Computer-Aided Engineering (CAE) is the broad usage of computer software to aid in engineering analysis tasks. It includes computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), finite element analysis (FEA), computational fluid dynamics (CFD), multibody dynamics (MBD), and many others.
Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD) is the use of computers to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of a design. CADD software is used to increase the productivity of the designer, improve the quality of design, improve communications through documentation, and to create a database for manufacturing. CADD output is often in the form of electronic files for print, machining, or other manufacturing operations, which includes the creation of a technical drawing and 3D model.
CADD software for mechanical design uses either vector-based graphics to depict the objects of traditional drafting, or may also produce raster graphics showing the overall appearance of designed objects. However, it involves more than just shapes. As in the manual drafting of technical and engineering drawings, the output of CADD must convey information, such as materials, processes, dimensions, and tolerances, according to application-specific conventions.
CADD is an important industrial art extensively used in many applications, including automotive, shipbuilding, and aerospace industries, industrial and architectural design, prosthetics, and many more. CADD is also widely used to produce computer animation for special effects in movies, advertising and technical manuals, often called DCC digital content creation. The modern ubiquity and power of computers means that even perfume bottles and shampoo dispensers are designed using techniques unheard of by engineers of the 1960s. Because of its enormous economic importance, CADD has been a major driving force for research in computational geometry, computer graphics (both hardware and software), and discrete differential geometry.
The Finite Element Method (FEM) is the most widely used method for solving problems of engineering and mathematical models. Typical problem areas of interest include the traditional fields of structural analysis, heat transfer, fluid flow, mass transport, and electromagnetic potential. The FEM is a particular numerical method for solving partial differential equations in two or three space variables (i.e., some boundary value problems). To solve a problem, the FEM subdivides a large system into smaller, simpler parts that are called finite elements. This is achieved by a particular space discretization in the space dimensions, which is implemented by the construction of a mesh of the object: the numerical domain for the solution, which has a finite number of points. The finite element method formulation of a boundary value problem finally results in a system of algebraic equations. The method approximates the unknown function over the domain. The simple equations that model these finite elements are then assembled into a larger system of equations that models the entire problem. The FEM then uses variational methods from the calculus of variations to approximate a solution by minimizing an associated error function.
Using the finite element method (FEM) to analyze engineering and mathematical models is often referred to as Finite Element Analysis (FEA).