Popular Computer Aided Design Software: The Top CAD Programs Used by Engineers

Engineers use computer-aided design (CAD) software to perform many of their design and optimization tasks. A variety of CAD packages are available with different functions and target users.

2D CAD Packages

The original CAD software packages developed as analogs to the physical draftsman’s table. The two packages that dominate this market include:

  • AutoCAD – Autodesk’s AutoCAD is the grandfather of all commercial CAD packages. First released in 1982, AutoCAD is the premier 2D digital drafting package, although 3D modeling functionality was added with the AutoCAD 2007 release. The latest version of AutoCAD includes parametric modeling capabilities as well as mesh modeling. The file format for drawings used by AutoCAD, DWG, has become the standard file format for CAD system interoperability. While pure 3D packages are gaining market share in many areas, AutoCAD is still the preferred package for architects.
  • TurboCAD – TurboCAD, currently owned by IMSI/Design LLC, was originally created as a low-cost competitor to AutoCAD when released in the US in 1986 with a price of $99. TurboCAD was popular with computer resellers and educational channels. TurboCAD added 3D functionality in 1995. TurboCAD supports a variety of third-party plugins for specialized functionality.

Several other smaller packages are still available, and many others have been discontinued over the years as AutoCAD has thrived.

3D CAD Packages

The development of 3D CAD systems has revolutionized engineering design. The top 3D CAD packages include:

  • Autodesk Inventor – Autodesk entered the 3D modeling system market in 1999 with its Inventor package. Inventor is a 3D parametric history-based modeling program, whose functionality Autodesk calls “virtual prototyping”. Inventor includes specialized environments, such as sheet metal, frame generation, tube and pipe, and cable and harness.
  • Pro/ENGINEER – PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER was the first 3D parametric modeling solution available to the engineering market, released in 1987. Pro/ENGINEER is an integrated application, including CAD, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM), and computer-aided engineering (CAE) functions. A wide range of modules is available for a different design, manufacturing, and industry needs. Pro/ENGINEER supports the design of individual components and complete complex systems of components.
  • Solid Edge – Solid Edge, currently owned by Siemens PLM Solutions, was originally developed in 1996 by Intergraph. Solid Edge competes for market share with Pro/ENGINEER, Solidworks, and Autodesk Inventor. The system can integrate with Sharepoint to provide product lifecycle management (PLM).
  • Solidworks – Solidworks, now owned by Dassault Systemes, was first released in 1995 as a low-cost competitor to PTC’s Pro/ENGINEER package. Solidworks employs a top-down engineering approach, allowing users to start with a 2D or 3D sketch and refine the design, as an engineer would do on paper. Solidworks supports a variety of toolboxes and modules for a variety of specialized functions, such as simulation and product validation, as well as product data management (PDM).

Other commercial and company proprietary packages do exist, but these software systems dominate the 2D and 3D CAD markets.

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