What is Computer Aided Design (CAD) Drafting?
So, what is CAD? CAD stands for Computer Aided Design, which is actually not a new concept. Engineers and Architects have been designing, or drafting, for ages by hand. CAD is just done with the aid of computers. While the first “SketchPad” was invented in 1962 , CAD was first introduced into Automotive and Aerospace companies in the 70’s.
CAD programs have since become more available and more affordable. With many tutorials available online you may discover it is easy to pick up on. This, along with the growing community of 3D printer owners, many people have turned to 3D printers as a hobby or as DIYer’s for fixing household items.
As a youngster, I was first introduced to drawing on a computer with my fathers 1980’s Apple II. And later discovered CAD through schooling where I immediately fell in love. I have since pursued a college degree and now built my entire career in the CAD/CAM industry. So, why CAD? What are the benefits of CAD? Where is CAD used?
This article will take a deep dive into these questions and provide resources for best CAD modeling guidelines and information on the best tools.
For many years a team of drafters sat at drawing tables using pencils, compasses, protractors, erasers, and triangles to draw up designs by hand. Imagine the time and space needed to house all these gigantic draft tables.
It would add days maybe weeks to handle modifications or duplicate drawings. Articulating design concepts took much longer. With CAD designers can share their ideas in minutes creating better quality designs. A number of analysis can be done efficiently with computer applications. 3D modeling can be created, modified and reproduced much faster.
CAD applications have more powerful features for creating and sharing CAD designs which can now be utilize across all departments for enhanced visualization of product designs.
How does CAD work?
Designing models, or drawings, in CAD, consists of placing points, lines, and curves onto a 2D or 3D space to draw up design concepts or blueprints. 3D models are typically drawn up in one of two ways. Depending on the CAD program designers will connect lines together in three directions until an enclosed object is created, or simply extrude 2D shapes into 3D shapes.
For a more technical explanation of what CAD is imagine drawing a square on a piece of paper. In CAD this is done with a flat surface called a plane which is in a three dimensional (3D) space. This is your XY plane. In the 3D space there is a starting point called the Main XYZ Axis. The square on the XY plane can be stretched along a third access, which is your Z axis. As the design becomes more complex you will have points, lines and curves within your XYZ coordinates.
When you were a kid you probably drew pictures with a connect-the-dot concept, well similarly CAD draws lines connecting to dots but in a three dimensional space. A flat area becomes a surface and an enclosed object becomes a solid 3D object.
Pros & Cons of CAD 
|• Automation of design creation||• High purchasing costs|
|• Better quality design and accuracy||• Yearly subscriptions fees|
|• Time savings with designing in minutes||• Time and cost for training is necessary for CAD systems|
|• Modifying design and correcting errors is easier and quicker||• Easy to make modification also increases the frequency for making changes|
|• Stored and used electronically without using paper||• Decent hardware and hard drive space|
|• Much quicker time in reproducing or making copies||• Run into software issues or bugs|
|• Easy saving and sharing||• Needs regular updating of software and operating systems|
|• Can be accessible via network||• Software updates may not be sharable on outdated programs|
|• Integrate building properties||• Lost work due to break down of computer|
|• Integrates with CAD/CAM programs to automate manufacturing processes||• Computers are prone to viruses or being hacked|
|• Detailed templates with standard information can be used and reused||• Files can become corrupt|
|• Easily combine all sub-assemblies together for clearer identification of dimensions and tolerances||• Translated files are prone to lose metadata|
Less human interaction
|• Easily analyze and simulate design concepts|
CAD is now used in all types of industries. Some include aerospace, automotive, manufacturing, tooling, medical, civil, architecture, but many more. Yet, because of the cost and maintenance of computers and CAD programs adoption has been low. The most advanced CAD technologies are used in the aerospace industry.
Smaller manufacturing companies and consumer products industries have now ventured into using CAD. But, due to cost, they have a limited number of licenses. They may be using CAD at a smaller scale to only produce electronic 2D drawings.
Due to the high costs of CAD applications many companies have opted for inexpensive CAD viewers. This enables them to open and analyze CAD files received by their business partner.
For instance, an automotive company designs their models in a CAD application such as CATIA or NX. Then they send the CAD data to their vendors to bid. These vendors then provide a price hoping to win the opportunity. And, since some vendors may not afford CATIA or NX they turn to an inexpensive neutral CAD viewer, such as Kister, Glovius, or SpinFire to access the data.
With CAD, sharing design concepts for a quicker approval process has become much easier. And, advances architectural designs / blueprints as well as manufacturing prototypes and functional testing.
The growing popularity of CAD has enhanced the production industry in many ways. It has enabled product designers to create and modify designs more quickly. Architects and manufacturers can easily make and share their mockups to all key parties. And as CAD programs become affordable and 3D printers become cheaper more hobbyists are turning to CAD. Read about our CAD Modeling Guidelines to learn what you need to know before you start 3D printing.