The Best Mechanical Design Software

Mon Jun 12, 2023

Mechanical Design Software

Mechanical engineering design software has positively revolutionized product design and development processes. 

These programs have drastically reduced the amount of time, labor, materials, and energy required to build products that are safe, rugged, cost-effective, and aesthetically appealing.

What is Mechanical Design Software?

The term “mechanical design software” generally refers to computer-aided design (CAD) software and applications that engineers and designers use to create, analyze, and modify mechanical components, assemblies, and systems.

Industries that rely on mechanical engineering design software for product development and manufacturing include:

  • Automotive 
  • Aerospace
  • Shipbuilding
  • Industrial Manufacturing
  • Electronics
  • Utilities and Infrastructure
  • Civil Planning
  • Defense
  • Architecture and construction

These programs can range in scope, complexity, and specialization to support engineering design across industries. 

For instance, let’s consider a mechanical engineer at a shipbuilding firm working on an OEM development project. They would benefit from a software solution that supports 3D modeling and engineering workflows, digital prototyping, advanced mesh capabilities, and built-in team collaboration features.

Best Mechanical Design Software

However, a design engineer working on advancing prosthetic technology would need a different software solution with the capabilities needed to support their design goals. Examples of features best suited for this project could include geometry import, design simulation with collision detection, reverse kinematics, and path planning capabilities.

The overall goal of mechanical design software for designers and engineers is to help streamline the design process, improve accuracy, lower development costs, and facilitate communication among team members.

What to Look for in Mechanical Design Software

There are a number of mechanical engineering software solutions available on the market. Knowing which one is best for your company, design goals, and budget isn’t always clear. 

Let’s explore 6 features to look for when evaluating a new mechanical design software solution.

  • Cloud capabilities: Any mechanical design software you choose should have potential cloud capabilities to allow team members, project stakeholders, operation managers, and other vested partners to collaborate with ease—regardless of location or time zone.
  • 3D design: 3D CAD software is a must for anyone wanting to visualize and assess a design’s physical shape and properties or for those who desire prototyping solutions.
  • Associativity/parametric design: Associativity is a key feature in 3D mechanical design software that significantly lowers the risk of errors or omissions when updating a design element. Associativity maintains a connection or relationship between different design elements or features.
    (In short, when you make changes to one part of the design, other parts are automatically updated accordingly.)
  • Choices in design methods: Good design software should allow the user to choose what design method to use. This includes bottom-up, top-down, and in-place design options.
  • User-friendly interface: No matter how fully loaded and capable a software solution is, if it’s challenging to operate and customize, it’s not going to help teams maximize their design potential and productivity. Select a software design without a steep learning curve to get the most out of your investment.
  • Finite Element Analysis (FEA): FEA is essential for engineers to be able to simulate real-world stresses on digital designs and determine design feasibility prior to prototyping.

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The Best Mechanical Design Software for Engineers

Now that we’ve explored the basics of what to look for in a software solution, let’s list some of the top 3D mechanical design software options currently on the market.

Fusion 360 

Fusion 360 is a 3D-based modeling software released by AutoCAD in 2013. It’s cloud-based, making it great for projects with multiple users. It has one design method choice, top-down, and is capable of:

  • Parametric modeling
  • Mesh modeling
  • Surface modeling
  • CAD and CAM integration
  • Realistic renders
  • Printed Circuit Board (PCB) layout, planning, and manufacturing
  • Cooling of electronics analysis
  • Topology and shape optimization

The benefits and limitations of Fusion 360 software include:

Fusion 360 Benefits

Fusion 360 Limitations

  • User-friendly interface
  • Integration of MCAD and ECAD 
  • T-spline structure for curves and design flexibility
  • Can be prone to frequent crashes
  • No keyboard customization 
  • Internet connection essential
  • Steep learning curve for new users



CATIA is a 3D modeling program by Dassault Systèmes used by mechanical designers across the globe, especially when 3D files are the reference for machine tools. 

CATIA is extremely accurate and favored by high-precision industries such as aeronautics, civil engineering, automotive, and industrial process planning.

CATIA’s most notable features include:

  • Instinctive 3D experience
  • Capturing the intention of the manufacturing process 
  • Cross-discipline development
  • Product modeling
  • Unbreakable relational design
  • Systems engineering
  • Advanced surface modeling
  • Integrated multidisciplinary approach
  • Product design and styling

The benefits and limitations of CATIA software include:

CATIA Benefits

CATIA Limitations

  • Heavily disciplined system
  • Elite sketching and rendering capabilities
  • Multi-platform integration
  • Market compliance
  • Collaboration tools
  • 3D printing file conversions
  • Steep learning curve
  • User-interface can be confusing to navigate
  • Can be costly
  • Particular functions cannot be updated, can slow down design



SOLIDWORKS is another feature-rich, 3D CAD modeling solution by Dassault that stands out because of its advanced parametric 3D capabilities. Users can leverage these to streamline production processes across numerous industries.

SOLIDWORKS users commonly name these features as reasons why they choose this software:

  • Parametric and direct modeling
  • CAD-CAM import
  • Hybrid-mesh modeling
  • Surface modeling
  • Built-in simulation tools
  • Automation capabilities
  • Integrates with other Dassault solutions


Some of the benefits and limitations of SOLIDWORKS software include:


SOLIDWORKS Limitations

  • Easy to learn
  • Cloud-based product development environment
  • Friendly user-interface
  • Parametric capability
  • Simulate different parameters
  • 3D viewing angle
  • Cost-effective
  • System stability can be an issue
  • Resource intensive software
  • Less customization ability than other potential solutions


Build the Perfect Software with Spatial

Each commercial mechanical design software has their own pros and cons and unique capabilities. However, advanced technical prowess and an impressive toolkit may still not provide all of the functionality you need. 

If that’s the case, Spatial’s SDKs might be the ticket. 

Spatial’s SDKs empower application developers to gain access to full-featured, robust 3D modeling solutions that satisfy the demands of multiple industries and workflows.

 To learn more about our SDKs, contact us today.

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