A Historical Review of Computer-Aided Design and Drafting

A Historical Review of Computer-Aided Design and Drafting

Published by - Admin On October 28, 2013

The purpose of this article is to review the history of how CAD (Computer Aided Design) software evolved from manual drafting which existed before computer technology became common and cheaper for individuals and corporations.

The article will highlight certain time periods when significant improvements occurred so as to improve productivity and accuracy in performing design tasks. These improvements did not only benefit computer-aided design. The improvements also benefited computer graphics as implemented in mathematical modeling and animation. The improvements also benefited manufacturing as implemented in NC (Numerically Controlled) machines, which are widely used in automobile and aeronautical industries, 3-dimensional printing, and in robotics.

The Transition from Manual to Computer-aided Drafting

Prior to manual drafting, drawings existed as cave paintings and calligraphy.

By the year 1300 AD, paper was invented and drawings which were based on Euclidean geometry began to emerge. In the same time period, architectural drawings and sketches were utilized in creating structures. In the 16th century, the French academies developed mathematical formulae to express geometric figures, but manual drawing was necessary to render these figures. In the 18th and 19th century, drawing developed into two main disciplines: artistic and design drawings. Design drawings were either bit-mapped or pixel based, or they were vector based.

Before computer technology became common and cheap enough for individual and commercial use, technical drawing or drafting developed into a discipline in engineering, and architecture for communicating how a structure should be constructed. The drafting procedure used an inclined flat board over which a straight edge known as a T-square could slide and rotate, thereby enabling the draftsman to create geometric shapes with different rotations. Other tools such as compasses and French curves made it possible to draw circles, arcs and splines.

Orthographic projection was used to represent a 3-dimensional object in terms of 2-dimensional objects. Typical orthographic projections of an object were presented as isometric and oblique views. The simple geometric shape shown in figure 1 could require about 15 minutes for an average draftsman to create. A personal computer running CAD software can create the shape in a few milliseconds.

Major Innovations in CAD Technology

The first major innovation in CAD technology occurred in 1963 when Ivan Sutherland, for his Ph.D. thesis at MIT, created Sketchpad, a GUI-based (Graphical User Interface) to generate x-y plots. The organizational innovation utilized in Sketchpad pioneered the use of object oriented programming in modern CAD and CAE (Computer Aided Engineering) systems.

In the 1960s, extensive work was performed in the aircraft, automotive, machine control and electronics industries for 3D (3-dimensional) construction, and for NC (Numerically Controlled) machine programming and design. The work performed relied on the development of mathematical expressions for polynomial curves and surfaces by Pierre Bezier, Paul de Casteljau (Citroen automotive company), Coons (MIT, Ford Motor Company), James Ferguson (Boeing Aircraft Company), Carl de Boor, Birkhoff, Garibedian (GM Automobile Company) and others.

3D modeling emerged from work performed in the 1960s. 3D modeling develops mathematical expressions for 3-dimensional surfaces (static or dynamic) which are implemented in software.

Because computing power has increased and become cheaper, 3D modeling has found application in video games, robotics, CAM (Computer Aided Manufacturing), in medical imaging and diagnosis, and in computer controlled surgery (robotic surgery).

Another major event in the development of CAD was the founding of MCS (Manufacturing and Consulting Services, Inc.) in 1971 by P.J. Haranty. He provided the CAD software ADAM (Automated Drafting And Machining) which was used by McDonnell Douglas as Unigraphics, and by Computervision as CADDs, and by other companies.

Because of advances in computer assisted manufacturing, 3D printing technology evolved from 3D polygonal modeling of objects such as body parts (human face, human organs, dental structure), machine objects, and many other objects.

Companies with well-known products which utilize 3D modeling and CAD technology include:

  • 3D Systems Corporation, (also The ExOne Company). It converts 3D-modeled or 3D-scanned data into hardware printed objects.
  • Stratasys Ltd. It provides additive manufacturing (AM) solutions for the creation of parts used in designing and manufacturing products and for the direct manufacture of end parts. Its AM systems utilize its patented fused deposition modeling and inkjet-based PolyJet technologies to enable the production of prototypes, production tools, and manufactured goods directly from three-dimensional (3D) CAD files or other 3D content.
  • Intuitive Surgical, Inc. It designs, manufactures, and markets da Vinci surgical systems, and related instruments and accessories. Its da Vinci system is a robotic system which translates
    a surgeon’s natural hand movements at a console, into corresponding micro-movements of instruments positioned inside the patient through small incisions or ports. This system enables surgeons to perform various surgical procedures such as gynecologic, urologic, general surgery, cardiothoracic, and head and neck surgical procedures.
  • iRobot Corporation. It designs, develops, and markets robots for consumer, defense, security, telemedicine, and video collaboration.

What could the future hold?

Because of major innovations which occurred in the history of the CAD/CAM/CAE industry, and innovations that may occur in the future, applications of CAD technology will be limited only by man’s imagination.

Here are a few ideas to pique the imagination, but which could become reality.

  • The keyboard and mouse may soon be replaced by the use of touch screens.
  • Wearable devices could be used to manipulate remote objects such as construction tools, in much the same way as surgeons use robotic surgery today.
  • Tactile sensation could be transmitted between individuals who are separated by thousands of miles.
  • Replaceable human tissues and body parts may become common, and man’s lifespan could be extended significantly.
  • Holographic images and 3-dimensional photography could be used in social media, for teaching in colleges (such as medical and dental schools).


We already have a foretaste of what lies ahead in 3D technology. The technology behind the recently introduced Google Glass produces a wearable computer which could shoot videos, and could produce driverless cars.

The future of CAD could be summed up in the catch-phrase “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”.

– The CAD Chief

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