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October 5, 2016 How to choose CAD software?

Computer-aided design software is a common tool used in a wide range of businesses. First intended for engineers and designers, CAD became involved in logistics projects, 3D design and animation, environmental management and even in film and theatre production. When there is a need for a simple and precise display of an existing object, or when planning something new, CAD software is the solution. In most cases, CAD software can even archive prototypes to history. It is much cheaper, quicker and more precise to make a CAD model instead of a real prototype; furthermore, CAD models can be tested and simulated in a variety of conditions. That comes in handy when you have to test something at extremely high temperatures, under large pressure or in some other hostile environment. However, most CAD users use the software for planning and visualization.

In this article, our aim is to help CAD users choose CAD software wisely, according to their needs.

Today, there are many CAD solutions for all requirements. Most packages are specialized, with a focus on specific applications such as architectural design or electrical engineering. It is not uncommon for manufacturers of CAD solutions to have specialized modules, where special block libraries are added and special features can be  enabled. We will consider all available CAD software on the market, not just those recognized in Africa.

2D or 3D drafting and editing?

The first thing to do is assess your needs. The following suggestions will help you to resolve any doubts you may have and help you to choose the best solution for your business. If your work is based on 2D drafting or editing, such as blueprints or electrical schemes, naturally you don’t have to consider 3D, rendering, structural testing, etc. In that case you should pay more attention to the toolkit and block library. As another example, if you need to visualize your work in 3D rendering or you need a 3D model for CNC manufacturing, you should look for CAD software that provides good 3D functions and is also capable of photorealistic rendering. Imagine you are an architect, and you are able to show your clients a building in a ‘real’ environment, photorealistic with a simulated walk-through… or imagine you are a mechanical engineer, and you are able to present a new car in motion, with aerodynamic testing capability. Viewers won’t blink, their breathing will deepen, and their next words will be, „where do I sign?“

Features and content

2D and 3D are the major CAD categories. The other important aspect of CAD software are the capabilites and features provided by block libraries. When you are working in CAD, it is handy to have most of the components in blocks. For example, if you are an architect and you have large library of windows, doors, steps… or if you are an electrical engineer and you have all the needed components ready for implementation on your drawing. Here you have to pay attention to the features built into the software, such as the capability of importing blocks. Other things to consider are the special features that your job requires. Mechanical engineers will need part assembly, architects will need BIM (Building Information Modeling), surveyors will need Ortho. Another thing that you need to pay attention to is compatibility. You need to chose software which enables import/export compatiblity with your colleagues and business partners. It would be tricky if somebody sends you a .DXF file but your software is able to only open .DWG files. Most of CAD editors in South Africa use files with a .DWG file extension, for instance.

Try the product before you decide

Most CAD software manufacturers offer trial versions. Some are just time-limited, however many disable most of the features, preventing you from seriously using the software. After you try the software, you will be more familiar with it. After choosing the perfect one, licensing is next step.

Software licensing

In most cases, the fairytale ends when the authorized distributor sends you a quote. You have found the perfect solution for your business, it is smooth, it has all you need – and it costs ZAR 200.000 + annual subscription + training + tax. That is when engineers, designers and other CAD users feel like there is no justice in this world. Most of the perpetual CAD software licenses in South Africa are very expensive, some start at ZAR 25.000, with the recognized solutions exceeding ZAR 200.000. Some manufacturers such as Autodesk (AutoCAD) now offer a subscription model, so you are no longer able to purchase a perpetual license and use it without a time limit. Some manufacturers like Dassault Systems (SolidWorks and Catia) sell perpetual licenses but you have to buy an additional annual subscription.

You can avoid paying a high price by trying open source solutions. Most of these are not reliable enough to be used commercially, so be careful. You don’t want to risk your whole business just because of a software failure. If the software crashes you could lose all your work, with no chance of recovery. There is no support for these packages, therefore there is no one to help you if you have problems or to resolves any future issues.

CAD4Africa Recommendation

If you have encountered some of these problems, you can look at our list of recommended software that reliable and meets the needs of commerical CAD users. If you have any questions send us an email. We will gladly help you with your decision.

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