RIP RS DesignSpark Mechanical (#R19)


It looks like RS has pulled the plug on the free Designspark Mechanical 3D modelling software. I’ve only been using it for about three years, starting right on the transition from DSM4 to DSM5, but I spent countless hours with it, making or editing probably close to 100 models, plus opening hundreds more, e.g. recently checking electronic component STEP files before importing them into Altium. OpenSCAD doesn’t really work for complex geometries, and Sketchup, later Google Sketchup, was quickly dismissed when I tried DSM – it’s simply inferior software, at least, it was back in ~2019/2020, plus Google als tried monetizing it at that point.

Well, I’m exaggerating a bit since with the introduction of DSM6, there will still be a free version. It’s just that it’ll be way less useful for 3D printing purposes, and simultaneously they’re going to make DSM5 (and prior) stop working. DSM always needed an account and some periodic activation thing. So: No activation servers or denied activation = no old versions around.

Whats the issue with DSM6, then?
Easy. Currently, DSM5 can import STEP files as read-only models, which is usually good enough. There’s an easy workaround for that using FreeCAD which often times works, depending on model/model quality. And even if that doesn’t work, one can still get measurements from those models, or project outlines to a plane, things like that. More importantly however, DSM5 can read and write STL files – those that one feeds into a 3D printing slicer to generate G-Code. So one is working on a model in good-ol’ proprietary RSDOC format, and once it’s finished, one exports it as STL. STL goes into e.g. Cura, Cura talks to the printer, printer goes brrr (some say printer goes bzzz?), physical model comes out. Done.

DSM6 Free no longer offers STL import.

So unless the entire 3D modelling/printing world is going to move to the proprietary Designspark format and its closed eco system – DSM is dead. Sure, I can still make models and share them in standard STL format – but nobody is going to be able to open them with their DSM6 Free unless I also share the RSDOCX file – which nobody outside of RS (e.g. all the 3D model websites like thingyverse) won’t be able to read and parse. STL on the other hand is well documented and said websites use it to e.g. render preview pictures of models or even generate models according to user input.

STL import is going to be available in DSM6 paid versions, and so are STEP import and export – it’s just going to set you back 11.49€ a month / 137.88€ a year. While that is still a bargain for professional use, and their top-tier “Engineer” subscription at 16.99€/month / 203.88€/year isn’t significantly more, over one hundred bucks a year is likely a show stopper for most 3D printing folks out there, including me.

Folks that previously paid for DSM addons, such as “drawing” for dimensioning support, are probably pissed a little extra, since their old addon will not work with DSM6 Free (regardless of their new inability to actually import their models…) Those features are included in the paid tiers, however – so previous users paid a fixed amount and are now forced to pay a monthly subscription to keep going. That just confirms my personal policy of not paying lump sums for software that needs any kind of interactive (online, phone, you name it) activation, and perpetual subscriptions…well, those are out of the question as well, fuck subscriptions.

Safe to say I’m not pleased with this step, especially the part where they simply remove all legacy software from the market to push their new subscription-based product. Of course it was free and it always was promised that there’ll be a free version – but RS found the loophole in that advertisement claim to render it useless. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful that DSM exists, it’s terrific software – it’s just that I need to move on and I don’t know where to go from here. FreeCAD is a bit much, although it has niche uses for me with KiCAD plugins, and colleagues always fancied Fusion 360. Fusion however is only free for personal use, and having the greedy bastards from Autodesk behind them, any extension will set you back a healthy three to four digit amount annually, plus the commercial version is 70 USD a month or 545 USD a year to begin with (they call that “buy Fusion 360”, my understanding of “buying” is not “perpetual payments” in order to use or access something).

As for the other Designspark software included in that subscription, Designspark PCB: I’m a KiCAD user, so I cannot tell much about the current state of that. Judging from the list above, where creating a simple BOM for your circuit board is apparently a premium feature that unlocks at just 11.49€/month – well, nah, thank you.

So: Rest in Peace, Designspark Mechanical. You will be missed.

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