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Communications of the ACM


A New Era for Mechanical CAD

3D rendering of a motorcycle frame, illustration

Credit: 3DConcepts

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Computer-Aided Design (CAD) has been around since the 1950s. The first graphical CAD program, called Sketchpad, came out of MIT ( Since then, CAD has become essential to designing and manufacturing hardware products. Today, there are multiple types of CAD. This article focuses on mechanical CAD, used for mechanical engineering.

Digging into the history of computer graphics reveals some interesting connections between the most ambitious and notorious engineers. Ivan Sutherland, who received the Turing Award for Sketchpad in 1988, had Edwin Catmull as a student. Catmull and Pat Hanrahan received the ACM A.M. 2019 Turing Award for their contributions to computer graphics. This included their work at Pixar building RenderMan (, which was licensed to other filmmakers. This led to innovations in hardware, software, and GPUs. Without these innovators, there would be no mechanical CAD, nor would animated films be as sophisticated as they are today. There would not even be GPUs.


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