CAD Models: What You Need to Know

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CAD Models

What is a CAD Model?

This is a 3D representation of a product concept built in CAD (Computer Assisted Design) software.
Three dimensional CAD models can be rotated, exploded (pulled apart) and turned into photo-realistic
renderings. They can be very rough or completely detailed. A 3D model is required to create a computer
rendering or a functioning prototype part. The software to create 3D models comes in a wide variety,
and is often very expensive, especially the more engineering-oriented software (thousands of dollars per
seat, and often thousands per year to maintain). There are also free programs you can tinker with, like
Google SketchUp. Even if you don’t master these tools yourself, it helps to familiarize yourself at least a
little with it, so that you can better understand what it takes.

There are two broad categories of CAD models:

A virtual prototype or concept rendering

This is basically a computer generated piece of art that looks like your item, but lacks critical details, such as wall thicknesses, screw bosses, connectors, accurate sizing etc. These can look very convincing, and consist of accurate depictions of how a product might look, or they can be completely fanciful, merely an artist representation, albeit a convincing one, of the idea.

They can be animated to look like they function, but don’t really bring you closer to a manufacturable
product. They are used primarily for marketing and licensing. And while they may not be engineered
products, they still have to demonstrate the validity of the concept, while showing it off to create interest. Most of these are made in what are called “surface-modelling” software, such as Rhino 3D or Studio3DMax.

The forms created with surface-modeling software are typically better able to be rendered as smooth
organic forms, which can sometimes be difficult to replicate in more engineering-oriented solid-modeling software. The files that are created are 3D forms, and are not automatically appearing as photorealistic objects in simulated environments. Think wire form models. In order to create the amazing realism of a high quality computer rendering required an additional step with a software designed for rendering. This is
an additional step and likely additional cost. Renderings can be still images or animations.

Engineering CAD

These are files that could be used to actually build a product. They can be used to create either prototypes or production parts, depending on where you are in the process. These files are usually created by a mechanical engineer, or in other cases an industrial designer or self-taught CAD jockey. They consider the part design, the wall thicknesses, the molding process constraints, the need to connectors and snap features, etc. The implementation is precise and specific, and leaves nothing without some form.

Prototype CAD designs are often significantly different than production CAD designs, because of the
different constraints of different processes used for each purpose. Often, they are much simpler to
create. There is often an additional step in the product development process, as a design is transferred to a factory, to prepare a product for production. It is called “Design For Manufacture and Assembly” (DFMA), and for more complicated products can be a major effort.

Engineering CAD files are created in “solid-modeling” software. Solidworks is the most commonly used
professional package, though there are many options and most of them can output files compatible with various manufacturers’ systems. That said, either using or hiring someone who uses Solidworks is your easiest path if possible.

These files can be used to create renderings just like concept renderings, but they would more realistically represent the product, featuring the exact engineered components. The expense of developing them is significant enough to warrant a careful consideration, and whether it is required based on the commercialization strategy.

Trident Can help with every step in the process

From CAD to marketing, Trident can help!  We have been in the industry for over two decades and have built meaningful relationships with trusted parters – all centered around getting your idea to market successfully.

Getting started with Trident is easy!  All you have to do is submit your idea to our secure inventor’s portal called the ThinkBank™.  The ThinkBank allows you to organize all of the information you have about your idea and product in one secure space.  Everything you upload is safe and is under your control.  Once you complete the submission steps, a licensing expert from Trident will review your submission and let you know if your idea is a good fit or not.  We accept all ideas and have worked with many different types of inventions – from kitchen gadgets to advanced nanotechnology.  If you’ve got a great idea, we want to help you make it a reality!

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