A look at the history of CAD — and how far it’s come

4 min readSep 5, 2023


The oil and gas industry is under increasing pressure to become more environmentally friendly and find ways to modernize — all while keeping costs down. Digital transformation — or the use of software, digital tools, computers, and robots to streamline workflow processes — can be a powerful and effective way for companies to make changes and save money.

One element of digital transformation that oil and gas companies have at their disposal is the use of computer-aided design (CAD) technology, which helps engineers and designers modernize blueprints and designs. PlantStream’s 3D autonomous CAD aims to help oil and gas companies streamline the design stages of building a piping infrastructure.

Here, we look at the history of CAD and where PlantStream’s own software fits in — and how it can be revolutionary for oil and gas companies.

The early days of CAD

CAD has been around for decades and has evolved tremendously. Some of the first versions of CAD were simple two-dimensional drafting. CAD first arrived in the beginning of the 1960s, with basic software design options like Sketchpad. This technology allowed users to use a type of laser pen on a large computer monitor.

Within a decade, a number of different types of CAD software had emerged on commercial markets. And major industries, like the aerospace sector, began investing in it. Aircraft engineers were able to use CAD to more effectively model their airplanes, and it completely changed the way they were designed and built. Some estimates show the software helped make the sector ten times more productive. From there, companies like IBM and Microsoft began developing their own CAD software, which became widely available.

From 2D to 3D

Some of the first types of CAD packages were basically a replacement of a drawing board and were based on isometric drawings or wireframe models. Designers could more effectively duplicate elements, quickly modify drawings, and easily share files. As CAD software has evolved from two-dimensional designs to 3D models, designers have been able to get a much better look into the intricacies of their blueprints. As the software allows users to render 3D shapes, engineers were able to see inner boundaries, external lines, curves, and depth.

More than 3D design

As CAD software became more advanced, so did its data collection and storage capabilities. Long gone are the days of keeping drawings in a storage chest — all files and data are now readily accessible and shareable on a computer. These days, it’s rare to see vast rooms with design tables and designers laboring over drawings. CAD is present in every industry from automotive and aircraft to animation and artificial intelligence. And members of one design team using 3D CAD software can be placed all around the world. With digitization and global connectivity, it’s possible to hire the best talent hundreds of miles away, because all team members are able to collaborate on the same designs in real time.

Autonomous 3D CAD and PlantStream

The addition of data and algorithms takes CAD to a new level. Autonomous 3D CAD is intuitive and actually adds to designers’ expertise. Autonomous CAD uses machine learning to help the designer choose elements of a design with more speed and accuracy — which is what PlantStream’s software aims to do based on a set of sophisticated rules.

Using PlantStream can be described as playing a video game, allowing engineers to drag and drop certain design features into place. The software helps the user learn how to design better. It features pop-ups that explain errors, and allows designers to automatically route 1,000 pipes in just one minute.

PlantStream’s CAD software is built off of block patterns, which means engineers get access to a pre-set template of equipment and piping layouts that can be added to their designs. Designers simply have to drag and drop elements of their design into place — and by easily changing some design parameters, designers can edit their models in seconds rather than minutes.

Made for more than just design

PlantStream’s autonomous 3D CAD software was built to make the initial planning, design, and construction phases of building out piping infrastructure much simpler, quicker, and more cost-effective. PlantStream ticks all these boxes because it was built with the entire engineering process in mind. Engineers can use the software to build out a 3D plot plan for a feasibility study, take it to clients and get feedback, and then easily turn that existing design into a highly detailed blueprint. For example, the software helps designers easily account for factors like head clearance and wind direction and observe whether the piping infrastructure is sound in a range of scenarios.

A proven track record of success

Although PlantStream only came out of beta mode in 2021, it’s already been used by several engineering companies such as Chiyoda Corporation. The group tested out PlantStream’s 3D CAD software and found that it was really valuable in the client feedback process. Before, Chiyoda wasn’t able to produce highly sophisticated designs for its clients, which made the process of getting comments and revisions time consuming. With PlantStream, they were able to build better 3D piping models, and they were able to reduce the amount of time it took to make revisions. This ability, they said, was key to saving time and money in the early design phases of building out piping infrastructure.




Autonomous CAD tool that revolutionizes plant design.