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Before the advent of CAD and other drafting software, engineering drawings, designs, and 3d models were handmade, using different tools, such as; large drawing boards, pencils, and T-squares. etc. Not that handmade drawings are worth any less, but that engineering problems are complex, and creating designs to solve them requires organization and precision, as these designs must communicate the solution to the problem clearly. This is where computer-aided design software (CAD) comes in.
Driven by the development of technology and the increasing need for automated processes, CAD software is critical for any design and production company today. However, with these software subscriptions costing as high as thousands of dollars per license, added to the increasing number of software vendors, choosing the best CAD software for your project or company can be overwhelming.
Whether you’re looking for paid or open-source free CAD software, your choosing criteria would be the same. However, bear in mind that even the best free CAD software might have limited features. Therefore, in this article, we’ve listed what you and your team must consider, to make sure you choose the right software for your company. But firstly, let’s look at what CAD software is, the types, and its benefits.
CAD, which in full means Computer-Aided Design, refers to using computer programs to facilitate the design, development, and optimization of parts and equipment used in a manufacturing workflow. According to Autodesk, CAD is “a technology for design and technical documentation that replaces manual drafting with an automated process.” Although both definitions say a lot about the role CAD software plays, they are but an intro to the realms of design and production opportunities CAD offers. Not only has CAD replaced the tedious and time-consuming hand-drawing, otherwise known as manual drafting, it also holds an integral role throughout the entire product manufacturing process.
That said, with CAD software, design engineers, architects, hobbyists, and even beginners, can carry out the design process through the intuitive user interface the technology provides. Computer technology allows for an easy development process as well as a free flow of communication between project members. In other words, it offers collaborative work by offering a shared platform among all involved in a project, for example, from architect to engineer. This technology has had such a profound impact on the design and product building industry that its finding applications in a wide variety of sectors. Indeed, the modeling tools provided by CAD applications are used in industries such as aerospace, interior design, dentistry, and of course the automotive and architectural industries. On that note, let’s look at the types of CAD software and their areas of application.
While most CAD software is built to serve specific functionalities, one could classify them by dimensions (i.e., 2D and 3D design) and modeling techniques (i.e. 2D drafting & 2D drawings vs. 3D).
When we talked about CAD replacing hand-drawing, we were referring to 2D CAD software. However, like hand-drawing, objects created using this type of CAD software are based on technical drawing principles. The difference between the two is that one is a manual process while the other is automated. 2D CAD software includes a library of geometric shapes, making the design of complex objects relatively easy.
Although 2D CAD has a few surviving applications in traditional industries (i.e., Mechanical, electrical, aeronautical, etc.), its area of focus lies in Architecture and Civil engineering. For example, Floor plans, building permits, and so on. Some examples of free 2D CAD software are QCAD and LibreCAD. Other popular ones include; AutoCAD and Bentley systems (micro station)
3D modeling software comes in varieties, depending on the specific function and level of detail it is intended for. Generally, 3D CAD programs create graphical projections of an object. This more realistic model allows engineers and designers to understand design issues better, plus the luxury of solving them virtually. Because of the level of detail afforded with 3D CAD, it is best suited for representing intricate mechanical engineering parts and assemblies. Examples of 3D vendors are some of the best CAD software in the market, Autodesk Inventor, and BricSys.
Based on modeling techniques, there are three main types;
CAD software that creates wireframe modeling uses lines and curves to form a skeleton-like inner structure of an object. While this type of model can be a quick way to illustrate a point, creating a fully detailed model can be difficult. Hence they’re rarely in use.
This is a widely used modeling type in the engineering and 3D printing industry. This is so because, in addition to creating a fully detailed model, this software type also calculates the dimensions of the object modeled.
There are subtypes of solid modeling, some of which include;
This is a complex modeling technique popularly used for architectural designs and renderings. Some of its applications include customer products, marine vehicles, body parts of automobiles, etc.
A good place to start when looking for the best CAD software for your company is defining your needs. As obvious as this may seem, many CAD users do not take the time to assess what features they’d be needing from a software. According to a survey by engineering.com, having CAD software that meets one’s product development needs is an obvious necessity.
Outline your needs; what features will you require as part of the toolset? Do you need advanced features such as additive manufacturing and parametric modeling? Do you need compatibility with multiple operating systems such as Linux and Windows, or data management for copious designs? What about what about pricing? Inform your research by asking what you need, what you want, and what your budget is.
While having software with all the features under the sun is great, you must consider your budget. Making a profit is the sole aim of any business. You don’t want your annual investment to be higher than your possible returns. Look up your options’ cost of ownership and maintenance and match that with your budget.
The best product designers and companies avoid issues because they eliminate every feasible possibility thereof. One common issue CAD users face is in translating files from one system to another. With CAD software that allows you to import files from other systems easily, you can stay ahead of the curve.
An often overlooked criterion for choosing the best CAD software is the accessibility of community resources and real-time 24/7 support. You don’t want to send inquiry/complaint emails and have to wait days for a response, nor would you like to find accessing company-specific answers difficult.
In addition to direct support, what kind of educational material do they provide? Do they provide instructional modules and tutorials with real-world examples? Show how to integrate and use 3D printers and different file formats.
Research your options’ support and educational materials to see if they provide what you need before making a decision.
It’s then up to you. Different factors/criteria may apply to your organization. Again, it all boils down to your needs. Choosing the best CAD solution depends on how well you understand your company’s needs. Be careful not to focus on limited criteria; neither should you make emotional decisions based on brand preference. Explore the full range of what you and your team need to achieve your full potential. That said, if you’re looking to practice or hone your skills, there are several free CAD software out there, and they’re easily accessible.