How to select a CAD program


Are you confused about how to select a CAD program? This article by DTA’s Julie Shaw, was featured in the Housing Industry Association (HIA) Housing Magazine.

Thinking CAD?

CAD software can be a useful tool for designers to produce 2D drawings and 3D models with precision. If you’re ready to invest in a system for your business, consider these aspects first before you do.

Computer aided design (CAD) has become the industry standard in presenting 3D design concepts and 2D technical working drawings, including floor plans, elevations, sections and mechanical drawings. The benefits of CAD are numerous, from increasing worker productivity and creating higher quality designs to simplifying how to communicate and share these designs.

With rapid developments in technology and savvy clients who have high expectations for their projects, it has never been more important to have a CAD program that can deliver a quality outcome. The difference may be between converting your customer and losing their interest.

With so many programs on the market however, it can be a minefield when trying to select a program that will best suit you, your business and your clients. There is no ‘one size fits all’ software solution, and what may be the perfect choice for one designer may not be for another, so it pays to do your own research. 

Find your purpose

Any CAD program is producing an output of 2D views and 3D models or in some cases more extensive requirements, including 4D, 5D and so on. This information may be used as a communication tool between the designer, the client, trades and manufacturing.

The type of work you do as well as your business model will determine your main purpose in using a CAD system. As a designer, it may primarily be as a sales or communication tool, to convey an artistic impression; as a builder, it may form part of a contract; and for a manufacturer, it may deliver an integrated CAD/CAM (computer aided manufacturing) solution to streamline the production through an automated process.

Before you start researching programs you need to have identified exactly what you need the program to do and what you need to achieve with it. Do you need a concept design for clients, working drawings for a cabinet maker, production requirements for a builder and trades or any other combination? This checklist can then be aligned to program capabilities in order to evaluate your needs against a CAD solution.  

Decide on your budget

The cost of CAD programs can vary significantly and there are many factors to take into account when deciding on how much you should, and can afford to, outlay. These factors may include:

Initial investment
Can you purchase the program outright or is it subscription based? If it is subscription based, then you need to understand where the files are stored and if you still have access to files if you do not renew your subscription.

Computer specifications
Does your current computer have enough grunt or do you need to look at purchasing a new computer before getting a new program? CAD software providers will give you a list of specifications to review which will help you determine what you will need. 

Most programs can be used on either a MAC or a PC/Windows, but you should always be sure your current system is compatible. 

Add-ons to the program
Do you need any add-ons to effectively run the program? If so, these may have an additional cost. 

You will need to learn how to use any new program but training is not generally included in the purchase price. Some providers have free videos and instructions available, but these can be limited. You need to have an idea of both the cost and the time needed to set aside for training. 

Including some formal training can ensure you get the most out of your investment and can save time in the long run because you can be sure you are using the program efficiently and effectively. You may need to find a training course in the program which specifically addresses the areas you need skills in. Some of the general training courses may be too generic and not specific enough for you.

What ongoing support is available with the purchase of the program? Some support is subscription based, so if you do not opt in, you may not have access to experts when you need help.

CAD capabilities

It is critical to ensure that any CAD program you choose can actually do what you need it to, both now and into the future. Some considerations may be:

Does it integrate with machinery or virtual capacity?
If you are designing and manufacturing you may need your program to integrate with machinery or have BIM (building information modelling) capabilities. In some cases, you may also need 4D, 5D and additional dimensions.

Add-ons and other programs
Understanding if the program talks to other programs or if there are any add-ons which can enhance the features of the program, can future proof your purchase and ensure you are getting the most out of the program you have chosen.

AS1100 compatible 
In Australia, working drawings need to meet the Australian drafting standard – AS1100. As most programs originate from outside of Australia, you need to ensure you can customise the settings to meet the industry standards and present industry ready drawings.

Storage – cloud based or on local drive
You will need to also consider where you store your files. Are they stored on your local drive or on cloud-based storage linked to the program? If you have a subscription, would you have access to your files when the subscription ended?

While it seems like a lot to think about, it is advisable that you make your own list of requirements which may include more than is listed here. Choosing a CAD program is a major investment for you and your business, so it will be well worth the time to do some of your own research before making a commitment.


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