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- What is CAD?
- What’s CAD history?
- What are CAD applications?
As a part of the Community Value Addition Project (C-VAP), CAD FM spends substantial effort and resources to provide up-to-date information about computer-aided design (CAD) to the CAD community. Find out all about engineering CAD on this ‘one-stop CAD shop’.
1. What is CAD?
If you are an engineer or an inventor or a businessman, you must have heard about CAD. But what is CAD?
Well! It is a combined use of computer software and hardware to aid engineers in design process for developing models of objects.
In majority of CAD systems, a virtual model of any object is defined by geometric parameters such as length, height and depth. These models are visualised on a computer screen in three dimensions, which can be altered quickly. Properties such as mass, density, strength and others can be assigned, and the models can be tested under real-life scenarios prior to manufacturing.
CAD can be used to suggest, modify, analyse, qualify or improve a design. The CAD output is often in electronic/digital format (discussed in ‘What are CAD formats?’ section).
2. What’s CAD history?
2.1 Birth of CAD
The early ancestors of CAD can be traced back to 1940s, when the servomotors were controlled by basic numeric controlled systems and the digital machine tools were used to form different shapes.
In 1953, Douglas T Ross and his fellow researchers developed a simple utility program capable of debugging. They used flowcharts on a display scope to perform the debugging operations. However, the term “computer-aided design (CAD)” was suggested six years after this development ie in 1959 by Ross.
But it was Patrick Hanratty who introduced the first commercially available numerical control programming system named PRONTO in 1957. Although it did not possess any fancy display interface, it was considered as one of the biggest breakthroughs of the time.
2.2. User interface & 2D age
In 1962, an MIT student Ivan Sutherland developed SketchPad as a part of his PhD thesis. This software had the first graphic user interface (GUI). The interface was comparatively user friendly and allowed the user to draw in the X-Y plane with a special pointer. The software is considered as the father of all modern CAD software. SketchPad ran on Lincoln TX-2 computing system, which had 64k of 36-bit words. Both the software and hardware had extremely limited capabilities.
The software was able to draw only in the X-Y plane, also, the hardware was able to offer only 36 bits out of which only 20 were reserved for coordinates. In this decade, most of the efforts were directed towards 2D CAD only. Nonetheless, Sutherland’s efforts were acknowledged later, and he received two awards: Turning Award in 1988 and Kyoto Prize in 2012.
By 1970, the researchers moved from 2D to 3D with the introduction of 3D curves, surface modelling and solid modelling. These efforts are pioneered by Ken Versprille who invented NURBS as a part of his PhD thesis. Some other contributors of this era were Alan Grayer, Charles Lang and Ian Braid.
ADAM was built by Patrick Hanratty in 1971. This was a first drafting and manufacturing system developed in Fortran and was designed with much flexibility. Later, ADAM was updated to operate on 16 and 32 bit systems.
2.3. Three dimension age
In the 1980s, CAD software paved their way in commercial industries such as aerospace and automobile. CATIA and AutoCAD were among the first commercial 3D CAD software to appear in the market.
In 1987, Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC) introduced Pro|Engineer. This was the first CAD program that depicted parametric solid geometries and feature-based modelling techniques. Additionally, unlike previous software developed in Fortron and Assembler, this revolutionary program was written in UNIX’s Windows.
This adaptation made Pro|Engineer, faster reliable and user friendly compared to its counterparts. In the late 1980s, several 3D modelling systems were introduced such as ACIS and Parasolid. The systems developed in this era laid the foundations of all parametric CAD systems to follow.
The first half of 1990s focused on the development and improvement of the existing technology; among new arrivals were Autodesk AutoCAD R13 3D programme, STEP and Solidworks by Dassault Systems. These software offered better user experience compared to the ones developed before.
2.4. Advancement in 3D
In 1995, Siemens launched Solid Edge. Solid Edge was a complete product development lifecycle management (PLM) solution, which marked the next CAD evolution stage. This worked on Windows and offered solid and assembly modelling with 2D orthographic views.
In early 2000 most of the CAD software were fast and allowed to create complex assemblies and parts. From 2000 to 2020 (recent times) the CAD programs focused on improved user experience and creation of complex features with ease and accuracy.
Meanwhile, free and open-source software were introduced such as Fusion 360 and Blender. These are very powerful programme with CAM and animation capabilities. Blender is unique as this is being developed by the community. Further details in the section “What’s CAD Software”.
Currently (2020), the engineers are using CREO (an ancestor of Pro|Engineer), Solidworks, NX-Siemens, CATIA, Blander and AutoCAD along with others. Also, the industrial trends are moving towards industrial internet of things (IIOT), virtual reality and augmented reality, which is discussed in ‘Future of CAD’ section in details.
3. What are CAD applications?
CAD (Computer-Aided Design) applications are seen in all walks of life. First, let’s review the major industries benefiting from CAD and then discuss the general applications.
3.1. Industry-wise CAD applications
The aerospace industry requires high accuracy and efficiency when it comes to engineering design and manufacturing. Components such as engines, landing gear, fuselage and wings demand a high degree of accuracy to assure high performance.
All these requirements were achieved by adopting CAD software. For example, the existence of modern stealth marvels ie B-2 bomber, Sukhoi Su-57 fighter and F-22 raptor became possible only due to the advanced CAD systems. This stealth shape was possible due to surfacing modules of CAD systems.
Also, using traditional design approaches, even a small iteration costed several million dollars. However, modern CAD systems can solve a similar iteration issue at a fraction of the cost.
Further, the weapon industries design their weapons in a collaboration with fighter-jet companies (consumers) all done in a real time environment; thanks to the cloud systems and CAD that each stakeholder can access the designs, make alterations and analyse project status, all in real time.
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3.1.2. CAD and automotive industry
CAD has not only increased automotive productivity but also reduced the time to market. CAD has been implemented in the automotive industry in both generic and specific ways. The generic application of CAD in automotive included part modelling, engineering analysis and drafting. The specific application of CAD can be seen in rendering and kinematics.
Moreover, several dedicated software are used to optimise the shape of vehicles to improve fuel efficiency and reduce drag. All these feats improved the user experience along with high productivity and performance.
3.1.3. CAD application in Shipbuilding
Shipbuilders exploited CAD to design vessels’ interior, exterior, engine rooms and all other areas. Commercial, defence and customised yachts are optimised and improved using CAD systems. One of the important improvement is noticed in the ship engine design.
The ship engines are among the most powerful and heavy engines available in the market; these engines were not possible without the use of CAD systems. Moreover, modern underwater vehicles are designed and optimised with CAD software.
The major improvements were seen in the area of fluid analysis, structural design, augmented reality and solid modelling.
Railways applied CAD to improve both its infrastructure as well as transportation. Rail engines, passenger coaches and other transportation buggies are improved for luxury, efficiency and effectiveness. It is believed that the production time has been reduced by 300% by using CAD systems.
Experts say that the current rail demand cannot be met with traditional designing and development systems due to their low efficiency and speed compared to the automated CAD systems. Moreover, the manufacturing accuracy and precision can only be achieved using modern CAD systems.
The railway tracks are monitored for any problem using laser and other visual monitoring systems making it easy to repair and operate. By implementing current CAD techniques the railway accidents are reduced and safety is also improved.
3.1.5. Rendering for Amazon & eBay
Yes, this a stunning fact. It is true as well. More and more investors are having their products rendered for Amazon and eBay stores. Different products such as headphones, mobile holders, utensils and others are rendered using CAD software for the Amazon and eBay marketing, which means that there is a growing market with over millions of products being rendered every month.
This is driven by the users who want to see the quality images of the products prior to purchase. People running their store on Amazon and eBay said that they have increased their sales by 300 to 700% by only using the CAD-based photo-realistic rendering.
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3.1.6. Consumer goods
Consumer goods such as cooking utensils, mobiles, water bottles and gloves etc are designed and optimised for strength with the help of CAD software. Now engineers and designers develop a virtual product and can test for its functionality and operation prior to manufacturing. This helps to rectify or fix the problems before they appear in the real world.
Also, the developers can visualise the products as they look in real life using photorealistic rendering. The photorealistic rendering modules of CAD software can be manipulated for colours, textures and lighting to represent real products in a virtual environment. This has substantially reduced the time to market.
3.2. General CAD application
3.2.1. CAD application in 2D drawings
In earlier days of engineering, the drawings were created using drawing boards and other geometric equipment. This was a very complex and time-consuming process prone to discrepancies. Also, the traditional 2D drawing method often required a long time for alterations and changes.
With the invent of CAD, productivity increased tremendously. The drawings that took months to finish take less than a day. The accuracy and precision was improved, and the alteration-time decreased; as claimed by several users. AutoCAD, Solidworks, Creo and others are among the leaders in improving the 2D drawing experience for the users.
3.2.2. Solid and parametric modelling
Solid or Parametric modelling is used to develop 3D models in a virtual CAD environment by adding or subtracting different volumes. These volumes are created using CAD features ie extrude, cut, loft and others. The creation of these features is stored as a history called the model-tree. This model-tree can be modified at any time, hence, the CAD models can be edited whenever required.
Using this method, virtual replica of a real product can be developed, rotated and all sides of the object can be seen on a computer screen. This makes the observation and designing easy because the object can virtually be seen and optimised before manufacturing.
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3.2.3. Surface modelling
A surface is a 2D shape without any volume – speaking in CAD terminology. This method is applicable to form complex shapes such as aeroplane and car bodies, plastic bottles and other intricate designs by trimming, lofting and stitching. The volume can be assigned to the final shape if required. This made possible to develop the products which were otherwise impossible. A well-known example is a B-2 bomber, whose shape was impossible to generate without surface modelling. This shape is vital for its stealth, performance and aerodynamic efficiency.
3.2.4. Sheet metal
Due to the vast scope of sheet metal in the industry, CAD companies developed a dedicated module called sheet metal. This is an extension of solid modelling with an exclusive virtual-toolbox for designing sheet metal components. Often, a final shape such as a computer casing is created in CAD software and then opened to form a single flat sheet. This flat sheet has information about the required size, cut-positions and bending locations.
The module can also be used to suggest different tools for the actual manufacturing process. The sheets can be tested in a virtual environment and recommendations are given for increased production.
Contact us if you want us to optimise or develop sheet metal designs for you.
3.2.5. CAD application in piping
CAD has been successfully implemented for piping design in different process plants such as acid manufacturing and fertilizers. The main advantage of using CAD over manual systems is that the designers have more freedom over the design process. Thanks to the shift from 2D manual drawings to 3D CAD systems, where the design is verified before the final drawings and layout are proposed.
A complete plant layout can be designed, and the amount of piping, valve numbers & position or line number can be estimated in a fraction of time compared to the traditional methods. This improved design process efficiency, enhanced quality and reduced complaints.
3.2.6. Assembly modelling
The individual parts or components produced using the above techniques can be assembled in CAD software and the interaction between these components can be studied. This provides a great opportunity for engineers to validate each model and their assemblies for any discrepancies. The assembly modelling can also be used to demonstrate the operation and instructions for real-time assembly and manufacturing.
An example of assembly modelling can range from any product with two parts interacting with each other such as simple piston and cylinder arrangement or multi-million parts product such as aircraft jet engines.
Contact us if you like us help you in assembly design and modelling.
3.2.7. Photorealistic rendering
CAD has a unique way of creating computer-based images that are virtual but look like a real photograph. The real textures, lighting, shadows and other graphical properties can be assigned easily that are close to reality. This process creates real-life images of the products or concepts that do not even exist at the time, which are very useful for industrial-design applications and stakeholders satisfaction.
The advancements in the technology have reduced the time of photorealistic rendering in CAD, however, this is still an area where CAD software require higher computing resources and time compared to the other CAD processes such as solid modelling and drawing creation. Nevertheless, this is one of the favourite CAD application of investors. Check out our YouTube playlist for photorealistic CAD rendering and animations.
3.2.8. CAD animations
CAD animations are one of the most effective ways to create video-based documentation of a process or a method. These processes can range from assembly instruction of a furniture product to the engine replacement of a jet-aircraft. CAD has made assemblies easy for the user, therefore, more & more companies are moving from paper-based instruction to video ones.
The videos are created in CAD software and a complete animation can be saved on a computer or video search engines like YouTube. The user can easily access the animation and completes the desired operation – improving the user experience by multi-folds. Check out our YouTube playlist for photorealistic CAD rendering and animations.
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3.2.9. CAD and reverse engineering
This is a reverse process of actual product development. In the straight process, the products are first designed in CAD systems and then manufactured following the product development procedures. Here, the actual products are first converted into CAD models using CAD scans and other techniques; second, tested for inaccuracies and strength; lastly, they are reproduced by selecting the manufacturing methods and processes.
Over the past couple of decades, CAD has revolutionised the reverse engineering. Different processes and equipment such as laser scanners, CMMs and others are used in combination with the software (which was not possible before) to reverse engineer a component. The virtual models are then modified, tested and optimised for manufacturing.
The well-known example of traditional reverse engineering is the design of gasoline cans. In World War II, the Americans discovered that their can-design was substandard compared to the Germans. Hence, Americans reverse-engineered German cans to improve the life of their gasoline cans. This was a very complicated and time consuming process.
However, the process is highly simplified nowadays by adopting the methods mentioned above and the same process can be completed much faster using modern CAD techniques of reverse engineering.
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