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.