Changes in CAD—what you need to know

With the March release of Inventor 2018 and AutoCAD 2018, it’s a good time to review several of the recently released major CAD programs. Here’s a look at some of the biggest enhancements and key features of these programs.

Jean Thilmany, Contributing Editor

CAD packages are updated with the same regularity as other major software systems, often annually, with smaller releases to fix bugs or for minor updates happening throughout the year. Sometimes, the annual updates include major enhancements or completely new features. Other times, they include new subscription models, as is the case with Inventor, or offer new ways to access the software, such as through the cloud, which Solid Edge announced with its ST 9 version.

Autodesk Inventor

Here’s what designers will see in the latest version of Autodesk’s flagship mechanical design package:

Large-assembly design has also been made easier in Inventor 2018 from Autodesk. The capability to pan and zoom in on both 3D and 2D designs is improved in this version. The image shows an example of a machine design by equipment-maker Mastenbroek using Inventor.

The big news with the March release of Autodesk Inventor is its subscription-based plan. Users can subscribe for $235 per month. Or, they can choose to pay upfront at $1,890 for one year, $3,590 for two years, and $5,105 for three years.

These type of short-term subscription plans are good for companies that may bring on extra designers, and need more software seats, or during certain times of the year, or for companies that have landed a large project and need more help carrying it out, says Luke Mihelcic, an Autodesk product marketing manager.

Autodesk also has plans to roll out new functions for Inventor every few months rather than within one big, annual update. That is to say, Inventor will see new versions, or major releases, followed by incremental updates that build upon them, Mihelcic adds.

–Model-based definition

This year’s annual update includes model-based design (MBD) tools that users can use to annotate models with product manufacturing information (PMI) like tolerances, dimensions, and manufacturing notes. The tools help projects move from the modeling to the manufacturing stage faster than without the notes, Mihelcic says.

While annotating 3D models already saves time formerly spent creating 2D manufacturing drawings, this new release saves engineers who design in Inventor even more time because they don’t need a special authoring application for 3D annotation. Many engineers who use MBD to annotate models with 3D PMI still have to learn the separate, special application.

–Collaboration tools and ease of use

Inventor has also upped the tool’s interoperability, Mihelcic says. With the 2018 version, users can output 3D PDF files so design information can be shared with others—whether they’re part of the company or not–including manufacturers, customers, suppliers, and marketing managers.

Also in Inventor 2018, the “measure” tool has been simplified and improved to make it easier to use, and bill of materials and parts list sort orders have been made easier to organize because they’re now based on the commands users add themselves, he says.

AutoCAD 2018

The other big system from Autodesk, AutoCAD turns 35 this year. The CAD software and its cousin, AutoCAD LT–which stands for “light” and doesn’t include the full roster of features seen in the main version–also saw a March update, to version 2018, says Heidi Hewett, AutoCAD technical marketing manager.

Autodesk released its AutoCAD 2018 design tool in March.

The newest version is built on a modern code base, which means it runs smoother and faster on current hardware than past versions. In fact, AutoCAD 2018 now supports 4K high-resolution monitors and screens. A 4K display is comprised of 3,840 or higher pixels of horizontal resolution and 2,160 pixels of vertical resolution.

–DWG 2018

The updated CAD system also includes the 2018 DWG (short for drawing) file format, which is the data-file-format AutoCAD uses to create and save designs. This format will improve the efficiency of open and save operations, especially for drawings that contain many annotative objects and viewports, according to Hewett.

This is the first DWG update since 2013. That’s important to know because, while designs created with AutoCAD 2018 will be saved to the 2018 DWG file format, older versions of AutoCAD cannot read the 2018 format. Designers sharing with users on systems that don’t support the 2018 DWG format will need to save their files using an older version of DWG, likely the 2013 version.

–Navigation and Reference Improvements

Version 2018 also introduces tools to fix broken paths for externally referenced files, which helps reduce problems created by broken reference paths and saves the time spent on relinking paths. The upgrade allows users to replace external paths that have one or more missing references with a new path, according to Hewett.

The workflow for creating references is improved with this version. A relative path is automatically assigned to all new, external references.

Users can still choose to assign references as “full path” as was done automatically in previous versions. They can also specify a relative path before saving their drawing. In the past, they couldn’t specify a relative path until they were saving their drawings.

AutoCAD LT won’t see the 3D navigation performance enhancements included in AutoCAD 2018, which Autodesk said offers improvements when using zoom, pan and 3D orbit operations. For example, many larger drawings will no longer degrade as users navigate around the model, the company says. The performance for manipulating 3D models is approaching that of 2D drawings, Hewett adds.

–CAD Viewer update

Autodesk recently re-released the Design Review CAD viewer, which the CAD maker hadn’t updated since the 2013 version. The CAD viewer software lets users view, mark up, print, and track changes to 2D and 3D files for free—even if they don’t own or use AutoCAD. It works with a variety of file formats, including: DWF, DWFx, DWG, and DXF, Adobe PDF, as well as image file types such as.bmp, .jpg, .gif, .png, .tif, .cal and a host of others. The DXF, or drawing exchange format, from Autodesk allows data to be exchanged and read between AutoCAD and other programs.

Solid Edge

This CAD system is Siemens PLM’s main design and engineering offering, with release ST10 soon to come. ST stands for synchronous technology, the method Solid Edge uses for modeling rather than the usual constraint-driven or history-tree modeling. It gives designers the ability to edit models directly rather than making the changes within hierarchical and dependent feature trees, according to Siemens.

Built in data-manage tools included within Solid Edge ST9 are updated with the ST10 release.

–Manage information

Also, new built-in data management tools help manage revisions. In a new “revisions” dialogue box, users can see the entire revision history of a part. They can also comment on any revision in the revision tree and ask whether newer versions of a part are available.

–Sheet metal design and more

Users can design sheet metal parts with Solid Edge ST10 and can edit those parts directly, even if they’re bent. They can also reposition features on the parts, resize them, and change their form without having to go back through the feature tree to correct design errors.

Siemens PLM continues to integrate new capabilities into its Solid Edge CAD system through recent acquisitions including Polarion, for development of software embedded within products, and CD-adapco, for design simulation.

–Additional features

A design manager feature has been added to simplify detecting and replacing duplicate files. After launching the tool, users can see if any of the parts in an assembly have geometric matches with different names and replace them with the preferred part. They’re also able to see tell if a part has a drawing, making it easier to determine the value of one component over another.

The automatic routing path feature in ST10 means users can create routing paths automatically between points within an assembly, part, or sheet-metal design. In earlier versions of the tool, they needed to create routing paths manually. This is a boon for users who design pipelines or create designs that include wiring or hoses, for example, notes a spokesman at Siemens.

Solid Edge ST10 will be the last Solid Edge release to support Windows 7.


SolidWorks 2017, released earlier this year, offers support for virtual and augmented reality devices such as HTC Vive, Oculus, Google Cardboard, and Samsung devices.

Large assembly capabilities have been improved in SolidWorks 2017, which was released in the fall of 2016 and is the latest version of the system from Dassault Systemes.

This version includes a new user interface, though the change isn’t as dramatic as seen in the previous release. The update now makes the order of configurations sortable, rather than existing only in the order they were created. Also, shortcut menus are streamlined and standardized.


Users can also open proprietary 3D CAD data in SolidWorks 2017. Systems supported include Creo, CATIA V5, Solid Edge, NX, and Inventor. Associativity is maintained with the original file, meaning updates made within supported systems are automatically reflected in the SolidWorks file.

–Other features

The CAD maker has also expanded capabilities for model-based definition. With this version, users can compare geometry and 3D product and manufacturing information between two revisions, and attached multiple files to a 3D PDF to create technical data packages.

The company’s “visualize boost” feature makes for faster rendering speeds.

New features include a reliability tab that provides access to information such as how the previous session ended and the version of SolidWorks running.

The upgrade also introduces a new feature called “offset on surface,” which allows users to use existing 3D edge and face entities to create new sketches.

Other Updates

 Of course a number of other CAD packages such as TurboCad Deluxe 2017 and NX, also from Siemens PLM, have seen recent updates as well. And we expect to see new features included in future Creo Parametric (formerly Pro/e) versions. In CAD software, as in life, nothing stays the same forever—or even for very long.


Siemens PLM


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