The Value of High End Computer Aided Design Software

Mon, 08/08/2011 - 7:07am
Stephen M. Samuel


High end computer aided design (CAD) software can give medical device designers a competitive edge. Although many designers characterize their work as too simple, using high end software can carry a company to the top. By designing products quickly and efficiently with high end CAD, designers can introduce products to the market before competitors, leading to higher quality and less cost with future designs.  


The nature of competition requires a person to continually improve what he or she does, keeping in mind that competitors are doing the same. If competitors are good, they spend a considerable amount of time trying to figure out how to optimize what they do, down to the last detail.

In order to be competitive in the design space, one must first have the top people, who have a lifetime of practical experience, along with a great education. The top people must practice their art constantly to stay on top, as their employer must continually expose them to the latest techniques and upgrade them with education. Although it is costly, doing so can be worthwhile.

Next, top competitors must have the best tools. In the top computer aided design (CAD) tools, literally millions of man hours have been put into programming menus and options that allow a person to do anything he or she can possibly think of, in the shortest amount of time. The top CAD tools have more choices of design functions than the average user will ever know. However, when the average user needs a set of esoteric commands, for example , they are available. Furthermore, the average user benefits greatly by the commands that he or she happens to use everyday.

The nature of CAD is exponential. A person who is using a high end CAD tool to the fullest extent is able to do in two hours what it would take someone who is just using a good CAD tool the entire day to do. For example, most high end CAD systems have a command called “Curves by Law.” In the high end CAD tools, one can write a series of equations that define a geometric shape in 3-D space, and then let the modeler do the work. In lesser tools a person is forced to go outside of the package with some exterior programming language, generate points, and then laboriously create splines through them.

The added step may not seem like it wastes very much time, until one begins to iterate on the original design; then it is a severe limitation. It is typical for engineers that have lesser tools to simply compromise on the design. For example, using a popular high end CAD package, a model of a stent was built. The equations were simple to input into the “Expressions Editor,” a panel of all the parameters and equations that drive all geometry within the component file. The equations capture an important characteristic of the design which is, as the component is elongated to fit into its delivery device, it contracts in diameter. The model took minutes to build and only a mater of seconds to adjust once done, which would have been impossible with mid-range CAD systems.

High end software is called “high end” because it is immensely capable. In companies, such as Pratt and Whitney, GE, Apple, and many others, the software that is used is high end. The software allows them to create objects, such as jet engines, air frames, auto bodies, and hand held audio devices. The companies create quickly and efficiently, which is part of the reason why they are on top.

Company officials that do not design jet engines and high end hand held devices often believe that they do not need a high end CAD program. However, one must realize that design automation allows even simple geometry to be created much faster. Accordingly, a person will have full control over software with all the latest design automation technology. For example, most of the mid range software packages do not allow one to create an extrusion in any direction because the extrusion is always perpendicular to the plane that a contour is sketched on. High end software allows a person to create a sketch or just select the edge of an existing solid, define a vector and extrude the shape as far as desirable. When one changes the direction of the vector, the solid updates accordingly, giving the designer a freedom that allows great time savings.

As product designers work to create the best product possible, they have to think about cost, manufacturing processes, safety, materials, UL listing, and a myriad of competing attributes. They should not have to conform to the limitations of their CAD software too. Mid-range CAD software is limited, but the designer who has the high end CAD package has the opportunity to make the device more interesting and pleasing to the eye. The quality that is put into the high end CAD packages gives a direct benefit to those who are doing design that could be considered simple. The time savings will be real because mid range CAD packages can make even simple design tasks difficult.

Figure 1: Master model of cabinet assembly

A person should not characterize his or her work as too simple for the high end software because even with simple geometry and simple products, there are great opportunities for design automation. Taking advantage of these opportunities will help one make the product development process faster and more streamlined. A designer will get a product on the market sooner, with less risk, less cost, and better quality. For example, a model of a simple cabinet is created. It has one drawer, one pull and an overall shape that may change. Using high end software, one may easily create a model of the outside shape, and then create components that are controlled by the main model, otherwise known as the master model. In Figure 1, a simple master model is created using an extruded sketch.

The various components are created by importing parametrically associative portions of the master model into each component part file. The components are shown in Figure 2 in an exploded view. Every detailed component is linked to the master model.

Figure 2: Exploded view of cabinet assembly

When the master model dimensions are changed, every detailed component responds. All dimensions update along with all the positions in the assembly. The master model has equations embedded in it that control things like the wall thickness of the wood, the position of the holes, and other attributes. In addition, there is a logic equation that will automatically add supports should the width of the assembly grow larger than a specific quantity.

In most industries, there is a competitive element and a finite market. Getting a product on the market early will give a person a great competitive edge. Doing so will also give the designer more experience with the product so that successive versions of the product will be better than competitors. In addition, it can lead to higher quality and less cost.

Using mid-range software instead of high end software could mean the difference between a successful product launch and loosing a huge business opportunity. The cost of high end software is generally a one time fee that will pay dividends for years to come. High end software can prove worthwhile.

Stephen M. Samuel PE is Founder and President of Design Visionaries. He can be reached at 408-997-6323 or


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