Best CAD Software: How to Choose It?

Best CAD software for engineering design and drafting

CAD software is a need for any product designer. But for financial and technical managers as well. In this article, I’ll try to identify what are the most common criteria for a CAD software acquisition, based on three main points of view.

Continuous development and diversification

Driven by the industrial modernization and production automation processes, the best CAD software applications have become indispensable for design, covering continuous development and diversification.

The first evolution stage was the shift from 2D to 3D. Designers needed more than basic tools necessary for making sketches and drawings. They needed a 3D vision of thinking perspective. Project development in space and integration with other production activities led to combining several applications categories and tools in software packages for specific industries. CAD programs became more specialized, more complicated.

The current CAD offer on the market is extremely rich. But which is the best tool? A large number of vendors have developed products to meet the demands for both horizontal market and vertical industries. Dedicated CAD packages for mechanical design, civil and industrial buildings, architecture, infrastructure, and GIS, were developed.

How to choose the best CAD software?

best free cad software on premise vs cloud

Cloud Lowers Total Cost of Ownership. Image Source: Adaptive Planning Inc.

Facing such a large offer, what do we need to choose the best Computer-aided Design software? For SMEs and startups, the decision process is easier, because the basic needs are very clear: the most cost-efficient, the faster and the better technical solution for business purposes.

In a bigger organization, there are many decision levels and perspectives to be considered: economic and financial reasons, technology and infrastructure, and CAD user’s professional perspectives. Each of these three components are important in the decision process.

Let’s see the main criteria, depending on this three scenarios:

Financial & administrative criteria

The main player is the business development manager, economic director, or CFO. Regardless of the decision maker’s function or committee, the focus is on the most efficient investment. The main financial criteria any decision structure should consider are:

  • purchasing cost of the CAD software
  • associated costs of users training, maintenance, and other service packages
  • elementary TCO evaluation: supplementary investments in hardware, hiring specialized engineers, internal IT maintenance or eventual upgrade costs
rubber seal design with Onshape cad software

Design of a rubber seal profile with Onshape

Looking at the best CAD software financial alternative, tools offered as cloud services could be considered as the most cost-efficient. A CAD SaaS solution like Onshape is offering pay-as-you-use alternative, no license or upgrade fees, no additional or hidden costs, a more flexible financial program and relaxing of CapEx balance.

Technical & operational criteria

From a CIO/ CTO perspective, the most important aspect is the CAD tool’s integration in the company’s system, hardware and software resources necessary for proper running. What CAD solution choosing criteria are specific for a CIO?

  • The number of workstations running CAD software
  • Single or networking licensing versions – special server’s configuration
  • Remote software access – virtual applications and virtual machines in the data centers
  • Licensing mode – perpetual or rental licenses, or Software-as-a-Services (SaaS) subscription?

Practice shows for the large majority of situations that the most convenient alternative is a SaaS subscription, which offers the following advantages:

  • No additional resources needs;
  • No extra time for installing, configuration, and upgrade;
  • Simplified and flexible management process;
  • Data security compliant with company policies and industry standards;
  • Deep integration with CAE, CAM, and PLM applications.
Which are the alternatives for end users?

But what should be the view of the user, whether we’re talking about a product designer, an industrial design specialist or a design services consultant? CAD designers are not interested in what form of licensing the solution has, unless they have to fight with incompatibility problems, documents transfer, or recognition.

Before choosing, the CAD user should answer to a series of questions: Am I able to generate this type of project without this CAD solution? Do I understand all the required input data? Do I have enough experience to understand the final output of my design?

rubber seal sliding fea simulation von mises stress with SimScale

Simulation of the seal sliding with SimScale

Any CAD software helps to automate the design process with predefined criteria and rules to regulate output, but you need to fully understand those rules before you begin.

Industry facts show that application platforms that integrate specialized software are more popular than stand-alone software. The latter is recommended only in particular situations with very specific design requirements, for certain design structures, or a particular design stage.

CAD tools developed in the cloud is usually preferred for the following reasons:

  • The user has access to a user-friendly interface and only needs a web browser;
  • The solution is easy to learn, being intuitive and normally including online tutorials and training resources;
  • The product designer has permanent access to the most actual version without updates or upgrades requirements;
  • Online subscription offers the most effective ways of communication and collaboration with co-workers or partners, which can develop other components;
  • The solution can easily retrieve any format of document design or extension.

Moreover, depending on the project’s requirements, the designer can request services for simulation and product optimization. Many on-premises software vendors offer both CAD and CAE platforms but due to technical barriers, each software can only be used by very specialized engineers.

With the Onshape and SimScale technology partnership, for example, any user has now the possibility to have a complete design workflow – CAD design, meshing, simulation/ CAE, and results – right in their web browser.

The SimScale cloud-based 3D simulation platform is accessible to a large numbers of designers, which have the possibility to quickly optimize their product designs in a virtual environment instead of using a costly physical prototyping process.

Watch this video to see how Onshape and SimScale cloud-based platforms can be used for product design:


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