Online associate's degree programs in CAD are rare, but not impossible to find. These programs can be completed in 1-2 years. Some programs can be finished entirely online, while others follow a hybrid format, combining online courses and an internship. They may also require some campus-based attendance or school-approved hands-on training at a local site.
Associate's degree programs in CAD generally offer training in several computer drafting software programs. Students learn to read blueprints and understand electronic schematics. They may learn about injection plastic molding systems as well as sheet metal parts and ducting.
Credits earned in an online associate's degree program can usually be applied to a bachelor's degree program. Graduates of associate's degree programs can earn certification through several professional organizations.
Due to the technical nature of these programs, students should be very careful to ensure that their computers meet school standards. They may be required to purchase special software for coursework such as standard drafting tools.
Associate's Degree in CAD
Many drafters enter the workforce after obtaining certificates in computer-aided drafting and design, but some pursue an Associate in Science or Associate in Applied Science. Online programs exist, but are not widespread. Many are built around one or two specific computer programs, but most offer exposure to a variety of software applications. Certain transfer programs allow students with college experience to gain credits for courses completed elsewhere.
Students generally learn drafting concepts and develop traditional mechanical skills before moving on to computer applications that might include AutoCAD, SolidWorks, Inventor, NX, Pro/Engineer and REVIT. Most major areas of concentration in this field--such as architecture, mechanics or animation--have computer applications designed specifically for their technical requirements.
Program Information and Requirements
Associate in Applied Science programs require 40-50 semester-credits in technical courses and another 20-30 credits in general education courses; the program can take 2-4 full-time semesters to complete. Additional specializations in particular software applications or content areas may require another semester or two of enrollment.
Online programs generally require students to use a computer with good multimedia capabilities and a high-speed Internet connection. This ensures that students will be able to view lectures, complete assignments and communicate with teachers. Some CAD applications may be compatible with only Windows or Mac; students should verify system requirements with their host schools before investing in new equipment. Traditional drafting tools are generally required, but may be covered by course fees.
Course and Class Information
Some programs offer coursework completely online, but may require an additional on-site internship. Other programs are hybrids, offering many courses online but requiring students to attend some classes at the campus. Another option may be for students to arrange on-the-job training at a school-approved business near their homes. However, the number of online courses is increasing, and some hybrid programs claim that their technical courses will be fully online soon. Typical courses include:
Students learn to interpret basic drawings, symbols, terms and concepts used by drafters. They learn drafting skills such as lettering and technical sketching while studying types of projections, sections and cutaways.
Geometric Dimensions and Tolerances
All areas of drafting require accurate representation of dimensions, and every computer software application has its own range of physical tolerances. Students learn about coordinate systems and standards, and how to represent measurements, tolerances and feature control frames. An introduction to materials science demonstrates how the selection of different materials can affect dimensions and tolerances.
Electrical and Electronic Drafting
This course covers electronic schematics, wiring diagrams and circuit board design. It presents basic electronic concepts, parts, symbols and technical limitations, and compares several computerized layout and error-checking programs.
Plastic Part Design
Students learn the characteristics of plastics, the parameters for designing plastic parts and the limitations of injection molding systems. Topics also include draft, textures, wall thicknesses, extrusion, thermoforming, side-action molds and tool making.
Sheet Metal, Cabling and Piping Design
Architectural drafting specialists and mechanical drafters need to understand specialized diagrams for the location and fabrication of ducting and sheet metal parts, and for the routing of cabling and pipes. Students learn building codes, technical specifications and physical tolerances for these specialized systems.
Industries requiring trained drafters include architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing and electronics. Companies engaged in consumer product design, computer gaming, simulation and animation also need drafters with computer-aided design skills. Experience in drafting and CAD systems may also be useful in other computer-related occupations.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that jobs for drafters would experience little to no change from 2018-2028. Drafters with associate's degrees are expected to have an advantage over certificate-holders. As of 2018, architectural and civil drafters earned a median annual salary of $54,920, mechanical drafters earned $55,920 and electrical and electronics drafters earned $60,070.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
CAD practitioners may apply their associate's degree credits toward a bachelor's degree in a field reliant upon computer design, such as engineering technology, mechanical engineering or architecture. Some online engineering technology bachelor's degree programs offer a concentration in computer-aided design and drafting.
The American Design Drafting Association (ADDA) certifies several levels of drafters, from apprentice to certified design technician. Certifications are based upon examinations, and they are valid for three years. Renewals are earned through a combination of additional training and drafting experience.
Associate's degree programs in drafting can be found in fully online and hybrid formats. These programs prepare students for drafting positions in various fields, such as architecture, mechanics and electronics. As such, coursework covers a variety of technical topics, including blueprint schematics, plastic design and electronic drafting.