Top 5 CAD Tools for Design Engineers in 2021

Parul Saxena

Parul Saxena

Senior editor

Parul Saxena

Chief editor

Last updated: June 11, 2021

Mechanical design is the first step towards laying the foundation for mechanical production. It’s a determining factor that greatly influences mechanical performance. 

Computer technology is widely used in mechanical design for system analysis and auxiliary design. It helps ensure adherence to high-quality standards of mechanical product performance. The computer technology being referred to here is, of course, Computer-Aided Design (CAD) software.

CAD

CAD can be used to create 2D curves and figures and 3D curves, surfaces, and solids using either raster or vector graphics. However, CAD’s scope is much broader than just designing shapes. CAD designs communicate some sort of information, allowing users to develop the design on-screen and print it out.

Why do engineers use CAD software?

Following are some benefits and reasons why engineers are using CAD software:

1. Enhanced Communication

CAD tools improve the design’s documentation through across-the-board standardization and minimizes the volume of drawing errors. This helps enhance departmental communication in an organization.

Looking for CAD Software? Check out SoftwareSuggest’s list of the best CAD software solutions.

2. Real-time visualization

CAD users can visualize the end product as they design it. Some CAD software are even capable of rendering animations to show designers how the final product will function. This feature enables the users to make real-time modifications if any are required.

3. Document management

Organizations that frequently require CAD software have employees that are continuously working on fresh designs. CAD software allows users to store their work that they can resume as and when needed.

5 Best CAD tools for design engineers

CAD software is an instrumental tool in every design engineer’s arsenal. So it’s only natural to want the best CAD software, one that can make your work easier and the designing process less complicated. 

Following are the top 5 CAD tools available in the market.

1. nTopology

nTopology is a generative design software that allows users to fast-track their product design and development process through advanced manufacturing technologies. 

nTopology

Generative design is a holistic design methodology. It takes a computational approach to engineering whereby it uses software for the generation and evaluation of geometry based on a group of logical operations and rules defined by the user. Essentially, it underpins an engineer’s efforts by offering innovative solutions. 

nTopology is the sole generative solution in the market that provides users full control over the process of optimization and the final output. It lets engineers create workflows that can be reused and are created to suit the specific needs of their application with the help of cutting-edge generative tools.

Engineers can go a step further than topology optimization through nTopology’s field-driven design. They can combine experimental data, simulation results, and in-house engineering know-how for generating solutions that can synthesize the engineer’s design requirements.

nTopology seamlessly integrates with all major CAD software. Users can import or export in numerous open engineering formats such as STL, FE meshes, Parasolid, STEP, 3MF, and 3D scanning data. 

What’s more, nTopology also connects to authoring tools and enterprise systems via a command line, thereby allowing engineers to leverage nTopology’s potent solutions in their current software. 

2. AutoCAD

AutoCAD is a CAD software produced by Autodesk. It is one of the oldest CAD software that made its debut in 1982. Over the past 4 decades, AutoCAD has managed to bedazzle professionals across industries. 

AutoCAD

AutoCAD easily converts 3D models to STL format so they can be 3D printed. However, its popularity among members of the 3D printing community has been declining.

The reason being cited is that while it may be great for 2D designs, 3D modeling can be quite complex on AutoCAD. Undeniably, the learning curve involved in getting comfortable with macros and scripts can be steep, making moving beyond the simple parts challenging.

That being said, it must be noted that AutoCAD is targeted at professionals who have the experience to program models algorithmically. If this is a skill you already have, the sky’s the limit with AutoCAD. 

Some users complain about crashes. Now, this is a big problem if engineers lose work because of the software freezing. But, even if it freezes, the probability of losing work is slim given the work would already have been saved. However, exceptions can and do occur. 

Often, the reason that AutoCAD freezes is because of large files that contain plenty of data. If the file has referenced other files, the original file will need to be shared along with the referenced file when sent over to a client or colleague. Otherwise, they may not be able to see the referenced information.

On a more positive note, users can also use AutoCAD’s customizable API and plugins function with comprehensive editing and other tools that offer ample choices. AutoCAD also offers a 30-day trial, so feel free to try it before using it.

3. CATIA

CATIA (i.e., Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application) CAD was originally developed to serve Dassault Aviation for its internal use. Its scope is much broader than just being a CAD tool, though. 

With CATIA, users get a multi-platform software suite that can be used for Computer-Aided Manufacturing (CAM) and Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE), among other things.

CATIA

CATIA is powered by Dassault’s 3DEXPERIENCE platform. It manages to redefine the product design experience through the integration of multiple designing and development approaches. This enables various disciplines to make efficient use of current tools across each stage of the development process.

For this reason, CATIA has quickly gained popularity among mechanical engineers, systems architects, and designers. Specifically, CATIA offers 3D design and simulation solutions for the following eight verticals: construction, shipbuilding, automotive, consumer goods, plant design, machinery manufacturing, and power and electronics.

CATIA also has a 3D design environment that allows users to share the designs of the product online and model the product collaboratively. As of today, CATIA holds the largest share in the design and engineering software space. 

4. SolidWorks

SolidWorks is a commonly used software among professional 3D designers. It packs in a bunch of features such as reverse engineering and design validation tools, among others. It’s a popular utility for designing industrial objects, given how practical and detailed it is. 

A unique point about SolidWorks is that it uses a system of NURBS rather than mimicking curves through flat structures that are gently inclined, thereby allowing it to create precise curvatures. What’s more, SolidWorks defaults to dimensional sketching instead of polygonal modeling, which minimizes the hassle of resizing.

However, users do report one common issue with SolidWorks – its limited capability of importing STL files. Users will need a separate program for downloading and editing STL files. Nevertheless, the utility continues to gain popularity on account of its ability to comprehensively capture design intent to guide changes in the design.

Whether the user adopts a top-down or bottom-up approach for the purpose of assembly design, SolidWorks is going to greatly enhance the efficiency of the design through its user-friendly operations.

To maximize productivity, the software has been made available in three editions, all of which have 3D design capabilities. Although, SolidWorks Professional and SolidWorks Premium offer more powerful features for design and modeling and are built to facilitate collaboration. 

5. Unigraphics NX

Unigraphics comes from the house of Siemens PLM Software, a company that provides verification methods and digital modeling for product designing and processing. The developers first minted Unigraphics in the year 1969 using the C language. 

Unigraphics works as a numerical tool and solves partial differential equations through adaptive multigrid techniques on unstructured grids (both two and three-dimensional). The interactive CAD and CAM system has powerful functionalities that can easily construct shapes and entities that are fairly complex. 

Industrial designers can use Unigraphics to promptly create and enhance the shape of a complex product. Designers can leverage the power of cutting-edge visualization and rendering features to optimize the design concept’s aesthetic quotient.

There are some things that put Unigraphics at the end of this list, though. Unigraphics isn’t the fastest software out there, and bigger assemblies can take a while to load. Loading times are even worse if an engineer uses it with Teamcenter. Considering its capabilities, Unigraphics certainly may appear overpriced to some. 

Did you find your favorite CAD tool yet?

Design engineers work with CAD software every day. It’s critical that they use tools that offer ample efficiency and improve productivity. On an internet flooded with new software offering a wide range of tools every day, it’s often a challenge to find one that fits the bill perfectly. 

The five products discussed here come from decades-old companies with a solid track record. Their tools have been put through strict quality assurance checks to confirm with the highest industry standards. These are reliable enough to make a design engineer’s life considerably easier.

Parul Saxena
Parul Saxena is a writer and editor with experience in various genres of writing in various industries. A content creator who loves to write on the latest technologies and their impact on businesses and everyday life.

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