Is CAD still relevant in the manufacturing industry?

CAD drawing with pointer

Is CAD still relevant in the manufacturing industry?

When computer-aided design (CAD) software first came onto the market, it revolutionized the way manufacturers designed their products. Indeed, for many, these tools continue to be a key part of the product development process.

However, the advanced capabilities of Industry 4.0 technologies have led some experts to speculate that product designers may replace CAD software. This article will consider if this is the case or not and look at the benefits of CAD libraries.

What is the history of CAD?

The first type of CAD technology was used by researcher Douglas T. Ross at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the early 1950s as part of his investigations into military radar and computer display technology. However, it wasn’t until Dr Patrick Hanratty started to develop these interactive graphics systems in the General Motors Research Laboratories that ‘Designs Automated by Computer’ started to be used in industry.

After launching ICS in 1970, Hanratty developed his tool further to create Automated Drafting and Machinery (ADAM), a product which is at the base of most modern design drafting. The introduction of affordable desktop computers in the 1980s and the launch of Autodesk software saw CAD technologies enter the mainstream, as did the move towards PCs in the 1990s.

Since this time, a huge range of CAD software has been developed and made available to the mass market, enabling a range of industries and manufacturers to take advantage of its capabilities.

How is CAD used in product development?

CAD is used by engineers and designers in manufacturing businesses to develop 2D and 3D product designs for the purposes of visualization and digital testing. Compared to manual technical drawing, CAD enables these designers to create, iterate and optimize their designs more quickly and easily.

This is particularly the case thanks to the introduction of CAD libraries, which are free or paid-for 2D or 3D designs of specific components or elements that can then be imported by engineers into their design. The software then matches the measurements, scale and details of these parts to the rest of the design, meaning all engineers need to do is make sure it looks good and functions correctly in the right part of the design.

Plus, with the introduction of cloud storage into CAD software tools, designers are able to access and work on their product designs anywhere, making collaboration and decision making easier, even if the team is working in different areas of the world. In short, CAD is used to create, iterate and develop product designs in 2D or 3D so they can be as accurate and optimized as possible before heading into the prototyping or production stages.

Man using CAD file on computer

Why is CAD important in the design process?

With the capabilities this software offers, it enables engineers to be more accurate and productive in their work by:

  • Speeding up product design: rather than manually drawing several design iterations with different viewing angles, details and measurements, this can all be done in a powerful software. Advanced tools, the ability to import shapes or other design files from CAD libraries and automatic model scaling means designers can create and edit product designs more easily.
  • Creating quality, accurate designs: the vector graphic technology that powers CAD software enables designers to create highly precise designs with low tolerance levels. A moveable model, it can be rotated, zoomed in on or examined in detail in just a few clicks.
  • Being easier to share and read: whether they’re stored in a shared file drive or on the cloud, CAD designs can be easily transferred for the purposes of collaboration and feedback. It is also easier to communicate your vision to other team members through a standardized CAD drawing compared to a paper-based technical drawing.
  • Documenting each design element: the details of each design are linked to the file and can be viewed and adjusted directly in the software. Plus, they’re saved automatically, meaning you don’t need to worry about recording these measurements or angles and recreating them manually.
CAD file

Why are CAD libraries useful?

CAD libraries are a collection of free or paid-for 2D or 3D CAD design files. Indeed, the best libraries offer their designs in a variety of 2D and 3D formats to match the needs of whichever CAD software design engineers use.

Plus, CAD libraries provided by components and parts manufacturers make the sourcing and creating of BOM for these elements much easier by testing and analyzing them directly in the software. This means design engineers can find the highest quality and most accurate parts without having to order samples or test any physical prototypes.

Are there challenges with CAD?

Although CAD software has brought plenty of advantages to designers and manufacturers, there have been some challenges with the technology and the changes it has made to the product development process.

One of the main changes that CAD software has made to designers is in their required skillset. In addition to being trained in technical drawing, they also need to understand how to use the software effectively. Each type of CAD software is slightly different, so knowing how to access each program’s full capabilities is a skill.

Similarly, although one of the strengths of CAD is the fact that you can create multiple versions of the same design easily, it does also mean that you end up with a huge amount of file iterations. This can be hard to keep track of or it can cause disruption if your files get corrupted or your storage is too limited to handle the large CAD design documents.

CAD software itself also requires plenty of processing power to run. Plus, to ensure it runs effectively, you need to have the latest software updates. This means designers and manufacturing teams need to have highly powered (which often means expensive) PCs and desktops to work efficiently.

CPU unit

Will CAD continue to be relevant?

Although there are challenges with using CAD software, particularly when it’s just been implemented into a business or designers are starting to use it, the benefits of this technology mean it still sits at the base of many product development processes. It also means that the CAD market is expected to continue to grow to be worth more than 11 billion dollars by 2023.

Yet the influence of Industry 4.0 can’t be underestimated. It’s already having an impact on the way businesses use CAD and enabling them to benefit from greater capabilities and advantages.

Advanced prototyping

CAD has already enabled design engineers to produce more accurate physical prototypes that can be used for visual examination or functional testing. Now, virtual and augmented reality technology holds the potential for design engineers to digitally test and visualize their model in real environments.

Indeed, virtual prototyping is already a capability that some businesses are taking advantage of. Rather than wasting time, money and resources creating physical models, they can put their CAD designs through digital test sequences or place them in relevant environments to see how they look and perform. This significantly speeds up the evaluation and product development process without sacrificing on quality or accuracy.

AR in an office

Greater collaboration

Although some CAD software already uses cloud file storage, capabilities are being developed to allow team members to work on a design together directly within one platform. From leaving comments to brainstorming and presenting, cloud-based CAD will allow colleagues to examine and iterate designs easily from anywhere in the world, making collaboration much more efficient.

Plus, as CAD software becomes smarter, it will be able to predict and suggest changes, automatically fix any potential problems and help designers work even more efficiently together. This will give teams significant advantages in terms of the quality and accuracy of the products they produce.

CAD customization

As businesses look to become more productive, efficient and gain a competitive advantage, CAD software developers are looking to develop tools that customize their programs to manufacturers’ specific needs. Whether it’s integrating their software with other technologies, automating monotonous design tasks or adjusting user interfaces, CAD customization will enable teams to adjust their software to help them be as productive as possible.

From automatically generating an accurate bill of materials from a developed product to making design suggestions based on pre-fed information to make it easier to revise drawing tables, the CAD software of the future will only be enhanced by incoming Industry 4.0 technologies meaning it will always be a relevant and effective tool for design engineers and manufacturers.

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