Computer Aided Manufacturing

Well known CAD packages:
Solid Works
TurboCAD
AutoCAD
Scan2CAD
PowerCAD
VectorWorks
(some are available for free download / free trial, this may not apply to versions like 2004, 2005, 2006)
 


CAD: Computer-Aided Design
CADD: Computer Aided Design & Drafting


Definition: Computer-Aided Design (CAD), also known as Computer-Aided Drafting, is the use of computer software and systems to design and create 2D and 3D virtual models of goods and products for the purposes of testing. It is also sometimes referred to as computer assisted drafting.

Benefits of Computer-Aided Design

In the field of product development there are often immense costs associated with the testing of new products. Every new product must undergo at least a small measure of physical testing not only to ensure that it meets minimum safety standards but also to ensure that it will successfully operate under the range of conditions to which it can expect to be exposed. For instance, the wing of an aeroplane must undergo stress tests to ensure that it will retain its integrity even under the most gruelling weather and turbulence conditions before it is approved for use.

Unfortunately, this testing can be ruinously time-consuming and expensive. If an aeronautical company has to physically build dozens of wings in the course of testing a new design then the final cost and time scale of the project can be far higher than projected.

Fortunately, there is no need to physically test all of these designs. Instead, developers can run virtual stress tests using computer-aided design, substituting a wind tunnel for a CAD application that can simulate the same conditions.

The benefits of virtual simulations are obvious. In addition to a reduction in the cost of product development and the time required to run tests there is also the advantage that conceptual designs can be modified instantly as the tests progress.

CADPerhaps one of the best examples of this versatility can be seen in the design of the aeroplane wing. The science of aerodynamics is complex, and it is often the case that certain wing shapes can create unexpected turbulence under certain conditions. When this occurs during physical testing it can be a challenge to discover the problem and make alterations. When running virtual tests using CAD, however, alterations to the design can be made quickly and easily, so new designs can be tested and retested until the problem is resolved.

New developments in CAD applications and technologies are regularly presented at such industry conferences as ICCAD, and in peer-reviewed journals such as Computer-Aided Design and Applications. An introduction to the subject is available at NIST, and agency of the US Commerce Department.

Business Applications for CAD

While Computer-Aided Design can be an excellent tool for performing stress tests on conceptual products, there are still more potential uses.

* Idea Generation

With the limiting factor of prototype manufacture removed, CAD allows the process of idea generation to become much more flexible. Enterprises can afford to be more open to new ideas and suggestions than in the past from both employees and potential customers. Suggestions for new products can be quickly tested at a much lower cost than in the past.

* Augmentation

CAD opens up the possibility to make slight improvements on new product designs instantly. While this can be of great benefit in the design of a new product it can also be extremely useful for investigating possible improvements to existing products or even reverse engineering and augmenting the products of competitors.

* Market Testing

Through designing new products using CAD it becomes possible to begin the process of market testing much earlier than in the past. Focus groups can be presented with virtual mock-ups of new products more quickly than would be possible with physical prototypes, and alterations can be made based on their feedback almost instantly. Since modifications can be made simply by entering new data into the CAD software, updated virtual mock-ups can be presented to the same audience for further feedback during the same session.

The Future of CAD

CADD, constructionSince the early development of Computer-Aided Design we have seen a trend towards increasing accessibility. When CAD applications became available for product development in the 1960s it was only the largest of enterprises that could afford to make use of the technology the aerospace and automobile industries, for instance.

As computer technology developed, Computer-Aided Design made the move from dedicated systems to general-use personal computers, opening the door for smaller enterprises and individual users. Today it is possible to run most CAD software (and even some high-end 3D packages) on typical desktop PCs.

In the future we can expect further advances in 3D software packages, allowing users a more simple and intuitive experience. Perhaps most exciting for CAD users is the fact that the cost of 3D printing will steadily decline, opening up a whole new avenue in the product development process. Not only will CAD users be able to make instant modifications to their conceptual designs, but they will also be able to instantly create a physical prototype solving an inherent drawback of virtual product development.