3D In AutoCAD

Today I had an interesting discussion on Twitter with an equally interesting person. This person was of the opinion that “AutoCAD was marvelous for it’s purpose, which is drawing lines, circles and arcs“. Soon the conversation moved to the 3D features of AutoCAD and this person went on to say, “Those that need 3D have pretty much bought it. Those that have AutoCAD are staying with it in many cases. I’m sure the market has matured much more than many of the vendors publicly acknowledge. AutoCAD has had 3D for decades. I used to model bicycle parts and rendered them in 1995“.

Actually, this person is right. 3D has been in AutoCAD for quite some time now. I remember way back in 1999, I used AutoCAD Release 12 for DOS to model a bus in 3D, complete with interiors and all, took it to 3D Studio, applied materials and lighting and created a walk-through animation.

Of late I have been hearing people from Autodesk repeatedly say that they are transforming AutoCAD from a 2D drafting and detailing application to a 3D modeling and analysis one that comes with 2D drafting and detailing. Well, lets see exactly what has been happening to AutoCAD for the past few years. Let’s make than ten years.

I have AutoCAD 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 installed on my computer in office. I also have AutoCAD 2000. Simply love the way it starts up. I use it when I want to sketch something really quick. Click the image below to open it in a new window.

This are screenshots of the Solid Editing sub-menu of AutoCAD (Modify > Solid Editing). The number of menu items added to this sub-menu from 2000 to 2010 is zero. In ten years Autodesk could not find any new solid editing command to add to this sub-menu.

Lets move on. Click this image.

These are screenshots of the 3D Operation sub-menu (Modify > 3D Operation). As you can see in 2007 Autodesk added a few commands to check for interference, slice and thicken objects. But after 2007, nothing more was added.

Now click this image.

These are the screenshots of the solid creation sub-menu (Draw > Solids in 2006 and earlier, Draw > Modeling thereafter). Hey, wait a minute. The interference and slice commands were not added in 2007. As it turns out there were simply moved to the 3D Operation sub-menu from here.

What was indeed added in 2010 was this Mesh Editing sub-menu (Modify > Mesh Editing). This was because in 2010 Autodesk added the SubDMesh object to DWG and needed commands to edit them.

Now there are two ways to look at this. One way is to say that, apart from the SubDMesh, Autodesk has not added any major 3D modeling related feature to AutoCAD in a decade. The other way is to closely analyse the way these commands have changed over time and look for enhancements in the way these commands work. For example, the addition of the Move/Rotate/Scale gizmo may look like a UI enhancement. But actually it can very well be considered as a 3D modeling enhancement because you can do wonderful things with solids using these gizmos.

Arguments like these can go on and on. And frankly there is really no point to them. The thing which interests me most is whether AutoCAD will ever be able to shake off its image of being a 2D drafting and detailing solution. There is something else bothering me. Something that this interesting person said “Those that need 3D have pretty much bought it.” Is that really the case? Will orienting AutoCAD towards 3D modeling at this point in time make any difference now? Should Autodesk have done this way earlier? Probably before people started moving from AutoCAD to 3D modeling systems like SolidWorks? How many AutoCAD users today actually want to go 3D now when they haven’t done so in all these years?

If you are someone using AutoCAD for 2D drafting and detailing, I would like to know what you think. Do leave a comment.