Computer-Aided Design Software: What Are They?

Every discipline of engineering relies on a variety of software products to assist them with design, evaluation, and management tasks. Computer-aided design (CAD) software is one of the most commonly used engineering program categories and is used in nearly all branches of the engineering profession.

History of Computer-Aided Design Software

At its roots, CAD software was a direct analog of drafting functions: to create two-dimensional design prints. The output prints were essentially identical to those previously created by draftsmen. The proliferation of desktop personal computers in the 1980s allowed companies such as Autodesk to develop CAD software and market directly to engineering companies.

AutoCAD was first released by Autodesk in 1982, and rapidly became the most widely used CAD software package in the world. Even today, AutoCAD is still the primary 2D design program, used by engineers and architects.

Evolution of Computer-Aided Design Software

CAD software has evolved as computing power has increased since the 1980s. The expanding processing power has allowed software developers to include more functionality and performance in their products. The greatest leaps in CAD software evolution can be grouped into two categories:

  • Integration with Other Functions – While the early CAD software packages were basically computerized drafting, today’s CAD programs seamlessly integrate with a variety of other engineering functions, including computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), finite element analysis (FEA), product lifecycle management (PLM), and many other functions. The CAD software is now just the center of a network of design functionality.
  • Migration from 2D to 3D Design – The second significant evolution in CAD software was the development of 3D design software systems, led by Parametric Technology Corporation’s (PTC) release of Pro/ENGINEER in 1988. Pro/ENGINEER was the first parametric feature-based solid modeling software and allowed engineers to more easily design components and complete systems. Today, several 3D CAD programs are available. The 2D CAD software is still widely used in some industries, such as architecture.

In addition to these primary evolutions, the overall system performance and inherent functionality of CAD software have increased as general computer technology has improved. Current CAD software can create mechanism animations and realistic surfacing, among other features.

The cost of individual seats of CAD software has also decreased significantly. In the 1980s and 1990s, CAD software licenses were often so expensive that only larger companies could afford to invest in the seats and the continual upgrades. Software developers have created “light” versions of many of their products that are more affordable to smaller businesses and engineers who don’t need the full functionality of the complete versions or do not have the budget to purchase the full version.

The CAD software is one of the tools that is used by just about all engineers across all disciplines of the engineering profession

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