What Defines “High-End” CAD?

Guest writer and Project Supervisor, Christopher Morris, shares his views on what defines “high-end” CAD.  Read on as Chris evaluates different platforms. Don’t forget to visit our Application Library InCAD Library for hundreds of design ideas and free CAD downloads!

If you’re familiar with Computer Aided Design (CAD) you’ve likely encountered many of the 60+ commercially available platforms on the market [1]. Most of which are capable of depicting 3D renderings of a conceptual design. Some are even tailored to a specific industry, such as electronics or architecture.

One distinction that lacks a formal definition is the term “high-end” CAD. I have most commonly encountered this term when describing Siemens’ NX or Dassault Systèmes’ CATIA platform. While both of these platforms can cost tens of thousands of dollars, what qualities do they possess to be crowned the Bugatti of CAD platforms?

There are two main factors amongst these high-end platforms that outperform their lesser counterparts.

Assembly Size

While there may not be a formal limit for all CAD platforms in regards to the number of components within an assembly, it is important to realize there is a performance ceiling. Just because a full functioning passenger vehicle can be designed in SOLIDWORKS, does not mean it should. Even if the workstation’s RAM, CPU, and GPU are configured to support the demand of rendering a full-scale ocean liner does not ensure the software is capable of complying. For this reason, many players in the Automotive, Aerospace, and Defense sectors utilize high-end CAD platforms.

PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) / Enterprise-Wide Integration

There are about 30,000 components within a typical passenger vehicle; over 5 million in a Boeing 747 [2][3]. Immense collaboration efforts are required for successful production. That being said, design is only a fraction of the production cycle with these complex creations. High-end CAD platforms allow tight integration between design and downstream processes such as procuring, manufacturing, testing, tracking, scheduling, and so much more. Oftentimes, this integration is open to allow IT personnel to create custom solutions that may vary between each company. Mid/lower level platforms may offer limited support or none at all.

So much more…

There are many other benefits included at the high-end level such as Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) integration. This allows the user to plan and control the machine tools required to manufacture the newly designed component. Many users also find the modeling of complex geometries is more intuitive through high-end surface modeling.

As with many things in life, ‘You get what you pay for’. But do you necessarily need what you paid for? Unless you’re planning on bringing home 1st place from the Le Mans event, you may be able to skip the Bugatti and settle for a Jetta.

For more articles on CAD, check out the below series on CAD:

CAD Pt 1: Design Before Technology

CAD Pt 2: CAD meets CAM

CAD Pt 3: Product Management Systems

CAD Pt 4: The World of FEA

CAD Pt 5: Powerful Simulations



[1] N.A. “List of 3D Modeling Software.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Mar. 2017. Web. 13 May 2017.

[2] TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION. “How Many Parts Is Each Car Made Of?” Toyota Motor Corporation Official Corporate Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 May 2017.

[3] Hill, Kyle. “Extreme Engineering: The Boeing 747.” Science-Based Life. WordPress, 25 July 2011. Web. 13 May 2017.

Cover photo Automotive Engineering HQ

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    What Defines “High-End” CAD?

    Guest writer and Project Supervisor, Christopher Morris, shares his views on what defines “high-end” CAD.  Read on as Chris evaluates different ...
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  1. Thomas Scott Nelson

    March 22, 2018 at 1:04 pm

    Please allow me to add that the most important element in achieving “High End” CAD are the qualities, abilities, and sensibilities of the human being creating the work.


  2. Peter

    March 22, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    It seems to me you didn’t actually define “high-end CAD” or its players. While Solidworks certainly doesn’t qualify, nor Siemens’ own SolidEdge, PTC’s CREO certainly does. It has built-in CAD/CAM/CAE/FEA/PLM in the same platform with no translators.


  3. David Parker

    March 23, 2018 at 7:21 am

    I really feel that right now I have the best of both worlds. Been using Onshape for almost 2 years now on Windows, Linux, and Android. For about the cost of a maintenance subscription to SW I have very robust and simple modeling tools. Surfacing capabilities are catching up quickly, and when I need more toos such as BOM, rendering, CAM, etc. in any given workspace I just add them from the app store.


  4. Ramakrishnan

    April 16, 2018 at 2:28 am

    I completely agree with you ! thank you for sharing this article. Hope that you’ll come up with some others in the future. It is very useful for preparing interviews.


  5. Brendan

    July 15, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    High end CAD comes down to Class “A” Surfacing. Math Data creates the end result, the Class “A” User has to be able to stitch and seem mating components together forming a complex surface. CAD system IDEAS purchased by Ford could never cut the mustard, its tolerances were bunk. Crashing and non repeatable to +/-.005″ let alone +/-.0005″. Therefore Ford ditched IDEAS because creating a surface by stitching etc. came to some points where it could not handle the Math Data involved to repeatedly hold tight tolerances. Catia V4 and V5 are capable of handling tight surface tolerance or “High End” CAD designs. Now they have also developed many add ons to Catia V5: Kinematics, Wiring, FMEA….CAD data being within Class “A” surface tolerance from the start will allow proper analysis without the system crashing. Other systems do not have these engineering complex calculations and or will crash as the data is gapped (missing hairline surface data), which will make any system kick out or drop the calculation mid analysis. Solidworks was made for Tooling where parametric solids and tolerance of surface seeming or stitching can be slightly off and not effect the final product a Tool.


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