The Engineer’s Drafting Dilemma

A common debate within the engineering field is the difference between Autodesk’s Inventor and Solidworks. Both are great tools for 3D computer aided design (CAD) and at face value it is a Ford vs. Chevy comparison, but which one is better?

The short answer: It depends on what you are looking to do.

Having used both extensively for the past three years both academically and in the workforce, I can safely say that Solidworks is a geometry driven modeling tool whereas Inventor is an engineer’s aid. Now what do I mean by that? A typical 3D CAD modeler will often think of a design and ponder “how can I model this?”. On the other hand, an engineer is often looking to solve a specific problem and therein lies the fundamental difference.

The Details: Inventor

Unlike Solidworks, Inventor has the necessary tools an engineer needs built right into the software. Inventor allows one to perform motion analysis (seen in the graphic below) and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) while also providing the user with a part library of 750,000+ standard components. Furthermore, the geometry of the parts is created for the user automatically as a result of the loads, forces, and function presented to it through NURBS (Non-Rational B-Splines) and Autodesk property technology.

One can easily create 3D models within Solidworks, but is the part the right size for the loads it is subjected to? Is the part made from an appropriate material for its designated application? Can one effectively test the strength and fatigue of the part while it is motion relative to the rest of the assembly? All the previously listed questions cannot be answered within a Solidworks environment whereas Inventor answers all the above and more thus showcasing the fundamental difference between a geometry creation tool and an engineering tool.

Inventor Screenshot

The Details: Solidworks

That being said, Solidworks has its advantages. In my opinion the user interface is easier to use and more intuitive. I also think it is easier to learn Solidworks. For instance, it took me a semester in college to learn all the ins and outs of the software whereas with Inventor I am still learning new ways to model and solve problems. Furthermore, Solidworks runs simulations flawlessly (see simulation package below) while also providing the user with a cost analysis, something Inventor lacks.

Solidworks also has a major advantage when it comes to sketching and assemblies. In the sketching interface, Solidworks has a much more advanced dimensioning tool and the constraints are much more user friendly. Perhaps Inventors weakest point is its assembly interface. In Inventor, it is not possible to create mates upon selection of two objects without first calling out a mate interface nor is it possible to propagate patterns easily. Being that Solidworks has these capabilities it often leads me to use it over Inventor for certain projects especially if I know that I will have to assemble a lot of parts.

Solidworks Screenshot

The Big Picture

As stated before, it all depends on what you are trying to do with the software. Inventor may not be as user friendly and as easy to learn as Solidworks, but it answers a lot of engineering questions through FEA and other niches in the software that Solidworks cannot. In contrast, Solidworks is intuitive and great if you are only looking to model something.

If I were asked which one to learn, I would answer both. They are similar enough to each other that if you learn one, you can easily learn  the other. Yet, the subtle differences give you, an engineer, a competitive edge when seeking a job that uses either Solidworks or Inventor.



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