The History of Engineering Design Tools: Engineering 2.0

There have been four great stages of engineering and design tools leveraged over the past 250 years to account for all mechanisms, inventions and designs that we have used to simplify our lives. In part one of this series, we reflected on the earliest stage tools used during the Engineering 1.0 era, which occurred from approximately 1760 to 1970. This post will take a look back at the second phase, Engineering 2.0, which occurred from 1970 to 1995 – roughly 25 years. This was the first phase to take advantage of the computer age, but the early tools were different from the ones we have today.

Engineering 2.0

The first computer aided design (CAD) systems were designed to mimic manual drafting done on paper over the previous 200 years. Even the earliest CAD systems had some immediate advantages over the traditional paper and pencil (or vellum/mylar/pen) methods in that geometry could be more easily moved, erased and copied without time-consuming manual labor which could require substantial elbow grease.

Early systems were based on mainframe computers, then workstations and finally personal computers (PC’s). Personal computers with monochrome screens made CAD more accessible to the masses despite their video resolution limitations (320×200 CGA) and their overall performance challenges (Intel 80286 central processing unit with an 80287 math co-processor with less than 3 MIPS). On large designs, time-consuming screen regeneration was required not only when opening files but when panning or zooming around in the drawings, causing delays and loss of train of thought.

Users had to get used to the concept of scale in a different manner as a 14 inch monitor could not show a user the same amount of geometry as the typical engineering paper drawings (E Size 36 x 48 inches). The advantage of having an unlimited pallet that could design the smallest components to the largest machine or facility took some getting used to.

The ability to create or purchase a symbols library of commonly used geometry enabled standard parts and shapes to be quickly inserted rather than redrawn each time. Once metadata (text associated with geometry) was enabled, bill of materials (BOM) could be automatically generated, dramatically saving the time required to count the hundreds of parts in an assembly and simplifying the task of creating bill of material tables.

Another engineering task that took tedious manual labor using paper, pencil and calculators prior to CAD were mathematical calculations such as determining areas, center of gravity, moments of inertia and minimum distances between parts.

Over time, add-on packages and additional capabilities within the core CAD package enabled a full range of mechanical and electrical applications from process and instrumentation diagrams to motion analysis to printed circuit board design. A tremendous amount of inventions, design, innovation and engineering have been accomplished since 2D systems became prevalent.

There are still many 2D systems in use in the world today including low cost and free tools, that continue to be used to edit the billions of electronic 2D drawings in the world today as well as create new designs, layouts and inventions, but many of the worlds most creative and innovative designers and engineers have already moved to the next wave of Engineering (3.0) to be discussed next time!

The next engineering paradigm, Engineering 4.0, extends design data to downstream departments in the right format at the right time; resulting in a more efficient product development process. Read our article and infographic to learn how you can stand out with Engineering 4.0.

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Rich Allen

Rich Allen

Senior Director, Product Management at Dassault Systemes SolidWorks Corp.
Senior Director, Product Portfolio Management that manages the team that focuses on the SolidWorks integrated desktop product portfolio, including SolidWorks CAD, SolidWorks Simulation, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, eDrawings, SolidWorks Electrical, SolidWorks Plastics, SolidWorks Inspection, SolidWorks MBD and SolidWorks Composer. Rich has been with SolidWorks for the past ten (10) years, working in strategic accounts and then leading the data management products for the SolidWorks brand, including SolidWorks Enterprise PDM and ENOVIA Collaborative Design for SolidWorks. Prior to that Rich spent over 25 years in the PLM industry leading teams at United Technologies, IBM, CoCreate and was the founder and owner of several technology companies.
Rich Allen