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How many tools does a CAD program need?


Cad_crank.jpgThe definition of CAD is a moving target, but my definition is anything that is used to create geometry (2D or 3D) that can be used to manufacture an item, help you visualize, or annotate a drawing. That leaves out a whole lot of useful stuff, but CAD doesn’t have to cover the whole spectrum of engineering tools. Examples of stuff that are left out of that definition would be any sort of analysis, or utilities to calculate cost, or control shipping. These tools are certainly necessary, but they fall under other parts of the PLM umbrella other than CAD.


So if a CAD tool needs to be able to create and visualize geometry, then you wind up with a lot of tools that you might not use in any particular CAD tool. My car has a lot of stuff that I never use. Some people never use the emergency brake, or the flashers, or the jack and spare, or they never turn off the traction control, or the cruise control, or automatic dual zone temperatures, or they never turn off traction control. Yet you probably wouldn’t buy a car without any of these items, if for no other reason because when you go to sell the car, the buyer will be looking for them. Or maybe you don’t use them, but your wife does.


In any case, I’m just making the point that products usually come with stuff we don’t need, and not just as some big corporate rip-off scheme, but because the stuff we don’t use actually winds up making the product more useful, hence valuable, overall.


Let’s say you buy a whole fleet of cars. Some are driven by a chauffeur, some by some guy who rents it from you. Some deliver packages. Some just go to the airport. Some drive in bad weather. Some do all of these things some of the time. None does all of them all the time.


How does this relate to CAD? To me, a full-powered CAD system has to do everything. If it doesn’t do everything, it might not be able to work on some areas of your product, or your product might get limited by the CAD system. Surfacing? Gotta have it. Ever walk in to Target and see something that didn’t use surfacing??  Wiring? Sheet metal? Drawings? Motion? Yes, a real CAD system needs all of this. Even though you might find that some of these things clutter the system, or that they diffuse the focus of the CAD developer, they all need to be there because so many products in our world use these things.


There are special tools for printed circuit boards, and other specialty niches, but even wire harness really should be created in the 3D model because the geometry affects the design. The more complex your product, the more of these tools you need.


I’ve got two messages with this. One is that buying a tool that only does one thing usually doesn’t make a lot of sense. And yes, there are (new) CAD tools being offered that really only do one thing. Second, the “I don’t need surfacing” or “how many people really use that stuff” argument doesn’t hold as much water as you think it does. And even if you don’t use it, someone else does. In this business, using a tool that has value to other people increases its value to you. We support one another, we help create opportunity for one another. The guy who designs plastic parts creates jobs for the guy who designs molds, the guy who designs machinery that dries the plastic, the people who design the mechanism and electronics inside the plastic, etc.


Matt, Great post. This sort of reminds me of how so many folks pick a CAD package based on what others think and NOT their own needs. Granted 10 years ago picking a CAD package usually meant making sure there was compatibility with your customers data, but also making sure you were on board and also re-affirming their chosen tool.... it was good for business and also gave you a sense of security it would be around for a long time. I'm sure this is what is irking many SolidWorks user today. Knowing or more importantly using SW is no were near as important as it was 5 years ago. So having a CAD tool that lets you do everything you need and then some, is key. But as you point out the "other stuff" in a CAD package is really different for every user. I think the folks at Siemens/UGS have always made Solid Edge a very well balanced product. I've rarely been forced to go outside the "Classic" SE program to do much. And when I do I use more refined products like KeyShot for rendering to enhance my presentations, another FEA package for Electrostatic analysis, and Rhino for import/export translations and other odd ball scenarios. I can't think of any other needs. But the bottom line is that Solid Edge  handles probably 95% of all users needs. And it handles them very well right out of the box. Bob

Gears Honored Contributor

Bob, in your comment " so many folks pick a CAD package based on what others think and NOT their own needs" - I would categorize them into two:

(1) Those who overlook or do not pay attention to what they really need, and

(2) Those who pick a CAD program without even looking at others but simply looking at the comparison chart that a salesman shows them and then picking the one with the most number of ticks for the CAD being sold which obviously lists more points that only the particular CAD package has obviously getting more tick marks.

When working as an AE with Siemens few years back, I regularly had these cases of prospective clients arguing - Do you have these: Assembly compare, Closing All files at once or Edit attributes from imported blocks, etc. which obviously came from a comparison chart and without giving a thought if they really need any of these utilities nor knowing how much important these would are in their daily use.

Tushar, I'm sure their reasons are legendary... and funny too. One other driving force is "Who's paying". I would imagine that those who pay for their own CAD software have a little bit more at stake when making purchases. Where those who are spending OPM (other people's money) are more inclined to make their decision a public statement which could easily be defend. The old expression from the 80's and 90's that "Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" still holds much truth still today. I doubt anyone would ever be chastised or fired for buying SolidWorks... even today. So it tends to be a safe bet.