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The use of CAD in manufacturing

Manufacturing is an all-encompassing industry. In the UK, manufacturers' product sales are closing in on half a trillion pounds annually, playing a fundamental role in producing the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the appliances we use, and the cars we drive to get from A to B – plus just about any other consumable you can think of.

In such a commercially driven market where efficiency is everything, producers are always looking to make the manufacturing process faster, cheaper, and more reliable – and that's where computer-aided design (CAD) comes in. Having revolutionised the industry over the past few decades, manufacturing CAD software continues to get more detailed, accurate, and adept in creating concepts for the industry, pushing the production process forward every single day.

In this guide, we'll talk about how computer-aided design for manufacturing has changed the industry for good. So, why not download our free 2D and 3D CAD manufacturing tool today?

What is CAD in manufacturing?

Computer-aided manufacturing design software is a specialised tool that allows users to create digital 2D drawings and 3D models of products ahead of their production. While traditional manufacturing processes used to begin and end with injection moulding, machining, forming, and joining, the introduction of CAD has allowed manufacturing designers to significantly streamline this process while boosting production quality and reducing errors.

As we've established, manufacturing incorporates all sorts of vital sectors, from food manufacturing to the automotive, aerospace, and electronics industries. The beauty of modern CAD lies in its depth and specialisation – each of those industries can use tailored CAD tools with databases built for that industry to create more detailed, accurate and efficient designs.

The history of computer-aided design for manufacture

As a concept, computer-aided design for manufacturing and assembly is nothing new. In fact, the broad scale digital transformation of the sector took place through the 80s and 90s alongside the rise of affordable desktop computers and the advances in CAD capability. As for where CAD began, though, we need to look back to the 50s and 60s and the dawn of application-based computing technology.

The first CAD concepts were floated in the 1950s, but a headline moment for computer-based design came in 1963 with the introduction of Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad – the first graphical interface software to offer line drawing and movement of figures on a computer screen. Five years later, the first true CAD system – Pierre Bézier's UNISURF – was used to design the Peugeot 204 car.

As far as the wider manufacturing sector is concerned, the development of Dr Patrick Hanratty's Automated Drafting and Machinery (ADAM) program in the 1970s was a pivotal moment. ADAM can be considered the basis of most modern drafting tools, which developed in affordability, usability, and capability over the next few decades.

Over the last part of the 20th century, CAD went from an expensive luxury to a manufacturing design fundamental. From the turn of the millennium, developments in CAD software have continued at a rapid rate, with modern computer-aided design for manufacture offering groundbreaking efficiencies.

How is CAD used in manufacturing?

CAD is now used all the way through the manufacturing design process. Fused in with other computer-aided technologies, it's used from the drafting stages to post-production evaluation and maintenance.

Computer-aided engineering (CAE)

Once the body of the design work has been done using CAD, it can be used alongside a CAE program to integrate drawings and models into a platform where engineers can analyse performance. With CAE, analysts can produce advanced simulations for stress testing in real-life scenarios.

This is valuable as it negates the need for expensive prototypes and speculative hypotheses around product mechanics and performance. Instead, engineers can run accurate scenarios on screen, ensuring the product they're building is up to standard.

Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM)

Once the design has been created and put through its paces, the all-important production phase begins. This is where the materials handling and product fabrication occur, which requires the created CAD concept to effectively interact with manufacturing equipment.

To do this, engineers use a CAM program which converts the CAD model into a language that the manufacturing machine can understand. CAM can be considered the functional feeder for the CAD model to go from concept to fabricated product, and the sophistication and accuracy of both programs mean the final product can be mass produced with precision and a low rate of error.

Computer-aided process planning

The once drawn-out planning and evaluation process involved in manufacturing design has been expedited thanks to the process planning capability of CAD software. Via a specialised CAD program for manufacturing, engineers can carry out detailed planning for every component of a design, make any required revisions quickly, and ensure a quality final product.

What are the benefits of CAD in manufacturing?

Design for manufacture has been revolutionised by computer-aided software. Today's tools, which offer incredible depth and accuracy for design projects, offer organisations almost incomparable improvements on the traditional drafting processes.

Improved machining capability and detail

Today's CAD tools create product designs to a higher level of detail and accuracy than ever before. As for how that translates to machine fabrication, the sophistication of CAM programs means there's seamless transition from digital design to final production. The synergy between CAD and CAM processes makes the fabrication stage more or less automated, and the end product both better and faster.

Easier accessibility and collaboration

With CAD being powered by the cloud, accessibility and collaboration on design projects has never been simpler. Not only can internal teams instantly communicate on process improvements and revisions from anywhere in the world, but clients can also benefit from greater accessibility to the product, leading to better customer-manufacturer relationships.

Automated specification checks

Specification checking is a vital element of today's manufacturing processes. CAD software automates these checks, allowing users to assess whether a prototype meets required specs at any stage of the production process. This allows for earlier corrections and reduction of errors further down the line.

Reduced wastage

The sophistication of CAD and CAM programs adds to an already efficient computer numerical machine (CNC) manufacturing process when it comes to limiting material waste. Working in conjunction with one another, CAD and CAM models can identify optimal tool paths and cycle times and, perhaps more importantly, highlight potential part deviations which can avoid any malfunctions later in the production process.

Massive time and cost efficiencies

So, what does all the above mean? CAD has made the manufacturing process, faster, more detailed, more accurate, more efficient, and simpler to understand. Put all that together and you have huge time and cost efficiency benefits for organisations that know how to effectively use their CAD tools, which is the priority for any commercially minded business.

Download our free 3D CAD software for manufacturing today

You can get started with our CAD software for manufacture and assembly for free! 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 our CAD software, 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....