Here at EngineeringClicks, we have covered the topic of Computer Aided Design (CAD) solutions many times, from a multitude of different angles. As a mechanical design engineering site, we feel it is our responsibility to leave no stone unturned in the minefield that is choosing a CAD program.
There are so many options on the market it can seem impossible to choose just one, as they all provided such different features like simulation, visualization, 3D printing etc. A lot of the options currently available are also very expensive, costing thousands of dollars per year to use. We understand that some of you may want to use such helpful and exciting technology, but don’t want to break open your piggy bank to make it happen!
In light of this, we have put together a list of the top 10 free CAD options for mechanical engineers available right now. We will recommend what we think are the best options right now so you can get the best experience possible.
Why use CAD?
CAD can bring a plethora of new possibilities to your company, or the project that you are working. Whether you are a professional, student or hobbyist, the option of using a CAD program to assist can only benefit you. Application of CAD are nearly infinite, need help simulating a product? CAD has you covered. Need to create real-life accurate visualization to use in a presentation to a customer. CAD will be there for you. No matter what you need, a CAD program is available that can enhance your workflow and end product.
How to Choose the Best Free CAD Program for You?
Before you go downloading every free program you can find and causing your laptop/computer to have a meltdown, you need to consider the following points to identify what CAD program will be most applicable to you, your skills, and the application you need the program for.
CAD programs are available for every skill level from absolute novice to experienced. Some options have a steep learning curve with an intimidating interface, whereas others have an intuitive workflow that allows you to learn as you use. It all depends on the option you choose. There is no point in becoming discouraged and disheartened attempting to use a complicated program an expert may struggle with if you are a first-time user. This is how important taking your skill level into account is, and we will touch on this later in the article when we are recommending some CAD program options.
Similar to experience level, there are free software options that carry the necessary features to work in any field on any application. This includes, architecture, fashion, the medical sector, and many more. Generally, specifically targeted software is not free, but you will be able to find a free CAD option that will give you the features you need for your project. You just need to look for it!
Some other more specific features can also be considered. Do you need parametric modelling? Do you require cloud-based functionality? CAD options can be found to satisfy all of these needs, with a little bit of looking.
That is where we come in, we do the searching for you and provide you with the best options out there! You can save your praise for the comments section 😉
The Top 10 Free CAD Options for Mechanical Engineers
3D-Crafter is a free design software, with an intuitive drag-and-drop approach to CAD design. This program is targeted towards users with less experience with CAD programs, as it is easy to use and gives the user an entry point into creating drawings and animating 3D models. It is possible to create complex 3D models, however if you need to progress with advanced features like rendering there is a paid version of the software.
Blender is a huge program in the mesh-based modelling community. It is even used by professionals for game development and animation. It is geared towards artistic use, using sculpting, fast modelling, and rendering to create 3D printable models. This is definitely not a beginner-friendly program, however there is a vast number of tutorials and learning material on the internet if you are willing to invest the time to learn.
LibreCAD is an open-source program created for 2D projects. It can be used with all platforms including Mac, Windows and Linux. It has a dedicated community behind it, so any questions or queries you have will easily be answered. LibreCAD can be used to create 2D drawings for manufacturing drawings and laser cutting projects, among others.
NanoCAD is similar to LibreCAD in that it is a free alternative to AutoCAD. NanoCAD should be used by experienced users, as it provides high performance and advanced drafting tools. It is only available on Windows, and has paid options if you need even more functionality, but in our opinion the free version is already a complete program.
FreeCAD is a free, open-source parametric 3D modeler. It can read and write a multitude of different file formats which makes it a very versatile program to use. FreeCAD also includes some Finite Element Analysis (FEA) technology, along with robot simulation and other features. FreeCAD can be used by mechanical engineers to complete their CAD projects from design to manufacture, and it has an enthusiastic community improving it constantly.
HeeksCAD is another 3D modelling program. It is similar in use to programs like SOLIDWORKS, which could be useful to mechanical engineers familiar with that platform. While it is a free program, it does not detract from its capability and we think it would be great for students looking for a free 3D CAD solution.
Art of Illusion
Art of Illusion is a more niche option than the previous programs on our list. It is proficient in rendering and 3D modelling and is mostly used for its animation features. It can be classed as a middle ground between generic 3D modelling programs and a mesh-based program like Blender.
Free FEA CAD Options
ANSYS is a well respected FEA CAD program that is free to use for one year. There is a node limit for the “student” version that you get for free, but it is perfect for students just getting into the FEA field.
OpenFOAM is a free, open-source Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) software that provides a great number of advanced features, despite being free. It is updated every 6 months to ensure is stays at the forefront of technology and is a great option for students and professionals alike.
Calculix is a free, 3D FEA program that gives its user the ability to carry out FEA calculations on interactive 3D models. It is viewed as a free version of SIMULIA Abaqus which is a well-known, expensive FEA software
So, which free CAD option do you think would work best for you? What project will you be using it on? Fill us in on your latest projects in the comments below. See you soon!
More about CAD:
- Free 2D and 3D CAD Software to Download in 2021
- Best Fusion 360 Features for Remote Working
- AutoCAD: What’s New for 2021
- AutoCAD vs. AutoCAD LT. Which Critical Feature Caused the 75% Price Cut?
- 10 Best Laptops for Engineering Students. Engineering laptops for CAD
- CATIA vs SOLIDWORKS: 4 Major reasons to choose one over the other
- Fusion 360 vs SOLIDWORKS: 7 Main Differences