Composite engineers first design their products and prototypes on computers. Advanced software used in composites help design a product, and estimate physical properties of the materials used. For example, if you are designing a carbon fiber chassis for a race car, you would want to know if it could withstand the extreme G-forces on tight turns. By using dedicated design software and a technique known as Finite Element Analysis (FEA), one can predict how much material is needed, and the forces it can withstand. The following are some of the most commonly used software programs in composite design and FEA.
This is the “work horse” of engineers and material designers. One of the original Computer Aided Design (CAD) software programs, AutoCAD is what all entry level engineers need to master first. This is the most commonly used software in composites. Many of the more advanced 3-dimensional programs draw their foundation from AutoCAD and the operation.
ProE is a powerful 3-dimensional design software for product development. It has integrated performance features to analyze how various materials will respond during use. This is extremely important in composite material design work when one needs to estimate how many layers of fiber reinforced plastic is required.
SolidWorks is a design platform for simulating and modeling products in a realistic 3-dimensional environment. This program is used for designing graphical models and creating realistic images. Material properties can be analyzed, for example, one could design a tennis racquet and compare how it would flex using carbon fiber, fiberglass, or aluminum.
Design engineers use Solid Edge to create 2- and 3-dimensional product models. This software is most commonly used in sheet metal design, but it can be used with a variety of other materials, including composites. An advantage is the ability to simulate motion and moving parts with 3D animations.
Catia is another design software option for 3D modeling and product design. This software is commonly used in the automotive industry for design and prototyping. Popular in Europe, Catia is used by thousands of different companies in a variety of industries.
SketchUp is a tool offered by Google that’s used to model and design. The main advantage is the ease of use and ability for a novice to get started quickly. Although it is not as technical as other programs, SketchUp is beneficial if one needs to create a quick conceptual model for a presentation or report.