Conceptual Design

Conceptual Design Software Tools

21 May, 2014 By: Sanjeev Pal

Cadalyst Labs Report: Whether it's a bridge or a ball joint, every design must be roughed out before designers can tackle the details — but a growing group of digital options is making that process a little smoother.

Regardless of industry or application, every design starts taking shape at the conceptual stage. Architects, designers, engineers, and other project stakeholders sketch out the germ of an idea, then refine the design by constricting the broad-brush initial concepts into a precise virtual design that meets project requirements.

View a Sampling of
Conceptual Design Tools

The latest software tools are helping designers to produce more concepts and complete this process more quickly, resulting in reduced costs and increased customer satisfaction. Whether a stand-alone tool or an integrated part of a primary CAD software application, in the office or on the go, conceptual design software is becoming an indispensible tool for projects that span the design spectrum.

SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual offers motion analysis for concept designs. Image on tablet courtesy of Dassault Systèmes SolidWorks. Background and tablet images © Collection & popartic. Art direction by Gwen Rhoads.

Conceptual Design Defined

Wikipedia defines conceptual design this way:

Conceptual design ... is the creation and exploration of new ideas. It is distinguished from conceptual art by closely relating to function; it is distinguished from design in general by not necessarily being actually functional, but as illustrating a design that may show an idea that may potentially be functional.

Exploratory in nature, conceptual design promotes the generation of creative output by eliminating the constraints that define general design. One of the most effective ways to explore design with freedom from constraint is by sketching, an approach that has been around as long as design itself. Although modern tools provide a far more sophisticated sketching experience than rough drawings on coffee-shop napkins, the goal is the same: Enable designers to brainstorm and apply their creativity in developing new ideas. This contrasts sharply with CAD tools designed for detailed design, which require specific dimensions, tolerances, finishes, and material specifications, as well as constraints that are mathematically precise, accurate, and performance based.

Changing Face of Conceptual Design Tools

Technological advances in recent years have changed the conceptual design process dra­matically. Pencil and paper have been joined — and in some cases, completely replaced — by software tools that convert digital scribbles into geometrical lines and arcs and, as work progresses, into 3D models that can be used to evaluate the design in its working environment, create renderings, and even analyze design performance well before the design is final.

Conceptual design software tools facilitate collaboration. For example, in SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (shown to the left and on p.20), users can message each other in real time to discuss a design.
Conceptual design software tools facilitate collaboration. For example, in SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (shown above and on the tablet in the opening image), users can message each other in real time to discuss a design.

"What has changed significantly [in recent years] is that the time to market has shrunk, and with that, the time allowed for the conceptual design phase," said Colin Smith, Fusion 360 product manager at Autodesk. "This means that design teams have to be as efficient as possible and still create great products for their company or customers."

That efficiency depends in part on the ability to work and collaborate anywhere. The latest software tools allow conceptual design to take place in the office — using stand-alone tools or those increasingly found inside full-fledged CAD programs — as well as on the go, at work sites, client meetings, or anywhere inspiration strikes.

Conceptual design software can help produce better-performing designs.
Architects and engineers use Bentley GenerativeComponents to explore what-if scenarios and design more sustainable buildings.

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About the Author: Sanjeev Pal

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Re: Conceptual Design Software Tools
by: Direct CAD Guy
June 3, 2014 - 10:28am
Sanjeev covers the broad top well. But concerning moving from conceptual to detailed design, there is one point that I see very differently. If you are using a Direct CAD modeler like KeyCreator Direct CAD or one of the others Direct modelers mentioned, there is no need to import your model into another (hisotry-based) software. The CAD design with all of the exact tolerances can be completed within Direct CAD. The fact that the history-based modelers are now getting religion on Direct CAD proves the utility of Direct CAD, not just as a conceptual modeler, but as a complete design to manufacturing tool which in some cases includes full Analysis/Simulation, CAD Comparison and NC programming functionality.
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