There are numerous CAD tools to choose from these days and you may be wondering what type is the right one for your organization. In this article I will try to take a non-biased approach in comparing two industry giants (AutoCAD vs. SOLIDWORKS) diving into which software would work best for the desired application. I have been a mechanical engineer for 10 years at various organizations and have used both programs for my career. The article will cover 2D modeling comparison, 3D modeling comparison and an overall conclusion.
2D Modeling Comparison
AutoCAD has offered 2D modeling since the early days of computer aided drafting (CAD). It can create a 2D drawing with relative ease and the final drawing can be manipulated with copy and paste operations, color changing operations, filling enclosed areas, inserting pictures, etc. It has snap features that help when 2D sketching to snap to nodes of circles, ends of lines and various other sketch elements.
I have seen organizations use AutoCAD for standard three view drawings where someone draws all the lines in by hand, similar to my high school drafting class, where they taught us how to draw with a pencil. While this is possible, it is a very time-consuming process and I would not recommend using AutoCAD for three view 2D’s over SOLIDWORKS.
Typically, AutoCAD’s 2D functionality comes in handy with electrical or hydraulic schematics, PID diagrams, flow charts, and other 2D graphics where symbols or text are repeated and there are simple lines connecting them. When one thinks of SOLIDWORKS generally the first thing that comes to mind is a three-dimensional model on your 2D computer screen that you can rotate around and manipulate as if it were existing. All of the features in that 3D model rely on 2D sketches that are made in a very similar fashion to AutoCAD.
The main difference in this area is the parametric nature of SOLIDWORKS that allows you to easily change dimensions to modify sketch elements and quickly edit the resulting 3D model. If you don’t plan to get into 3D models, complex isometric views, or marketing images of your products, AutoCAD would work for your application. SOLIDWORKS does have a 2D oriented software called DraftSight that is made for 2D only. If your company may need to use the full 3D functionality someday it might be best to start with a Dassault Systèmes product.
To recap, the main differences when strictly comparing SOLIDWORKS vs AutoCAD’s 2D capabilities are that SOLIDWORKS is easier to parametrically modify things after they are drawn. You can add sketch relations instead of just dimensions in SOLIDWORKS, and it has a more futuristic user-friendly interface.
3D Modeling Comparison
AutoCAD is very good at creating 2D drawings, it is capable of 3D modeling but using it for this purpose is more difficult than its competitor, especially in models where an assembly of parts is required. SOLIDWORKS is one of the most user friendly and adaptable options when it comes to 3D modeling. AutoCAD’s foundation and early years were only focused on 2D, whereas SOLIDWORK’S entire lifecycle has had 3D model creation as its focal point.
The differences in the programs become very apparent if the task at hand is to make a 4-view drawing that includes a color isometric view of the product. Similarly, if any exploded color views, marketing imagery, or user manual information is required it is much easier to produce with SOLIDWORKS since the 3D model is its foundation. Even though you start with 2D sketching in both programs, SOLIDWORKS is laid out in a way that you make the 3D model first and then quickly pull 2D views from it, instead of trying to draw all the lines in the views. It has tools and framework for using multiple components and mating them together based on their geometry. It even has tools that allow users to easily make exploded view models and videos to aid workers in assembly of the final assembled products. Having a realistic color view of a product is extremely valuable when it comes to marketing the product.
In conclusion, the similarities between both programs end at 2D. SOLIDWORKS is an obvious winner if you need to draw any assemblies, multi-view 2D’s, or modern looking isometric views. The parametric nature is also useful when creating 2D’s such as a floor layout, if the dimensions may change or items need to be rearranged. If your company does mostly schematics or 2D charts etc. AutoCAD or DraftSight may be enough to satisfy those needs.
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