Computer Aided Design
SolidWorks & Inventor
|CAM - Computer Aided Manufacturing
Why Learn CAD
||CAD programs make it easier to design and make chages. When you make a change, the features and dimensions are automatically updated.|
||CAD makes it easier to machine. Clean drawings are a lot easier to read, and if you forget to include a dimension it is a quick trip to the computer to have it added to the blueprint. No more guessing what you may have forgotten.|
||Having a technical drawing makes it easier to share your design work with others... If you need another print it's easy to get, and your CAD drawings will get more respect than a hand drawn sketch.|
||Most CAD software will allow you to convert your designs to G-Code tool-paths using a CAM program. You may THINK manual machining is all you will ever need, but CNC keeps getting better, easier, and cheaper.|
|5.||3D CAD files can be loaded in a Rapid Prototype machine and a solid model of your idea can be printed.|
Five CAD Programs
|CAD Style||Strengths||Tutorials Education||3D Iges File Xport||Cost|
|SolidWorks||3D Solid Modeling||Powerful Industry Standard||Many Books
|Inventor||3D Solid Modeling||Powerful w/ College Support||Many Books
|Yes||Free Student DL
|Alibre||3D Solid Modeling||Low Price but Similar to SW & Inventor||Company Tutorial||Mid-Level Up||$199 Hobby
|Rhino||3D Frame||Organic Shapes||Company Tutorial||Yes||$199 Student
|DeltaCad||2D Graph||Easy to Learn||Company Tutorial||No||$2-$40|
Either of these programs can be used to build up 3D Solids from prime shapes like cubes and cylinders. If mold making is your interest, either program will allow you to add Draft to your walls. Once you know how to use them, building designs is pretty easy, and if you want to make a change to a previous feature, the whole model will be updated.
I started with SolidWorks 2008(the student version was a year behind), and it is not an easy program to learn. You have to really work through the tutorial exercises before it gets easier. El Camino College uses AutoDesk Inventor so I switched. Moving from one-to-the-other is pretty easy. In general, I would say that Inventor is somewhat more intuitive, with easier to find icons and functions, but I hear that SolidWorks improved these things in the 2010 version.
Todd from the Venice Shop is a heavy user of both programs. His opinion seems to lean towards SolidWorks, as he says Inventor sometimes gets a little jammed up on some applications. I haven't experienced that, and prefer the ease of navigating in Inventor.
Saving IGES files in SolidWorks is pretty straightforward: just Save As, and pick your format. I didn't figure out how to save IGES files as quickly in Inventor, but finally figured out that if you Save As, and then pick Save Copy... you can then pick your format.
Internet reviews have fans of both programs. You will probably be happiest with the one where you can get the best training. SolidWorks has a lot of good books... though it seems more schools offer classes in Inventor.
There must be some price pressure on SolidWorks and Inventor as licensed software can now start as low as $4,000. Student Versions can be had for $100 - $150 with disks. Free Student downloads of Inventor are available on the AutoDesk website (school e-mail address required).
Benefits: High-End powerful professional level programs. Many high-quality and easy to find educational resources. Many companies use these programs (especially SolidWorks), and many companies offer additional plug-in software packages.
packages are very expensive. Student versions are of
limited activation and may not save in CAM compatible file
Opinion: Choose Inventor unless you have
a specific reason to prefer SolidWorks.... really, it should come down
to what the people around you are using.
I haven't used Alibra software, but will relay what I've heard from other reviews.
The beauty of building solid models with primal shapes is that once you get past the initial learning curve, it is pretty easy to use and build designs. Additionally, when you know how to use one Solid-Modeling program you can learn another in just a few hours.
My impression is that one of the three levels (Hobby/PE, Pro and Expert) would fit the needs of most hobby or small-shop users. Depending on the deal of the month, Alibre CAD packages are a fraction of the price of SolidWorks/Inventor, probably with 80% of the features and 90% of the functionality most users would need on a day-to-day basis. Hobby PE level will save/export in STL files, but not IGES files.
The Hobby PE level is priced at $199. Pro and Expert level packages offer IGES file export and more advanced features for professional use at $999 and $1699. Novaedge often matches or discounts Alibre direct pricing.
Benefits: A Solid-Modeling style CAD similar to the industry leaders (Inventor and SolidWorks) at much lower pricing. The $199 PE package probably would meet the needs of most Hobby users. The features list of the advanced packages look impressive. More training materials available than most other lower-cost CAD.
|Drawbacks: The Hobby PE level exports in STL files, but not IGES. SolidWorks and Inventor have more widespread acceptance, training materials, classes available. Software available with download only.... is this really $1,000 plus software?|
|My Opinion: The PE Hobby level seems like a real good deal, and I'd be likely to get one of these packages if I weren't already using the student version of Inventor. Wait until you can get a discounted price as it often goes on sale ($99/$699/$1,399).|
The possibilities of Rhino CAD are fascinating! On the other hand, it's limitations are frustrating. This program is capable of creating flowing, organic, 3D shapes that are photo-realistic. Ideally suited for Computer Aided Manufacturing, Rhino is also capable of producing dimensioned technical drawings.
It seems to me that this would be a really good CAD package for injection mold design. Unlike the Solid Modeling software that works off of primal shapes, Rhino's strength seems to be it's ability to create complex NURBS based surfaces that can output to IGES files and be converted to G-Code in CAM. A separate add-on, Rhino CAM, runs right inside of Rhino CAD.
Rhino has a student deal on fully-functional software that doesn't expire when you stop being a student and may be used professionally.
I'd say that the primary downside to Rhino CAD is that it is not a Solid-Modeling CAD package similar to Inventor/SolidWorks/Alibre. In Rhino you draw lines, fix points, and stretch out frames. This is similar to erecting a tent, where you build the framework of poles that the fabric stretches over. I'm told that this is more intuitive for people who have AutoCad experience, but it definitely was not an easy transition for me. Additionally, this is a program largely designed for 3D illustration and CAM purposes. Based on reviews, dimensioned technical drawings suitable for machinist work can be created, but not every reviewer thinks it is easy. Some users have also told me that it is not as easy to make changes in previously created features with Rhino as it is in the history tree of the solid modeling programs.
Rhino CAD sells to students for $195 and non-students for $995. Optional add-ons are available.
Benefits: Very good at creating flowing organic shapes. Full feature student priced software does not expire and may be used professionally. Exports IGES files.
|Drawbacks: Very different from Solid Modeling CAD programs so that there is a significant learning curve. Not as good at creating 2D technical drawings. There seems to be a lot of company tutorials, but the Amazon.com books didn't get the best reviews. You will probably be the only one in the shop who uses it.|
|My Opinion: I'd really like to take advantage of this program's organic modeling capabilities... especially in mold-making. If this is your first CAD program, then $199 for the features is a great deal! The differences between Rhino CAD & the other CAD programs, however, makes it unlikely that I'll learn it anytime soon.|
This is a 2D Graphical Style
CAD program. You lay out your plans by putting the lines where you
want them and entering in dimensions. If you want to indicate
depth, draw another side. I hear that it is easy to learn, and
will get you going quickly. While DeltaCad does not produce 3D
files, it is capable of creating 2D DXF files for CAM use. Of the programs reviewed on this page, DeltaCad is probably the most
similar to drawing on a piece of paper with a ruler.
Amazon.com sellers offer Version 3 starting at about $2. The
current version 7 can be purchased through DeltaCad for $40.
This basic 2D CAD program has a lot of good reviews for being easy to learn and an inexpensive and effective way to rapidly produce good quality, easy to read, technical drawings.
Benefits: Cheap and easy way to get 2D blueprints that will look good and be easy to change and understand.
a 3D design program. Does not have 3D file export
capability, and can probably not be used for G-Code output in a
Opinion: If all you need is a 2D package that is cheap
and easy to learn, this sounds like a good one.
This is a 2D Graphical Style CAD program. You lay out your plans by putting the lines where you want them and entering in dimensions. If you want to indicate depth, draw another side. I hear that it is easy to learn, and will get you going quickly. While DeltaCad does not produce 3D files, it is capable of creating 2D DXF files for CAM use.
Of the programs reviewed on this page, DeltaCad is probably the most similar to drawing on a piece of paper with a ruler.
Amazon.com sellers offer Version 3 starting at about $2. The current version 7 can be purchased through DeltaCad for $40.
|Top of Page||
Cheap and Free CAD
CarnegieMellon MasterCam Tutorials
25 Free Solid Modeling Programs
CAD Digest on SolidWorks
2010 AutoDesk Inventor Quick Start