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CAD Software Compared: SolidWorks vs Autodesk Inventor

SolidWorks and Inventor Software logos

With so many industries now dependent on CAD software to take products from creation to eventual production—from architecture to industrial engineering—it’s of no surprise to find so many CAD programs on the market. Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or a CAD expert, it can be incredibly difficult attempting to navigate the many CAD programs—and add-ons—on offer. 

If you’re a regular of the Scan2CAD blog, you’ll know that we like to make things nice and easy for people to follow. That’s why we’ve compiled comparisons in the past for AutoCAD and DraftSight, CATIA and SolidWorks, and AutoCAD and SolidWorks. By doing so, we can help CAD enthusiasts and beginners figure out what the real similarities and differences are between popular software packages. 

In this guide, we’ll be examining Dassault Systèmes’ market-leading product, SolidWorks, against Autodesk’s Inventor. We’ll delve into their histories, software features and lay out the key differences between the two packages.


What is SolidWorks?

History

SolidWorks logo

Fact file  
 Developed by Dassault Systèmes
 First released 1995
 Latest release SolidWorks 2019 (September 12, 2018)

If you’re a CAD enthusiast and haven’t heard of SolidWorks, you must have been living under a rock. Known as the flagship product of Dassault Systèmes, SolidWorks’ creation actually started life outside of Dassault. It was created by SolidWorks Corporation, who had been working on it since 1993, and was finally released as the first significant 3D modeler for Windows in 1995. It ended up being a huge milestone in the evolution of CAD. And the minds behind it? A team of engineers led by Jon Hirschtick. Recognize the name? That’s because he later went on to co-found cloud-based CAD software Onshape. 

After a mere 2 years, SolidWorks was acquired by Dassault Systèmes for an eye-watering $310 million in stocks. Needless to say, it was a smart move on Dassault’s end. Whilst they already had specialist software CATIA up their sleeve, SolidWorks marked the beginning of Dassault’s dominance in the CAD industry. It’s estimated that, by 2013, over 2 million engineers and designers were using SolidWorks. And it’s only increased in recent years. 

Whilst SolidWorks started out solely as a solid modeling software, it has since grown into a full CAD and CAE program. Catering fully to the needs of engineers and designers, Dassault incorporated simulation capabilities in 2001. These were later developed to include aspects like Finite Element Analysis. In recent years, SolidWorks 2018 and 2019 have brought about the integration of CAM tools, the ability to make use of touch screen devices in the design process and the incorporation of AR/VR applications to virtually explore models. And who knows what the future will bring!

What it does

As the name suggests, SolidWorks is a solid modeling program. Using a parametric feature-based approach, SolidWorks enables users to create models, parts and assemblies. Models in the software typically begin as a 2D sketch before the parts are extruded into 3D using a variety of SolidWorks tools.

It doesn’t matter how large the assemblies are—SolidWorks can work with them comfortably. In fact, the latest updates in SolidWorks 2019 now enable users to work with even larger assemblies and edit them in large design review mode. Let’s put this into perspective for you: these large assemblies can consist of millions of components! With the software’s powerful modeling features, users can shorten product development times, reduce cost and improve quality across the board.

Of course, no matter how great the modeling capabilities are, a real CAD package is determined by its simulation tools. With that in mind, SolidWorks has a wide selection of simulation tools on offer to enable users to throw real-world conditions at their models and products. Example tools include topology optimization to provide stress and frequency constraints when optimizing parts, the ability to test for static linear, time-based motion and high-cycle fatigue, and features to assess endurance under static, thermal and buckling conditions. With SolidWorks Sustainability, users can even measure the environmental impacts of designs, including the effects of materials, assembly and disposal.

And that’s not all that SolidWorks can do! The latest updates to SolidWorks have embraced the future of CAD, giving users the option to export directly to AR/VR applications in order to interact with CAD models fully immersive, virtual environment. Other tools include Product Data Management solutions—improving the way teams manage and collaborate on product development—and innovative visualization capabilities.

Who uses it

It’s safe to say that SolidWorks boasts of one of the biggest user communities in the CAD industry. This comes as no real surprise, given the sheer number of tools and capabilities that this software suite boasts. And it’s showing no signs of stopping anytime soon, with new users joining daily. Looking to join the fold? It’s easy enough—just catch up on our guide to learning the SolidWorks basics in one hour.

SolidWorks has a place in any industry looking for solutions to engineering problems. In fact, it’s been a presence in almost every field related to 3D technology, including both the public and private spheres. The British Ministry of Defense, for example, have used SolidWorks in the past to design strategic defense equipment, arms, vehicles and vessels. Additional industries include research and education, making use of SolidWorks to access the latest in engineering technology and gain skills needed by those in engineering industries.

Whether it’s aerospace and defense, electronics or packaging machinery, SolidWorks comes with a range of industry-specific tools and capabilities to meet various needs, including:

  • 2D and 3D CAD: create and markup DWG CAD drawings, and create 3D designs and products
  • CAM: integrate design and manufacturing in a single application
  • Collaboration: engage with your team, management and customers throughout the product development process using integrated tools
  • Electrical design: simplify the design process with specific tools for engineers working with electrical system design
  • PDM: quickly manage data files and documentation to increase productivity and improve product quality
  • Simulation: providing users with a range of analysis tools to predict a product’s real-world behavior
  • Visualization: turn models into full, photo-quality images, animations and interactive AR/VR content

What is Autodesk Inventor?

History

Autodesk Inventor logo

Fact file  
 Developed by Autodesk
 First released 1999
 Latest release Autodesk Inventor 2019 (September 10, 2018)

Whilst not, perhaps, seen as Autodesk’s flagship product—a title that undoubtedly goes to the ever-popular AutoCAD—Autodesk Inventor is a frontrunner for those in the mechanical engineering industry. The product was first released to the public in 1999. Before it came into being, however, Autodesk had its own 3D parametric tool called Designer, later evolving into a mechanical desktop design tool. Despite its capabilities, it didn’t even come close to SolidWorks—many Autodesk employees, including Jay Tedeschi, urged Autodesk to purchase the groundbreaking software. Just imagine what the CAD industry would have looked like then! Instead, Autodesk looked towards creating a competitor in the form of Autodesk Inventor.

According to Tedeschi, Inventor was one of the first design tools to implement a ‘unique methodology for making geometric edits’. It would load complex assemblies in next to no time at all by segmenting the graphical data from the model data. In short, it enabled the graphics of the part to load separately, away from the ‘clunkier’ material and geometric data. It’s safe to say, these features were “revolutionary to the engineering workflow’.

In no time at all, Autodesk Inventor slowly began to catch up to its main competitor: Dassault’s SolidWorks. In fact, it still stands as such today.

What it does

Autodesk Inventor is a 2D and 3D mechanical design, simulation, visualization and documentation software package. Similarly to SolidWorks, Inventor focuses on parametric modeling—enabling users to create solid models and sheet metal components—making use of Autodesk’s proprietary geometric modeling kernel, ShapeManager. Beyond parametric modeling options, Inventor also provides direct edit and freeform modeling tools.

As with SolidWorks, Inventor enables users to work with larger assemblies—taking advantage of the software’s intuitive design environment to develop initial concept sketches and kinematic models of parts and assemblies. With time being of the essence for any mechanical engineer, Inventor speeds up design processes by automating aspects like the advanced geometry creation of intelligent parts, e.g., steel frames, rotating machinery and wire harnesses.

Like any CAD software worth its salt, Autodesk Inventor comes armed with a wide range of simulation tools to help engineers create the perfect product and minimize manufacturing costs. Additionally, its capabilities include part and assembly-level motion simulation and stress analysis functionality. Users can simulate stress, deflection and motion to test their designs and models in real-world conditions before they’re even produced.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg for Autodesk Inventor. Users can improve design workflows by making use of additional design tools, such as add-ins like sheet metal, injection molds, chains and frame design. And, with features like shared view collaboration, anyone can review and comment on shared models in Autodesk viewer.

Who uses it

Autodesk has a wide range of software packages on offer—AutoCAD is easily its most popular flagship product, with thousands of users using it worldwide. Despite its wide capabilities, however, AutoCAD falls short when it comes to aspects like mechanical engineering. That’s where Autodesk Inventor comes in. Offering more specialized, mechanical toolsets, Inventor bridges the gap between design, engineering and manufacturing.

Autodesk Inventor is used in mechanical engineering, tool making, sheet metal processing, plant construction, and a whole lot more. Almost any industry that designs and manufactures mechanical or electrical products uses Inventor. As a product that can control design, prototype and manufacturing costs, it’s easy to see why. Let’s take DIS-TRAN, for example. This company provides steel and equipment for constructing high-voltage, open-air substations. With Inventor, they can shorten lead times in engineering and design by 20%!

As with any other product from CAD giant Autodesk, Inventor comes with a vast range of specialized tools and features to take product design to the next level:

  • Product design: create 3D objects using parametric modeling and put models together in fewer steps with assembly modeling
  • Collaboration and design automation: collaboration is made simple with shared view and automated frame design enables users to design and test structures quickly
  • Modelling: includes flexible, direct, freeform and parametric modeling—allowing users to design complex products that conform to company standards
  • Interoperability: design can be shared in the cloud, data management is made simple with Autodesk’s Vault
  • Simulation: models can be tested in real-world conditions with stress analysis and dynamic simulation
  • Visualization: see how products and models look in real-world scenarios with visualization and rendering tools

SolidWorks vs Autodesk Inventor

So, we’ve summed up both products—looking at histories, product descriptions and users—but when it comes to SolidWorks vs Inventor, which comes out on top? We’ve broken down the main features and differences between both products in the table below…

SolidWorks Autodesk Inventor
3D solid modeling 3D solid modeling
Windows only Windows and Mac (on a Windows partition)
User-friendly—can be picked up quickly Has a much steeper learning curve
Perceptual license or subscription basis Monthly/1 year/3 year subscription basis
No student licenses Free Autodesk Inventor licensing for students
Predominantly used in aerospace, automotives, construction, consumer product industries Used in engineering automotive and construction industries
Not suitable for architecture Has the option to export to Revit to make architectural drawings
Large online community, complete with tutorials and resources Smaller online presence—with tutorials and resources—which can hinder learning
Comes with sheet metal design tools Has specialist tools like electrical harnessing
Integrated CAM process Printed circuit board interoperability
Collaborate on designs with the 3DEXPERIENCE platform View designs online with Autodesk Viewer

In recent years, the gap between SolidWorks and Inventor has narrowed to the point in which there aren’t that many differences between the two. In most cases, it’s completely down to personal preference. SolidWorks is an industry-standard choice, offering specialist software with an easier learning curve. Autodesk Inventor, by comparison, offers architectural capabilities and student licensing.

No matter which software package you choose, however, Scan2CAD can help streamline your workflow. Looking to use your old drawings in SolidWorks or Inventor? With Scan2CAD, you can convert your raster to DXF or DWG and begin drafting right away!


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