CAD Software: Packages Flex New Muscles

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CAD Software: Packages Flex New Muscles

The evolution of compurter-aided design/drafting (CAD) software is difficult to keep up with. Closely tied to the needs and desires of specific industries, products evolve as demanded.

Three significant new trends in CAD software emerged this last year and two more are continuing a long run. "Associativity" is the current rage; all major packages have enhancements in this area. Add-on management tools are also a hot topic. And finally, high-quality visuals are a new feature found in some products.

Better 3D capabilities in CAD programs is a trend enjoying continued momentum. Riding its coatails is the tendency to team CAD packages with CAM (computer-aided manufacturing) and CIM (computer-integrated manufacturing) software. As the 3D powers improve, so do the links to CAM and CIM packages.

Associativity

Up until recently, "associativity" was a characteristic of which only mainframe-based packages could boast. Now the concept is successfully being implemented in CAD software for micros.

Scott Davidson, manager of communications for Autodesk, Inc., publisher of AutoCAD, describes the basic premise. "Programmers design in 'hooks' for the connection of graphic elements to alphanumeric data," he explains. "As the graphic element changes, so does the data. This data can then be used in a variety of database-oriented applications, such as generating a bill of materials, and so on.

"Basically, it means you're creating intelligent drawings," says Davidson. "You're generating alphanumeric data at the same time you're creating a drawing."

Another way of defining the term is as "attached geometry." In CAD drawings, entities are either tangent, linear or angular to other entities. With associativity, when one thing changes, the geotmetry of all other attached things also changes automatically and accordingly.

The inclusion of associativity in CAD software is significant for two reasons. First, it ensures the integrity of the data in drawing files. The program handles all calculations itself, so no errors can creep in. And second, it greatly enhances the package's ease-of-use factor. Operators can focus on drawing, leaving the tedious math to the software. The sum is more power with less work.

Management Tools

Information management tools tailored to the CAD environment are also newly popular this part year. These utility programs handle organizational problems and perform operations like archiving drawing files, storing database information, and the like.

Just like the word processor, which resulted in both paper and electronic documents to keep track of, CAD packages have quite a bit of online baggage as a part of the application, and all of it must be organized. As a key to the effectiveness and easy access of the data within the CAD files, organizational tools are now receiving serious attention from users.

"The industry as a whole is more concerned with management of drawing files," comments Wayne Elinger. He is a past president of SPOCAD, a consortium of schools, colleges and local industries that operates state-of-the-art CAD educational facilities in Washington. Elinger explains that firms are looking at very specific things in their CAD systems, like file management tasks and set-up routines.

"Now they are focusing on how to arrange files and other data in ways that make things easier to find," he says. "In other words, they are beginning to look at how they do something in the first place, so that it's easier to retrieve later."

A New Look

The most eye-catching new trend in CAD software is the improvement in graphical display capabilities, both in resolution and number of colors. New graphics cards, controllers and monitors with high-resolution capacity are continually being introduced by vendors. Better graphics standards, such as VGA, have assisted the movement with a software push. …

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