Best CAD Design Practices

By William Reynolds | CAD

CAD users need both skill and talent to succeed. CAD software helps facilitate success as well. Many people use AutoCAD, Creo, and other programs today. However, there are several important best practices to keep in mind to make your product development or sustained engineering processes more efficient.

Organize Your Ideas

Organization is one of the most critical components of success with CAD modeling during the design process. As an idea evolves, it is common to have multiple changes or develop new variations of a model. Saving those improvement ideas or modified versions as different files may seem like an ideal solution. However, product development ideas or proposed changes should all be kept within the same CAD package to ensure that they are easier to find and use.

Also, be sure to keep the information connected to those developments organized. Logs for activity, changes and part requirements are three important elements of organizing information in product design. If there are multiple people working on developing a new product, logging each person’s time and contributions helps you to track time spent and know who did what. Logging part requirements improve project and idea organization by making sure the right parts are available when they are needed to avoid delays. This may also improve communication with the purchasing department. While keeping files and information organized is important, there is a simple solution for accomplishing this, which will be discussed later.

Avoid Showing Too Much Detail

When a CAD system generates data, it should be useful and accomplish the intended purpose. However, sometimes CAD data is too detailed to the point of being confusing. Detail overload can happen when information for a CAD project comes with instructions that are too complicated. One common reason for this happening is adding too many symbols to CAD drawings.

While details add value to the design and serve as a useful form of communication, too many can lead to misinterpretations. Finding the fine line between enough details and too many can take practice. One solution is to think about each symbol to determine if it is necessary. In some cases, complex designs may require many symbols. If this happens, a potential solution is to create individual part drawings to show separate details for each part, along with their assembly. This idea is similar to the feature tree in SOLIDWORKS, which shows an overall view of the part, drawing, or assembly along with information about construction.


Practice Top-Down Design

There are multiple approaches for top-down CAD modeling. Top-down design involves using a central file for a design table, a part, or an assembly. With a top-down approach, drafters or engineers have an easier time controlling the project since there is a central file. It also allows changes to be made to subfiles when there are updates that apply to them. For example, a designer may extrude a surface, create fillets, change tolerances, or use chamfers to alter edges. If there are subfiles containing the pre-change data as well, using design intent to automatically apply to modify changes is more efficient than opening up all the files individually.

Additionally, the top-down design promotes consistency and accuracy. One of the key reasons for using the top-down design is better overall control of the project. Computer-aided design projects often include more components today. For instance, they may have internet connections, aesthetic housings, and many other complex components. To better manage all these aspects for optimization of the manufacturing process, a top-down design approach makes the most sense.


Explore Possibilities of New Technologies

New technologies can enhance content creation for 3D CAD projects. With the evolution of 3D modeling, 3D printing, and other trends, there are new technologies to consider. The world of CAD design is changing rapidly, and designers often have a difficult time keeping up with changes to keep their products relevant. While embracing new technologies is essential, it is important to approach it in an effective manner. Although there are several important technologies to consider, two key technologies in CAD design are augmented reality and generative design.

Generative design contributes to the design process as well as the efficiency of the product itself. It is especially beneficial in applications with complex and high-value products. When combined with artificial intelligence and human contributions, optimal design solutions are possible while reducing material waste. Augmented reality fits well with generative design for better visualization. Some CAD tools already use augmented reality applications. Integrating applications and CAD software can help minimize the need to create excess content from scratch.

Combining augmented reality and generative design can help create more interactive and useful content. This is especially helpful when engineers or designers need to visualize a complex object at scale. Augmented reality is valuable in design with its interactive benefits. The design benefits can make content updates more efficient and give the project more overall design potential. Combined with other solutions like parametric design, these and other technologies can improve efficiency by wasting less time.


Get Performance Feedback as You Design

Think of this concept like performance reviews for work. If there is a continuous or frequent feedback structure, problems do not linger for a long time like they would if there was an annual performance review. With some CAD project feedback designs, there are specific procedures to follow and more manual steps. In such an outdated system, there is also unnecessary waiting. For example, a designer may wait days or weeks for a response from a simulation expert about what may happen if a hole or feature is moved in another direction using a specific metric measurement.

Waiting for a response can delay the design process. Some modern tools provide a valuable real-time simulation that answers such questions and eliminates the hassle of waiting. With the ability to test and modify different design ideas, optimization is easier to achieve. Modern programs also include important CAD standards and use them to improve functionality for users.


Use a Product Lifecycle Management System

Going back to the earlier point about keeping files and ideas organized, one valuable solution is a product lifecycle management system. Product lifecycle management is a strategy for managing the entire process of a product’s creation. For new products, it starts with ideation. If a product is being improved, it starts with concepts for improvement. The lifecycle management process ends with the disposal.

Product lifecycle management is an ancient concept. Digital product lifecycle management has broader applications today but actually started with computer-aided design software. Those early solutions addressed problems related to the reuse, distribution, and management of CAD files. Computers stored less data then, and product data management was developed to help solve the issue. By the 1990s, globalization and outsourcing led to other developments in product data management. It is a key part of product lifecycle management today as well.

Software for the lifecycle management of products keeps all the relevant information safe and has valuable tools for tracking and more. It may also manage information related to globalized supply chains. Quality workflows, critical documents, parts, products, and other necessary information can all be organized to create a more coherent view of every requirement for a lifecycle. Today, product lifecycle management solutions for CAD include configuration management, better visualization, and change management features. These features facilitate better development understanding, communication, information sharing, improvement tracking, and more.

If you are looking for ways to improve your design process, these tips will help you work more efficiently and see better outcomes.

INDUSTRIES: Architecture, Buildings, Civil Engineering, Civil Infrastructure, Construction, MEP Engineering, Structural Engineering

Published on October 14, 2022 in CAD.

About the Author

Bill Reynolds is the Account Executive for Microsol Resources supporting architecture, engineering, and construction firms that focus on the latest solutions to help improve collaboration, data collection and maximize ROI for any project. Bill hails from New Haven, CT, and now lives in Philadelphia. In his free time, he enjoys running, baseball, and golf.