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Zheng, Lei edited this page Sep 6, 2018 · 3 revisions

Coordinate System

The user is encouraged to first read this tutorial to get some idea about the new concept of local coordinate systems. The tutorial is for the original unfinished Assembly workbench, but gives a pretty comprehensive overview of what Assembly3 is providing as well. The Part or Product container mentioned in the tutorial are equivalent to the Assembly container in Assembly3, which of course can be treated just as a part and added to other assemblies. There is one thing I disagree with this tutorial. The concept of global coordinate system is still useful, and necessary to interoperate with objects from other legacy (i.e. non-local-CS-aware) workbench. Let's just define the global coordinate system as the 3D view coordinate system, in other word, the location where you actually see the object in the 3D view, or, the coordinates displayed in the status bar when you move your mouse over some object.

There is an existing container, App::Part, in upstream FreeCAD, which is a group type object that defines a local coordinate system. The difference, comparing to Assembly3 container, is that one object is allowed to be added to one and only one App::Part container. The owner container can be added to other App::Part container, but must still obey the one direct parent container rule. The reason behind this is that when any object is added to App::Part, it is physically removed from its original parent coordinate system, and added to the owner App::Part's coordinate system, so the object cannot appear in more than one coordinate system. By physically removed, I mean the 3D visual representation data is physically moved to a different coordinate system inside the 3D scene graph (See here for more details).

Assembly3 container has no such restriction. When added to a Assembly3 container, the object's visual data is simply reused and inserted multiple times into the scene graph, meaning that the object actually exists simultaneously in multiple coordinate systems. This has a somewhat unexpected side effect. When an object is added to an assembly with some placement, the object is seemingly jumping into a new place (Update: there is a new feature to auto adjust placement when dropping object across different coordinate system. To activate it, right click anywhere in tree view, and select Tree options -> Sync placement). This is expected, because the object enters a new coordinate system, and it seems to have the same behavior as App::Part. But what actually happened is that the original object inside the global coordinate system is simply made invisible before adding to the assembly container. You can verify this by manually toggle the Visibility property to reveal the object in its original placement. Every object's Visibility property controls its own visibility in the global coordinate system only. Each assembly container has the VisibilityList property to control the visibilities of its children.


The forked FreeCAD core introduced a new type of object, called Link. A Link type object (not to be confused with a link property) often does not have geometry data of its own, but instead, link to other objects (using link property) for geometry data sharing. Its companion view provider, Gui::ViewProviderLink, links to the linked object's view provider for visual data sharing. It is the most efficient way of duplicating the same object in different places, with optional scale/mirror and material override. The core provides an extension, App::LinkBaseExtension, as a flexible way to help users extend their own object into a link type object. The extension utilize a so called property design pattern, meaning that the extension itself does not define any property, but has a bunch of pre-defined property place holders. The extension activates part of its function depending on what properties are defined in the object. This design pattern allows the object to choose their own property names and types.

The core provides two ready-to-use link type objects, App::Link and App::LinkGroup, which expose different parts of LinkBaseExtension's functionality. App::Link supports linking to an object, either in the same or external document, and has built-in support of array (through property ElementCount) for efficient duplicating of the same object. LinkGroup acts like a group type object with local coordinate system. It relies on LinkBaseExtension and ViewProviderLink to provide advanced features like, adding external child object, adding the same object multiple times, etc. All of the Assembly3 containers are in fact customized LinkGroup.


Element is a brand new concept introduced by Assembly3. It is used to minimize the dreadful consequences of geometry topological name changing, and also brings the object-oriented concept in the programming world into CAD assembling. Element can be considered as a declaration of connection interface of the owner assembly, so that other parent assembly can know which part of this assembly can be joined with others.

For a geometry constraint based system, each constraint defines some relationship among geometry elements of some features. Conventionally, the constraint refers to those geometry elements by their topological names, such as Fusion001.Face1, Cut002.Edge2, etc. The problem with this simple approach is that the topological name is volatile. Faces or edges may be added/removed after the geometry model is modified. More sophisticated algorithm can be applied to reduce the topological name changing, but there will never be guarantee of fixed topological names. Imagine a simple but yet extreme case where the user simply wants to replace an entire child feature, say, changing the type of some screw. The two features are totally different geometry objects with different topological naming. The user has to manually find and amend geometry element references to the original child feature in multiple constraints, which may exists in multiple assembly hierarchies, across multiple documents.

The solution, presented by Assembly3, is to use abstraction by adding multiple levels of indirections to geometry references. Each Assembly container has an element group that contains a list of Elements, which are a link type of object that links to some geometry element of some child feature of this assembly. In case the feature is also an Assembly, then the Element in upper hierarchy will instead point to the Element inside lower hierarchy assembly. In this way, each Element acts as an abstraction to which geometry element can be used by other parent assemblies. Any constraint involving some assembly will only indirectly link to the geometry element through an Element of some child assembly. If the geometry element's topological name changes due to whatever reason, the user only needs to change the deepest nested (i.e. nearest to the actual geometry object) Element's link reference, and all upper hierarchy Elements and related constraints stays the same.

The Element is a specialized App::Link that links into a sub-object, using a PropertyXLink that accepts a tuple(object, subname) reference. In addition, Element allows to be linked by its label, instead of the immutable internal FreeCAD object name. Element specifically allows its label to be duplicated (but still enforces uniqueness among its siblings). This enables the user to define inter-changeable parts with the same set of elements as interface.

Let's take a look at the following assembly hierarchy for an example,

    |       |--Constraint001
    |               |--ElementLink -> (Elements001, "$Element.")
    |               |--ElementLink001 -> (Parts001, "Assembly002.Elements002.$Element001.")
    |     |--Element -> (Parts001, "Cut.Face3")
                 |      |--Element001 -> (Parts002, "Assembly003.Elements003.$Element002.")
                                |       |--Element002 -> (Parts003, "Fusion.Face1")

The Assembly001 has two child features, a Cut object and a child Assembly002, which in turn has its own child Assembly003. Assembly001 contains a constraint Constraint001 that defines the relationship of its two child features. Constraint001 refers to two geometry element through two links, ElementLink, which point to a second level link, Element. ElementLink001 points to Element001, And, because the first child feature Cut is not defined as an assembly, its geometry element reference is directly stored inside the parent assembly element group. Element001, however, links to the lower hierarchy Element002 in its child assembly, which again links to Element003 in its child Assembly003. Notice the $ inside the subname references. It marks the followed text to be a label instead of an object name reference. If you re-label the object, all PropertyXLink of all opened documents containing that label reference will be automatically updated.

The grand idea is that, after the author modified an assembly, whether its a modification to the geometry model, or replacing some child feature. He needs to check all element references inside that and only that assembly, and make proper adjustment to correct any undesired changes. Other assemblies with elements or constraints referring to this assembly will stay the same (although recomputation is still required), even if those assemblies reside in different documents, or come from different authors.

Let's say, we have modified Fusion, and the original Fusion.Face1 is now changed to Face10. All we need to do is to simply modify Element002 inside the same owner assembly of Fusion. Everything else stays the same.

Again, say, we want to replace Assembly003 with some other assembly. Now this is a bit involving, because, we added Aseembly003 directly to Assembly002, instead of using a link, which can be changed dynamically. The FreeCAD core has a general command to simplify this task. Right click Assembly003 in the tree view, and select Link actions -> Replace with link. Assembly003 inside Parts002 will now be replaced with a link that links to Assembly003. Every relative link that involving Parts002.Assembly003 will be updated to Parts002.Link_Assembly003 automatically. In our case, that will be Element001. You can then simply change the link to point to another assembly containing an element object with the same label Element001 (remember element object allows duplicated labels). If you still insist on adding the new assembly directly and get rid of the link, you can use Link actions -> unlink, and delete the link object afterward.

It may seem intimidating to maintain all these complex hierarchies of Elements, but the truth is that it is not mandatory for the user to manually create any element, at all. Simply select any two geometry elements in the 3D view, and you can create a constraint, regardless how many levels of hierarchies in-between. All intermediate Elements and ElementLinks will be created automatically. Although, for the sake of re-usability, it is best for the user as an assembly author to explicitly create Element as interfaces, and give them proper names for easy (re)assembling. Check out this tutorial for a demonstration of part replacement.

Last but not the least, Element, as well as the ElementLink inside a constraint, make use of a new core feature, OnTopWhenSelected, to forcefully show highlight of its referring geometry sub-element (Face, Edge, Vertex) when selected, regardless of any obscuring objects. The property OnTopWhenSelected is available to all view object, but default to False, while Element and ElementLink make it active by default. The on-top feature makes it even easier for the user to check any anomaly due to topological name changing.


There are two types of selection in FreeCAD, geometry element selection by clicking in the 3D view, and whole object selection by clicking in the tree view. When using Assembly3, it is important to distinguish between these two types of selection, because there are now lots of objects with just one geometry element. While you are getting used to these, it is helpful to bring out the selection view (FreeCAD menu bar, View -> Panels -> Selection view). You select a geometry element by clicking any unselected element (Face, Edge or Vertex) in the 3D view. If you click an already selected element, the selection will go one hierarchy up. For example, for a LinkGroup shown below,

    |       |--Fusion
    |       |--Cut

Suppose you have already selected Fusion.Face1. If you click that face again, the selection will go one hierarchy up, and select the whole Fusion object. If you click any where inside Fusion object again, the selection goes to LinkGroup001, and you'll see both Fusion and Cut being highlighted. If you again click anywhere inside LinkGroup001, Cut001 will be highlighted, too, because the entire LinkGroup is selected. Click again in LinkGroup, the selection goes back to the geometry element you just clicked.

There is a new feature in the forked FreeCAD selection view. Check the Enable pick list option in selection view. You can now pick any overlapping geometry elements that intersect with your mouse click in the selection view.

You may find it helpful to turn on tree view selection synchronization (right click in tree view, select Sync selection), so that the tree view will automatically scroll to the object you just selected in the 3D view. When you select an originally unselected object in the tree view, the whole object will be selected. And if you start dragging the object item in the tree view, you are dragging the whole object. If you select a geometry element in the 3D view, its owner object will also be selected in tree view. But if you then initiate dragging of that particular object item, you are in fact dragging the selected geometry element. This is an important distinction, because some containers, such as the Constraint object, only accept dropping of geometry element, and refuse whole object dropping.

  • 2D/3D Sketch

The usage of sketch in assembly is a technique called Skeleton Modeling. It is a type of top-down design approach, where you draw skeleton (lines, arcs, etc) sketches to specify design criteria, and then add individual components that references those criteria. Some type of mechanical systems are naturally modeled in 2D, e.g. a pin joint that can only rotate in a plane, while others must be modeled in 3D, e.g. a ball joint.

FreeCAD already has a powerful Sketcher workbench, but it is limited to creating 2D sketches. In addition, the sketcher is more geared toward geometry modeling, i.e. creating bases for extrusion, pocketing, etc. The sketch object stores all elements and constraints inside the object itself. It has its own editor and solver, which makes it probably the most complex single object in the entire FreeCAD. Instead of modifying the sketch object to suit for assembly needs, Assembly3 opt to repurpose some of the objects from the Draft workbench without modification. The draft workbench, I believe, was originally used for sketching purposes before the birth of the more specialized sketcher.

At the time of this writing, Assembly3 supports using draft wire and circle/arc for sketching purpose. For normal objects added to an assembly container as a part, the placement of the object is used as constraining parameters (see here for more details). Draft wire is treated specially. Instead of constraining on the object placement, it is constrained on the coordinates of each individual points. Draft circle is still constrained on its placement like other objects, but with an additional parameter for its radius, and draft arc, two more parameters for the first and last angle that defines its two end points. Draft wires has many use cases, not all of which are acceptable by sketching constraint (e.g. LineLength). Only non-subdivided wires without a base or tool object attached are accepted.

The draft objects added are free to move in 3D space. To create a 2D sketch, you can add a SketchPlane constraint. It accepts any planar edge or face as the first element for defining the current sketching plane. Any draft object elements involved in the following constraints will be confined to this plane implicitly. You can also explicitly add elements into the SketchPlane constraint. To reset the current sketch plane, i.e. make the following draft elements free in 3D, add an empty SketchPlane constraint. You can have more than one sketch plane defined in the same assembly container.

You can checkout this tutorial to find out more details

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