Last week we released a significant update to Element, our free lattice design software. In addition to a major change to our windowing system, we also changed the lattice generation workflow a bit and added the first Element Pro module.
This is something we've been wanting to do for a long time: Element is now one window. For now, open tools appear as a sidebar on the right side of the 3D viewport, but in the near future we'll be resizing them individually to free up even more screen space.
Thickening vs. Meshing
In the back end, nTopology Element represents lattice structures as a list of nodes and a list of beams connecting them. When we create a thick lattice, we apply a diameter to every node, and then thicken the beams such that they have linear interpolation between the thicknesses of the nodes they're connected to.
Until Element 0.12.7, though, our `Thicken Lattice` tool created mesh (similar to STL/OBJ) objects. Meshes describe lattices as many, many, small triangles, often resulting in file sizes in the hundreds of megabytes. This is okay for printing (most 3D printing build processors take in STL and OBJ files easily) but not very useful while you're designing the part. So with 0.12.7, we've split these two functions up - allowing you to thicken a lattice without bogging down your RAM and video card. You can experiment all you want with these thickened lattices to see what your part will look like, but only need to convert it to a mesh when you're ready to print.
I'm going to start with this: Element Free is still free, and it always will be. For advanced users, however, we're rolling out a series of Pro modules that add more functionality and flexibility. For these, we've implemented a new licensing system that allows us to enable Pro features for our paid customers.
If Element Free does everything that you need it to, this doesn't affect you at all! But if you're looking for more powerful design and analysis tools - and tighter interoperability with other CAD software - then you can browse our Pro modules here. When you're ready to take a trial, just click `Help > Licensing` and follow the instructions there.
Our first Pro module offers the ability to import & export lattices in our open source, XML based file format (LTCX). This allows intrepid users to edit lattices outside of Element, and also lets you use beam analysis to analyze your lattice in your preferred FEA package. We're working hard to integrate LTCX into the leading AM build processor software, so you can skip the meshing step altogether and print right from a lightweight, stable file format. You can see the full LTCX file specification here.
Starting in 0.12.7, we're collecting anonymized usage data about what tools are being used in Element. You can read our full EULA here, and can opt out of data collection by going to `Help > About`.
Coming in the next month
We're on a roll right now, and will be launching a handful of new Pro modules - and a bunch of improvements to Element Free - over the next month. To start, look out for a new and much more flexible way to generate surface lattices. We're also working on both offset thickening and conformal structures, and will be rolling out FEA, CAD interchange, our Rule builder, and more big features over the summer. We're *really* excited to see what you do with them - get in touch if you've got questions or want to schedule a trial of Element Pro!