What is 3D CAD Software?

11 min.
Dec 5, 2021
Table of Contents

The Evolution of Computer-Aided Design

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) brought about a much more efficient and accurate method for creating technical drawings and illustrations of manufactured parts. Before CAD, drawings were created manually using pencil, paper, and various tools of the trade such as pencils, paper, scale rules, T-squares, compasses, and protractors. This process was time-consuming, tedious, and error-prone as all calculations were manually performed as well. CAD automated the mathematical calculations and provided the designer with various tools and software applications to increase efficiency and accuracy during the design process.

The first types of CAD software were introduced in the early 1960s and were strictly two-dimensional programs. This meant that only two dimensions could be shown at a time, such as length and height on a flat surface without depth. This made it difficult for designers or other stakeholders to visualize the end product fully, which opened up the possibility of miscommunication of design. That is why the 2D design process required multiple drawings, such as plan views, sections, elevations, and detail drawings, to show all of the dimensional information needed to fully illustrate an object. If design changes were required, all of the separate drawings that were created needed to be changed.

By the late 1960s, CAD had evolved and three-dimensional software platforms were an option. 3D CAD allowed the designer to create a virtual model of the part or assembly to be manufactured with all three dimensions represented: length, height, and depth.

2D CAD Limitations

Increased Drawing and Checking Time

Since 2D CAD requires multiple views and drawings to fully illustrate the complexities of a part's design, it doesn’t take into account assembly and fit. All of these separate drawings must be checked individually which increases the possibility of errors during the process. If the checking process reveals that design changes or revisions are required, most if not all of the drawing set must be revised and resubmitted and restarting the checking process.

Difficult to Visualize

The many views and drawings that are required when using 2D CAD can make it difficult to fully define the dimensional properties of complex parts. This increases the risk of misinterpretation and makes it difficult for designers and other stakeholders to fully visualize what the end product will look like, or how other components within the design will interact with each other.

Prolonged Design Cycle

Since 2D views and drawings cannot fully evaluate the form, fit, and function of a part and how it interacts with parts in the design, more prototyping is required to fully vet a design. This means that required changes are identified much later in the design process which can drastically prolong the product design cycle as well as increase cost and time to market.
A model of a transmission

What makes 3D CAD Different?

3D CAD allows designers to create realistic, fully defined virtual models of parts and assemblies. This modeling process actually creates 3D shapes as opposed to just representing three-dimensional information in the form of multiple 2D views and drawings. The model can then be rotated and viewed from any angle to provide a clear visualization of the design. You can even view the model as a section to see what it looks like on the inside.

3D CAD models 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. The design team as well as the fabricators downstream in the process can see how parts fit into the assembly structure before anything is built, ensuring that the product is manufacturable and works with the surrounding parts. The visualization this process provides allows designers to visually evaluate form, fit, and function, accurately and quickly, greatly minimizing prototyping and decreasing time to market.

When using 3D CAD, it is no longer necessary to redraw multiple views and drawings to fully define or illustrate a part. Since the model itself is fully defined, you only need to manipulate the model to the views that are needed and the software will help automate the process of creating the drawing with the appropriate dimensions. If changes are necessary, only the model will need to be revised and then the drawings can be automatically updated as opposed to having to manually update each drawing, saving time and money.

Overall, 3D CAD means increased revenue through a faster product design lifecycle. That also means higher quality products, and decreased costs, as well as giving more time to designers to design as opposed to spending the bulk of their time creating and revising drawings.

Cost of CAD Software

The cost of CAD software can vary significantly. Some programs offer free versions and others can cost tens of thousands of dollars. The more expensive software tends to have more advanced features and tools, making them more suitable for companies and designers who have lots of CAD experience or are designing complex products often. Simple versions with a single purpose, like 2D interior design mobile apps, are likely to have little or no cost.

Try to narrow down the CAD features that are most essential to your needs. Doing so will help you avoid overspending on a program that has more features you're unlikely to use while also making it easier to learn.

Another aspect of CAD prices to be aware of is whether you're paying one time for a license or have to make recurring payments for a subscription. Subscriptions can have some advantages but come at the cost of paying every month in perpetuity and typically also require you to keep your data in specific places that may not be ideal for your business.

Why Choose Alibre

There are numerous CAD programs on the market today, making it a challenge to find the right fit for your design needs while also being cost effective. Alibre's CAD software is designed to be a high-value, cost-effective design solution that fully addresses the needs of most mechanical engineering requirements.

When choosing CAD software, you should be confident in the program you're getting. At Alibre, we're dedicated to providing our customers with innovative solutions. Alibre has been providing customers around the world with affordable and professional CAD software for more than 23 years. When you choose Alibre, you become part of a community of designers. Our community features a forum and gallery for asking questions, sharing ideas and looking for inspiration. We also provide licensing options so you only get what you need and aren't overpaying for features that are not meaningful to your design process.
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