences and alignment, I guess there is no adequate substitute for building something for real. However being able to assemble on constraints and then visualy check for obvious failings by the walk/fly through is incredibly useful and reduces the number of iterations needed on the final parts. For example constraining two parts on a common axis allows them to be slid together and apart whilst being examined. ie an Axle and Bearing, Dowel and Hole etc etc.
The printer work looks great, I hve a stretched Sells Huxley running Teacup (Same build space as a Mendel but smaller). The hardware hacking group has a Mendel Prusa Sanguinololu and a Mendel90. I have just opted for a Mendel90 for my second machine as I wanted better reliability/repetability with my parts and less time spent messing with the actual printer. I am certainly very happy with the Mendel90.
"Documenting designs, BOM creation is where FreeCAD is lacking. FreeCAD is a small project, there are less than 10 regular developers and there has been not much activity in the past few months. It seems "real life" has been getting in the way.
This is very much apreciated and great work is being done. Looking forward to sticking around a while.
Will look into the parts repository, many thanks.