What Is CAD?
CAD stands for computer-aided design and refers to the use of computers and software to assist in the design process. CAD helps to automate the process of creating 3D models, technical drawings, illustrations, and notations to visually communicate the function and construction of objects.
In the past, traditional manual tools were used to complete these technical drawings, such as pencils, paper, scale rules, T-squares, compasses, and protractors. Being manual, this method was inherently time-consuming and, at times, made it difficult to achieve high levels of accuracy. Another disadvantage of the traditional paper-based design was that a drawing could not be changed after it was committed to paper. If changes were required, the designer would need to create the design drawing all over from scratch again.
CAD, originally developed by Ivan Sutherland in the early 1960s, ushered in a much more efficient and accurate way to create technical drawings, as CAD helps to automate tasks and provides an extremely high level of precision. It also means that drawing files can be stored electronically, enabling easy retrieval and editing of drawings.
What is 3D CAD?
Initially, CAD programs were only two-dimensional, meaning that only two dimensions could be shown at a time, such as length and height on a flat surface without depth. This means that when using 2D CAD, multiple drawings, such as plan views, sections, elevations, and detail drawings, are needed to show all of the dimensional information needed to fully illustrate an object. This makes it difficult to capture and communicate the complexities of a part or assembly’s design. This often means more physical prototyping is required to prove form, fit, and function before the actual fabrication of the part or assembly can take place. If the prototyping process reveals that changes to the design are going to be necessary, it means that all of the separate drawings that were required for fabrication need to be changed individually.
3D CAD was introduced in the late 1960s by Pierre Bézier, an engineer at Renault, to aid the design of parts and tools for the automotive industry. 3D CAD allows for the creation of a virtual model of the part or assembly to be created with all three dimensions represented: length, height, and depth. Not only does 3D CAD software allow a designer to model three-dimensional objects, but those objects also can be assigned all of the same properties as the actual physical object would have, such as material, weight, size, visual properties, physical properties, etc. This allows designers to see how the part or assembly will look and behave in the real world, even before it is built. These models can also be interacted with dynamically, giving the designer the ability to verify fit, form, and function quickly and accurately. This means less prototyping is required, shortening the time between design and fabrication. If changes are required, only the 3D model file needs to be updated as opposed to all of the other drawing files that are required with 2D CAD.
Once the design is approved, any required 2D drawings for manufacturing purposes can quickly and easily be created directly from the 3D models. In many cases, 3D models can be directly exported as Computer Numerical Control (CNC) file formats, automating the fabrication process in manufacturing machines such as mills, lathes, injection molds, or 3D printers.
Benefits of 3D CAD
Companies are constantly looking for ways to increase productivity and efficiency while decreasing the product design life cycle to get their products to market in the shortest time possible to stay ahead of the competition. This is why many companies have made or are making the move from 2D CAD to 3D CAD.
3D CAD Allows for More Effective Design Communication
Designers sometimes have a hard time communicating their ideas to people outside of their industrial design or engineering teams. That is because pencil-and-paper drawings can be hard to understand, especially for people who are not as well-versed in analyzing them. In contrast, 3D CAD designs are far simpler for laypeople to understand. A picture is worth a thousand words. Stakeholders can also interact with the model either in the native design software or with collaboration tools like a 3D PDF document.
3D models are also useful for external design communication - for example in marketing communications. The models created in CAD can be used as inputs to downstream processes like photorealistic rendering.
Avoid Costly Mistakes
3D modeling offers much greater insight during the design process. It gives you the ability to test form, fit, and function before ever having to create a prototype. This means both time and money savings from spending less time prototyping and getting products to market quicker. It also ensures that large problems are identified before the manufacturing process ever begins.
Increased Efficiently and Productivity
With 2D CAD, more evaluation is required to ensure the design is accurate and ready for fabrication. Also, if design changes are required, multiple drawings must be revised. However, with 3D CAD, only the 3D model requires updating. All of the supporting 2D documentation is automatically updated based on the changes to the model. 3D CAD also allows for individual parts to be isolated, analyzed, and tested without affecting other design components.
3D CAD helps the designers visualize the final product along with its individual components. This enables design flaws to be identified faster, shortening the design process, lowering the design cost, and shortening the total project completion time.
3D CAD helps designers visualize the final product and communicate that design to their team or a client. Animations, materials, and other physical properties can be added to the model, further helping to demonstrate the functionality of the mechanical component to a design team or client.
3D models are great for collaboration, as non-technical team members or clients can more easily understand the design when presented in 3D as opposed to all the separate 2D drawings that would be required to communicate the same design. Many marketing and sales departments can use the 3D models, photorealistic renderings, and animations that 3D CAD can provide.
Decreased Manufacturing Time
Since the same 3D model used in the design process is also used in manufacturing processes, such as CNC, injection molding, and 3D printing, production time and time to market are reduced.