25 years ago, nearly every drawing produced in the world was done with pencil or ink on paper. Minor changes meant erasing and redrawing while major changes often meant recreating the drawing from the scratch. If a change to one drawing affected other documents you were dependent upon having someone manually recognize the need to make the changes to the other drawings and to do so. CAD has fundamentally changed the way design is done.


It is argued that the beginning of C.A.D. was the development of the SKETCHPAD system at MIT in 1963 by Ivan Sutherland (who later created a graphics technology company). The distinctive feature of SKETCHPAD was that it allowed the designer to interact with his computer graphically: the design can be fed into the computer by drawing on a CRT monitor with a light pen. Effectively, it was a prototype of graphical user interface, an indispensable feature of modern CAD.

The first commercial applications of CAD were in large companies in the automotive and aerospace industries, as well as in electronics. Only large corporations could afford the computers capable of performing the calculations. Notable company projects were at GM (Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty) with DAC-1 (Design Augmented by Computer) 1964; Lockheed projects; Bell GRAPHIC 1 and at Renault (Bézier) – UNISURF 1971 car body design and tooling.

As computers became more affordable, the application areas have gradually expanded. The development of CAD software for personal desktop computers was the impetus for almost universal application in all areas of construction.

Beginning in the 1980s computer-aided design programs reduced the need of draftsmen significantly, especially in small to mid-sized companies. Their affordability and ability to run on personal computers also allowed engineers to do their own drafting work, eliminating the need for entire departments. In today’s world, many students in universities do not learn manual drafting techniques because they are not required to do so. The days of hand drawing for final drawings are all but over. Universities no longer require the use of protractors and compasses to create drawings, instead there are several classes that focus on the use of CAD software.

In 1984 Bentley Systems was founded and released MicroStation, a PC implementation of Intergraph’s CAD software and the following year Micro-Control Systems was founded and released the first 3D wire-frame CAD software for PCs “CADKEY”. Although PCs and Macs steadily increased in power throughout the 1980s and AutoCAD continued to gain substantial market share in the 2D CAD software market, despite being ridiculed by the leading CAD software vendors for a lack of processor power and especially the poor graphics. Parametric Technology Corp. launched the first UNIX workstation 3D CAD software, Pro/Engineer, in 1987.

In the computer hardware market, the “workstation wars” fought between Apollo Computer, Sun Microsystems, SGI, HP, and IBM reached boiling point in 1987 when Apollo Computer achieved the #3 position after IBM and DEC. In 1989 HP acquired Apollo Computer to take the #2 position from DEC and by the end of the 1980s, first-generation RISC processors and high-performance real-time 3D full-color rendering were setting the benchmark in the hardware market.

Current computer-aided design software packages range from 2D vector-based drafting systems to 3D solid and surface modelers. Modern CAD packages can also frequently allow rotations in three dimensions, allowing viewing of a designed object from any desired angle, even from the inside looking out. Some CAD software is capable of dynamic mathematical modeling, in which case it may be marketed as CADD.

CAD is used in the design of tools and machinery and in the drafting and design of all types of buildings, from small residential types (houses) to the largest commercial and industrial structures (hospitals and factories).

CAD is mainly used for detailed engineering of 3D models and/or 2D drawings of physical components, but it is also used throughout the engineering process from conceptual design and layout of products, through strength and dynamic analysis of assemblies to definition of manufacturing methods of components. It can also be used to design objects. Furthermore many CAD applications now offer advanced rendering and animation capabilities so engineers can better visualize their product designs.

CAD has become an especially important technology within the scope of computer-aided technologies, with benefits such as lower product development costs and a greatly shortened design cycle. CAD enables designers to layout and develop work on screen, print it out and save it for future editing, saving time on their drawings.

By 1992 UNIX workstations had redefined CAD and no new CAD software was being sold for use on mainframe or minicomputer terminals.

by 1994 the 3D CAD software programs offered by each of the leading vendors were becoming very similar: each had sketching, constraints management, feature-based solid modeling, history trees, NURBS surfaces and X-Windows user interfaces etc.

Autodesk had steadily ridden the PC wave to become the #1 2D CAD software company with 1992 revenues of $285million (by comparison EDS-Unigraphics CAD software revenues in 1992 were less than half at ~$130million). Autodesk had originally licensed the ACIS kernel from Spatial in 1990 and in 1994, Autodesk announced that it had sold the 1,000,000th license of its AutoCAD 2D CAD software and that it was releasing AutoCAD Release 13, including 3D solid modeling functions based on the ACIS 3D kernel.

3D CAD software had previously taken years and millions of dollars to develop but in principle could now be developed and released on start-up budgets in less than a year; in 1993 a small CAD software company called SolidWorks started to do exactly that.

The mid-range CAD market had been born and SolidWorks’ perceived success was such that after just 2 years they were acquired by Dassault Systemes in 1997 for $320million!

Meanwhile Autodesk had become increasingly concerned at the prospect of their much vaunted million-plus 2D CAD software users being wooed by SolidWorks, SolidEdge and other full-function 3D CAD software programs on Windows from Bentley Systems, CADKEY and numerous others. In 1996 Autodesk released Mechanical Desktop which was their first full-function 3D solid modeling CAD software product and which rapidly became the #1 selling 3D CAD software product in the world.

Autodesk released AutoCAD 2000i in mid 2000 which was their first Web enabled CAD software and provided the ability to output drawings that could be viewed with a Web browser and also enabled some online simple collaboration using Microsoft Net Meeting.

Using “virtual product development” with a digital master 3D assembly of 3D component models replacing clay prototypes, Boeing had succeeded in reducing product development times in the aerospace industry and now Ford had done the same in the automotive industry.

Today the industry is driven by