The Product Engineer’s Toolbox: The 25 Best Software Tools

Last Updated: January 23, 2023

Product engineering is fueled by an equal balance of quantitative reasoning and creativity. While a product design engineer’s training will take them far, every product designer uses a tech stack to make product innovation easier, faster, and safer. That’s why we’ve curated this list of dozens of the best, most robust, and most innovative product engineering software solutions, such as:

  • Alibre
  • CATIA
  • Fusion 360
  • KeyShot
  • nTopology
  • Onshape
  • Planview AgilePlace
  • Proteus Design Suite
  • …and more

We’ll get to the full list later in this post, but first, let’s talk about the various types of software solutions that should be in your product engineer’s toolbox.

What Types of Tools Do You Need for Your Product Engineer’s Toolbox?

Whether you’re just building your product engineer’s toolbox or you’re looking to expand your toolkit, there’s a plethora of software solutions that cater to various aspects of the product design process. If you stay up to date with engineering blogs, you’ll find plenty of advice about the latest best practices and engineering software, so it’s easy to get lost in a sea of possibilities. Here are some of the must-have types of software to manage your projects and design work.

  • Computer Aided Design (CAD) Solutions: CAD solutions have long been a staple in engineering, and product engineering is no exception.
  • Project Management Tools: Today’s engineering projects are more complex than ever, often requiring file sharing, project mapping, timeline management, and budget management. Product management tools are the foundation for managing the birds-eye view of your projects from start to finish.
  • Collaboration Tools: If you’re not using a full-fledged project management solution with robust collaboration tools built-in, stand-alone collaboration tools are a must for collaborating with team members or other professionals involved in the project. Many of these tools also allow you to share design files with clients for feedback and approvals at various stages. 
  • Digital Prototyping Tools: Digital prototyping tools are similar to CAD tools, but these solutions enable you to build digital prototypes of user interfaces and control panels for your physical products. You can also use these tools to build digital representations of physical products that can then be used to build a physical prototype. Many modern CAD solutions have built-in digital prototyping capabilities. 
  • 3D Modeling Tools: Some of today’s CAD tools also have built-in 3D modeling capabilities, but you can also find 3D modeling tools as stand-alone solutions. Similar to digital prototypes, 3D models enable product designers and stakeholders to explore a product before a physical prototype is built. Product designers often iterate on various 3D models before building physical prototypes, which reduces the number of physical prototype iterations needed for faster time-to-market. These models can also be used for 3D printing of physical prototypes.
  • Simulation & Testing Tools: Simulation and testing tools rely on digital prototypes and simulate various real-world processes to evaluate how a physical product would perform based on its current design before moving to the manufacturing stage. Testing is crucial to ensure a product is safe and performs to expectations, avoiding product recalls and other issues once a product reaches the market. These tools are also invaluable for speeding time-to-market, allowing engineers to fine-tune designs to accommodate the real-world operating environment without building multiple physical prototypes for testing purposes.

25 Leading Tools for the Product Engineer’s Toolbox

There are innumerable tools on the market for product design — so which options are the best? From project management to schematics, these are the 25 best software tools for product engineers.

1. Alibre

@Alibre

Alibre

Alibre is a 3D CAD solution with a robust set of features to enable product engineers to design, document, communicate, collaborate, and maintain their engineering portfolios. With useful features such as a sheet metal environment, automatically generated bills of materials, and more, it’s a valuable addition to a product engineer’s toolkit.

Notable features include:

  • Real-time GPU or CPU-driven rendering
  • Parts generator
  • Assembly modeling

2. Altium Designer

@Altium

Altium Designer

PCB is perfect for designing electronic products — and Altium Designer is the perfect solution for engineers who use it. Altium brings together data, schematics, and documentation into one dashboard.

Notable features include:

  • Unified data model
  • ECAD and MCAD integration
  • Versioning

3. Autodesk Product Design & Manufacturing Collection

@Autodesk

Autodesk Product Design & Manufacturing Collection

Autodesk is one of the most common product engineering tools for one simple reason: it works. It’s a complete suite of engineering tools that gives product engineers the ultimate flexibility and power to bring their ideas to life.

Notable features include:

  • Simulation
  • 3D drafting
  • Collaboration

4. CATIA

@3DSCATIA

CATIA

CATIA is a go-to product engineering software thanks to its powerful interface and sleek user experience. Its 3D modeling and simulation features make CATIA a must-have for product engineers who truly want to innovate.

Notable features include:

  • Model any product
  • Simulations
  • 3D dashboards

5. Circuit Lab

@CircuitLab

Circuit Lab

Circuit Lab is an easy, free schematic editor that doesn’t require installation. It can design both analog and digital circuits, so no matter what type of electronics you’re designing, it has the chops to pull together a professional schematic quickly.

Notable features include:

  • Circuit simulations
  • Schematic PDFs
  • Wiring diagrams

6. Confluence

@Atlassian

Confluence

With tools like Confluence, product engineers can iterate on a design from just about anywhere. This modern collaboration platform makes it a cinch to get your team on the same page, no matter where they are.

Notable features include:

  • Templates
  • Macros
  • Third-party integrations

7. Creo Parametric

@PTC_Creo

Creo Parametric

3D modeling software like Creo makes it possible for product engineers to visualize their big ideas in less time. Creo not only iterates on product designs as a whole, but it can also dig into the function of each component within a product, too.

Notable features include:

  • Additive manufacturing
  • AR
  • Generative design

8. Digi-Key Scheme-It

@DigiKey

Digi-Key Scheme-It

Scheme-It is a free schematic tool that allows product engineers to create schematics for electronic circuitry. With a vast component library, Scheme-It is a useful, time-saving tool for anyone who needs to make online schematics.

Notable features include:

  • Component library
  • Online, in-browser access
  • Free tutorials

9. FreeCAD

@FreeCADNews

FreeCAD

It might be a free tool, but FreeCAD is a popular option for 3D parametric modeling. Product engineers often use FreeCAD to build and modify products in both 2D and 3D.

Notable features include:

  • 2D shapes
  • 3D modeling
  • Open-source software

10. Fusion 360

@adskFusion360

Fusion 360

Fusion 360 is a 3D modeling platform that also includes CAD, PCB, and other modeling software rolled into one. As a cloud-based platform, Fusion 360 allows product engineers to master form, fit, and function in less time.

Notable features include:

  • Sketching
  • 3D design and modeling
  • Rendering

11. JMP Pro

@JMP_software

JMP Pro

JMP Pro is a robust collection of statistical instruments for predictive modeling and cross-validation, repairable systems simulation, model screening and comparison, reliability block diagrams, and other valuable tools to support data-driven decision-making throughout the product lifecycle.

Notable features include:

  • Product reliability testing
  • Modeling to predict outcomes based on risk, customer response, or new processes
  • System repair event simulation

12. Kanbanize

@KanbanizeInc

Kanbanize

Although it isn’t used exclusively by product teams, Kanbanize is a valuable tool for visualizing the product development process. Use it for collaboration within the product team or invite other departments or leadership to join the project — the sky’s the limit.

Notable features include:

  • Vertical and horizontal scaling
  • Project forecasting
  • Workflow management

13. KeyShot

@KeyShot3D

KeyShot

KeyShot supports visualization throughout every stage of the design-to-market process, from the initial concept to prototypes and design iterations, to manufacturing graphics, to creative assets for product marketing and technical documentation post-launch.

Notable features include:

  • Native support for 30+ 3D file formats
  • Scientifically accurate properties for realistic visualizations
  • CPU or NVIDIA GPUs for rendering and linear scaling

14. Mathcad

Mathcad

Calculations are essential to product engineering, and it’s important to keep track of all of the math that backs up your designs. Instead of spreadsheets, savvy product engineers use Mathcad to document and visualize all of their calculations.

Notable features include:

  • Traceability
  • Calculation documentation
  • Whiteboard-like interface

15. modeFRONTIER

@esteco_mF

modeFRONTIER

modeFRONTIER a simulation process automation and design optimization software solution for product engineers. It offers a variety of features and tools to help you identify the best design solutions in less time, balance conflicting constraints throughout the design process, and manage the engineering design process with ease.

Notable features include:

  • Optimization algorithms, DOE and RSM techniques
  • Run multiple simulations automatically
  • Seamless integration with any parametric solver

16. nTopology

@nTopology

nTopology

A next-generation engineering design software for transformative products, nTopology helps product engineers design higher-performing parts in a fraction of the time. It’s used for architected materials, industrial design, manufacturing and tooling, lightweighting, thermal management, mass customization, and more.

Notable features include: 

  • Topology optimization and post-processing workflows
  • Create procedural textures for any surface
  • Built-in simulation tools

17. NX for Design

@SiemensSoftware

NX for Design

Physical prototypes are useful, but they’re expensive. Fortunately, NX for Design makes it possible for product engineers to iterate prototypes in a convincing (and affordable) virtual environment.

Notable features include:

  • Virtual product modeling
  • Product analytics and validation
  • Interoperability

18. Onshape

@Onshape

Onshape

The downside to many product software tools is that they require a desktop application. But Onshape allows product engineers to collaborate with the convenience of the cloud. As the only SaaS product development platform, Onshape is a must for remote product engineering teams.

Notable features include:

  • Real-time collaboration tools
  • Business analytics
  • Built-in PDM

19. Planview AgilePlace

@Planview

Planview AgilePlace

Planview AgilePlace allows product design engineers to visualize work with Kanban boards and lean metrics to reduce bottlenecks, eliminate waste, and accelerate product delivery.

Notable features include:

  • Product portfolio management
  • Custom workflow creation
  • Real-time collaboration

20. PMware

PMware

PMware is a full-featured solution for managing the entire product development cycle, from product innovation to resource and capacity management, cost management, and more to speed time-to-market and seamlessly manage the design process.

Notable features include:

  • Resource and capacity management
  • Work management for planned and unplanned work
  • Risk and issue management

21. Proteus Design Suite

Proteus Design Suite

Proteus is another PCB design tool that makes it easy for product engineers to do product simulations. Use Proteus for PCB design, circuit simulations, or IoT Raspberry Pi integrations.

Notable features include:

  • Integrated PCB design tools
  • Complete embedded systems
  • Free video tutorials

22. Rhinoceros

@BobMcNeel

Rhinoceros

Rhino is a superb rendering software that has the power to handle complex product designs. Product engineers rely on Rhino primarily for 3D modeling, but it can also handle prototyping and free-form modeling — and at a surprisingly affordable price.

Notable features include:

  • 3D capture
  • Rendering
  • Digital fabrication

23. Solid Edge

@SiemensSoftware

Solid Edge

Engineers in the mechanical and electrical engineering space use Solid Edge to iterate products more efficiently. Rely on this innovative tool from Siemens to do better simulations in less time.

Notable features include:

  • 2D drafting
  • Simulation
  • 3D printing

24. Solidworks

@Solidworks

Solidworks

Solidworks develops several tools that are helpful to product engineers. Its Simulation product makes it easy to test products long before production. Solidworks’ Plastic Injection Engineer Cloud tool empowers product engineers to visualize the entire manufacturing process.

Notable features include:

  • Simulation
  • 3D rendering
  • Structural performance testing

25. TinyCAD

@SourceForge

TinyCAD

TinyCAD is a free, open-source tool for creating schematics. Use standardized symbols or drop in your own to create a quick, customizable schematic for a product’s electronic components.

Notable features include:

  • Standard and custom symbol libraries
  • Presentation drawings
  • Support for embedding graphs

Every product engineer has a toolkit filled with software, resources, and other tools to support the various phases of engineering design and product development. These product engineering software solutions, from Creo to Confluence, TinyCAD, Solidworks, PMware, Planview AgilePlace, and more, are some of the most robust solutions available to support the complexities of product engineering.

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