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The Evolution of CAD

    CAD Evolution & History 

    Computer Aided Design, commonly referred to as CAD, is used in a wide variety of fields to accurately design and edit structures, components, and countless other applications. What had previously been done using a pencil and paper was replaced over time with the development and adoption of computers. In fact, the history of CAD closely parallels the history of the computer, allowing for more advanced programs and techniques as the processing power of the computer grew over the years.

    The idea of computer aided design grew from simple 2D designs into complex, multi-layered 3D structures with detailed meta-data and kinematic movement. The precision, versatility, and editing offered by CAD software revolutionized the architecture, engineering, and manufacturing industries.

    The History

    60 years ago, Dr. Patrick Hanratty created a program called PRONTO, which was the first numerical control programming system. This program is regarded as the origin upon which all CAD software was built upon. Several years later, Ivan Sutherland developed a software called Sketchpad, which was the first CAD software to use a total graphic user interface (GUI). Users would draw with a light pen on an x-y pointer display, allowing the constraint of properties in creating “objects” or “instances”.

    The next big breakthrough came in 1971 in the form of a highly commercially successful program called ADAM, also developed by Dr. Hanratty. ADAM was an interactive graphics design, drafting and manufacturing system written using Fortran and designed to work on every machine. ADAM was continually updated to be compatible with 16 and 32 bit systems, and most CAD programs from today can be traced back to ADAM.

    In 1980, a specific file format called IGES was created to allow users to transfer their 3D designs between CAD software programs. IGES was replaced in 1994 with the STEP file format, which made it an international standard.

    The 1980’s saw the introduction of several CAD programs that are still used today, such as CATIA, AutoCAD, and Pro/Engineer (now PTC Creo). AutoCAD, created by Autodesk, was the first 2D CAD software made for PCs instead of mainframe computers or minicomputers. Pro/Engineer was the first mainstream CAD program that took the intuitive concepts of Sketchpad and brought them to life, based on solid models, history based features, and the use of constraints. It quickly became the standard for 3D modeling as it was written in UNIX’s X-Windows, making it faster and more user-friendly.

    In 1995, Dassault Systemes created SolidWorks, another software that emphasized ease of use and allowed for more engineers than ever to take advantage of 3D CAD technology.

    Today, many CAD programs have moved to the cloud, allowing for seamless access of files between users. Other modern innovations include developing mobile CAD applications, and some CAD programs like OnShape are completely cloud-based.

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