Getting Started with Computer Aided Design (CAD)

7 Best 3D CAD Software for Beginners and Advanced Users

To put it simply, CAD (or computer aided design) is the process of designing products or objects through the use of computer software.

CAD is an extraordinary technology, as any designs or ideas you have can be visualized as 3D models or 2D drawings. Additionally, you can alter properties like the material, height, and width of the model you’re creating, with even more options available depending on the application being used.

Initially, CAD was used as a quick way of developing prototypes for the automotive and aerospace industries. However, today the number of applications of CAD has skyrocketed, with AutoCAD and CATIA being among the core CAD software programs being used around the world.

Now more than ever, countless professional sectors make serious use of CAD, especially in the fields of engineering and manufacturing. However, regardless of the career path you have or plan on taking, I think there is a lot for everyone to learn from CAD.

Let’s go over everything you should know before you get started using CAD.

Benefits

CAD is a powerful and versatile tool when it comes to design and modelling, having very notable strengths:

  1. Optimization: CAD software is incredibly reliable when it comes to finding mistakes or errors when making designs. While it may not be perfect, it goes a long way, with some programs even letting you use simulations to test the designs you create.
  2. Realization: Any design you develop with CAD software can be brought to the real world through the use of CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing) software and fabrication technologies.
  3. Visualization: Not only can you use to CAD to design 2D drawings or 3D models, but you can make the needed changes with less effort needed than doing the same thing by hand.
  4. Specialization: A wide variety of CAD software is available for almost all areas and professional fields, with each one having its own array of special tools or features.
  5. Detail: The visualization tools that CAD provides allows you to realistic and (relatively) accurate models or drawings. If there isn’t enough detail, you can add as much as you see fit.

Where We See CAD Today

You might be thinking that this crazy technology is exclusive to people in a certain field or area(s). However, this is not the case – there is a huge variety of industries that use CAD extensively as they continue to develop.

Here are some of the notable fields that have integrated this technology:

  • Engineering: With the countless unique fields out there in engineering, the variety of CAD software programs is just as large and diverse. In particular, some of the areas of focus are buildings, medical devices, thermodynamics, infrastructure, and mechanical parts.
  • Graphic Design: Both 2D and 3D CAD software have become strong and valuable tools for professional graphic designers. Among the many features provided, designers can add backgrounds, shapes, effects, and typography to add flare to their visuals.
  • Product Design: The use of CAD software in the design process has become a crucial tool for the product design industry; it is needed for both the visualization of a product as well as the analysis of its features and potential issues. SolidWorks, Inventor, and Siemens NX are among the most commonly used CAD programs when it comes to this field.
  • Architecture: Perhaps one of the most demanding when it comes to the use of CAD, the field of architecture has a great multitude of components and elements that come into play in design projects. As such, it is often that the use of this software is needed in order to fully plan out, organize, visualize, and tackle the problem at hand.

Manufacturing and CAD

Computer Aided Manufacturing, or CAM, is the way that drawings or models designed with CAD software can become objects in the real world. There are several manufacturing processes used in industries today to get this done – this includes laser cutting, 3D printing, and CNC routing.

More often than not, CAD and CAM are used together for different design and manufacturing processes. While CAD is used to visualize your designs and put together models, CAM takes instructions from the CAD software and processes the designs/models/data using its own control software. Using different manufacturing methods, you can fully create products or objects based on the designs you envision.

In the end, it’s a truly remarkable process.

Limitations

While it has proven to be an incredibly strong and versatile tool, there are some drawbacks when it come to CAD:

  • Time Needed: Depending on what you’re making, the CAD/CAM can take a lot of time. Apart from how long it takes to create and execute precise designs, you also need to consider the necessary training required for these processes.
  • Computers and Hardware: Both CAD and CAM software programs oftentimes need incredibly powerful computers and hardware in order to function at their very best. If this can’t happen, it can make the design process with these programs rather frustrating.
  • Costs and Licensing: As you look at resources with higher performance and specs, you’ll find that the price rises a lot too. This also includes the subscriptions and other costs you need to pay for programs. However, there is a workaround (albeit temporary): if these programs are offered by educational institutions (or just used for educational purposes), then you can use them for free.

Overall, though, these limitations are not nearly enough to outweigh the benefits and promising opportunities provided by CAD.

Specs and Your Workstaton

Depending on what you’re going to make, you’ll need a certain kind of hardware to get you there. In particular, there are three components that you’ll have to keep in mind when looking for where you can meet your CAD needs:

  • GPU: This stands for Graphic Processing Unit, and when it comes to CAD it’s crucial that you have exactly what you need to get the job done. A graphics card is vital when you want to work with CAD, since they are what allows visualization to be possible. Look for GPUS made by big names like Nvidia if you want some higher-end tech. Keep in mind, however, that it all depends on what the software needs – not all applications are created equal. This is reflected in things like the amount of graphics memory they take up.
  • Processor: Verify how many threads and cores your current processor has, since some CAD programs work well with numerous cores while others don’t. In the case of the latter, they either don’t multiple cores or can’t actually handle that many.
  • Random-access memory (RAM): It is crucial that you have enough RAM for the CAD tool that you’re using. This guarantees stronger performance, especially when it comes to multitasking processes like using different programs simultaneously.

Conclusion

Overall, CAD (and CAM) is a rapidly developing technology that continues to provide more applications and opportunities for industries around the world. With every new update, there are even more features and chances for innovation, which brings a lot of charm to this already appealing technology.

As these tools continue to become more advanced, I highly recommend everyone to try and look into CAD and see if they can use CAD in the fields they’re interested in. I believe that are amazing things to gain and learn from it, and they only get better every day.

Published by Gerardo Lucena

Gerardo Lucena is a Junior at the University of Michigan pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Engineering (BSE) degree in Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. He has programming experience in C++, and he has worked with Michigan Hyperloop and MRover during his first two years at the University.

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