Low-Cost CAD Options Fuel Growth

For years, the high price tag of professional CAD software licenses has been a real sticking point for engineers. With many of the leading packages priced upwards of $10,000 for a single license (and oftentimes, that's without all the extra modules), and with annual maintenance fees pushing costs up even higher, engineers in smaller companies, as well as solo practitioners, have either had to shut up and put up with the huge expense or be shut out from using professional CAD tools.

SolidWorks and a coterie of other CAD tools knocked the price tag down a bit over the years, but most professional-grade programs can still run upwards of $5,000 for a single seat, and that's not including some of the more advanced functionality fast becoming mainstream like integrated simulation capabilities, sheet metal design functionality, and even some of the latest compliance and product analytics tools.

Luckily, a bunch of new trends are converging to help address the high price tag around CAD, and give cost-conscious users some relief. New subscription pricing models, a spate of lower-cost programs like SpaceClaim, Kubotech, and Alibre, along with a flood of new open-source 3D CAD programs, are giving users a greater variety of choice when it comes to affordable CAD options.

Even some of the big CAD players are getting in on the action. For example, Siemens PLM Software has taken steps to make its lower-end CAD tool, Solid Edge, more price competitive, particularly for small and mid-size companies, the education market, and enthusiasts. One of the more interesting programs it launched recently was an alliance with Local Motors, a new car company predicated on this notion of community co-creation (some would call it crowdsourcing). The pair is offering Solid Edge Design1, a subscription license of its base technology to the Local Motors community for $19.95 a month.

The pair expanded its partnership early this year to offer the Local Motors community a choice of options, including versions with higher-end, professional-level drafting and history-based modeling, FEA capabilities, sheet metal modeling, wire harness design functions, and other capabilities for fees ranging from $99 a month per user to $299 a month, depending on the configuration.

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