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The History of CAD

Written on:August 2, 2011
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Since the 1980s, computer aided design, or CAD, programs have made the designing lives of countless industries much easier. However, the history of CAD dates back further than its humble operational beginnings in the 1980s and it is the history that helped shape the industry that exists today and will shape the industry of tomorrow.

Using computers to help with designs is not a new idea and it didn’t start in the 1980s. In fact, in the 1960s it was not uncommon for some in the aircraft and automotive industry to use computers to help with their design. This was in the way of 3D surface construction and NC programming, but these were not widely known or used techniques.

In 1963 a system at MIT was developed that would arguable shape the future of CAD. The program was called ‘SKETCHPAD’ and was created by Ivan Sutherland. What made the SKETCHPAD program so unique was the ability to have the computer actually interact with the designer using a CRTmonitor and a light pen. This would later be compared to an early prototype of graphical user interface and would go on to jump start the world of CAD.

As computers were relatively new and extremely expensive back in the beginning of CAD times, it was only the larger companies that could afford to commercially implement a CAD system. This included those in the aerospace and automotive industries.

As the 1970s came about, so too did additional advances in CAD systems. In 1971 the Automated Drafting and Machine, or ADAM, system was developed by Dr. PJ Hanratty. Along with writing the system, the good doctor also supplied much of the code that was needed to help make the program run smoothly to larger corporations.

The 1970s also brought about many changes and improvements in the various CAD programs and systems. 3D, for example, made it possible to enhance what the user was inputting into the computer and brought a whole new view to the CAD industry.

CAD saw its biggest surge in the 1980s when a whole slew of new systems, such as the Uni-Solid and 2D systems, and designs made their way to the marketplace. Combined with computers that were where all of the sudden not so new and not so expensive and CAD was rapidly becoming available for almost all industries to use.

By the late 1980s CAD was widely known and becoming widely used. With Pro/ENGINEER being released in 1988, a greater use of feature-based modeling was achieved. This followed with some inspired work from Ian Braid, who helped pave the way for such mid-range packages as SolidWorks, Solid Edge, and Autodesk Inventor to be developed and come out in the 1990s.

Today the world of CAD is still evolving.  Some anticipate the world of CAD moving more towards traditional sculpting as opposed to painting. This would be due to a 3D interface that replaces the monitor and mouse with goggles and gloves. Others are not sure what the future of CAD holds, but do know that the continued evolution from its meek start in the 1960s is certain.

Learn more about CAD software.

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