CAD (Computer Aided Design) Types and Uses

Computer-aided design (CAD) is defined as the process of digitally creating design simulations of real-world goods and products in 2D or 3D, complete with scale, precision, and physics properties, to optimize and perfect the design – often in a collaborative manner – before manufacturing. This article explains how CAD works, its types, software, and use cases.

What Is CAD (Computer Aided Design)?

Computer-aided design (CAD) is the process of digitally creating design simulations of real-world goods and products in 2D or 3D, complete with scale, precision, and physics properties to optimize and perfect the design – often in a collaborative manner – before manufacturing. 

CAD is also sometimes called “computer-aided design and drafting” (CADD). Using computer-based software to assist in design processes is known as computer-aided design. Various kinds of engineers and designers regularly utilize CAD software. Two-dimensional (2-D) drawings and three-dimensional (3-D) models can both be produced using CAD software.

By making designs simple to share, review, simulate, and edit using 3D CAD, you can quickly bring new, unique items to market. When it comes to the conventional “pencil on paper” method of engineering and design, known as manual drafting, CAD software has supplanted the t-squares and protractors employed by past designers.

The first commercial numerical-control programming system, PRONTO, created by Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty in 1957, is credited with giving rise to computer-aided design (CAD). SKETCHPAD, developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1960 at MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory, proved the viability and fundamentals of computer-aided technical sketching.

Because the machines were so expensive when CAD was first developed, it was not precisely a viable business option. Engineers may now employ CAD files that accurately depict the object’s dimensions and attributes thanks to the development of minicomputers and microprocessors in the latter half of the 20th century and the resulting increase in computing power, particularly after the rise of cloud computing.

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How does computer-aided design work?

A standard CAD system requires the installation of a CAD software package and, occasionally, a graphics card on your computer to work. The graphics kernel is the brains of a CAD software application. The graphical user interface (GUI) is another crucial component of CAD software. The GUI is used to display the CAD geometry and collect user input.

Developing computer models with geometrical constraints is known as computer-aided design (CAD). These models often provide a three-dimensional representation of a component or a whole system on a computer screen. Developers can easily modify the model by altering the suitable parameters, which makes life easier for designers and engineers. 

This indicates that the characteristics and relationships we feed into geometry, shape and size are controlled. If you use solid geometric modeling, which requires that you apply material first, the geometric will respond to forces similarly to real objects.

The mouse and keyboards are often used as input devices, and trackballs and digitizers are also occasionally utilized. The GUI transfers the input from the input devices to the graphics kernel in an appropriate format. The graphics kernel creates the geometric entities and instructs the graphics card to show them on the GUI.

Design engineers may plan and create their work on a computer screen with CAD, print it, and save it for upcoming revisions. The objects of traditional drafting are represented by CAD software for a mechanical design using either vector-based visuals or, in some cases, raster graphics that show the overall appearance of planned things. It involves more than simply forms, though.

According to application-specific norms, the CAD output must express information, such as materials, procedures, measurements, and tolerances, just like hand drafting of technical and engineering drawings. The software also considers the interactions between various materials and stakeholders, which is particularly important as more specifics are added to the drawings by subcontractors.

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Examples of CAD software

When incorporated into patent applications, CAD designs are beneficial in securing goods and inventions. These often-used software tools can assist you in creating construction documentation, exploring design concepts, visualizing ideas through photorealistic renderings, and simulating how a design would function in real life. Let’s take a look at the five best CAD software to use:

  • AutoCAD: One of the first CAD software to hit the market was AutoCAD from Autodesk, which has a strong reputation in several industries. This CAD program is used for 2D and 3D drafting and design. It can produce designs, equipment layouts, section planes, model documentation, and more. The secret to success is mastering AutoCAD and other 3D CAD programs. The software is designed for experts with backgrounds in algorithmic model programming.
  • SolidWorks: Professional 3D designers frequently utilize this Dassault Systèmes product. It is a feature-based, parametric model. Employers usually look for candidates with SolidWorks knowledge because it is a well-known mechanical design software with a sizable user base. This 3D modeling CAD software is widely utilized in the mechanical engineering and design fields. A variety of capabilities, including tools for design validation or reverse engineering, are included in the Solidworks software.
  • FreeCAD: FreeCAD is an open-source parametric modeler that excels in all vital CAD applications, including product design, mechanical engineering, and architecture. Developers used Python to build the top layers of FreeCAD, which is already equipped with program customization features. You can use the 2D forms you create with FreeCAD as a starting point to design other items. It’s a multiplatform (Windows 11, Mac, and Linux), highly customizable, and extendable piece of software.
  • TinkerCAD: A web browser-based 3D modeling tool called Tinkercad is available online and is free to use. It gained popularity as a tool for making models for 3D printing since it became accessible in 2011. Constructive solid geometry (CSG), based on this CAD program, enables users to combine more direct items to produce complicated models. Additional features of Tinkercad include incorporating electronic circuits and writing programs.
  • Inventor: The Autodesk-provided CAD software is a powerful program built specifically for mechanical design, making it a specialized tool for 3D design, documentation, and product simulation. With integrated tools for sheet metal, frame, tube, and power design, the software Inventor combines parametric, direct, free-form, and rule-based design functions. Additionally, this CAD software facilitates the interchange of ideas via a secure cloud-based service and links designs with incoming client data.

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Types of CAD

Computer-aided design (CAD) consists of two broad types – 2D and 3D. However, you can further categorize them into the following:

1. 2D CAD

Early in the 1970s, 2D CAD, the industry’s first CAD program, was created. At that time, large aerospace, automotive, and other engineering businesses developed internal technologies to automate repetitive drafting tasks. To make flat drawings, 2D CAD uses fundamental geometric shapes like lines, rectangles, circles, etc.

This is the earliest iteration of CAD that most people are familiar with. The use of text, dimensions, leaders, and tables as annotations on drawings is another feature of 2D CAD software. 2D CAD is used to design, plan, section, elevation views, and detail structures in the built environment. Additionally, they convey how various components work together to form assemblies and offer crucial inspection locations.

A library of geometric images, the capacity to design Bezier curves, splines, and polylines, the ability to specify hatching patterns, and the ability to generate a bill of materials are all standard features of 2D CAD systems. AutoCAD, CADkey, CATIA v4, and Medusa are some of the well-known 2D CAD applications.

2. 2.5D CAD

2.5-D CAD is a medium-level CAD between 2D and 3D. Because they depict the depth of the objects, the prismatic models are produced by this kind of CAD. These items’ components are geometric shapes, just like in 2D CAD. Even if the object is three-dimensional, there cannot be any overhanging parts, which is what is meant when a surface is described as 2.5D. The height of the item (i.e., thickness or depth) at each place is commonly depicted for objects of this type using a contour map. Although they are on solitary planes, Z levels do exist.

3. 3D CAD

There are several distinct kinds of three-dimensional (3D) CAD software, each designed for a different application and level of detail. 3D CAD has grown in popularity as a design tool as computer processing power and graphic display capabilities have improved. 

There are numerous versions of three-dimensional (3D) CAD software designed for various applications and levels of detail. In general, 3D CAD software produces a realistic representation of the design object, enabling designers to address potential issues earlier and with lower production costs. Inventor by Autodesk, VX CAD, and CATIA V5 are a few 3D CAD applications, and there are many software as a service (SaaS) apps for 3D CAD.

This type of computer-aided design can be further subdivided into three categories.

  • Surface modeling: In contrast to wireframes, these models are produced by joining 3D surfaces. The surface models are pretty accurate, considering that the background is not visible. Modifying the model (a relatively complex action in surface modeling software) typically does not have a tree of operations in surface modeling software. This is different from solid modeling software, where you can revisit and modify any action in the modeling process without having to begin the model again.
  • Wireframe modeling: With lines and arcs, they build skeleton-like models. Wire-frame models are referred to as such because everything in the background is visible and they appear to be formed of wires. They are not as well-liked as they formerly were. These models have a skeletal framework constructed of wires that resembles a whole item.
  • Solid modeling: Solid modeling is helpful because the program can typically calculate object dimensions while creating it automatically. There are several variations of this. Constructive Solid Geometry (CSG) CAD follows the same fundamental principles as 2D CAD, i.e., it constructs an item from prepared solid geometric objects. However, these CAD software are frequently impossible to modify once they are developed.

4. CAD using neutral file formats

These file types were developed to allow sharing between various software. As a result, interoperability is improved, which is essential. A neutral file format that any other software business may easily understand was required. Operating between several software packages is possible with CAD agnostic file formats. When you don’t want to spend money on additional CAD software, it’s pretty helpful.

They dismantle barriers and promote greater levels of collaboration. The most popular today are the CAD-neutral file types STEP, IGES, 3D PDF, JT, STL, ACIS, PARASOLID, and QIF file types. These CAD-neutral file formats do a great job of tearing down barriers, but not all of them are made equal.

5. CAD using native file formats

Native CAD Formats are formats that are exclusive to particular CAD systems. The term “native CAD Formats” describes file types exclusive to particular CAD applications. Compared to Neutral CAD formats and Geometric Modeling Kernel CAD formats, if you can understand them, they will include the most data and be the most accurate.

One should utilize only the software included with such CAD file types. Any other software that uses their CAD formats cannot access them. The use of a proprietary file type is common across all CAD design programs. These file types are typically only viewable with the same program that created them.

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Top Applications of CAD

Since CAD aids in numerical data modeling, simulation, and design, its applications cut across industries. Some of its critical use cases include:

1. 3D printing

Creating a three-dimensional, real-world object from a digital model can be done via a process called three-dimensional printing. It is accomplished by using an additive technique that involves building up layers of material, typically thermoplastic, in succession. A horizontal cross-section of the ultimate object is represented by each layer, which is finely sliced.

A CAD file, produced by a 3D modeling program or reverse engineering, is the first step in creating each object. Today, almost every industry employs CAD for tasks including creating and preparing drawings for additive manufacturing applications (3D printing) and creating representations for goods under development.

2. Dental industry

One of the best systems for helping with the design and production of dental treatment-related elements right now is CAD technology. Due to the ability of this digital technology to provide a 3D representation of the patient’s oral structures, it’s virtually solely employed in restorative dental procedures.

The software can create parts with the highest precision, including veneers, prostheses, and crowns for dental implants. The treatment may be planned using CAD software, and the custom-made piece can be manufactured without removing the mouth molds. It not only saves time but also keeps patients from feeling uncomfortable.

3. Mapping

People probably believe they will never again need a physical map because so many map apps are accessible to everybody with a smartphone. Custom maps can prevent individuals from becoming lost in a cell service dead zone, making helpful maps useless when navigating unfamiliar terrain.

Users can add points of interest, their accommodation, and the routes they take to get there to create a custom map if they travel, for instance, to the mountains or anywhere else. With CAD, one can keep it digital by saving it to a smart device or printing it off.

4. Fashion

Initially conceptualizing their designs, fashion designers employ 2D CAD software programs. CAD is useful in many areas of the fashion design sector, from mass-market to haute couture. With features like pattern creation, virtual test fitting, pattern grading, marker creation, etc., CAD applications have become an indispensable tool for fashion designers, clothing manufacturers, export companies, etc.

By utilizing a CAD system, clothing manufacturers have significantly shortened production times. Additionally, CAD lets designers see clothing designs on virtual figures in various colors and shapes, saving time by reducing the need for later revisions to prototypes and samples.

5. Architecture

Animations and other presentational materials can also be produced using CAD, which can also be used to construct 2D or 3D representations. Detailed instructions on how to make something are delivered through technical drawings. Designs for mechanical engineering and architectural structures can be included in technical drawings using CAD.

Technical drawings are copies of blueprints. However, “blueprint” is frequently used to denote any layout, like a floor plan. The size, location, and shape of rooms and other objects within a structure are depicted in floor plans and scaled diagrams shown from the top down.

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6. Building furniture

The features of this software enable the creation of intricate furniture that is frequently more intricate than specialized furniture design tools. CAD created an industry-specific software solution that satisfies all of the needs of the furniture business to satisfy market demands, assure an inexpensive production process, and still offer personalized solutions.

A combination of mechanical design system modeling capabilities and specialized furniture system automatization may be the best response to today’s market challenges, including creating furniture of any complexity level from any material quickly. Modeling opportunities are becoming an increasingly important factor.

7. Automotive sector

The automotive supply chain industry’s major and minor businesses are increasingly using CAD, which is becoming more widely available as their standard software. The future of software is one of simplicity and less human involvement. Increasing efficiency and raising the caliber of their products are ongoing problems for the automotive industry.

To face these problems, all automakers search for innovative technologies and approaches to lower manufacturing intensity, shorten development times, and integrate and work more closely with their international suppliers. Even though virtual and augmented reality technologies are already in use today, they will eventually be accessible to all businesses.

8. Interior design

Plans and mockups of room arrangements can be made using CAD. The software makes it considerably quicker than hand drawing to produce a mockup of any physical place in a 2D or 3D model. The majority will begin with a 2D layout as they collaborate with a customer to plan the overall positioning of important furniture or fixtures. 

The ability to transform 2D floor plans to 3D with the RoomMaker feature is one of the most excellent software features like AutoCAD 2010 for interior designers since it makes it simple to show clients exactly how their finished room will look.

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Computer-aided design (CAD) is a crucial field in product engineering and the industrial sector. It allows engineers to develop, test, and optimize their design in a safe environment, without having to build expensive prototypes. CAD software also provides a documentation trail, records specifications, and enables collaboration between multiple disciplines and stakeholders in product manufacturing. That is why organizations need to understand how computer-aided design works and its key concepts. 

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