What is CAD and where is it used?

The RS’ 3D page is includes a 3D CAD tutorial video, Frequently-Asked-Questions on 3D CAD, and 3D CAD file format features.

CAD stands for Computer-Aided Design. A CAD system is essentially a combination of software and hardware, such as a PC or computer workstation, that helps engineers easily design products or systems. CAD can help in the creation, modification, analysis or optimization of a design. CAD can be used to design curves and shapes in two dimensions (2D) or curves, surfaces and solids in three dimensions (3D) of space. The latter is known commonly as 3D CAD.

CAD can be used in any area of design, and certainly it is used extensively to develop electronic and mechanical based products and systems in many manufacturing industries. These include automotive, computing, communications, consumer, medical, defense and aerospace.

What is CAD used for in electronics design?

Electronic CAD, also known as EDA (Electronic Design Automation), is a type of software tool primarily used to design systems based on electronic components. Available from a wide range of vendors, at one end of the scale, there are tools that can be used to design systems based on printed-circuit boards; and at the other end, there are highly sophisticated, and generally highly expensive, tools can be used to design and analyze entire semiconductor integrated circuits. One example of a software tool for designing PCBs that use many electronic and mechanical components is DesignSpark PCB, which is freely available for download from RS Components.

What is 3D modeling?

In 3D computer graphics, 3D modeling is the process of developing a mathematical representation of any three-dimensional surface of an object via the use of 3D CAD software. The 3D model is displayed as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering, which is a technique that displays 3D images on a 2D computer screen. As an example, 3D rendering is commonly employed in computer games to make the experience as realistic as possible, as well as in CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) techniques that are widely used in Hollywood blockbuster films. 3D models can of course also be physically reproduced using the latest 3D printing machines.

Is 3D CAD important for electronics engineers?

Electronics PCB designers more often than not will think firstly about saving space on the printed circuit board in the two dimensions of x and y and will try to cram in all the necessary components for their design in the smallest size of PCB possible, while also bearing thermal constraints in mind. These components will include ICs such as microcontrollers, memories and other basic logic devices along with passive components including discrete transistors, capacitors or solenoids or power modules, along with electro-mechanical components such as connectors or switches. The addition of components, such as extra connectivity or a heatsink for thermal reasons, could significantly change the third dimension (in the z direction) and therefore the overall profile.

While it is difficult to see how airflow might be constricted from the pure 2D view of a PCB layout package, a much clearer picture emerges only when one moves into the 3D world to see how the PCB, components, connectors and packaging fit together. And the ability to do this earlier in the design – rather than waiting until it becomes apparent that there is a problem – is crucial to keeping project lead times to an absolute minimum.

And what about electronic and mechanical based designs?

Today’s products demand a sleeker, more attractive look than a standard chassis. Increasing numbers of electronics systems have to fit in alongside moving mechanical components – and are therefore constrained by the size and shape of these subsystems. Obtaining an interactive visual representation of the design, as early as possible in the concept design process, makes it significantly easier to see how the design works aesthetically and mechanically, enabling the identification of sizing or user-interface placement issues that are not readily apparent in 2D schematic mode.

What does RS offer in 3D modeling?

Launched in 2010, and now called ModelSource, RS’ component model library provides engineers globally with access to an extensive library of 2D and 3D models that are downloadable completely free-of-charge in multiple file formats, including SolidWorks, AutoDesk and TurboCAD. The 3D models cover key technologies including electronics, electromechanical, mechanical, pneumatics and automation and control.

ModelSource offers more than 34,000 3D electro-mechanical component models from over 50 manufacturers. RS continues to update ModelSource with the introduction an additional 1000 models each month from both new and existing suppliers. Key manufacturers represented in the 3D element of the library include Molex, 3M, TE Connectivity, Harting and FCI in the general electronics market, and Siemens, Schneider and SMC in the automation and control applications.