The development of CAD for the creation, modification, optimization of designs and models is one of the world’s most important innovations. This technology saves a lot of money and time, increases design quality, and even reduces risks of life and property loss with the help of simulations to check the functionality. CAD is used in all product-related industries such as mechanical, construction, transportation, and electronics. Almost everything around you, from furniture, cars, buildings, to skyscrapers, began as a CAD model.
In the early days of CAD, CAD programs were very few, inaccessible, and limited to particular industries. There was the problem of getting a CAD application. Today, however, the has become selecting the program that would be suitable for your project, as a plethora of applications is now available. At Scan2CAD, we provide you with descriptive articles, comparing various CAD programs to help you choose the right application for your project.
In this article, we will be comparing two multidisciplinary CAD software giants, CATIA, and NX. We will explore their histories, capabilities, and users, before going through a direct “CATIA vs. NX” comparison.
Table of Contents
History and Development of CATIA
The story of CATIA’s development began in the late 1960s when Dassault Aviation of France took a keen interest in applying computer technology in aircraft design. This interest eventually led them to license the CADAM software, developed by Lockheed, for 2D drafting work, becoming one of the software’s first licensees. This was way back in 1974. During that time, the company was also developing the DRAPO program, a manufacturing application that applied interactive graphics. DRAPO entered industrial service in late 1975. DRAPO formed the foundation of what is now known as CATIA.
In 1978, Dassault Aviation’s CAD Department embarked on developing a 3D design tool. These efforts led to the development of a new DRAPO system called CATI (Conception Assistée Tridimensionnelle Interactive). CATI was initially used to machine complex machine parts utilizing 2D drawings created using DRAPO. In 1981, Dassault Aviation renamed CATI; thus, CATIA (Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application) was born. CATIA helped Dassault Aviation optimize production efficiency, enhance quality, and lower cycle times.
In mid-1981, Dassault Aviation created a subsidiary, Dassault Systémes, to further develop, commercialize, and market CATIA. Since the early years, Dassault Systémes embraced a practice that saw it introduce enhanced features, packaged as releases. These releases would be based on an existing architecture of the CATIA software. It is the architecture that defined the version of the software. This practice persists to date. It is, therefore, not uncommon to encounter several releases of the same version. CATIA’s naming system identifies the version as well as the release. For instance, with CATIA Version 5 (V5), you might encounter releases such as R7, R17, R18, R19, R20, and R21, with the first one written as CATIA V5-R7.
In 2012, Dassault Systémes launched 3DExperience (3DX), a unified business and innovation platform that enables all project participants to collaborate in real time and securely on any device. In 2014, the company launched the first 3DExperience platform, Release 2014x, which included CATIA.
So far, Dassault Systémes has released six versions (architectures) of CATIA. CATIA V5-6R2023 and CATIA R2023X are the latest CATIA software.
What does CATIA do?
CATIA is a suite of CAD applications that provides solutions for computer-aided design, manufacture, and engineering. This well-endowed software takes you through the complete design process from the product’s conceptualization, design, and engineering, to its manufacturing. You get to design and collaborate in an interactive environment. The wide array of tools for every function makes working with CATIA seamless. The capabilities are divided into construction, design and styling, engineering, and systems engineering.
For construction, CATIA offers tools for the complete design and engineering processes for both small scale and complex construction projects. In this discipline, collaboration among stakeholders and designers across different project phases is very important in the project’s development. CATIA offers the virtual twin technology, which acts as a common language that facilitates collaboration between the architects, engineers, owners, and other personnel involved in the project.
The software also enables the users to create high-level detailed models of industry standards, generate accurate bills of materials, extract associative 2D documents from 3D models, and do many other things. CATIA makes the construction process straightforward and easy.
Design and styling
Design and styling play a major role in project development. With CATIA, you’re sure to attain a high level of quality and surface sophistication using the right design tools for the physical and virtual prototype. This software also provides you with all the needed tools for design creativity in 3D sketching, subdivision surface, A class module, 3D printing, reverse engineering, and visualization. The major benefits are the industrial design and advanced surface modeling features.
The software offers a ton of properties in the mechanical engineering discipline. CATIA provides an environment for the rapid development of high-quality mechanical products (parts, assemblies)
The program enables digital prototyping, combined with digital analysis and simulation which allows the development team to virtually create and analyze a mechanical product in one environment. The design of machine components such as parts and assemblies is effortless with CATIA.
Who uses CATIA?
CATIA’s myriad of functionalities and capabilities makes it used by members from many industries. It is used by mechanical engineers, fluid and systems engineers, electrical designers, builders, and many other industry professionals.
History and Development of NX
NX was previously called Unigraphics, software originally developed by United Computing. (United Computing was founded in 1963.) Unigraphics was a 3D-capable CAD/CAM software for design and drafting. It had a double-precision database and supported a wide range of NC machines because it could output complete .NC and .APT files. The software incorporated GRIP, a graphics interactive programming language, particularly at the macro level, enabling users to productively perform complex and time-consuming functions.
The GRIP programming language handled system and file management functions, manipulated strings and text, manipulated geometry, performed vector arithmetic, and solved drafting problems. For most users, GRIP was a significant differentiator between Unigraphics and other CAD software.
Unigraphics’ and, therefore, NX’s history and development is as follows: In 1973, United Computing acquired the exclusive rights to the Automated Design and Manufacturing (ADAM) software, including its source code, from Manufacturing and Consulting Services Inc., owned by Patrick Hanratty. ADAM, which had itself been released earlier in 1972, was a mechanical design package. It had been developed to run on the REDCOR RC-70 minicomputer with a Computek terminal, but its code was machine-agnostic. It is this property that led to the creation of Unigraphics.
Early Years of Unigraphics/NX
The first version of Unigraphics, then Uni-graphics, was created in 1973 by porting the ADAM software to an early 16-bit minicomputer with a Tektronix display and adding a menu-driven user interface. This was implemented as a single-user system. In 1974, the hyphen in Uni-graphics was dropped, giving birth to Unigraphics. It was also in 1974 that United Computing sold its first Unigraphics system.
Beginning in the mid-1970s, the ownership of United Computing changed hands severally. In 1976, McDonnell Douglas Corp. (MDC) acquired United Computing, which started operating as a wholly owned subsidiary of MDC’s automation division, McDonnell Douglas Automation Company (McAuto). In 1991, the General Motors Corp.-owned Electronic Data Systems (EDS) Corp. acquired McDonnell Douglas’s Systems Integration Company.
In 1996, EDS was spun off as an independent company, ceasing its association with GM. The EDS division in charge of Unigraphics then became EDS Unigraphics. In early 1998, EDS restructured EDS Unigraphics, creating a separate enterprise called Unigraphics Solutions. (EDS sold shares in Unigraphics Solutions but retained a controlling stake in the company.) That year, Unigraphics Solutions acquired Solid Edge from Intergraph.
In 2001, Unigraphics Solutions changed its name to UGS to reflect the fact that it sold other products alongside Unigraphics, before again rebranding to UGS PLM Solutions in 2003. In 2004, the company became UGS Corporation. Three years later, in January 2007, Siemens AG acquired UGS Corp. Following this acquisition, UGS became Siemens PLM Software. At that time, Unigraphics had already become NX.
Why Was Unigraphics’ Original Name Changed?
Over the years, Unigraphics nomenclature changed to reflect enhancements and new ownership. For instance, the while the first version of the software, Uni-graphics, still had the ADAM software source code, United Computing and McAuto had significantly revised it, differentiating it in many ways. Next, when Unigraphics was overhauled by introducing a 32-bit architecture and a complete rearchitecting of the part data model, it was now named Unigraphics II. Unigraphics II also introduced several enhancements and new ways of creating models and drawings, including perspective views, user-defined attributes, grouping of objects, new view and layout capabilities, and more.
The launch of Unigraphics NX in 2002 also introduced numerous changes. This software version had a friendlier user interface, improved capabilities for editing models imported from other CAD software, knowledge-based task automation, and better tools for exchanging models. The name Unigraphics was dropped in 2004 because the developer had completed the migration of two two products, Unigraphics and I-DEAS, to create a single software, NX. Under Siemens’ ownership, NX has retained its name. So, Unigraphics is now called NX.
NX 2306 is the latest NX software.
What does NX do?
NX is an industry-leading 3D modeling application with toolsets that provide solutions for computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering. This program supports the full process of product development from conceptualization, 3D modeling, documentation, to manufacturing.
The toolsets are NX design, NX CAM, and NX CAE, under which you will find 3D design, simulation, model analysis, collaboration, and many other tools.
The extra-flexible and innovative design toolset and features speed up and simplify the product development process. With NX, you get to use more virtual product models, thereby reducing or avoiding expensive and physical prototypes.
The toolset offers highly effective tools for 2D design, layout, drafting, annotation, and documentation. With its drafting tools, you can automatically generate engineering drawings from 3D models; also from parts and assemblies. They also offer tools for each mechatronic concept design, electrical design, product modeling, and many others
Using NX CAM, you are provided with a virtual industrialized manufacturing environment, where you can design, prepare, and validate production equipment and design tools for manufacturing and quality control. With the CAM software, you can automate NC programming and, using the intelligent high-speed cutting, reduce cycle time, and produce better parts and the automated based machining. Furthermore, there are tools for robot automation and tooling and fixture design.
The NX CAE capability offers simulation solutions. The importance and significance of simulation in product design can never be overemphasized. It enables you to evaluate different design alternatives, conduct experiments repeatedly, and gain new insights into the workability of the products.
The comprehensive set of simulation tools in NX CAE facilitates the manufacturer to incorporate performance simulation in the early stages of the development, thereby making room for more design options and making a smarter product decision.
Furthermore, unlike other CAE applications, NX offers an integrated analysis model with simulation for thermal, flow, structural, motion, multiphysics, and optimization in a single environment.
Who uses NX?
NX is a suite of CAD applications with solutions for CAD, CAM, and CAE. With these multidisciplinary features and functions, professionals from a plethora of industries use the application for their products. Industries like transportation, automotive, aerospace, construction, and manufacturing. Some companies that use NX in their production are Sterling Engineering Inc, CEG partners, Boeing, and Virgin Orbit.
CATIA vs. NX
It is compatible with only Windows and Unix operating systems
It is compatible with Mac (older NX versions), Windows, and Unix operating systems
CATIA is more expensive in terms of the subscription rate
It is relatively cheaper
Offers collaboration solution via the connection with the 3DExperience platform
Uses the Teamcenter integration for its collaboration
You need third-party applications for some CAM functions
NX offers a better integration solution of CAD and CAM
High-class surface modeling features making it well utilized by the automotive industry
This feature is not as effective in NX but has other outstanding toolsets like its CAM
The interface is not as easy to navigate and learn as NX
NX has a more basic and modern interface, therefore, is easier to learn
Dassault Systèmes does not have an online store with CATIA products
Siemens sells some NX products on its online store
User Interface and User Experience
Most CAD and CAM software have a familiar user interface (UI). Usually, these products’ UI have a ribbon – a horizontal bar at the top of the window – right under the quick access toolbar. The ribbon has several separate ribbon tabs within which related commands are grouped. The workspace can be found in the section right below the ribbon groups. In some software, the status bar occupies the bottom section of the window.
When it comes to CAD and CAM software, NX, alongside other software like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Solid Edge, FreeCAD, Fusion 360, Inventor, and more, feature this familiar user interface. So common is this UI, in fact, that it is found in multiple other non-CAD and non-CAM software, too, namely word processors, spreadsheets, and more.) This familiarity makes NX easy to learn, given that commands can be accessed in familiar tab groups. Of course, other factors also contribute to NX’s gentle learning curve as discussed below.
On its part, CATIA has a markedly different UI. It resembles a web browser in that it lacks ribbons and ribbon tabs. Instead, like a web browser, it simply displays tabs associated with each design or model you are working on. Toggling through these tabs – if you have multiple models open – lets you see each model individually or side by side. The design toolbar is found at the bottom of the workspace.
Users also note that 3DExperience CATIA, which is cloud-based, has a UI and user experience (UX) that is completely different and unconventional vis-à-vis other CAD products, including CATIA V5, the non-cloud-based version of the CATIA. Nonetheless, all versions of CATIA lacks context sensitivity, which makes it harder to find features or buttons you are looking for. As a result, CATIA is less intuitive than NX, which adds complexity to the learning process. It is, however, perfect for users who already know what they are doing.
Compatibility with Other CAD Software
CATIA supports standard file formats such as IGES (2D or 3D), STEP, and DXF. This means it is compatible with software that exports these formats, albeit with several caveats. It also directly interfaces with Dassault Systémes software, including SolidWorks, StrimStyler, CADAM, and others.
The June 2023 release of NX is compatible with recent versions of CATIA V5 (R8 or later), SolidWorks 2023, AutoCAD 2023, and software that supports the STEP, IGES, IFC, DWG, DXF, and ACIS file formats. This is because it can read SolidWorks 2023 files, CATIA V5-6R2022 SP3 files, and IFC files. On the other hand, it can read and write ACIS files (up to the 2022 version) and DXF/DWG (up to the 2023 versions) files. You can also export (write) NX files as STEP and IGES files, albeit with caveats found in the release notes.
Siemens NX supports collaboration through Teamcenter, Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) solution. Teamcenter lets users create digital twins of processes for designs, simulation, visualization, systems, software, manufacturing, and more. This way, it enables them to optimize, automate, and streamline the processes.
Teamcenter integration for NX is a product that enables users to manage and accelerate design collaborations for teams of any size. It reduces the time spent by design, engineering teams, and suppliers finding the right NX data. Further, it reduces the development cycle times, ensures faster product change and approval processes, and acts as a single source of product information.
The solution offers on-demand access to design data stored on Teamcenter without having to leave the NX user interface. The integration also ensures that the project you are working on on NX is kept in sync with Teamcenter.
On the other hand, CATIA supports collaboration through its 3DX platform. 3DX connects various factions of an organization – people, data, ideas, and processes – using a single environment. It brings together all project participants, enabling real-time collaboration regardless of the device.
Pricing for both software products varies according to a number of factors. These include the number of seats. Large companies with hundreds of employees will likely pay less for the same software package than a small company with a handful of employees.
The pricing also depends on your needs. The cost is much lower if you intend to use a single module or function. Conversely, if you wish for the software to support design, assembly, modeling, full 5-axis machining, turning, and milling, you will have to part with way more.
NX costs anywhere between $7,000 to $45,000 per seat per year, depending on the package you want, according to users on the Siemens NX subreddit. You also have to pay maintenance fees. On the other hand, CATIA, on the other hand, is (unofficial) priced at between $9,000 and $65,000 per seat, although some users put the upper at $80,000. CATIA pricing varies based on add-ons/modules. Plus, you also have to pay maintenance charges.
Do note, however, that both Siemens and Dassault Systems, as well as their authorized resellers, do not publicly publish their official prices for NX and CATIA. So, the prices quoted herein may not be accurate; they are estimates from actual users’ comments and reviews.
Discounts or Special Licenses
Dassault Systémes offers 3DExperience for Startups, an affordable, multi-year program targeting budding companies that produce hardware. The program provides access to the functionalities of CATIA, SIMULIA, ENOVIA, DELMIA, and other product development solutions at a discount. Startups can enjoy up to 90% discount during the first year. Moreover, the company offers 3DEXPERIENCE CATIA for students for only $60/year.
On its part, Siemens has a student version of NX, which it avails for free. This free version, the NX Student Edition, has watermarks added to printed and plotted data. Furthermore, part files created using the free version cannot be opened in a commercial version of NX. The company also lets colleges, universities, and technical schools purchase special academic licenses. Furthermore, qualifying startups can access enterprise-level products at a significant discount through the Xcelerator for Startups. The products include NX for design, Teamcenter, and Simcenter.
Minimum System Requirements
CATIA requires significant CPU resources. Thus, choosing a CPU with higher processing speeds and more cores is crucial because it guarantees scalability and performance. The software also requires a dedicated GPU. And while Dassault Systémes does not explicitly list the minimum system requirements, it has certified various workstations.
Going through the list, we deduced that you require a CPU with a clock speed of at least 1.9GHz and a professional graphics card with a memory not below 4GB. The developer also recommends a 64-bit Windows 10 or 11 operating system and at least 16GB of memory (RAM).
With NX, raw processor speed also influences NX performance. This means a higher clock speed will result in better performance. But, according to Siemens, increasing the number of cores does not always translate into better performance. However, other factors also contribute to the overall performance, including the type of disk drive, memory, and more.
Siemens recommends that the minimum amount of memory to run the native NX software is 8GB. On the other hand, if you are looking to run Teamcenter integration for NX, your workstation should have minimum recommended memory of 12GB. Still, the company recommends installing as much RAM as your workstation can support for optimal application performance and user experience.
Starting with the June 2023 release of the software (NX 2306), NX will require the use of a dedicated GPU. Furthermore, NX is currently only supported on Windows and Linux. But versions that preceded NX 1847 support macOS.
Community and Customer Support
To use the CATIA User Community or read the queries and contributions posted therein, you must have a 3DX account. On the flip side, creating an account is relatively straightforward and ordinarily takes a minute or two, if not less. But then again, the community is not as vibrant as you may expect. While multiple users have posted questions they would like their peers to help answer, the responses are few and far between. In most cases, the questions received no response, with some not getting a single engagement (like or comment) more than two weeks after they were posted. To be fair, though, Dassault Systémes has a dedicated call center and email support staff for its brands and products, including CATIA.
In contrast, NX’s community is significantly more vibrant. For starters, with NX, you do not need an account to access peer support and view issues other users may be facing. You can readily access Siemens’ community for NX. Secondly, most posts have comments that seek to answer what had been asked. We went through multiple weeks’ posts and only found a handful of posts that did not trigger responses from the NX community, unlike CATIA’s. In addition to the vibrant online community, Siemens has a dedicated support center. The support center includes resources (knowledgebase), documentation, and avenues to create and submit a support ticket/case.
It is difficult to tell what future plans Siemens and Dassault Systémes have for their respective products. But during the 3DExperience World event held in February 2023, the latter did give us a peek into the plans. The company intends to add AI capabilities to the 3DExperience platform, making this feature available to products like CATIA.
The feature works by using AI to regenerate existing design specifications, thus recreating it in the best possible way. It enables designers to reassess the quality of existing designs and lets them create new designs with high-quality specs in mere minutes, elevating companies’ intellectual property (IP).
Designers now simply have to specify the specs of a design, with the platform then taking over the process of creating the design per the specs. The 3DExperience platform’s generative AI feature can also create designs from scans. (If the 2023 event is anything to go by, we expect that Dassault Systémes will likely make key announcements regarding planned features during next year’s and subsequent events.) Moreover, Dassault Systémes appears to be pivoting towards 3DExperience CATIA, based on the fact that it is providing more attractive prices for new 3DX CATIA than the new CATIA V5 products, according to one user.
On its part, Siemens aims to continue innovating, delivering the latest and greatest NX software every six months. The enhancements included in the new releases are based on customer feedback. In the future, the company aims to continue providing consistent, improved, and efficient solutions for workflows across various sectors. However, the company does not hint at these planned enhancements before the rollout of new releases.
Both CATIA and NX are widely used, industry-leading, acclaimed applications for the design, development, and manufacture of products. Their workbenches offer integrated solutions for Computer-aided design, manufacturing, and engineering. With all their similar features, they are still some toolsets that outshine the other. Like the surface modeling features in CATIA are top-notch. That is why it is highly utilized in the automotive industry.
NX also offers a more integrated CAM toolset for product development compared to that of CATIA with which you might have to download some add-ons. We can’t say which of the programs is best, but we’ve been able to show you their properties and differences to help you decide which suits your project more. They also both offer free trials for you to check out the software.