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CAD (computer-aided design)

CAD (computer-aided design) is the use of computer-based software to aid in design processes. CAD software is frequently used by different types of engineers and designers. CAD software can be used to create two-dimensional (2-D) drawings or three-dimensional (3-D) models.

The purpose of CAD is to optimize and streamline the designer's workflow, increase productivity, improve the quality and level of detail in the design, improve documentation communications and often contribute toward a manufacturing design database. CAD software outputs come in the form of electronic files, which are then used accordingly for manufacturing processes.

CAD is often used in tandem with digitized manufacturing processes. CAD/CAM (computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing) is software used to design products such as electronic circuit boards in computers and other devices.

Who uses CAD?

Computer-aided design is used in a wide variety of professions. CAD software is used heavily within various architecture, arts and engineering projects. CAD use cases are specific to industry and job functions. Professions that use CAD tools include, but are not limited to:

  • Architects
  • Engineers
  • City planners
  • Graphic designers
  • Animation illustrators
  • Drafters
  • Fashion designers
  • Interior designers
  • Exterior designers
  • Game designers
  • Product designers
  • Industrial designers
  • Manufacturers

CAD benefits

Compared to traditional technical sketching and manual drafting, the use of CAD design tools can have significant benefits for engineers and designers:

  • Lower production costs for designs;
  • Quicker project completion due to efficient workflow and design process;
  • Changes can be made independent of other design details, without the need to completely re-do a sketch;
  • Higher quality designs with documentation (such as angles, measurements, presets) built into the file;
  • Clearer designs, better legibility and ease of interpretation by collaborators, as handmade drawings are not as clear or detailed;
  • Use of digital files can make collaborating with colleagues more simple; and
  • Software features can support generative design, solid modeling, and other technical functions.

CAD software/tools

A number of CAD tools exist to assist designers and engineers. Some CAD tools are tailored to fit specific use cases and industries, such as industrial design or architecture. Other CAD software tools can be used to support a variety of industries and project types. Some widely-used CAD tools are:

  • MicroStation (offered by Bentley Systems)
  • AutoCAD (offered by Autodesk)
  • CorelCAD
  • IronCAD
  • CADTalk
  • SolidWorks
  • Onshape
  • Catia
  • LibreCAD
  • OpenSCAD
  • Vectorworks
  • Solid Edge
  • Altium Designer
This was last updated in December 2020

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