Designing for 20,000 feet: How CAD software is changing aviation

New computer-aided design (CAD) tools are changing a number of industries across the globe. From the tarmac race tracks of Formula One, to the inhospitable environments of deep space and other planets, CAD software is helping professionals design and test equipment before it needs to face the rigours of its intended purpose.

There's one sector among these many industries in which the technology can prove especially useful, however: aviation. CAD software can allow professionals in this field to effectively design and test the micro and macro, ensuring every element of an aircraft is fit for purpose before a plane even leaves the factory floor.

Let's take a look at how this software is set to change the air industry for the better.

Commercial and defence applications

The production of modern aircraft can largely be split into two camps. On the one hand, there are the jets and prop aircraft designed for commercial purposes. These are the planes that travel between cities and to remote locations across the globe. On the other hand are the defence aircraft: those which carry out offensive operations and patrol dangerous or otherwise contested regions.

Thanks to versatility inherent in CAD software, as well as the related 3D printing technologies that enable rapid part prototyping, professionals can use the tools to design better aircraft for both purposes.

According to, right now the US Navy is using such technologies to have ships become more independent at sea, when it's away from easy access to parts for months at a time. Right now, the Navy is trialling the tech onboard the USS Harry S. Truman. It's easy to see how the technologies could prove useful across a number of other areas – including the Navy's aircraft.

"The whole goal is really to make us more self-sufficient as we deploy," Cmdr. Brady Drennan. "Because when we leave the pier, we basically leave all the supplies, all the equipment, all the tools there."

Self-sufficiency isn't as important in a commercial context, but keeping costs down is. Major airline manufacturers and even more boutique firms can use the tools to design parts and then test them prior to manufacturing. For example, one of the new features in SOLIDWORKS 2016 allows users to see how a component will stand up to the pressures of various environments.

In the space industry, SpaceX uses the techniques to create motors and other related parts without the issues that come along with blind manufacturing.

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A tale of two manufacturers

Airbus, one of the world's leading aircraft manufacturers, is another firm using the technologies to improve the design and manufacturing process. In fact, with such techniques, Peter Sander from Airbus believes the company can produce parts that weigh up to 55 per cent less.

"We are on the cusp of a step-change in weight reduction and efficiency," he said.

Mr Sanders then went on to speak of the future of aircraft. "The aircraft of the future will have a 'bionic' fuselage, composed of complex parts printed using additive layer manufacturing."

Similarly, GE Aviation has been able to create new CFM LEAP engines with Snecma (SAFRAN) of France. Thanks to the inherent benefits of the technologies, designers can incorporate new features such as intricate cooling pathways that result in greater durability.

New methods of design and manufacturing continue to change how industries develop new components, equipment and vehicles, and it likely won't be too long before such approaches become the norm. Of course, it's always a good idea to utilise the right technologies for the job, like SOLIDWORKS.

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