Combing Through 3D CAD Programs

Look around. Nearly everything that you interact with was likely a creation of three-dimensional computer-aided design (3D CAD) — homes, furniture, automobiles, lighting, smartphones, computers. At its most basic level, a CAD program takes a designer’s two-dimensional sketch and extrudes, or solidifies, that drawing into a three-dimensional model. Depending the industrial focus of the CAD program, and the modular extensions used to support and enhance its software, product developers and engineers are able to design extremely intricate products that can be built or manufactured. At Proto Labs, every single part submitted for manufacturing arrives as a 3D CAD model in one of several different file formats derived from different CAD programs.

There are a few major design programs that are frequently used in 3D CAD model development for prototype and production parts, and to an extent, most play well with one another when files are exchanged between platforms.

  • SolidWorks (.sldprt)
  • Autodesk Inventor (.ipt)
  • PTC ProE/Creo (.prt)
  • CATIA (.catpart)
  • SpaceClaim (.scdoc)
  • SketchUp (.skp)

Additional neutral file formats that can be imported into and exported from most programs:

  • IGES (.igs)
  • STEP (.stp)
  • Stereolithography (.stl)

Torus Assembly
Figure 1: The 3D model shows Proto Labs’ three-part Torus assembly in SolidWorks.

The applications available in each professional design program vary slightly from one to the next, but most contain versions of basic solid modeling; plastic and mold design; weldments, sheet metal, piping and tubing design; and large assemblies. But regardless of the industry or function they’re serving, most programs have a shared set of capabilities.

Read our entire design tip on 3D CAD programs here.

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