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CAD for mechanical engineering

The world of mechanical engineering is built around precision. When it comes to creating power-producing machinery, generators, engines, turbines and other mechanical systems, you need a rather diverse skillset. Mathematical, scientific and engineering expertise. An analytical, creative mind. High level design ability. The list certainly goes on.

In recent years, computer-aided designing software for mechanical engineering has developed to encapsulate all of those attributes mentioned above and deliver more precise digital designs that ever before. With mechanical computer-aided design (MCAD), there are new realms of possibility for workflows in the industry across design, simulation, manufacturing, presentation and more.

Here's a brief guide on how CAD has transformed the mechanical engineering sector.

What is CAD in mechanical engineering?

CAD software for mechanical engineering is a specialist design software that allows users to create 2D drawings and 3D models for use across a broad range of applications in the industry. A cornerstone technology of the modern manufacturing process, CAD is also a key tool in post-production elements including advertising and the production of technical manuals.

The specialist software used in mechanical engineering is often called Mechanical CAD, or MCAD. MCAD typically offers industry-specific features as part of its database to help boost its usability, including relevant specifications for the materials, processes, structures and tolerances for hardware or structures commonly found in the industry.

The history of mechanical engineering software

The origins of CAD software date back to the 1960s and the introduction of revolutionary technologies such as Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad in 1963 and the first true CAD system: Pierre Bézier's UNISURF, which was used by Peugeot to create the bodywork of their new 204 model in 1968.

As far as the mechanical engineering sector is concerned, several leading companies had started using MCAD software by 1971. At this stage, however, MCAD technology was limited, unsophisticated and expensive, with CAD tools only able to duplicate and streamline the paper tasks of users.

Through the 1980s, 3D modelling became a more readily used concept. Increasingly less limited in terms of ease of use and cost, both the 2D and 3D markets expanded considerably alongside the advent of the personal computer (PC). By the 1990s, fully 3D design concepts were pioneered, although implementation still required a substantial change in working practices and processes. Likewise, software capabilities were still somewhat restricted.

Since the turn of the millennium, MCAD has got faster, cheaper and massively more accurate and in-depth. What was once an expensive and arguably unnecessary luxury a few decades back is now an absolute essential for any design process, such is the detail and capability of today's MCAD software – and it's only getting better.

What are the uses of computer-aided design software for mechanical engineering?

As the 'mechanical' portion of the MCAD acronym suggests, mechanical engineering drawing, modelling and simulation software is focused on the mechanical portion of the design process. That means it can be used in conjunction with different specialised CAD software like electrical CAD (ECAD), which would focus on the production of elements like a printed circuit board (PCB).

Of course, the 'mechanical portion' of any design process is a substantial one, and the capabilities of MCAD software span a number of key steps in design and conceptualisation.


The core purpose of MCAD, the manufacturing process has been completely overhauled by the capabilities of CAD. Offering highly detailed planning, design, revision, simulation and visualisation features, every stage of manufacturing – from initial conceptualisation through to post-production maintenance – has been made faster, cheaper and more accurate.

The depth and detail of 3D design software in mechanical engineering means that users can analyse and test every component of a product with ease, making for easier edits and revisions, and collaboration across teams is effortless with cloud-powered communication.


The sophisticated level of visualisation provided by MCAD software offers far-reaching potential beyond the fundamentals of the design and manufacturing process. CAD visualisation technology is used across all sorts of industries for client presentation purposes – particularly in a sector like mechanical engineering, though, where many products are being produced for commercial sale, CAD can provide a deep dive look at what makes your product worth buying.

Technical manuals

The same presentation elements that can be used for advertising can also be utilised for educational purposes. When it comes to creating a manual for the product, one of the most effective ways for the viewer to understand the mechanisms involved is to see them working via visualisation.

With MCAD software able to present the working process of each individual component in any given system it's been used to design, manuals can offer an added layer of immersion via CAD presentation. This helps boost functionalities such as ease of maintenance and user satisfaction.

The importance of CAD in mechanical engineering

The CAD software used by mechanical engineers offers a huge range of benefits that have led to digital design becoming an absolute essential in the industry.

Greater detail, delivered faster

The capabilities of modern CAD are remarkable. The depth of options in a typical MCAD database is mammoth, and that's enabling mechanical engineers to create concepts with greater detail than ever before. Every component of a design can be singled out and analysed, and that means that revisions can be made quickly – leading to faster and more efficient delivery of the final design, ready for manufacture.

Open communication and collaboration

The computer aided software used by mechanical engineers offers instant and open communication between all teams working on a project. With the assistance of the cloud, member of different teams can leave design notes for colleagues working on the other side of the world. The revision process, which could previously take days in a traditional mechanical engineering design project, now takes hours – and more frequent collaboration through every stage of design makes for a more cohesive product concept.

Big cost benefits

Of course, when everything you're doing is done more efficiently, that means good things for your overheads. MCAD has made mechanical engineering design more detailed, accurate, quicker and requiring less resources. That means big cost-savings for your operation, no matter your corner of the mechanical engineering sector.

Try our free mechanical engineering CAD software today

You can get started with our free mechanical engineering software today! Download DesignSpark Mechanical Explorer to see what our basic CAD package looks like, then upgrade to Creator or Engineer to get a host of advanced features.

If you want to know more about what our CAD software has to offer, you can learn the basics of DesignSpark Mechanical here, or take a look at our support FAQs and Mechanical forum to get all the answers you need.

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I'm a Mechanical Engineer by qualification though I worked for a long time specialising in Motion Control systems and integration with various PLC systems. I've wide experience of many types of applications from packaging machines to military and some applications that I can't mention. At home, I like to tinker and make things with wood, metal, plastics, electronics and mechanical system. I'm never happier than with a hammer and a screwdriver in my hands....