Three Trends in CAD in 2019

Michael Gigante
Michael Gigante  |  September 13, 2019

Computer-aided design (CAD) is one of the most significant pieces of technology influencing design in the industrial, architectural, and manufacturing industries today.

From building information modeling software (BIM), to civil engineering design software, users are designing buildings, roads, machines, and industrial products used by millions of people every day.

While CAD has dramatically decreased design time and improved the quality of designs, it’s also been quite fixed. Aside from CAD’s introduction to the cloud in 2012, new CAD technology has been stagnant since PCs became powerful enough to support CAD software in the 1990s. 

Bill McClure, vice president of product development at Siemens PLM, notes that “CAD really hasn’t changed much beyond adding more features and updating the user interface. We need a new way of working to keep up with demands.”

Thanks to some exciting developments in the tech world, CAD is in a prime position to meet the growing demand for smart design and digital transformation. With major trends such as machine learning, AR (augmented reality), VR (virtual reality), and the adoption of IOT (internet of things) platforms, CAD drastically speeds up design time and improves collaboration for users. Below we highlight the most exciting trends influencing the CAD market today.

Trend 1: Automation in CAD

Design automation is a growing trend in the CAD world that reduces the amount of time it takes to complete a design and speeds up time to market. In practice, a design method known as generative design is one of the main ways CAD automation is used.

Generative design is a tool that generates countless designs by reading text. Designers or engineers input design goals into the generative design software, along with parameters such as performance or spatial requirements, materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints. The software explores all possible variations of a solution and quickly generates design alternatives. It tests and learns what works (and what doesn’t) from each iteration. 

An example of some models of computer-automated design, or CAD.Image courtesy of Autodesk

Above is an example of generative design used to create variations of a seat belt bracket in Autodesk’s Fusion 360. After producing over 150 design variations, the final iteration was 40% lighter and 20% stronger than its predecessor. Generative design consolidated an eight-part component into one unified part.

Computer-automated design, or CAD, can be used to make the best version possible.            Image courtesy of GM Media

Design variations are so abstract that many would never be considered in the manual design process. However, since generative design automatically produces variations based on automated computing, unique variations are produced, and no design iteration is left out of consideration.

With generative design, engineers can find the perfect balance between performance and cost. Engineers cut costs by using less material, reduce labor time by automating design decisions, and reduce emissions by cutting manufacturing time.

Prediction: Generative design and machine learning in CAD will grow  50% over the next two to three years. 

As engineers and manufacturers realize the countless benefits of generative design, user adoption will grow.

Although generative design will increase in adoption, it will not replace the decision-making process of the engineer. Automating one aspect of the design process will not eliminate the expertise an engineer has about effective design for manufacturing purposes. Engineers should consider generative design a tool for finding fascinating and creative ways of designing a product, and not as a tool that eliminates their creative input.

Generative design will have uses across many industries in the design world. Generative design will be widely used in the aerospace and automotive industries; it will also be utilized in the architectural, fashion, and retail industries. As more general-purpose CAD tools are developed, expect generative design to become common.

Trend 2: Heavier adoption of the cloud

Since Onshape announced, in 2015, the first CAD software to live exclusively in the cloud, CAD industry leaders expected more businesses to ditch their on-premises solutions in favor of the cloud.

However, the reality has been different, as many CAD users are resistant to buy into the cloud. Their reasons include annual subscription fees, needing internet access, lack of storage, and network security concerns.

While these concerns are valid, as more and more engineers adopt cloud CAD solutions, more engineers will have to assimilate  since CAD streamlines design collaboration across various teams. 

 Cedric Desbordes of Graebert quote about cloud-based CAD or computed-automated design solutions

When all designers work on one cloud platform, all users have access to changes as they happen. Users can jump in, make comments, and make their own modifications when necessary. On-premises solutions cannot provide this functionality. If you couple this with other benefits of cloud CAD software, such as quick implementation time, saving hard drive space, and working from anywhere, the number of cloud CAD solutions users will grow.

Prediction: Cloud CAD solutions users will grow 100% over the next three to five years. 

An important factor to keep in mind is that more and more vendors will start offering subscription-based cloud CAD solutions in addition to their on-premises solutions. While some CAD vendors are hesitant to switch for fear of their cloud CAD solutions cannibalizing their on-premises solutions, it’s preferable to other vendors stealing their customers.

SOLIDWORKS is proof of this trend. A major CAD vendor, SOLIDWORKS released its own cloud CAD called SOLIDWORKS xDesign this year. As more major vendors introduce their own, this will force more CAD users to buy into the cloud.

Trend 3: VR CAD

One of the hottest trends in the tech space is VR integration, with more businesses than ever realizing the practical applications of this technology. VR creates immersive experiences that communicate the value of a product; as a result, VR can add significant value to the CAD industry.

Imagine the ability to manipulate your designs with your own hands, or walk through a building design that you created. Visualizing your designs as if they were right in front of you can offer immediate benefits such as  identifying flaws and areas of improvement. 

Quote about VR integration in CAD, a new trend with computer-automated design.

CAD vendors are starting to find ways to integrate VR technology into their own offerings. While some offerings allow users to visualize their designs through a VR headset, some allow users to edit their designs in real time. 

Prediction: VR CAD solutions users will grow by 100% over the next three to five years.

Cloud CAD vendor Onshape has  introduced a partnership with MagicLeap, a spatial computer system where users interact with the digital content around them.

People use VR CAD solutions to interact with a 3D model.Image courtesy of Onshape

The integration of VR with CAD systems allows users to view and edit in real time, bringing a whole extra level of control to your design. 


Major CAD vendor Autodesk currently has an AR/VR exporter for Autodesk Fusion 360 called ENTiTi. This AR/VR exporter allows users to edit and create designs in a virtual reality space. 

With two major CAD vendors already on board with VR integrations, we should expect more CAD vendors to adapt and increase the market size for this dynamic technology.  

TIP: To find the best VR platforms, check out our highest rated VR game engine software and VR content management systems.

The future of CAD

The computer-aided design (CAD) industry is currently valued between $7 and $8 billion. It has a promising future, with the market projected to reach $14.5 billion by 2026

This massive increase in the market is influenced by new developments and adoptions of technology in the CAD space that did not exist before. This increase is also a direct reflection of more vertical industries adopting specific use cases for CAD. This introduction of new niche spaces adopting CAD solutions is exciting to follow as the CAD space continues to evolve and impact the design world.

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Michael Gigante
Author

Michael Gigante

Mike is a market research analyst focusing on CAD, PLM, and supply chain software. Since joining G2 in October 2018, Mike has grounded his work in the industrial and architectural design space by gaining market knowledge in building information modeling, computer-aided engineering and manufacturing, and product and machine design. Mike leverages his knowledge of the CAD market to accurately represent the space for buyers, build out new software categories on G2, and provide consumers with data-driven content and research. Mike is a Chicago native. In his spare time he enjoys going to improv shows, watching sports, and reading Wikipedia pages on virtually any subject.