How does computer aided design work?

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How does computer aided design work?

At the 3M BIC we use computer aided design (CAD) as part of our innovation process, but how does computer aided design work and what industries can it be used in? Our consultant design and visualisation manager, Paul Tallon explains.

Computer aided design or CAD is an industry standard term for the computerised creation of models. It is a tool which can be used for every industry that requires modelling or prototyping in some way or visualisation of a concept.


What are the different types of computer aided design (CAD)?

There are several different types of CAD processes that may suit different needs. For example, NURBS (non-uniform rational b-spline) modelling may be used if the requirement is for fluid forms and flowing curves with Class A surfacing. This is also known as surface modelling as it predominantly uses surface splines to create bridging surfaces from vertex to vertex. This is particularly useful in industrial design, product prototyping, conceptual model making and in automotive processes.

Parasolid modelling or parametric solid modelling is the process employed by software that is more specifically designed for engineering processes and models. This includes software such as Solidworks, where the focus is for precision measurement. Solidworks does have surface modelling features, but its strengths are primarily in the parametric modelling zone.

Polygonal modelling is a process that requires the combining of vertices to form polygonal shapes. One by one the edges of each polygon are appended to become a larger network and form the overall model. This can be done by ‘box’ modelling or ‘edge loop’ modelling.

Industries that use this technology are usually creative, such as game design and product visualisation, as well as rendering for architecture. All these sectors benefit from this rapid form of modelling as it can turn around quick sketch models with lighting and materials that can be rendered with photorealism. The client or prospective investor gets a feel for the innovative concept long before any real investment has been agreed.

Software that offer polygonal modelling include, 3DS Max, Maya and Blender. However, as mentioned earlier, many of the above software also include surface modelling elements and are rapidly becoming more technically adroit. For example, Maya’s in-built NURBS modelling capability is being widely adopted for automotive modelling. This is also because certain software is now able to talk to each other much more successfully, and therefore file types can be transferred from programme to programme which was difficult to do previously.

All the above software is also able to output and read STL files, which is essential for the production of additive parts. As a side note, there are also peripheral programmes that enable the manipulation of larger data sets such as Z Brush which is a VFX modelling software used in CGI films and high-end games. Its ability to read very complex, heavy meshes means that it is very good for retopologizing (a process used in animation) scan data.

CAD capabilities at the 3M BIC

At the 3M BIC we have a wide range of software and hardware including 3DS Max Maya, Solidworks Altair Z Brush, Mud Box and rendering engines such as V-ray and Lumion.  This is a fantastic set of high-end tools that are readily available for any industry to make use of, under the expert direction of 3M BIC’s industrial designer Paul Tallon.

If you’re interested in the computer aided design (CAD) capabilities at the 3M BIC, please contact  the team on

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