Do engineers use AutoCAD? 7 Questions Answered

Do engineers use AutoCAD? Yes, all types of engineers use AutoCAD. AutoCAD makes engineering work more efficient among many other things.

AutoCAD, a Computer-Aided Design (CAD), we use for both 2-D and 3-D designs. Since its release in 1982 by Autodesk, it has transformed the engineering world.

When I do work for older facilities, I’m handed old large design sheets. Before CAD, engineers did their designs by hand on these large sheets.

They used a bunch of different drafting tools and pencils. Then neatly and with a lot of patience drew in their designs.

It’s amazing the effort that once went into a single drawing. It makes me appreciate CAD, especially AutoCAD, so much more.

Let’s go over some common questions related to engineers and AutoCAD.

#1 Which type of engineering work requires AutoCAD?

Engineers use AutoCAD when they want their drawings to be:

  • Precise
  • To-scale
  • Detailed
  • Easy and fast to do
  • Transferrable to most all other engineers

AutoCAD will save you a lot of time. Especially if you had planned to do everything by hand.

In short, you can replace any traditional drafting work in engineering with AutoCAD. You’re simply replacing pencil and paper.

Keep in mind, most engineers only use maybe 15% to 20% of what AutoCAD offers. This 15% to 20% most of the time gets the job done though.

But, AutoCAD isn’t the ideal program for every engineering application.

Is AutoCAD the only drafting program used by engineers?

Not even close. Many other CAD programs exist.

So, not all types of engineers rely only on AutoCAD. Here are some examples of other drafting programs commonly used:

  • Solidworks: mechanical engineers use SolidWorks a lot. SolidWorks is also used in a lot of  3D rendering type work. It really helps in speeding up the design process. Also, Autodesk Inventor is commonly used for this type of work.
  • Catia: aerospace engineers use Catia a lot for surface modeling. This is a critical design element for aircraft. Plus, it has many plugins to help engineers analyze specific design elements.
  • ProEngineer: auto engineers use ProEngineer for the mechanical parts of cars. Think of a chassis or powertrain application.

But, I’d bet most engineers are still familiar with AutoCAD.

I’ve used Fusion 360, Inventor, Solidworks, Creo, and Microstation. I’ve found they’re all fairly similar. But, to learn the fine details takes a lot of time.

For most types of work though, it takes a day or two to learn the ropes with each program.

I do still prefer AutoCAD. But, I don’t do overly complex designs. So, I can understand why certain industries go with other CAD programs.

At the end of the day, your program choice comes down to:

  • Type of work you’re doing
  • The user interface you prefer
  • Industry preference

#2 Why is AutoCAD still used so much, even when more advanced CAD programs exist?

switchyard autocad drawing

#1 The same program: the core AutoCAD program hasn’t changed much in the past couple of decades. It has gotten a facelift though, for sure.

But, what you knew from 15 years ago is still there. This makes it easy to move from one version to another.

#2 Easy to use: a lot of other CAD programs are just overkill. I just want to do my designs quickly. I don’t need the extra bells and whistles.

#3 Affordable: a lot of complex programs cost tens of thousands of dollars. That’s overkill for what a lot of small engineering firms do.

Licensing costs are a huge factor in what CAD program you use.

#4 Flexibility: you can integrate AutoCAD in many parts of various industries. So many add-on packages exist, that allow you to mimic other CAD programs. All the while, you keep the same AutoCAD user interface and basic workflow.

In other words, you can pretty much do anything in AutoCAD. While more complex programs limit you to only one task.

For example, Solidworks or Revit is only great for a couple of fields. But AutoCAD I can draw just about anything in all fields of engineering. And do it easily in non-3D applications.

This is why so many people use AutoCAD. It crosses all borders.

#5 Pick up and go: you can open a drawing and quickly make an edit. You don’t need to deal with various functions to make a simple change.

#6 Not system draining: I use AutoCAD on some of my old PCs. It still works great without any hiccups.

These complex 3D programs need beefed-up computers. Plus, in most instances, a great 2D drawing is just as great as a 3D drawing.

In 2D, you can mimic a 3D drawing with a plan, elevation, and section views.

#7 Older program: since AutoCAD is older than most other CAD programs, more clients use it. And these people expect to see AutoCAD drawings returned to them.

#8 Great customization: you can easily customize your drawings in AutoCAD. Easily changing text styles, importing various drawing files, and so much more.

Also, you can use Autolisp, AutoCAD’s inbuilt programming language. You can create programs to automatically generate drawings.

Or even, customize commands. If you want even more flexibility, you can use Visual Basics. This will allow you to share your code between AutoCAD and other drafting programs.

#3 People everywhere use AutoCAD

Most engineering companies use some level of AutoCAD. No different than how most engineers use Microsoft Excel.

Even if it’s only using the program on the side for small work.

Most every client I’ve worked with uses AutoCAD. From the biggest private companies to utilities, to Cities, and so on.

For this reason, you can freely send people drawings in AutoCAD format. You don’t even need to ask if the recipient knows what AutoCAD is or if they have it.

It’s that common of a program. So, I don’t need to hassle myself in purchasing other programs.

I would go as far as comparing AutoCAD in engineering to a USB stick. Everyone has a USB drive on their computer.

#4 Online resources

So many free resources exist on everything related to AutoCAD. You have access to many active online forums and endless Youtube videos.

This way you don’t need to bang your head on the wall trying to figure out a simple problem. When I encounter a problem or something I can’t do, I quickly go to Google.

9 times out of 10, I’ll find the solution with a quick Google search. Since so many people use AutoCAD, it’s very likely someone had the same problem as me.

Even on Youtube, there are tons of free tutorials. The internet is your friend.

This part alone is one of the biggest selling points of AutoCAD. You can self-learn a lot of AutoCAD through online searches alone.

To further illustrate, I use a lot of engineering programs. In many instances, I pay thousands of dollars for poor customer support.

But also, you can’t find free online content for these programs. It’s a nightmare when I only want a quick solution. Especially on a weekend, when customer support is away.

#5 How to learn AutoCAD for free without paying a penny?

If you don’t have the money to pay for a license, you’re not out of luck. Use one of these free CAD program options:

  • Fusion 360
  • Onshape

Then you can later easily transition to full-blown AutoCAD. The tools you learn here will have a lot of similarities to AutoCAD.

Also, if you have access to a copy of AutoCAD, you’re golden. Spend time messing around with the program. You can learn so much on your own.

#6 How much time does it take to learn to use AutoCAD?

If you have a background in math and computers, you’ll learn fast.

But, it comes down to what type of work you want to do. Then how skilled you want to become.

If you just want to draw nice basic details, I can teach you in a couple of hours.

A lot of the basic stuff you can learn fast. And frankly, you can pick up a lot on your own by just playing around with the program. That’s how I first learned.

But for mastery, you’ll need to practice. Then practice some more. Mastering the program can take years.

There are so many things that I don’t know. But, it’s okay. Because for what I need to do I’m already very efficient. Then for anything extra, I’ll learn it on the spot.

Keep in mind, the learning curve for 2D drawings versus 3D drawings varies. With the latter being more difficult.

Here are some quick pointers to better learn AutoCAD:

  • Drafting class: Take a class if you can to pick up good drafting habits. It’s best to learn how to do things right from the get-go.
  • Supporting program libraries: become familiar with the libraries for your engineering field. For example for mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and so on.
  • Drafting commands: learn the commands from the start. The more commands you learn, the faster you can do what you want to do.

I believe anyone who wants to learn AutoCAD, can learn.

#7 Is AutoCAD becoming obsolete?

Certainly not. You don’t become an industry-standard overnight and then fade away.

But yes, you can call it a dinosaur. It has been around for near 4 decades now. And for certain use cases, it’s not great.

CAD ProgramsYear released
ADAM1972
CATIA1977
Autodesk Revit1997
Autodesk AutoCAD1982
ProEngineer1988
Creo1988
SolidWorks1995
Autodesk Inventor1999

More people are using other programs like Revit. These other programs are working on improving workflow and productivity.

I recommend learning these other programs. It can’t hurt.

You need to do your best to keep up with technology. So follow the latest relevant programs in your field.

It’s better to know a little than to say “I’ve never heard of that program”.

On that note, I’ve used Autodesk Inventor for creating models for a 3D printer. It’s great! Keep in mind, Autodesk is the same folks who built our beloved AutoCAD.

Now, AutoCAD and Inventor have different use cases. For example, I wouldn’t try to design something in AutoCAD that I want to 3D print.

On the same note for regular 2D engineering designs, I stick with AutoCAD. The same reason you don’t use a football to shoot hoops in basketball. You use the right ball, for the right sport.

To illustrate this, the below table is data from 750 3D Hub customers. It shows the CAD programs most used for 3D modeling by engineers. AutoCAD is not in a top spot.

CAD Programs used by engineersPercentage
Solidworks50%
AutoCAD9%
Inventor7%
Fusion 3607%
Solid Edge4%
Creo4%
Sketchup3%
Other16%

“Do engineers use AutoCAD?” wrap up

As an engineer, it’s smart to get good with using AutoCAD. Plus, once you get the hang of one drafting program, you can then easily learn any other.

There are pros and cons to every CAD program. And people have their favorites.

So, become comfortable with what your industry uses. Also, with what you have.

I also recommend learning a little about all CAD programs related to your field. This will give you a leg up over your peers.

Especially since AI and automation will impact future engineering jobs. So, drafting is a valuable skill to have.

In the future, drafting work may come down to only touch-up work.

A computer does 95% of the drafting work, and then you add the final small details with some adjustments made. In the end, your skill will still be in demand.

Do you use AutoCAD? Do you use any other drafting programs? What’s your favorite CAD program?

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