CAD vs. CAE: What Stage of Product Development is Your Business In

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Computer-aided Design (CAD) and Computer-aided Engineering (CAE) are software tools for designing and engineering a product, structure, or assembly. The term “computer-aided” refers to how the work is done. While human input remains a crucial factor, the computer does all the calculations to help develop a product that performs and functions as intended. 

Computer-aided design (CAD)

Essentially a digital drawing board, Computer-aided design (CAD) is the software and method that replaces manual drafting. It is a technical documentation of a design with interactive features and a consistent format to ensure seamless collaboration between designers, engineers, and freelance CAD drawing services experts. The CAD design may refer to a product, assembly, or structure.

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How It Works

CAD replaced two-dimensional manual drafting (2D drafting). Before freelance CAD services, designing a product would require a room full of engineers and draftspersons to draw countless possible design iterations of the same object. The complexity increases when the product is a sophisticated assembly like a car or a building. Digital drawing on a computer still calls for a team of designers and engineers, but it requires much less paper, and the collaboration runs in real time with a file-sharing feature.

The arrival of 3D modeling methods and 2D & 3D drafting design experts, including solid and surface techniques, greatly improved CAD. With three-dimensional visualization (3D visualization), a design becomes easier to explore and analyze. As the software matures, the 3D visualization also enhances realism.

The automation process is a massive improvement as computerized design drawing shortens the product development cycle. Thanks to cloud-based software that allows collaboration between teams across the globe, CAD simplifies design communication and dramatically increases productivity.

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Popular CAD Software

Among the most popular 3D CAD software are SolidWorks, CATIA, and Fusion 360. They are widely used among CAD design experts, but other software options exist. Some alternatives, like Rhinoceros 3D and Blender, are equally powerful for product design. There are dozens of choices, each with a different learning curve and unique interface. Whether you are a learner, hobbyist, advanced user, or professional, there is no shortage of CAD software packages or services available to satisfy your needs. For instance, you can hire freelance Blender 3D modeling services to assist your company with CAD needs.


The vast majority of modern products are developed with 3D CAD modeling. When transforming a product idea into a feasible concept, the manufacturing industry is one of the most significant software users. Many features of CAD software allow designers to create technical drawings of a design with realistic color, texture, and animation of the internal mechanisms.

Another heavy user of 3D CAD is the architectural industry. While traditional blueprints and 2D construction plans remain popular, 3D architectural visualization services of a structure (with rendering) have become the best option for presentation purposes. An architect can use hyper-realistic rendering of 3D models to showcase a building before construction begins. Rendering from a CAD model helps explore design possibilities and experiment with various styles. In addition, some tools can generate a Bill of Materials (BoM) to provide a list of components and parts required to build a structure.

Animated films and videos are also built using advanced 3D CAD software. Instead of manually drawing 24 or more individual frames to create one second of animation, digital tools offer automatic interpolation sequences to produce smooth CAD animation. Most modern animated films and videos use 3D CAD software with rendering features.

Freelance design for additive manufacturing (3D printing) also relies on files drawn using 3D CAD software. The digital objects are saved in printer-compatible format for manufacturing. Depending on the artist’s skills, a 3D-printed object can be highly complex and full of intricate details or a simple rudimentary one.

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Computer-aided engineering (CAE)

The focus of CAE (computer-aided engineering) is engineering analysis. CAE is a term that encompasses various computational tools to analyze product performance, features, and functionality by simulating real-world usage environments. The product is a virtual prototype, existing only on a computer.

CAE is most useful during the initial design phase to validate a concept. The results of digital testing should reveal the design’s weak and strong points. In practical terms, CAE provides a product development roadmap to achieve an optimized design, often with freelance product engineering services for specialized insights and support.

How It Works

Although CAE tools can stand independently, they are often integrated with 3D CAD. Completing a CAE analysis on a virtual platform requires a 3D model subjected to the tests and simulations. This integration facilitates comprehensive assessments of designs and structures, with input not only from CAE but also from freelance 3D modeling design services. Unlike in 3D CAD, the CAE design models represent more than just the cosmetic aspect of a product; they also represent its engineering values.

A 3D bridge model would be sufficient in CAD if it appears identical to the structure. However, more than appearance is needed to do a CAE engineering analysis. In CAE, the digital bridge must carry all the physical characteristics of the real object. For example, the dimensions and materials are interconnected variables affecting structural rigidity. When engineers want to perform structural analysis, the variables must be integrated into the model.

For electronic products, the digital model of the PCB must be identical to the physical board’s specification. The number of components, flow of electric current, microprocessor/microcontroller power, and heat sink design should replicate the actual units. It is the only way to get accurate results when performing thermal analysis and EMI simulation.

Virtual analysis and product prototyping reduce development costs. The test results should give engineers enough data to improve the design. Since the prototypes are virtual, the improvements are first implemented in the digital models for further analysis. Only when the engineers think the design performs as intended the development process continues to the next stage of physical prototyping.

Popular CAE Software

Altair’s HyperWorks for finite element analysis is one of the most widely used CAE software. The next best thing is Ansys Engineering Simulation, which comes in various packages for different simulation purposes. Fusion 360 also offers CAE capabilities in the premium version of its software.

Most CAE software packages are costly, and some are subscription-based. For example, Fusion 360 is available for around $70/month per user, and you will need to pay more to get all the advanced features, and Solid Edge comes close at $75/month per user. SimScale is a free alternative. It is a cloud-based CAE with various tools for thermodynamics simulation, finite element analysis, and computational fluid dynamics on a standard web browser. 

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The automotive industry and mechanical engineering are prominent users of CAE software. Considering the increased complexity of engine design and assembly, automakers rely on simulation software to test multiple aspects of the product, often seeking expertise from freelance mechanical engineering services for specialized insights and support.

Simulations may include computational fluid dynamics and thermal analysis. In the old days, analyzing an engine’s cooling performance required physical prototyping and various sensors. With CAE, it is possible to simulate heat transfer and oil flow patterns to discover effective cooling mechanisms. Engineers can build the virtual prototype early on in the design process. 

The architectural industry and construction businesses benefit from structural analysis. An architectural firm can use finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics to see how a building reacts to environmental conditions, including winds and water. Simulation results give the architects enough information to design a building that can withstand weather damage without altering large parts of the main structure. Additionally, freelance finite element analysis & FEA engineering services contribute valuable expertise to ensure accurate and thorough analyses in architectural and construction projects.


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CAD and CAE in product development

A product undergoes numerous development stages, from ideation to market introduction. The concept stage uses CAD software to determine design, color, shape, and dimension, offering multiple design options. For example, a flashlight manufacturer’s design team uses freelance new product design services to create unique shapes and forms for their product lineup.

CAE software plays a role when additional features are required, such as water resistance and shockproof enclosures. Instead of creating multiple physical prototypes, engineers utilize virtual prototyping and simulation to test various designs and features.

With CAE, engineers experiment with battery caps, sealing rings, outer shell materials, and shock-resistant designs. By simulating real-world conditions, they can determine the best approach to achieve the desired design goals.

In summary, CAD differs from CAE in functionality, but they are integral to the product development process. CAD focuses on the conceptual aspect of a design, whereas the CAE is used in the design analysis from an engineering perspective. The results of the analysis become the foundation for transforming the concept into a viable product, often with the input of product development experts to ensure a comprehensive and successful implementation.

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How Cad Crowd can assist

Unlock the full potential of your product development process with Cad Crowd’s services. Whether you’re at the CAD stage, focusing on creating detailed designs and models or delving into computer-aided engineering (CAE) for simulation and analysis, our global network of skilled engineers and designers is ready to assist.

Cad Crowd offers flexible and customized solutions that match the unique needs of your business at every stage of development. Don’t let uncertainties hold you back—take the next step in your product development journey with confidence. Get Started with Cad Crowd and request a free quote today!