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The Best tools to start in Mechanical Design

For a Mechanical Engineer/Designer or just a hobbist, they are few things to get right when starting in design. First of all, having the appropriate knowledge and know how is key in order to create a working system. And secondly using the right tools for your work is also extremely important.

With those two things right, it then becomes  easier to imagine and create systems which will be at the same time functional and also designed in a proper way. Knowledge and being able to generate ideas are essential and very important when it comes to design.

[Stay tuned for our next post to understand how to deveolop your imagination skills in mechanical design]

In this post you will be shown a part of the most important tools which can help you develop your imagination as a mechanical Designer/engineer. Of course they are pleinty of tools out there with a lot more functionalities than the one presented here, but are all those functionalities really necessary?

We will focus on the most basic but important ones which will help you get your work done!


1 – Language

For those who speak many languages fluently it might seem useless to use a language translator when having to design a system. Well,  Mechanical Design also has his own language!
The Mechanical desing technical language is very different from any commonly spoken language. A mechanical designer needs to know the name of different specific components and also understand the technical terms to be able to communicate his ideas with other designers. Furthurmore, nowadays most of the information can be found on internet in different languages, so being fluent technically in your language is a must.
Duolingo is on the the trendiest tool for language at the moment and will help you translate the technical terms form one language to another.

2 – Drawing board

To imporve your creativity and desing skills you will first need to either use a sheet of paper or a drawing board to sketch up your ideas. Personally, I prefer the later because it gives more flexibility when crafting new ideas. The drawing board is a support that allows  to quickly transform ideas to reality in few lines and curves… It give more clarity when starting a new project!

For any product design, it is a good practice to start with a draft, sketch or a technical plan. It will allow you to save time and have a general view of the entire system before using CAD softwares to do the final design. Unless the idea has already been clearly specified and you know exactly what to do, starting with a draft is the right thing to do.

A Technical drawing is the universal language spoken by mechanical designers since the ancient Greece and will most likely remain universal weither it is implemented on a drawing board, tablet or computer.

They are different kind of drawing borads to choose from. They can have many sizes from A4 to A0. For the sizes A4 and A3, they are often equiped with a static vertical ruler and a horizontal sliding one. With the “set square” already integrated in this way, all the parallel and perpendicular lines can be drawn with more precision and ease.
Generally from the size A1, two sliding rulers (horizontal and vertical) enables to have a good repetability for drawing lines.

To choose a drawing board, one rule of the thumb is to choose the larger and stiffer possible for your project. Here are few examples.

3 – Computer aided design softwares (CAD)

Many of the tasks which were done manually back in the old days are now done on a computer. Manual tools are often remplaced by ‘Hi-tech’ tools as the technology advances. Numeric tools like CAD softwares allow us to gain time and be more productive. There is obviously a cost which is the learning curve to master those tools. It can take few hours to few days of trainning to start getting use to a new design software. The nice thing is that most of the tools have similar functionality, so swicthing form one tool to another takes less time than having to learn from scratch.

Nowadays, those software are no longer a simple support, but provides a real assistance when in comes to designing new products. There are many CAD software for design, below the most popular ones ranked by the ease of use (The basic functionalities provided for design are similar across those tools and choosing the one to use will depend on your application, but most of the time the harder it is to get in a tool, the more functionalitiy it provides).

Mechanical design

  • Solidworks
  • Onshape
  • Catia
  • Inventor
  • Pro/Engineer

Infographic design

  • Blender
  • Maya
  • 3DSMax

To use those tools you will need to have a computer with a decent amount of computational power. Modern computers will be able to run them without any problem, but it is important to know the requirements when choosing a computer for design.

Here are 4 things to consider when setting up your design computer:

  • The processor, cores, frequency

They are two main manufacturers on the market which are Intel and AMD, both of them have processors with similar functionalities. ARM processors are becoming more and more powerful and in a near future may even be widely adopted for design. Before choosing a computer, be sure that the hardware is compatible with the version of the software that you will use. For instance Solidworks 2015 requires to have a 64 bits processor from either AMD or INTEL. More details can be found here.

The number of cores and the frequency of the processor also matter. The number of cores of a processor is just it capacity to be multi-task and the frequency is how fast it can execute a specific task.
Nowadays 4 cores processors are mainstream and will most likely suit your needs. The hardware technology evolves quickly, that why it is recommended to choose the highest specs that you can afford with your budget, so that 2-3 years from now your computer will still be up to date for the new software releases.

  • The RAM or System Memory

RAM memory is relatively cheap nowadays, so the more, the better. It is also important to keep in mind that working with those software consume memory. If you are planning to perform analysis or 3D realistic rendering then having the minimum required RAM advertised in the specifications of the software might be an issue. For all those software, in 2016, a computer with 8GB is a good compromise to have them working properly.

  • System storage

The hard disk drive is most of the time used to store files and access them at a later time. But it is also used to store computational data in a “paging file” when the RAM memory is full. You should be careful not to overload your hard disk drive, and get a computer with a big capacity so that you will be able to have more memory for computations. They are also different hard disk drive technologies which influence the speed at which the data is written or retrieved. The most common are traditional spinning hard drive (HDD) and solid state hard disk drive (SSD). The SSD drives are faster but more expensive.

  • The graphic card

The graphic card is mainly used for rendering what appears on the screen. It also allows a bigger fluidity in 3D CAD softwares. Depending on the software that you use, it will have different functionalities. Graphic Cards also use different type of algorithms depending on the manufacturer. The more dedicated RAM is available on the card, the faster the rendering and computations will be.
Below is a selection of computers which meets the computational requirements for standard design work.

4 – CAD accessories

When talking about the accessories, I am once again talking about the tools which will help you have your work done effortlessly. When we spend a couple of hours in front of our favorite software, a little bit of ergonomy doesn’t harm.
The first and obvious accessory to get when working with a computer is of course a mouse. The tool shouldn’t be a burden but instead, it should feel like it is a natural extension of your hand and ideally you should amost be able to forget it. This way, you will be able to focus on the main tasks of your project effectively.

Despite the fact that those components are only tools, nowadays makers and engineers heavily depend on them. Saying that with those tools it is now possible to do things which weren’t possible before would not be 100% correct. The main thing to remember is that the tools allow to be more preformant, more efficient, and less error prone. They also allow to work quickly.

Back in the days, it would have taken a lot of working days to draw the first sketch of a new project, weeks for the first technical drawing, and finally several months for the manufacturing and validation. Nowadays it is just a matter of weeks.
With the right tools, sketches and drafts are precise and allow to detect errors on the fly. For instance, 3D CAD softwares allow to have a complete matching vision between the design and the product itself.
A tool is just a tool that needs to be used to perform a specific task. In any case it shouldn’t be a burden for your work, but instead it should be used to leverage your creativity and be more productive.


Some links in this post are affiliate links which help us run the website and provide up to date content.

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