Many designers have asked me over the years what is the best CAD software package. This is an extremely difficult question to answer, as it very much depends on what you want to get out of CAD. Some will need CAD to make simple two dimensional drawings, while others will be using it to design aeroplanes. So rather than this being a contest of just one race with a first, second and third place, deciding on the best CAD software out there is like a micro Olympic games, with three different disciplines covering the most common reasons to use CAD.

Discipline: Triathlon

Alpha Cam has been around for years. It’s one of those solid performers, that although it doesn’t have all the fancy tricks the young guns in the CAD industry have, it still turns up and puts in a great performance day after day. It’s used predominantly in 2D, but it is this factor which makes it exceptionally good for our purposes, including plotting the paths for our cutting machines. In simple terms, Alpha Cam takes the same bird’s eye view of a foam design as the tool of a machine does. Its 2D perspective means that it splits up any variation in the 3rd dimension into layers. This is capitalised excellently with a facility to create production drawings within the programme, which work exactly like the step by step assembly guides you’ll find with your new IKEA wardrobe, except they don’t make you cry and make you wish you’d bought pre-made. It’s been utilised at MSA for well over a decade, because it does what’s required so well, and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Discipline: Heptathlon

Solidworks is pretty much one of the industry standard of the 3D CAD packages available. The use of the 3rd dimension automatically provides views at various angles (profiles), which takes only a matter of minutes compared to the hours of work it would take with a 2D package. There are a lot of alternatives to Solidworks, such as Pro-Engineer, SolidEdge, and Inventor, but Solidworks seems to be the most popular here because it’s user friendly, can handle many other types of CAD file and produces file types compatible with the vast majority of other CAD software packages (So much so we have it installed on four computers here). Like Alpha Cam, it does all the basic things right, and is, in my view, the one of the best all rounders available.

Discipline: 100m Sprint

Putting it simply, Catia is Solidworks on steroids. Unlike the real Olympics committee, designers believe that all is fair in Love & Draw (…sorry). This is a no holds barred contest, in which CAD software packages trying to win by any means necessary will only make our jobs easier. Designers who choose Catia as their champion do so with serious faith, as it is out and out one of the most expensive software packages out there, but believe me it’s worth it. Talking from personal experience, ever since we started using Catia we’ve been able to manage software data like for like with designers from Rolls Royce, Airbus and Toyota. Considering the scope of these organisations and, more importantly, what they manufacture, you can be sure that the design possibilities of this software are only limited by human invention. If the idea is there, from shuttles to solid foam inserts, Catia will run with it!

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