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What is AutoCAD?


This article is aimed for people that are new to the CAD world and wondering just what you can do with programs like AutoCAD.  I will explain some of the processes involved and the capabilities you have when you enter the CAD world.

Have you ever had to explain “CAD” to someone who isn’t computer literate?  I try to explain what kind of work I do to my Mom – and I always get the “deer in the headlights” look.  She’s never had a computer, so these are all foreign concepts.  But now, I’ve learned to say, “It just like drafting on paper, but with a computer”.  Simple enough, but it falls short of explaining the amazing progress that has been made in the CAD world.

When I first starting in CAD – it was 1995.  I decided to pick up a useful skill so I thought back to my school days and decided that the only class I really enjoyed was Drafting.  This was the old school paper kind of drafting that involved a lot erasing.  My other interest of note was computers.  I had sold a lot of the early Commodore, Texas Instruments and IBM computers.  So I put two and two together and was introduced to CAD.  Ooooh… this is COOL!

I ended up taking  a night school course and learned the basics.  And what we did was literally “Drafting, but on a computer”.  We would print the assignments out and finish with the same results as if we had hand drafted them, but only neater.

Ok – this long introduction is over.  The point that I was trying to make is that at its most basic, CAD is just using a computer instead of a pencil and paper.  But it so much more.  And that’s where it gets interesting.

The first benefit that CAD has over paper is that revisions are not a big problem.  Think of the difference between paper and pixels when a client changes their mind after seeing your design.  2 hours or more redrawing by hand, or 5 seconds with the Stretch command?  I know what I would choose.  For many users that are new to the CAD world, this is the first time they start to enjoy the process.  When I taught classes, there were always students who would say, “I could draw this faster by hand!  CAD is dumb!”.  Of course, they would then make errors in their drawing and learn that editing is much better than erasing and redrawing.

From there, the benefits are even greater.  Adding Blocks and Attributes gives your drawing POWER!.  Now you can export data and all of a sudden your drawing is of great importance to other people.  A drawing can generate information for the budget, purchasing and production departments of your company.  All of a sudden, the drafter is an integral part of the production process from start to finish.  That’s called job security.

And then there’s 3D.  Have you ever hand drawn a perspective view of a house?  It’s fun and rewarding, but a little tedious as you draw each brick.  I love the 3D world.  I can make one model, then generate perspective views, elevations, sections, details, floor plans – all from one drawing.  And that means when I move a wall, all the other views are updated.  Magic!

But it gets better.  With 3D I can add materials and show the boss or client what the product will look like in its finished state.  Change materials?  Sure – no problem!  It beats erasing all the bricks I just drew to add stucco.  Need to see how the building will look in it’s new environment?  Sure- let me render that for you.  CAD allows us to create stunning visual presentations to find design flaws before the production process even begins.  That saves your boss money and makes you valuable.

In the manufacturing world, it gets even better.  How about designing a 3D part and then performing a stress analysis on it?  Find out where the weak spots are before you build it and break it.  You can can even build the entire project in the computer, test for stress points, color schemes, fit and calculate the budget before you even start production.  This is what Boeing did for their 777 jetliner.  Then when your design is approved, you can take your 3D models and use them CAD/CAM (computer-aided- manufacturing). Awesome stuff!

So there you have it.  CAD is more than drafting on the computer and printing it out.  You have the options to use your drawing file for a wide range of processes.  You might be limited by what your company does, but the more you learn and more you can do with your CAD skills, the more valuable you will be to your employers and the more fun you will have with your job.

Thanks for reading.


- Art



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