CAD can sometimes be surprising. If you work with it day in and day out, you might think you know it backwards and forwards. But it’s a remarkable, almost miraculous tool we have access to. If you stop and remember for a moment what sheet metal fabrication and duct manufacture, for example, was like way back in 1947, when the metal shop that led to EastCoast CAD/CAM was founded, it’s a stark difference. It was all manual, much slower, and more prone to mistakes. A sheet metal shop from 1947 would be entirely unrecognisable today.
CAD has cut a swathe through our industry, changing it forever. So we should want to look at it a little deeper, and see what surprising things we can find.
1. CAD is for more than just building construction.
As much as CAD has transformed our industry, it’s had revolutionary effects on design industries across the board. We may think about it in terms of, say, shop fabrication coordination, but CAD has a truly astounding number of industries making use of it outside of construction. From industrial applications like aerospace & automotive design and civil engineering, CAD is widely used in the fashion world to transform hand-drawn sketches into fully-constructible plans, even modelling how the garment fits and moves.
CAD is also used in landscaping, and interior design, allowing detailed, three-dimensional plans to be made and conceptualised from every angle.
2. CAD is for more than just design.
In the aerospace and automotive industries in particular, CAD isn’t just used to determine how a product will look or feel; they use CAD applications, particularly AutoDesk Inventor and IronCAD, that can handle virtual prototyping as well. Allowing everything from aerodynamic testing to optimising manufacturability, these tools enable designers to work out most of the kinks well before physical prototyping has begun, reducing the time cost and increasing operational efficiency.
3. CAD is a lot older than you think.
The CAD revolution may have gotten going in the 1980s, but the origins of the system date back to the postwar aerospace industry, when early computers were used in specific applications such as power-system analysis. The earliest CAD programs in the 1950’s were numerical, using number-based models for simulation, structural analysis, and performance optimisation. The first graphical programs emerged in the 1960’s for military applications before filtering out to the commercial market, particularly architecture and construction.
By the 1980’s, CAD was beginning to become a major commercial force, with the earliest 3D applications available on personal computers rather than industrial or corporate mainframes.
4. CAD and CAM are merging.
3D printing is empowering CAD in ways that nobody could have anticipated before additive manufacturing became a reasonable possibility: moving straight from design to manufacture without the need for any intervening action. With 3D printing, CAD software becomes, in a very real sense, CAM software as well, as the finished model becomes the finished product with the figurative (or in some cases, very literal) push of a button. In enterprises with additive manufacturing as part of their operation, CAD becomes very much a part of the CAM process itself, blurring the lines between them and raising overall workshop efficiency.
5. CAD isn’t replacing human machinists.
Everyone worries about automation, and CAD is increasingly less and less dependent on human interaction. But this isn’t about replacing expert craftsmen; it’s about freeing up their energies for other tasks and increasing a shops working capacity. By reducing labour costs per job, you don’t eliminate the need for workers; you just make the work more profitable and free up resources to take on additional projects.