Ever wonder how some famous buildings might have turned out if their builders had some good 3D models during construction? Perhaps the Leaning Tower of Pisa wouldn’t lean. Maybe the Pyramids of Giza would have ample room for a gift shop.
Just goes to show the importance of choosing the right software (or having software available, period).
In recent years, 3D modeling through computer-aided design (CAD) software has emerged as an incredibly important tool that helps construction companies become more efficient with their projects.
For some in the industry, CAD software may seem new. In reality, many of these programs have been around for over a decade.
CAD software emerged back in the 1960s, and revolutionized an industry that had spent centuries using the “pencil on paper” (manual drafting) method, which dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries when draft machines were introduced.
Over the ensuing decades, CAD software was improved and refined. It now lets construction companies design entire buildings—and every item within—digitally using 3D modeling.
What does this have to do with your business?
That’s all well and good, but what does this mean for small construction businesses?
All of this change and evolution in CAD and 3D modeling software means that your construction business has a ton of CAD software options to choose from.
A home designer, for example, uses CAD to design houses and send those designs to the builder. An appliance or furniture maker, meanwhile, uses CAD software that can render and animate designs so engineers can visualize their products.
If you’re a construction manager, you have to look beyond 2D CAD software that does floor plans to software options that can also render in 3D, letting you create entire building models.
Five things to look for to find the right CAD software for your business
There are a variety of CAD software products available for the construction industry, and you might not know where to start.
Don’t worry; we’ve compiled a list of five things to look for when evaluating CAD software, and paired each with a question to ask potential vendors to ensure their solution meets your business’ needs.
1. Capability and efficiency
When choosing a 3D CAD program for your company, you want a program capable of creating 3D models that accurately represent your products, efficiently. Every construction project is different, and programs that are good for skyscrapers may not work for a home-building business.
Select a product that lets you produce a detailed, accurate design in just a few steps without compromising the quality.
What to ask the vendor: What features/capabilities make this software well-suited for building (product name)?
2. Compatibility with customers and suppliers
Look for a CAD program that is already popular in your industry and supplier community. Why? It’ll decrease the need to convert in order to move them from one system to another. The program you choose should also have the ability to import files from other systems.
Look for a CAD system that supports international standards; the most common formats used with 3D CAD are STEP, IGES, VDA, and IDF.
What to ask the vendor: What file formats do you support, and how do you handle integration with file formats you don’t?
3. Built-in applications
If you have more than one designer, you need a 3D CAD program with an automated storage system. When using CAD software, it’s easy to overwrite each other’s work on accident, which wastes a lot of time.
Look for 3D modeling software with a built-in automated system that can provide product data management (PDM), which will dramatically increase your productivity. PDM-capable software improves workflow efficiency between designers.
Another feature to look for in CAD software is an application programming interface (API), which lets you write your own design automation programs.
What to ask the vendor: What built-in applications do you offer that differentiate you from your competitors, and how can they—specifically—help my projects?
4. Short learning curve
Even if you’re familiar with the basics of construction 3D modeling programs, each system is different. Look for CAD software that is easy to learn so you and your employees can pick it up quickly with minimal business interruptions.
A consistent user interface is a sign that the system you are choosing is a good pick; the design and drafting procedures should flow logically from beginning to end.
For feature-heavy software, vendors should offer training to onboard your team, as well as good customer support for future problems.
What to ask the vendor: What training do you offer for your software, and how available will customer support be after I’ve purchased the product?
5. Free software
Ultimately, investing in a paid CAD solution for your business is very beneficial. Before you get to that point, however, there are several free software options you can download to gain a better understanding of CAD and 3D modeling.
Learning and experimenting with various free systems is never a bad idea. Free CAD software for beginners includes ZBrush, Blender, Cinema 4D, Google SketchUp, and AutoCAD for Students. Once you’re ready for a more powerful program, opt for a paid software option that includes a free trial.
What to ask the vendor: Do you offer a free trial, and will I get to test all software features during it?
Learn more about CAD software and 3D modeling
CAD software, Building Information Modeling (BIM), and 3D modeling are a big deal in the construction industry, and their fundamental importance is only growing.
Check out these resources to learn more:
- 5 Steps to Get Started with CAD
- 4 Tips to Use BIM to Lower Construction Risks
- 5 Popular Free 3D Modeling Software Options
- The Top 8 Free and Open Source BIM Software Tools
Looking for Construction Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Construction Management software solutions.