CAD in construction: Everything you need to know

CAD in construction: Everything you need to know

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The emergence of computer-aided design (CAD) in the 1960s completely revolutionized several industries. In this article, we’ll specifically focus on CAD in construction, including its history, use cases, and recent developments.

First, though, let’s discuss what CAD is, to begin with.

What is computer-aided design (CAD)?

The term CAD refers to the process of using software in design. It’s really that broad of a concept, which also means it has a whole host of use cases and real-world examples.

Product designers use CAD to translate drawings into digital representations that computers and devices such as 3D printers can interpret in the manufacturing stage.

When it comes to construction, CAD allows professionals to create models of building components or even entire structures. These can be an effective means of communicating an architectural design to clients or other stakeholders.

It should be noted, however, that some professionals use the term “building information modeling (BIM)” to describe CAD as it relates to construction. This is because CAD is an umbrella term that refers to any design process involving software. BIM, meanwhile, is technically a type of CAD but can be thought of as a database containing not just design information but scheduling and other components as well.

A brief history of CAD in construction

CAD emerged in the 1960s via programs like Sketchpad. According to the CAD/CAM Hall of Fame, Sketchpad, in particular, laid the foundation for modern iterations of CAD.

CAD technology quickly began to replace manual drafting processes for everything from electric circuits to automobile components.

Eventually, CAD became precise enough for use in engineering applications, which is when it really took hold in the construction industry.

Since then, CAD software has been an integral part of designing and constructing buildings. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find a substantial construction project that didn’t make use of CAD in some way or another.


Who uses CAD systems and why?

Next, let’s look at who uses CAD systems and why they’ve become so crucial in construction.

Computer-aided design software is primarily used by architects looking to create more accurate, easily-manipulated blueprints.

Why is CAD important? Let’s take a closer look.

Why CAD is important in construction

CAD offers architects maximum control over the visual representations of their designs. It allows them to get a different perspective with the simple drag of a mouse rather than having to create a whole new drawing by hand.

CAD also helps professionals reuse designs as needed. If a building has many similar components, it’ll be easier to duplicate an initial design and tweak it via software rather than commissioning a completely new physical model or drawing.

Another benefit of CAD is the easier sharing of designs between teams. Just as cloud-based resource management software makes allocations accessible from anywhere in the world, CAD software lets key stakeholders access designs regardless of their location.

This is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has affected the construction industry in ways that would make relying on manual drawings particularly infeasible.

Lastly, CAD software allows users to clearly see various iterations of a design. Architects often make updates to designs in order to correct issues or address changes requested by the client.

CAD software allows professionals to compare the current design to previous iterations, which can be a useful problem-solving mechanism.

How is CAD used in architecture?

Next, let’s take a closer look at how CAD is used in architecture. We’ll break it down into stages.


While CAD certainly has its benefits, architects do still often use manually-drawn designs in the early stages. These 2D layouts serve as a roadmap for the overall floorplan of a structure.

Once the project has progressed past a certain point, however, these hand-drawn designs will typically be transferred into CAD software. Modern software such as Scan2CAD makes this very easy, rapidly converting drawings into CAD formats.

Once imported into CAD software, these 2D designs can easily be extrapolated into 3D BIM layouts.

Design evaluation

Of course, there’s much more that goes into a successful design than simply how it looks.

Software designed specifically for the purpose of BIM (which, remember, is a type of CAD used exclusively in construction) will also help architects incorporate construction management considerations into their work. This happens during the evaluation phase.

Pure CAD software increasingly integrates well with BIM programs although companies also create dedicated BIM software that incorporates other elements of CAD.

Client walkthroughs

Architects also use CAD extensively for client walkthroughs. Digital models of a structure can help clients visualize the completed version in a way that’s simply not possible with hand drawings.

Popular software for CAD in construction

So far, we’ve covered the following:

  • what CAD is

  • why it’s useful

  • how architects use it

Next, let’s take a look at the popular software programs used to achieve CAD in construction.


Revit is one of the most commonly-used BIM programs out there. It’s produced by Autodesk, which has been a pioneer in manufacturing-related design software for more than 38 years as of writing.

Revit includes a number of features that are integral to architectural work, including generative design.


AutoCAD, which is also produced by Autodesk, is a wider-reaching CAD program used for much more than just construction. Still, it remains popular among architects, city planners, and engineers as well.


MicroStation is produced by Bentley Systems and includes a number of BIM software components. The program was initial released in the 1980s and supports several CAD formats, including DWG, DXF, and SKP.

SkyCiv Structural 3D

SkyCiv Structural 3D is another popular piece of CAD software. It’s particularly useful among engineers looking to collaboratively design structural frames.

CAD in construction dates back to the 1960s when computers became advanced enough to store concrete information about structures and their measurements.

The concept has, of course, evolved considerably since then and today is integral to the construction industry. Computer-aided design software is primarily used by architects in the industry but the resulting precision benefits all tradesmen tremendously.

To learn more about other essential construction management software, check out this article. Check out this piece, meanwhile, if you’d like an idea of other technological trends in construction keep an eye out for.

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Lauren Lake

Lauren Lake is the COO and co-founder at Bridgit. She holds a degree in Civil Structural Engineering and is well-versed in construction workforce management and resource planning processes. Lauren has been named to the Forbes Manufacturing & Industry 30 Under 30 and Best Of Canada Forbes Under 30 Innovators lists. Lauren has presented at industry events and conferences, including BuiltWorlds, Canadian Construction Association, Procore Groundbreak, and more. Follow Lauren on LinkedIn and Instagram.