It is used, among other tasks, for:
- Design(parametric and direct solid/surface modelling)
- Engineering analysis (static, dynamic, electro-magnetic, thermal, using the Finite Element Method, and fluid using the finite volume method).
- Manufacturing finished design by using included machining modules.
A solid part model generally consists of a group of features, added one at a time, until the model is complete. Engineering solid models are built mostly with sketcher-based features; 2-D sketches that are swept along a path to become 3-D. These may be cuts, or extrusions for example. Design work on components is usually done within the context of the whole product using assembly modeling methods. An assembly model incorporates references to individual part models that comprise the product.
Another type of modeling technique is ‘surfacing’ (Freeform surface modeling). Here, surfaces are defined, trimmed and merged, and filled to make solid. The surfaces are usually defined with datum curves in space and a variety of complex commands. Surfacing is more difficult, but better applicable to some manufacturing techniques, like injection molding. Solid models for injection molded parts usually have both surfacing and sketcher based features.
Engineering drawings can be created semi-automatically and reference the solid models.
Parametric modeling uses parameters to define a model (dimensions, for example). Examples of parameters are: dimensions used to create model features, material density, formulas to describe swept features, imported data (that describe a reference surface, for example). The parameter may be modified later, and the model will update to reflect the modification. Typically, there is a relationship between parts, assemblies, and drawings. A part consists of multiple features, and an assembly consists of multiple parts. Drawings can be made from either parts or assemblies.
Example: A shaft is created by extruding a circle 100 mm. A hub is assembled to the end of the shaft. Later, the shaft is modified to be 200 mm long (click on the shaft, select the length dimension, modify to 200). When the model is updated the shaft will be 200 mm long, the hub will relocate to the end of the shaft to which it was assembled, and the engineering drawings and mass properties will reflect all changes automatically.
Related to parameters, but slightly different are Constraints. Constraints are relationships between entities that make up a particular shape. For a window, the sides might be defined as being parallel, and of the same length. Parametric modeling is obvious and intuitive. But for the first three decades of CAD this was not the case. Modification meant re-draw, or add a new cut or protrusion on top of old ones. Dimensions on engineering drawings were created, instead of shown. Parametric modeling is very powerful, but requires more skill in model creation. A complicated model for an injection molded part may have a thousand features, and modifying an early feature may cause later features to fail. Skillfully created parametric models are easier to maintain and modify. Parametric modeling also lends itself to data re-use. A whole family of capscrews can be contained in one model, for example.