The Future of Computer-Aided Design

Updated: Mar 9, 2018

As a design engineer, it is not my role to have a deep understanding of the future of design software. My role is simply to create a digital mock-up of a product whatever the software that I have at my hands and be able to learn new software to apply actual engineering input into the digital mock-up. However, since entering industry and experiencing different environments in automotive and aerospace, I have had a strong passion for understanding CAD in detail, what its capabilities are and how I can improve my own design efficiency. I have created my models, not for the sole purpose of designing a product, but creating an analysis model of how a product or system interacts with other components. For example, understanding what a driver of a vehicle can see with the wing mirrors based on the reflection and angle of sight. This almost allows CAE analysis to be performed in the CAD environment whilst still producing a digital mock-up of the product or assembly.

A digital mock-up of a chemical vessel alongside the end manufactured product. Source: Raff and Grund GmbH

I see big changes coming to CAD software in coming years, but I also see many constraints from this happening. In the CAD world, engineers and designers are not working at their optimum capacity. This is because CAD is simply a 2D drawing compromised into a 3D object. This is not the best way for our minds to work. Elon Musk has shown examples of better methods of understanding and perceiving digital mock-up using Siemens NX, the software that is used by SpaceX. This gives more of a virtual / augmented reality to the mock-ups that are being created.

Source: SpaceX

With the market for virtual and augmented reality growing significantly, I can certainly see this expanding into CAD software industry. Currently, 3D objects can be viewed on the screen using 3D glasses with both the latest Siemens and Catia software packages, but that is not enough to really engineer and design to the optimum capacity. Many years ago, the introduction of the space mouse made CAD more conventional for use rather than projecting 2D objects into a 3D view of a digital mock-up. Many companies have also made major investments into creating large virtual reality facilities but this is generally not for engineering purposes but for customers and advertising. An example of this is the Jaguar Land Rover 3D projection facility known as the cave. In doing this, it allows designers to see full size 3D models of components – and even the entire vehicle – long before physical parts are available.

The Jaguar Land Rover Virtual Cave. Source: Automotive Council

So, what is the optimum way of designing a 3D object in a large system with many components?

Ideally, designing a product or system should be visualised and modelled in the same manner it is manufactured, utilising your hands and grasping objects and features into position. This should also be demonstrated when creating the CAD for jigs and fixtures to bring multiple components together in a manufacturing environment. I foresee a bright future in the integration of augmented and virtual reality systems with CAD software such as has been created at Jaguar Land Rover with their Virtual Cave. Not only from a design perspective but there are many other uses such as safety training in a new environment before being exposed to the risks / dangers of actually being in the environment.

From a design perspective, autonomous and smart models are the most efficient way utilising current widely available technologies. This involves replacing inputs and parameters to reengineer a product or surrounding system. It may also include innovative tools created within the CAD system using scripts. This can be performed in Catia by using Vba scripting. However, the problem with this method of design is that innovation has the potential to be constrained and mistakes can be made without being checked. Ideally, utilising these systems and a checking process is the most efficient method of computer-aided design currently, however, not all companies have the technical capabilities to manage such highly developed models. This is purely down to projects needing to be delivered as quickly as possible and correct without any digital mock-up or manufacturing issues. It is only the large scale automotive and aerospace companies that can facilitate such technologies. However, when in use and a specific component is going to be reused multiple times without any changes to manufacturing or assembly process that radically changes the design then this can be a very effective method of designing.

Again, we have looked at augmented and virtual reality compatibility within a CAD environment as well as the use of autonomous systems. These are 3 major sectors that are likely to boom in the coming years. But which of these systems is likely to make its way into the CAD world. To fully understand and comprehend this, we need to understand computational requirements and the realistic cost. For a company to make such an investment, they need to be able to see a return on this financially. For most companies, it is not financially viable to create this software or departments to run any such facility when they are able to create designs, drawings and manufactured products using “off the shelf” software packages.

It will be interesting to see how the CAD industry grows and whether entire product industries such as aerospace or automotive will migrate to new technologies. Currently, many companies are using the same software the has worked for the past 15 - 20 years as to put it simply, it does the job. To make a major change, a company needs to prepare and manage such a project efficiently and ensure the entire company is ready for a change. Often it is not just the software you are changing, but also the Project Lifecycle Management system and other manufacturing software packages. This means it is not a simple as just buying the latest and greatest, training the engineers / technicians and it can then be implemented. However, with computational technology improving so quickly, maybe a significant change to the CAD industry will become viable. I look forward to the large companies making these changes and seeing a Return on Investment if the technology reaches such a level that makes it viable.

As always, we would love to hear your thoughts so please leave comments below or interact on the forum. We have a dedicated CAD Designers Forum which can be found using the link below:

Luke T Seal Engineering