3D CAD software is what I need but which solution?

or How to choose a 3D CAD system

Many businesses and individuals are still to make the switch from 2D to 3D CAD designing with all the inherent advantages it brings, but of course there are several contenders in the market vying for that privilege of supplying a solution. A savvy purchaser will spend some time evaluating the market before making their investment. In this article I hope to make that process a little clearer.

When evaluating CAD software, the most important factor, as with most purchases, is value for money. Find out how efficiently each package creates the types of products your company makes. For example, if your company makes sheet-metal parts, pay attention to the special tools for creating them and automatically generating flat patterns. If your firm designs stylish products, look at the tools for creating free-form surfaces and blends between them. Designers of machinery should see how easy it is to assemble large numbers of parts and insert purchased parts such as fasteners from a library. Some systems are stronger at one aspect than another, assess whether you need a system that is generally good or excels at your particular requirements. Assess what your business spends most time doing and find the system that handles that best, be it modelling, drafting or even document management.

Because changes are inevitable, assess how hard it is to modify parts and assemblies. Also consider that a system that can make your company’s designs with even 20% fewer steps will offer important cost advantages compared with a system that is less efficient. A 3D CAD system that offers the best value will combine exceptional technical capabilities with reasonable cost of ownership.

Other factors to consider

1.    Easy to learn – There will always be a period of slow down while new systems are introduced, find out how each program deals with this.

2.    Compatible – will each package be able to import and export data with your project collaborators or empirical data.

3.    Standard – does each package provide easy to use standard drawing formatting and functionality?

4.    Reliable, stable – does each package work on your chosen computing system? No software is perfect so what processes does the vendor have in place to fix bugs.

5.    Hidden costs – are there any significant fees or charges that could be applied after initial purchase?

6.    High level functionality – is each package pushing the capability of modern technology, are they making it quicker and easier to carry out tedious or repetitive processes.

7.    Innovative – are they implementing new functionality that is relevant to your existing and future business

8.    Tech support – when you get stuck with the software or what you are trying to use it for, how robust is the system the vendor has in place for dealing with it.

9.    Direct vs. history modelling methods – 3D CAD software has gone through somewhat of a revolution in the last few years. Designers now have a choice of the robust, fast methods provided by direct modelling and those high functionality and control-ability methods provided by history (parametric) modelling. One package has even found a way of integrating the two.

Antony Mazonowicz

Life-long engineering drafter and modeler

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