The Future Of AutoCAD Clones

The people who make AutoCAD clones must be seeing a brighter future for AutoCAD than Autodesk itself does. I had earlier wondered (Getting Out Of AutoCAD’s Shadow) why these people spent their time and resources copying the things being added to AutoCAD in every new release instead of innovating and offering something different, and probably better. While I still believe that their valuable time and resources can better utilized, I am beginning to see why their efforts may make good business sense in the not-so-distant future.

As I see it, the future of CAD will definately have a place for 2D, not as a start point, like how it is used today by many companies, but as one of the many end results of 3D. Designs will begin in 3D and be edited by different people till they are finalized. Thereafter these 3D models will be used in other disciplines such as (FEA, CFD, 4D animation, etc.) as well as to create 2D drawings and prints to be used downstream. The new solid modeling systems that spring up every now and then will only help designers move to 3D, but some people downstream will always need 2D. An engineer on the shopfloor will always be comfortable with a drawing on paper which he can fold or roll up while he is working. A surveyor or architect roaming in the sun will always be comfortable with a 2D contour plan of the land he is studying.

I recently completed the construction of my house. After firing my incompetent architect, I personally modelled the structure in 3D using Rhinoceros, but took it back to AutoCAD to generate plan, elevation and section drawings. I know I could do the same in Rhino, but I felt more comfortable using AutoCAD for 2D. Although I have 2D/3D file viewing software on my iPAQ PDA phone, I did not use it when I was on the construction site. I tried, but it was too cumbersome. I went back to AutoCAD, took large prints on tracing paper, created blueprints and gave them to everyone on site to use, including myself. I realized that there are times when you simply must look at a big sheet of paper. Zooming and paning about a small PDA screen just won’t do.

As companies make the switch from 2D to 3D, they will start spending more on 3D software and AutoCAD will take a back seat. At that time, companies are going to question AutoCAD’s high subscription cost. Right now, AutoCAD does everything for them so they do not mind the cost involved. But when they realize that they only need a tool that can read, write and plot DWG files and probably do minor modifications, they will start looking at other options, the AutoCAD clones.

A company having many seats of AutoCAD recently contacted us about a plug-in for DWGeditor, an AutoCAD clone that SolidWorks offers free with their software. They wanted to make the switch to SolidWorks but an AutoCAD plug-in critical to their workflow was preventing them. A similar plug-in was not available for DWGeditor. We offerred them the solution they needed and I guess by now they must have dumped AutoCAD for DWGeditor. As long as they were using AutoCAD as their main CAD application, they didn’t mind paying the high price. But when DWG became just one of the many downstream processes, the equation changed. A cheaper DWG (in this case free) did their job just fine.

It may very well be that AutoCAD clones have a bright future ahead. Only time will tell.

  • Todd Majeski

    Great article, I am interested if there are other plug-ins available for DWGeditor, such as electrical libraries for schematic wiring diagrams.

  • Todd Majeski

    Great article, I am interested if there are other plug-ins available for DWGeditor, such as electrical libraries for schematic wiring diagrams.

  • mick

    It’s good to see a commentator note that in the vast majority of cases 2d printed drawings are the end product of the design process! Yes, 2d for annotation etc. will always be around and AutoCAD still has probably the best and most used package out there.

    If AutoCAD ‘vanilla’ was the price of LT I’m sure the ‘clones’ would be in real trouble, while it’s as expensive as the verticals (and even 10 times more expensive than some competitors’ more advanced app’s) people will be looking for viable alternatives for their basic 2d/3d work.
    It would also reduce pirating, but that’s another story.

  • mick

    It’s good to see a commentator note that in the vast majority of cases 2d printed drawings are the end product of the design process! Yes, 2d for annotation etc. will always be around and AutoCAD still has probably the best and most used package out there.If AutoCAD ‘vanilla’ was the price of LT I’m sure the ‘clones’ would be in real trouble, while it’s as expensive as the verticals (and even 10 times more expensive than some competitors’ more advanced app’s) people will be looking for viable alternatives for their basic 2d/3d work.It would also reduce pirating, but that’s another story.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Todd, the thing with DWGeditor is that plug-ins must be specially compiled for it. Normal IntelliCAD plug-ins do not work. So even if electrical libraries exist for normal flavors of IntelliCAD, they may not work for DWGeditor.

    Mick, I agree. As long as we have the use for paper, 2D will always be in demand. The questions is whether it will expensive 2D or cheap 2D that will be in demand.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Todd, the thing with DWGeditor is that plug-ins must be specially compiled for it. Normal IntelliCAD plug-ins do not work. So even if electrical libraries exist for normal flavors of IntelliCAD, they may not work for DWGeditor.Mick, I agree. As long as we have the use for paper, 2D will always be in demand. The questions is whether it will expensive 2D or cheap 2D that will be in demand.

  • Anonymous

    I think Rhino is a bit overkill/sideline being a surface modeller. IMO in 3D Sketchup is the easier way i find to start a good model unless of course your House has some surface a la Frank Gehry πŸ™‚

    LL regards.

  • Anonymous

    I think Rhino is a bit overkill/sideline being a surface modeller. IMO in 3D Sketchup is the easier way i find to start a good model unless of course your House has some surface a la Frank Gehry :)LL regards.

  • Eugenio

    Good insights Deelip, and that’s the way companies start to think, it seems. A number of free 2D tools are being released by many companies having 3D solid modelers in their products portfolio, for sure with the goal to move the users of the 2D to the 3D, but avoiding to just do an AutoCAD clone and choosing the path to DXF/DWG compatibility, instead.
    Let me do the example of my company, think3, that released a free 2D drafting system last year, free2Design ( http://www.free2design.org, if you want to take a look at it). We acknowledge the importance of 2D for the coming years, but also that 2D is becoming a commodity that people must use in order to have a smooth flow of product information across the product development cycle. We decided to “spin off” the 2D component of our 3D CAD(thinkdesign) and built a community of users around it, releasing a truly free forever license (actually you can use the product also without license, if you want) and leaving all the industrial grade features of the drafting system integrated with the 3D CAD, to ensure perfect compatibility in case of upgrade.
    As you, mick and todd noted in your comments, the major obstacle to leave AutoCAD for better products, capable of reading and writing DXF/DWG formats, are plug-ins or vertical solutions built on AutoCAD that may not always be available with other products.

  • Eugenio

    Good insights Deelip, and that’s the way companies start to think, it seems. A number of free 2D tools are being released by many companies having 3D solid modelers in their products portfolio, for sure with the goal to move the users of the 2D to the 3D, but avoiding to just do an AutoCAD clone and choosing the path to DXF/DWG compatibility, instead.Let me do the example of my company, think3, that released a free 2D drafting system last year, free2Design ( http://www.free2design.org, if you want to take a look at it). We acknowledge the importance of 2D for the coming years, but also that 2D is becoming a commodity that people must use in order to have a smooth flow of product information across the product development cycle. We decided to “spin off” the 2D component of our 3D CAD(thinkdesign) and built a community of users around it, releasing a truly free forever license (actually you can use the product also without license, if you want) and leaving all the industrial grade features of the drafting system integrated with the 3D CAD, to ensure perfect compatibility in case of upgrade.As you, mick and todd noted in your comments, the major obstacle to leave AutoCAD for better products, capable of reading and writing DXF/DWG formats, are plug-ins or vertical solutions built on AutoCAD that may not always be available with other products.

  • Kevin

    Very true, and all the major mechanical packages are offering free 2D.

    This is why Autodesk is busy trying to convince people to use Inventor, they must know that Inventor is their only path to staying in the mechanical market.

  • Kevin

    Very true, and all the major mechanical packages are offering free 2D.This is why Autodesk is busy trying to convince people to use Inventor, they must know that Inventor is their only path to staying in the mechanical market.

  • Dave Scuttlebuck

    Hmm, is it me or does everyone ignore Solid Edge 2D Drafting on purpose. It’s been around for probably 10 years and stands on it’s own very well, oh yeah, and it’s free. I guess it’s a choice thing πŸ˜‰
    I agree Deelip, 2D will be around for a long time, not least as a method of sketching a solid model.

    Greetz.

  • Raggi Thor

    Deelip, I’ve been curious for a while, in what way was your architect incompetent? I mean, he could be a good architect without being a good cad user?

    πŸ™‚

  • Raggi Thor

    Deelip, I’ve been curious for a while, in what way was your architect incompetent? I mean, he could be a good architect without being a good cad user? πŸ™‚

  • Deelip Menezes

    Raggi Thor,

    My arhitect was incompetent in the sense that he wasn’t giving my contractor the drawings on time. So then I started creating the required drawings myself and asked him to simply approve them. I lost it when the architect started delaying in approving my drawings. I fired him and took the project to its end on my own. I must say I learnt a great deal about construction by going down that road.

    He used AutoCAD but I think the problem was that he took more work than he could handle, something very common here in India.

  • Deelip Menezes

    Raggi Thor,My arhitect was incompetent in the sense that he wasn’t giving my contractor the drawings on time. So then I started creating the required drawings myself and asked him to simply approve them. I lost it when the architect started delaying in approving my drawings. I fired him and took the project to its end on my own. I must say I learnt a great deal about construction by going down that road.He used AutoCAD but I think the problem was that he took more work than he could handle, something very common here in India.

  • Dave Scuttlebuck

    Hmm, is it me or does everyone ignore Solid Edge 2D Drafting on purpose. It's been around for probably 10 years and stands on it's own very well, oh yeah, and it's free. I guess it's a choice thing πŸ˜‰
    I agree Deelip, 2D will be around for a long time, not least as a method of sketching a solid model.

    Greetz.