Onshape’s FeatureScript is a new programming language that lets you create customized built-in CAD features or modify existing ones.

Ever Dream of Creating Your Own Built-In CAD Features?

By Jon Hirschtick / June 1, 2016

You won’t find the “Hex Infill” feature, pictured above, on your Onshape feature toolbar. It was specially created for Fast Radius (formerly CloudDDM), a Georgia-based additive manufacturing company, using Onshape’s FeatureScript programming language.

Starting this week, you can create your own built-in Onshape features – or modify existing ones using our original source code – to dramatically speed up your design process. Conceivably, 100 different Onshape customers could soon have 100 different feature toolbars!

We’re now officially sharing FeatureScript, the first open-source programming language for building parametric CAD features, with the public. It’s the same language our development team used to create all our existing features (Extrude, Fillet, Shell, Loft, etc.) and has already been tested millions of times by Onshape users without even realizing it.

All CAD systems have features. Some have a few more or few less than others. But no matter how many features there are in a CAD system, every user wants features that don’t exist. Either features that have slight differences from the ones that are there, or specialized ones that would never otherwise appear on your CAD vendor’s radar.

Create New or Modified Onshape Features

FeatureScript is the ultimate feature-based modeling tool. In general, there are two major reasons users want to create new or modified CAD features:

  1. Convenience/Personal Preference: For example, maybe you find it to be more efficient to enter a radius instead of a diameter.
  2. Speed Up Modeling Time: Wouldn’t it be great if one quick feature replaced multiple steps or monotonous tasks?

The Fast Radius PrintNow app's new built-in Hex Infill feature gives manufacturers the option to fill a solid object with a hollow hexagonal pattern to reduce material and printing time (without sacrificing strength or quality). The company specializes in large-scale 3D-printed production runs of industrial parts, molds and prototypes.

“I think FeatureScript will help us create unique tools to differentiate ourselves from our competitors in the 3D printing space and give more options to our customers,” says CEO Mitch Free. “Sometimes it’s reduced cost, sometimes it’s reduced weight or reduced running time with the machines.”

“Being able to customize features will allow us to get more utilization out of our equipment because we can print parts faster,” he adds. “I think we could get 30-40 percent more utilization.”

In addition to being a manufacturer (he also runs ZYCI, the “Starbucks of CNC Machine Shops”), Free also offers engineering consulting services to his clients to explore if design modifications can reduce production costs. A recent price comparison to 3D print a sample part (using the Fast Radius PrintNow app in the Onshape App Store) determined that clients could save 13% on each part if they used the Hex Infill.

Of course, savings will vary depending on the part, materials, machine time, etc., but now Free can potentially use FeatureScript with all of his clients who are open to exploring design changes.

FeatureScript Helps You Combine Repetitive Tasks

No CAD vendor can possibly cater to the feature wishes of every company. The design challenges are unique in every industry. The beauty of FeatureScript is that you can make it do what YOU want – and if you’re not a programmer, you can hire one to bend Onshape to your will.

Rami Rintaluoma, founder and CEO of Rintaluoma, Ltd., a Finland-based furniture manufacturer, recently added a new Onshape feature called “Dowel/Minifix” or DMF.

Have you ever assembled a desk or bookcase and used tiny wooden dowels and Minifix cam lock fasteners to attach or stabilize panels? Those parts are omnipresent in Rintaluoma products and Rami wondered if it was possible to automatically create dowel holes and cam lock fastener holes on the opposite side of a symmetrical panel once the first side was designed.

Using “Dowel/Minifix” now streamlines the process of hole placement, replacing multiple monotonous tasks with one quick feature. Take a look at this wardrobe design and how often “DMF” pops up in the feature list:

“FeatureScript is saving me so many hours that it changes my complete workflow,” says Rami. “The Dowel/Minifix feature just became my most used tool in Onshape.”

“I'm thrilled that a small Finnish furniture company can now have its own features in world-class CAD,” he adds. “I would say the game has totally changed.”

Everything You Need to Know About FeatureScript

You know your products best and every nook and cranny of your design process. Only you can determine the best way to have FeatureScript serve your needs. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • You Can Add Your Own Built-In Features: In traditional CAD systems, it’s possible to write add-on or macro features, but they never work as smoothly as the built-in ones. Your features written in FeatureScript are first-class citizens, as much a part of the system as the ones written by the Onshape development team.
  • You Can Use Custom Features Created By Others: Great minds think alike. If you wish you had a specific time-saving feature to reduce repetitive tasks, perhaps another Onshape user has already answered the call. Check out the Feature Spotlight section to see what you can add to your toolbar right now.
  • It’s the Same Programming Language Onshape Uses: Every Onshape feature (Extrude, Fillet, Shell, Loft, etc.) you use today was created in FeatureScript; and we’re now sharing the source code for all our features for you to study and use as you please.
  • FeatureScript Comes With Its Own IDE: There’s now a new tab called “Feature Studio,” which is an easy-to-use integrated development environment (IDE) with a powerful editor and inline help and documentation. You build parts in Onshape’s Part Studio, assemblies in Assembly Studio and features in Feature Studio.
  • You Can Speed Up Design Time & Reduce Manufacturing Costs: Just like Fast Radius can optimize their machine and raw materials use and Rintaluoma Ltd. can reduce repetitive tasks, your company can also boost savings and productivity.
  • You Can Save Programming Time: Because Onshape gives you the code for all existing features, you have a head start if you want to modify them. Inside Feature Studio, you’ll also have a wide selection of snippets, small building blocks of code that help you avoid reinventing the wheel.
  • If You’re Not a Programmer, Hire One: Not everyone is a jack-of-all-trades. If you’re an expert with CAD, but don’t write code, there are plenty of talented people who can – perhaps within your organization or in the Onshape Forums. The more important point is that you can now customize your CAD system to fit your specific company needs.
  • You Control How Your Feature Gets Used: You might choose to keep your new tool proprietary as a competitive advantage in your industry. Or you may opt to share your invention in the Onshape App Store (either for free or for sale). It’s your call.

How to Get Started

Until now, the only way to add new built-in features to your CAD system would be to submit an enhancement request to your CAD vendor. Or as my colleague Lou Gallo puts it, get sucked into the Black Hole of Enhancement Requests.

I’m sure many of you can identify with this, but in 20 years as a CAD professional, Lou has never gotten an enhancement wish granted. And when he later had “clout” as a CAD reseller, his prayers took up to 7 years(!) to get answered.

With FeatureScript, you can create built-in CAD features right now. You have the ball and how far you run with it is in your control.

Ready to get started?

I’m proud to be part of ushering in a new era of custom parametric CAD features and look forward to hearing about what you create in FeatureScript!

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Topics: Industry Perspectives