Evolution of CAD software

If you are an engineer, it is expected that you might have heard about Computer-Aided Design ( CAD ). CAD brought a revolution to the mechanical industry. Nowadays, no industry can survive without using CAD. Not only mechanical but CAD spread across many other industries. But many of you might not have a fair idea about how CAD evolved over the years. In this article, we try to explore the history of CAD and the evolution of CAD software over the years.

What Is CAD

CAD is a computer application that creates virtual 2D / 3D design so that you can validate your design on computers rather than going for costly prototypes. It automated the design process and bring a lot of speed to the design life cycle. Earlier people to do hand sketches or used to make engineering drawings by hand. CAD replaces that concept and now everything gets virtually created on your computer using CAD software.

Why CAD?

Industries use CAD mainly for the following reasons. However, this list shows just a few. The micro-level impacts are much better than what we can write here.

  • Speed up the design process
  • Virtual mock-up of designs
  • To make an error-free design
  • Validating design
  • Reduce project turnaround time.
  • Automated the design process

Also Read: SolidWorks Vs Creo: Which is better for CAD

Difference Between 2D and 3D CAD

2D CAD is a two-dimensional approach where design or drawing is made in a two-dimensional environment. What that means is that design or drawing only shows the X and Y coordinates.

3D CAD is a three-dimensional approach where the design is made in a three-dimensional environment. So along with X & Y, we need to use the Z coordinates also in the design

Evolution of CAD software.

The research was going right after World War-II to bring up some sort of automation to the design cycle so that design can be done faster. The actual breakthrough industry got in the year 1982 when AutoDesk launched Auto CAD.

Evolution of CAD software

Entry of AutoCAD

AutoCAD is the first 2D CAD software which brought revolution in the industry. Industries started seeing a good benefit from Autodesk and soon it becomes the widely used CAD software. AutoCAD shows the path to many companies and they started feeling the huge potential in the CAD software.

Launch of first Parametric CAD software: Pro/ Engineer

AutoCAD was initially only offering a 2D drafting facility. A need for a 3D CAD system was there in the market and in 1987 we got the software which created a benchmark in the industry. In 1987 PTC ( Parametric Technology Corporation) released the first version of Pro/ Engineer. It was the first 3D Cad software which was purely based on the Parametric modeling concept.

Pro/ Engineer was based on solid modeling and use the Parametric concept to create a parent-child relationship in the 3D model feature tree. Pro Engineer had an intuitive interface and that was the deal-breaker for many industries

The dominance of CATIA and Pro / Engineer

1988 saw a major breakthrough for CAD software when Boring announced that they will use CATIA to design their Boring 777 aircraft. That generated about $1B revenue for Dassault System who supplies CATIA

The entry of the leader: SolidWorks

The late ’80s and early ’90s were dominated by Pro E and Catia until 1995 when SolidWorks came into the market. SolidWorks was a big turning point for the success of CAD software. Earlier people used to believe that leading CAD software is very tough. And in fact, it was true. Pro E or Catia both were not user-friendly and was very tough to learn.

SolidWorks simplifies the way CAD software works and it was very to learn even by newbies who entered recently into the CAD industry. SolidWorks also works on the same parametric approach and a very simple and future interface. Soon after launch, it becomes very popular and people started using it as a replacement for Pro E.
Solid Works was bought by Dassault System after seeing the massive success of SolidWorks.

The entry of other CAD software

The success of CATIA and Pro E and Solidworks created a healthy competition in the market and by the end of 90, there were a dozen CAD software launched. Out of that Unigraphics, Solid Edge, and Mechanical desktop got a good response from the industry.

By the end of the ’90s, we see a downfall of innovation in CAD software. The software was many but all were providing the same set of features. To differentiate companies started focusing on new technologies and that’s how PDM ( Product data management) software was born.

The PDM era

Early 2000 did not see any major CAD software release. Small CAD companies were taken over by big companies and finally, the list becomes compact as nowadays there are only four companies who dominate in the CAD market. PTC, Dassault Systems, Autodesk, and Seimens. Since there was not much innovation in CAD in early 2000, the focus changed to develop PDM software where users can see 3D files in a browser.

Companies like PTC launched PDM link and Wind-chill. Siemens released the team center. If we look into 2019 the focus is now changed to MBD ( Model-Based Definition). All companies are trying their best to step into MBD which slowly becoming the industry trend.

Wrapping Up!

Market need changes very often and that changes the feature list that CAD software provides. With no or little innovation in CAD, the trend is getting focused on other automation with a focus on the market need.

That’s all we have in this article. Hope you liked the article and found some useful information. If you have any queries please do write in the comment section and I will be happy to answer.


A 2004 batch Mechanical Engineering graduate From NIT, Agartala. Close to 16 years of experience in the field of consumer electronics and appliances domain as a Sr. Design Engineer and Team Leader in India and the United States. A GD&T practitioner, with expertise in Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma. Crazy about exploring CAD-CAM tools and in his free time love to go for a ride with his champ, Rian.