Ever since its beginning in the 1960s, computer-aided design or CAD has continued to revolutionize the design process. CAD accelerated the design process, rendering complete 3D models as well as the ability to easily visualise a design from many angles. With fast-paced design, the speed of innovation also increased. But its 2021, and we’ve come a long way from IBM drafting systems of the 60s. Let’s have a look at some of the latest trends in CAD.
In the beginning, CAD was just doing electronically what was done on paper. But soon it evolved to automatic calculations, incorporating structural strength and more to the design. Calculations which were done by hand now became streamlined with the design process. CAD systems merged and brought together multiple design roles like engineer, draughtsman, etc.
In fact, CAD led to what is known as Blob architecture, set apart from traditional symmetric architecture by free-form designs. Computer aided design gave architects more freedom to explore new designs not constrained by traditional design methods. During the last two decades, we have seen rapid advances in artificial intelligence, display technologies, and better mathematical modelling. This led to further developments in CAD.
There have been many innovations in rapid prototyping in recent times. Rapid prototyping techniques such as 3D printing have evolved to become manufacturing techniques.
Rapid prototyping techniques have been able to accelerate product development. Fast prototypes that looked and functioned like the final product made design decisions faster. And advances in CAD served the rapid prototyping industry as advances in robotics helped automotive manufacture.
As mentioned before 3D printing and other prototyping techniques has now become a full-scale manufacturing technique. This has opened up further possibilities in product development. Traditional manufacturing process required developing specific tooling for making different components or products, and during the design process itself this was a concern. With rapid prototyping techniques becoming more mainstream, not only the distance from design to prototype, but from prototype to production has become shorter.
AI in CAD
Using AI for CAD is still in its infancy. But it has already seen many applications in creating high-profile constructions. How CAD resulted in blob architecture, AI in CAD will result in new and better types of buildings.
In fact, using Generative Designs in Fusion 360, designers can specify the size, weight, and materials before the begin their work. The cloud-based system generates thousands of designs using these parameters and conducts a performance analysis to show how well the design fits into the criteria specified. The algorithms take its inspiration from nature using a method called “form synthesis” resulting in designs that look organic and natural.
Sidewalk labs is using their generative design tool for urban planning. Their technology considers not just efficient construction or structural strength, but also the quality of people living in them. The algorithm helps city planners to understand their priorities for the city and make it a reality. For example, tall buildings in an urban area will mean more space for occupants, but it can also result in low sunlight into these buildings. The algorithm generates designs that let planners explore different possibilities.
Many other possibilities are being explored to incorporate AI into CAD, and the field looks promising.
Augmented reality and virtual reality in computer-aided design.
Remember in the first Iron Man movie, when Tony Stark developed his Mark II suit using a holographic interface? What was science fiction then, is now a reality.
Looking Glass is a holographic display that lets you view in 3D without glasses or a headset. The display works with most of the 3D software and lets you view traditional image file formats.
The display also lets you pull, zoom, and interact with the images.
But more than just viewing, designers have moved on to creating and even testing designs in VR. Seymourpowell, a London based design studio, is using AR headsets to design automobiles. Using HTC Vive headsets, designers are able to draw in a 3D environment and actually view their designs in full-scale, before a model or prototype is made. And the software also makes collaboration easier, as team members can view the design in a separate screen as well as edit them using a separate headset.
Using AR and VR helps accelerate the design process and speeds up multiple iterations. Instead of creating a design, a model, a prototype, and then understanding the mistakes and going back to step one, VR helps you understand the issues in the first step itself. For example, if you’re designing a car in a traditional manner, you can’t tell the blind spots until you actually sit in the car. With VR, you know it right after you design it.
What can we hope to see in the future?
Design technologies that incorporate multiple parameters and at the same time reduce the time-to-market will prevail. But even with technologies like AI, they will remain as a tool for the designer, and never replace a designer.