Computer Aided Design (CAD) programmes can trace their lineage back over 50 years, despite being seen as new technology to some. Whilst modern engineering design and drafting can ultimately be traced as far back to descriptive geometry in the 16th century, the creation of engineering drawings changed very little until the end of World War II.
In the 1950s, dozens of people were working on the numerical control of machine tools and the automating of engineering design, particularly at MIT. There are two men who stand above the others and a regarded as the ‘Fathers of CAD’.
Fathers of CAD
In 1957, Patrick Hanratty developed the first commercial computerised numerical control (CNC) programming system called Program for Numerical Tooling Operations (or PRONTO), whilst working for General Electric. Five years later, Ivan Sutherland presented his Ph.D thesis at MIT, “Sketchpad, A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System. Some of the features included the first ever graphical user interface, with a light pen to manipulate the objects displayed on a cathode ray tube (CRT).
The 1960s saw further developments, such as the first digitizer and DAC-1, the original production interactive graphics manufacturing system. By the end of the 1960s, Computervision, M&S Computing, Applicon, SDRC and Evans & Sutherland were all created to commercialise CAD programs.
The 1970s saw Ken Versprille’s major breakthrough of NURBD for his Ph.D project that allowed the formation of the modern 3D curve and surface modelling. Alan Greyer, Charles Lang and Ian Braid were developing the Part and Assembly Description Language (PADL) solid modeller.
By the 1980s, commercial CAD systems such as CATIA began being used in aerospace and automotive industries, amongst others. The first IBM PC in 1981 really set the path for large-scale adoption of CAD in industry. By 1982, Autodesk was formed and the following year saw the release of AutoCAD, the first CAD program for IBM PCs.
The 1990s saw PCs powerful enough to support computations required by CAD, seeing SolidWorks released in 1995, the first solid modeller designed for Windows. It was quickly followed by Solid Edge and Inventor.
CAD today and tomorrow
Modern CAD programs are characterised by their improvements in levels of analysis and management of products, including modelling, engineering, and manufacturing and maintenance.
Companies such as Siemens are developing technology to combine the precision and control of feature-based design, with the speed and flexibility of explicit modelling. This would allow for designers to spend less time on construction, design changes and importing new data. Additionally, CAD developers are making use of Cloud storage to offer immense design power to a range of mobile devices as well as computers.