"Budget" Cad prodgrams

Hey all,
I just started working for a very small company (~5 employees) as the sole product designer/engineer, previously they’ve hired consultants to do the product development but now they want to bring it in-house. We need a CAD license for me to work in and unfortunately it looks like the big players are out of our price point (again, very small company).

So I’m looking into some of the cheaper programs out there and I wonder what’s everyones experience is? One big problem for me right now is that I’m pretty fresh out of school so I don’t have alot of experience working in CAD programs in a professional environment and I anticipate that there might be some differences compared to the school environment.

In short, what we need is 3d modelling capabilities, primarily solids but some surface modelling tools would be an welcome addition. I also need to create basic 2d drawings. I’m probably going to use Keyshot for renderings and I don’t have to deal with large assemblies, huge product libraries, simulations or similar. Most products will be injection molded plastic parts and a few sheet metal parts.

Link to one source summary for ‘free/low cost’ CAD programs.

Don’t discount an investment in the right software for the right job.

It may be ‘cheaper’ to invest in what already works for company (previous consultant software and outputs) than investing time evaluating, learning, or testing alternate options.

Good luck!

Rhino is only $800

What do you make? What manufacturing processes do you design for?
Also Autodesk will probably give you Fusion 360 for free for a while until you are ready to commit and even then it is cheap on subscription.
Rhino is ok but will not enable you to do sheet metal or box section cut lists or simulate injection moulding, CNC machining, etc.
I would also argue the investment in SolidWorks is worth it but that said I do not agree with their price structure. I think it is shocking they still charge £4000 up front.

Also Keyshot is not cheap so if you’re paying the, what, £1500 for that then you should invest more than that in your CAD modelling package surely.

Do you mean there is no CAM simulation in Rhino? The obvious answer is yes. How is that relevant?

As for bent metal and plastic parts (IM, VM, BM, CNC, etc), of course you can use Rhino. Saying otherwise is incorrect.

You need to make an investment if you want to make money. Nobody ever started a restaurant and said “ugh I don’t want to have to buy a real stove”.

Creo Essentials starts at only $2200 now which is very reasonable but it is a subscription rate so that’s only good for a year. Solidworks by comparison starts at $4K, but it’s an indefinite license. Realistically either of those expenses would be small in the grand scheme of running a business. Solidworks is easier to learn IMO. Even with the new UI updates Creo still sucks.

Fusion 360 is $40/Mo $300/year. Not quite as robust as Creo or Solidworks but I believe it will get there, it’s already came a really long way. Also, there are some really big companies starting to use Fusion. With that said, the one company I am thinking of also has employees who use solidworks, but from my understanding more and more people are using Fusion there.

A co-worker mentioned Onshape, from the original creators of Solidworks - if I heard correctly. Continuing with “what I heard” it’s not at SW level yet but getting there. I have zero experience with it so can’t comment in any detail.

I took a quick look and there seems to be a “Free for hobbyist option” but didn’t go any further, so research is up to you.

As MK19 mentioned and from my recent, but very, very limited experience, Autodesk appears to be supportive and willing to listen to requests for software.

And as others have mentioned, honestly consider all the options to get the job done ‘right’. Both in private and professional experiences more often than not ‘spending the money’ has proven the better route. It can be easy to underestimating the time, energy, and amount of torn out hair, to get the results needed with a “Should be good enough…”.


Like when you decide to model your entire project in CAD software A, but the vendor you chose uses CAD software B and you think “Step files will be fine” until they crash on import and no one can understand why so you have to re-model the whole thing. :imp:

I learned Rhino in school, but I modeled in Solidworks at my first design job. The past month I modeled entirely in Fusion360 for personal projects. Solidworks experience is transferable to Fusion, but I am unsure what it’s like to transition from a Fusion workflow to either Rhino or Solidworks.

I love Fusion360 and can rave about it all day, but I think it’d benefit you and your company more to invest in a current industry standard. It’d suck to come across a problem and there’s no solution online or you get a reply “currently you can’t do that in Fusion, but it’s in the pipeline.” In my first consultancy job I was mostly alone in learning Solidworks, and google was a tremendous resource because you have a huge history of solutions and tutorials. Also, there are no jobs that are asking for a Fusion360 expert, a least not that I know of. They either mention Solidworks or Rhino. Something to consider for yourself.

Don’t forget Inventor. Quite reasonably priced for what it offers. It’s like the older, uglier, but more capable brother of Fusion.

For Sheet Metal I mean you cannot make flat patterns of parts which account for bend deduction etc.
For Weldments you cannot use profiles and make cut and weld lists.
For plastic part design you can design parts in any program if you’re already an expert (though it would be slower and more painful in Rhino over a proper CAD program and from the OP’s post I am sure he is not) but using the dedicated plastic design tools and the injection moulding simulation in SolidWorks or Fusion or Creo etc. are very useful.
I am talking design. Design for Manufacture, for actually getting things manufactured to real world limitations and not just making pretty 3-D geometry. I teach Rhino at University level (College in US terms) but it is not a proper CAD program for anyone that knows a mechanical/parametric modeller.

I’m not a big fan but you can get most of this in Autodesk Fusion 360. Free if you’re small enough or $25 per month for a yearly subscription. You need a fast internet connection as it’s cloud-based.

Anyone else see the huge opportunity for a CAD program that is similar to Solidworks but has 20% of the functionality? I just feel that the first program that does this will have everyone jump ship.

On a small budget, I think it boils down to Rhino and Fusion 360. OnShape is in the running but last I checked it was quite a bit behind Fusion.

If you could tell us a bit more about what your company makes, it may help us to steer you in the right direction. The reality is that I wouldn’t consider any of those two options as viable in the long term as your main CAD for most businesses. I think you need to consider how you’ll transition out of that CAD software once you outgrow it.

Think of how long you’ll need to maintain parts. If you’re a company that’s building a “system” where you plan on heavily reusing parts between product. Think Ikea or Lego, where a lot of the products are reusing a lot of common parts, don’t even consider an introductory CAD. Cut you losses and get into something like Solidworks, Inventor, Creo… You’ll be kicking yourself in the pants when you need to transition a lot of parts to a new package. No matter what the sales guys will tell you, it won’t be seamless.

Other than some odd exceptions, I wouldn’t consider Rhino as your main CAD. It’s a great tool but I always see it as a Swiss army knife. It does a few things well but it doesn’t work as an overall long term solution. You can hack together a workflow to make just about anything with it. But it’ll always remain exactly that, a hack. It’s an explicit modeler so you’re directly modeling the surfaces. That makes it very quick a creating mockups. It also means that if you want to change say a fillet radius you’re basically stuck starting from scratch or several steps back. The quick mockup, possibility to create complex surfacing (difficult to learn mind you), Grasshopper computational design, ability to open just about any CAD file and fix things make it a great asset but it doesn’t make sense as your primary CAD beyond early design phases and in a few very specific cases.

Fusion 360 on the other hand, is built a bit more like the standard mechanical CAD packages. It’s missing some features and the cloud aspect can be a PITA. But it has some nice sculpting features and has most of the basic features you’d expect at this point. I’ve used it to build a few parts and it gets the job done.

I think you could easily make the case that Fusion 360 has >20% of the SW functionality. The reason people don’t jump ship is the industry has aligned it’s market share pretty tightly on a few key players. If this 2016 survey is to be believed, SW represents the biggest chunk of that:

Now I would argue that since that represents the entire CAD market you get a lot of players that are not ID software packages (3DS Max, Vectorworks) and you’d be left with SW as #1 and probably ProE/Creo as #2, mainly because they integrate better with ID surfacing workflows better than most of the others, but perhaps Inventor has a higher take rate these days then it did 10 years ago.

At the end of the day you want to build your company around tools and workflows that are easily accessible in the industry. My background is almost all in Alias and you don’t see a whole lot of those job req’s these days outside of the automotive space.

This is my observation also. It’s nice to play with but trying to use it as a primary CAD package for any serious design company is silly.

Look no further than Onshape. Unless you’re getting into real fancy surfacing, this does most of what you want, and you can use it from almost any PC anywhere. $1200/year for a seat of a professional license, and all your work is inherently backed up in the cloud.

I’ve logged ~8000+ hours in Creo/Wildfire, ~2000 hours in Solidworks.

Thanks for the help everyone! I definitely get the point in investing a little more upfront in Solidworks but even the basic license is USD 8000 here in Scandinavia :frowning: I downloaded Fusion 360 to try it out and I think I could get everything done in it although I did get quite a few bugs when doing fillets, draft angles and other dress up features :frowning: