As a design engineer, you likely spend much of your time working on a computer, using CAD software tools and working through the engineering design process. Still, that time is incredibly valuable, and the programs and tools you use need to benefit your progress and let you collaborate with other professionals.
Even though design engineers work in a variety of industries that range from electrical and textiles to aerospace and nuclear, and from AI and human-computer interaction to construction and many more, and in different capacities such as OEM design and aftermarket equipment design, the tools needed in all these are often the same.
Because of that, design engineers are put in an odd position. They work in a vast number of fields, but the specialized software those industries use tends to overlap. To be a design engineer means completing similar tasks and processes regardless of the specific product or service they’re crafting.
Here are 25 productivity tools that will aid design engineers in their daily duties. That’s not to say these tools won’t be useful to non-design engineers, although design engineers are most likely to immediately benefit from their functions and features.
The productivity tools below are listed in alphabetical order and are not ranked or rated in any way.
Analog Devices Circuit Design Tools
The zero-cost design tools and calculators available from Analog Devices make design and product selection much easier. They simulate results and optimize them for accuracy. The tools are web-based, but users may download them for offline use.
- Reduced testing time
- Simplified calculations that make engineering challenges easier
- Simulate results that are optimized and tested for accuracy
Fluent allows users to model accurate flow, turbulence, reactions, and heat transfers. Physical modeling software like this is useful for industrial applications, but it requires powerful hardware to operate smoothly. If you work in aeronautics, this software can be of particular benefit to you.
- Plenty of customization for models, both user-made and supplied
- Advanced solver technology that achieves accurate, fast CFD results
- The ability to pause calculations, allowing for examination of results with post-processing, after which the user can continue the calculation with no issues
Price: Contact ANSYS for a quote.
Autodesk Product Design Suite
Autodesk’s 3D design software is one of the standard-bearers for engineers, allowing for simulations with easy collaboration and visualization options. Users can engage in digital prototyping as well.
- Product design changes may be implemented at any time
- 2D AutoCAD drawings may be imported
- The feasibility of making objects can be reviewed virtually before assembly begins, thereby lowering manufacturing costs
- Design data may be recycled for new projects
- The ability to integrate electrical and mechanical designs together
Price: The Autodesk Premium Plan is available as an annual subscription for $2,310, though a free 30-day trial is initially offered. Add-ons, such as perpetual licenses and additional support, are also available.
If you’re already familiar with computer-aided design (CAD) software, BrisCAD will have a shallow learning curve. It handles 3D modeling alongside 2D, and is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux operating systems.
- Intuitive interface
- Simple and quick creation of 2D drawings
- Cloud connectivity for collaboration
- The QUAD cursor, which can decrease work time
- 3D modeling assemblies in DWG format
Price: BrisCAD Classic costs $520, while the $650 Pro version adds direct 3D modeling, lighting, rendering, and more. On top of both is the software’s $990 Platinum edition, which adds 3D constraint creation, assembly modeling, and other advanced features.
Incredibly, CircuitLab works as an in-browser program, allowing users to edit schematics and simulate circuits accurately and quickly. Users will enjoy excellent wiring diagrams, professional schematics, and precision simulations.
- Works entirely in-browser
- Presentation-quality schematics
- Fast symbol creation
- Smart Wires feature, which lets users connect terminals and rearrange components
- Circuits that behave as they would in the real world
Price: Both versions of CircuitLab are available via yearly and monthly subscription models. CircuitLab Pro retails for $399 per year or $39 per month, while CircuitLab Platinum costs $999 per year or $100 per month.
Touted as “the original multi-physics simulation software,” COMSOL allows for physics-based simulations and modeling. Users can also define geometries, establish material properties, or otherwise explore physics to craft models with accurate results.
- Simulations of electrical, mechanical, chemical, and fluid systems
- Connections to CAD and ECAD software
- A huge array of add-ons
Price: Contact COMSOL for a quote.
DraftSight CAD Software
With DraftSight, you can import your current DWG files and make new ones. Its user interface is simple for those new to CAD while remaining intuitive for those familiar with CAD software. Students and hobbyists can make use of a free version, while experienced users will want to upgrade to the higher Professional or Enterprise tiers.
- Industry-standard content for maximum compatibility
- Batch printing
- Read and write compatibility with DWG and DXF files
Price: The base version of Draftsight is free, while DraftSight Professional is available through a yearly subscription. The first year costs $299, with subsequent years only costing $99 each. For access to DraftSight Enterprise, you must call for a quote.
Electrical Engineering, by GK Soft, is actually an Android app with multiple features, including an electrical work calculator, an electric power calculator, and common electrical formulas. Users operating in telecommunications, radio frequency engineering, or power engineering will find this no-cost tool quite useful.
- Calculate just about anything electricity-related
- Find current values for parallel circuits, series circuits voltages, and resistances
- Determine the energy stored in capacitors, inductance, capacitance, and output voltages
Price: Free from the Google Play Store
The Engineering Toolbox
Think of The Engineering Toolbox as a sort of Wikipedia for engineers. It contains a vast array of resources, information, and tools that all work equally well on computers, phones, and tablets. From simple unit converters to voltage standards in different countries, the information available here is useful in all disciplines.
- Easy-to-read (and find) charts
- Values and connection notes for electrical components
Price: Free to use
Engineering Power Tools
If you’re a professional engineer, you’ll appreciate not having to constantly look up formulas or constantly repeat calculations. With over 150 data tables and engineering programs included, the developers of Engineering Power Tools claim that hours of design work can be performed in minutes.
- Incredibly fast solutions to engineering problems
- Modules that allow users to tailor the software for a variety of disciplines and industries, including HVAC, mechanical engineering, and structural engineering
Price: The Plus Edition is $49.95 for a single user and $149.95 for a limited site license, while the Standard Edition is only $24.95 for single users and $99.99 for a limited site license.
Femap is a simulation software that allows for the virtual modeling of components and systems to determine the interaction between them. It distills complex engineering products into easily processed analysis models.
- Allows designers to improve products
- Saves costs by lowering the amount of physical prototyping needed
Price: Contact Siemen Software for a quote.
An open-source editor capable of creating professional-level PCB designs from one copper layer up to 16, with board sizes of up to 60×60 inches. However, FreePCB was designed to work in Windows only, so Mac and Linux users will unfortunately need to look elsewhere.
- Imperial and metric measurements
- Design rule analysis
- Exports extended Gerber files as well as Excellon drill files
Price: Open source; free to use
The GeckoCIRCUITS simulator is excellent for modeling electronics, capable of simulating the way circuits behave, including thermal simulations and control modeling.
- Simple to use
- Open interface
- Simple MATLAB integration
Price: Universities looking to purchase access to GeckoCIRCUITS are offered a deal of 540 Euros (approx. $561) per year. You can purchase a single yearly seat for 1,980 Euros (a little more than $2,000) or a dongle for 2,480 Euros (a little less than $2,600) per year.
Geomagic Design X
Design X is a powerful software that allows users to reverse-engineer physical parts to create fully digital parametric CAD models. Geomagic claims incredibly fast scan-to-CAD times and seamless operations with any CAD software.
- Simple interface that operates the same as existing CAD software
- Reliable results
- Flexibility and integration with other CAD software
Price: Contact Geomagic for a price.
Created by Iron CAD, INOVATE allows designers to create, modify, and share 3D designs through every stage of creation.
- 3D drag and drop operations
- Easier visualization and understanding through animation
- CAXA EDM
Price: Contact IronCAD for a quote.
Kubotek Kosmos includes a vast array of tools that are useful for designers. The 3D kernel can be licensed for powerful 3D software development, and it operates on powerful variable precision that can create models as small as a few microns.
- Compatible with .NET (Visual Basic and C#)
- Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android
- Full Lua scripting and Unicode support
Price: Contact Kubotek for a quote.
The MATLAB platform offers numerical computation, programming, and visualization in an interactive environment that also allows for high levels of collaboration.
- Processor-optimized libraries, allowing for fast core-math functions
- Easily visualized and modeled data
- Easy-to-share results
Price: Standard individual licenses are available for $2,150, but organizations must contact MATLAB directly for a quote for group licenses.
Engineers will appreciate Maplesoft’s MapleSim for its advanced physical modeling and simulation capabilities.
- Reduced need for prototyping thanks to the refinement of models in software
- High-fidelity system-level models can be developed quickly
Price: Contact for a quote
PSMotion’s MechDesigner is specifically for designing and analyzing machines and other products with lots of moving parts. If you need to create a product with the smooth operation of cams, gears, levers, and other CAD-designed parts, this platform is for you.
- 3D machine building
- Kinematic equations for real-world results of mechanisms
- 3D machine design through CAD/CAE software
Price: After an initial free trial, contact PSMotion for a quote to gain access to the full software.
Patran allows for simulations and virtual product development and is MSC Software’s Finite Element Analysis (FEA) solution that provides design engineers with powerful modeling tools. These tools make creation easy when readying models for explicit dynamics and thermal, linear/nonlinear, or other finite element solutions.
- Post-processing for multiple solvers
- Mesh creation on surfaces and solids
- Boundary conditions and analysis setup
Price: Contact MSC Software for a quote.
In this age of the Internet of Things, PTC aims to give manufacturers a big advantage in product and service creation. PTC Creo scales with the size of a business and allows for 2D and 3D CAD, parametric, as well as direct modeling.
- Scalability of toolsets
- Unite Technology pulls from multiple CAD sources, making data conversion easy
Price: While a free trial is offered, PTC must be contacted for a quote to access the full program.
Rhino contains thousands of tools for modeling and editing, allowing users to render, animate, and analyze complex shapes and designs.
- Users can create nearly unlimited shapes and designs
- Compatible with a wide variety of other design software
Price: The current version of this highly versatile 3D modeling software is Rhino 7. Its single-user cost is $995 for Mac or PC, and existing users may upgrade from older versions for $595.
With a bevy of tools from Siemens Software, Solid Edge covers a wide range of design needs. The Solid Edge portfolio offers 3D design, simulation, management, and manufacturing tools while always remaining fast and simple to use.
- The ability to choose the specific apps and tools you want
- Easily create and manage 3D digital prototypes
- Efficient integration with other CAD tools
Price: Contact Siemens Software for a quote.
TinyCAD is an open-source program that lets users create electrical circuit diagrams and schematic drawings, with support for libraries of standard and custom symbols, as well as PCB layout programs.
- Flat or hierarchical schematic entries
- Image embedding
Based in China, ZWSOFT has become a reliable and sought-after CAD/CAM solutions provider. ZW3D, in particular, is their go-to CAD/CAM software with easy-to-use tools that minimize design time.
- Fast, sold-surface hybrid modeling
- High design quality thanks to several verification methods
- Scalable, with many versions available depending on the exact tools needed
Price: 30-day free trial, contact ZWSOFT for a quote.