Catia Tutorials
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CATIA Tutorials Library

About CATIA v5

CATIA stands for Computer Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application.  It is also how you say “Kathy” in Russian or Italian, but you pronounce the software name “kah-TEE-ah”.

This is the software that’s used by the big automotive and aeronautical companies.  Boeing, AirBus and Bombardier use CATIA for their planes.  Both the 777 and 787 were designed in CATIA.  Lots of auto manufacturers use CATIA – Bentley, BMW, Citroen, Chrysler, Fiat, Ford, Hyundai, Peugeot, Renault, Tata, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen, Volvo and more.  CATIA is also used by GoodYear, and the United States Navy for shipbuilding.  World-renowned architect Frank Gehry used CATIA to design his many curvy buildings.

Generally CATIA isn’t taught at the college level and isn’t used by small businesses because the licensing is pretty expensive, more than an individual can generally afford (like $25,000).  When you learn it, it’s usually in-house by private trainers that cost your company quite a bit. There are quite a few books on CATIA, and one private company that offers a good low-cost CATIA course ( Otherwise you pay hundreds a day for in-house training somewhere.

CATIA version 4 is unix-based, and some companies are still using V4, but in the last few years even most of the big guys started switching to V5, the Windows-based version of the software. The kernel of V4 and V5 is different, so sometimes conversions result in a loss of data. You can imagine what a pain in the butt this must have been for a company like CERN or Boeing.  The versions are of course are not backward compatible; you can’t open a V5 file in V4. None of the products have backward compatible capability (of course!)

CATIA has already got a Version 6, still Windows based, but generally CATIA  is so expensive that not many of the big companies have migrated to it, and not much training material is available. CATIA v6 has a 2011 release currently, and Dassault continues to improve the V5 release (R20 these days).

CATIA was developed by a French aircraft manufacturer, Avions Marcel Dassault, in 1977. It was written in C++. Back then, it was used via mainframe.  A mainframe is a huge computer that individuals connect to with local terminals.  Dassault decided to market and sell the software in 1981.  Boeing became a user of CATIA in 1984; they were the largest customer of Dassault.  In 1988 CATIA was ported from mainframe to UNIX workstation.  (For you young’uns, the personal computer (PC) in 1988 was still a long way from being ready to host this resource-intensive application). CATIA was adopted by aerospace, automotive and shipbuilding industries pretty quickly.  CATIA’s V5 came out in 1998, which is wow, already ancient history for computer users!  The support for Windows NT and XP was provided in 2001.  The 2008 v6 runs on Windows, Linux or AIX platforms, but Dassault only provides support for Windows platform installations.

You can customize CATIA, too. V4 can be customized using Fortran and C. CATIA V5 can be customized using Visual Basic in the Visual Studio environment, or C++.  It’s not like you have to write raw code anymore; the object-based environment of Visual Studio and the CATIA help files let you get by pretty well without much programming experience.

Don’t the fact that a Frenchman was at the heart of CATIA put you off; it is generally considered to be much more versatile and flexible in the domain of surface modeling and design than the other products.  For example, if you’re trying to model something like an irregularly shaped tomato with a bruise, it’s a lot easier to do in CATIA than using the free-form surfacing tools in SolidWorks or Inventor. 

Keep in mind that 3D software breeds cliques that put teenage girls to shame: CATIA users really turn up their noses at Inventor and SolidWorks.  CATIA is the preferred tool for creating what are called Class A surfaces. This is a term used in automotive design to describe freeform surfaces which look great, work well and are of high-quality (technically they need at least G2 and preferably G3 continuity, whereby, for example, two body panels on a car transition smoothly together with a continuous rate of curvature between the two sections, so that they appear connected and smooth).

Personally, I find that for surface design and modeling, CATIA is far superior to SolidWorks, specifically in terms of free-form design and surface manipulation.  There are just more tools for working with surfaces, more ways to execute your vision.

CATIA basics

Does CATIA work on Windows Vista or Windows 7?

In my experience, R18 of CATIA 5 aborts during installation on a Vista 32bit operating system.  It will install and run on a Vista 64 bit operating system and Windows 7 operating system.  However, the licensing server won’t run on Windows 7 yet.  Dassault will probably sort out this problem with a release in 2010 or early 2011. CATIA v6 installs and runs on Windows 7. And yes, Catia V5 can run on a Unix platform.

System Requirements

Here are some basic system requirements that you should follow to make sure you can install and run CATIA v5.
• Your workstation needs to be at minimum an Intel Pentium III or Pentium 4 based.
• Memory: 256 MB of RAM is the minimum recommended for all applications. 512 MB of
RAM is recommended for DMU applications. These days a Windows workstation will come with a lot more RAM, which is very helpful.  The more the better, at least 2GB to run well.
• Disk drive: 4 GB is needed for the install. You will want a lot more free space on your C drive; at least 25% of the disc free so you can run the program well.
• You’ll need a DVD Rom for installation of course.
• Display: A graphic color display compatible with the selected platform-specific graphic
adapter. The minimum recommended monitor size is 17 inches.
• Graphics adapter: A graphics adapter with a 3D OpenGL accelerator is required with
minimum resolution of 1024x768 for Microsoft Windows workstations and 1280x1024 for
UNIX workstations.

How is CATIA organized?

CATIA V5 is organized into what are called workbenches.  A workbench is a working environment with a specific set of tools appropriate to the dominant task of that workbench. 

CATIA has a number of basic workbenches—

  1. the sketcher workbench,
  2. the part design workbench,
  3. the wireframe and surface design workbench,
  4. the assembly design workbench, and
  5. the drafting workbench.

Think of each workbench as a place where you perform a certain task, like drawing, or solid modeling, putting your parts together so they work as a whole (that’s what the assembly environment is about), etc.  Let’s take a moment to define what each workbench does:

  • The Sketcher Workbench is where you do your drawings.
  • The Part Design Workbench is the parametric, feature-based environment where you create solid models.
  • The Wireframe and Surface Design Workbench, like the part design workbench, is also parametric and feature-based, but in this workbench you create wire frame models or surface models, as opposed to solid body models.  A surface is like the “skin” of a solid, but it has a zero thickness value.  The tools in this workbench are similar to those of the part design workbench, but you have additional functionality for creating and manipulating surfaces. 
  • The Assembly Design Workbench is where you assemble the components you’ve modeled, constraining them so they work together properly and accurately. There’s two methods for creating assemblies, top-down and bottom up. 
  • The Drafting Workbench is where you document your work, for example, by creating detailed drawing views that you’ll be sharing with your customer or suppliers/vendors. When we talk about drafting later on, we’ll be learning about the two methods of drafting, interactive and generative.


CATIA file extensions

  • CATPart – this is the file extension for the files you create in the Sketcher, Part Design, and Wireframe and Surface Design workbenches. 
  • CATProduct – this is the file extension for a CATIA assembly. 
  • CATDrawing – this is the file extension for the files you make in the Drafting Workbench.

Some important terms you should understand before we start…

Feature-based Modeling

In 3d CAD design, you start with a sketch, and then turn it into something 3D, either a solid or a surface—these are features.  A feature is defined as the smallest building block that can be modified individually. Then you put your features together into parts, and your parts together into assemblies.  A model created in CATIA V5 is a combination of a number of individual features andeach feature is related to the other directly or indirectly.

Parametric Modeling

This is a term that’s really easy to understand, actually, but seems confusing at first. Basically, you create your 3D models using sketches that have parameters like size (length, width, area etc) and relationships (parallel lines, equal sides etc).  The relationships are called constraints in CATIA.  These parameters can be changed anytime during the design, modeling and documenting process fairly easily, so that you don’t have to start from the beginning if you want to make a small change. This is the single most cool and time-saving functionality of computer aided design, as distinguished from paper-based design, where you’d have to rebuild the whole thing from scratch if you wanted to see how a small change works.

Bidirectional Associativity

This basically means that your work updates across all CATIA environments; if you make a change in one workbench, you won’t have to duplicate it elsewhere; CATIA does that for you.  The bidirectional associativity ensures that if any modification is made in the model in any
one of the workbenches of CATIA V5, it is automatically reflected in the other workbenches

Specification Tree

The specification tree appears on the left of your screen, and keeps track of all your operations, in a nested format that lets you see how you made a feature. Each sketch and feature, etc, has its own branch or node in the tree, and if you expand a branch, you can see of what that branch is comprised.  The specification tree that appears when you start a new file under the Part Design workbench.


The CATIA compass is a tool that is used to manipulate the orientation of parts, assemblies, or sketches.  You can also orient the view of the parts and assemblies.  By default, it appears on the top right corner of the geometry area.  All the 3D CAD programs have something like this; in AutoCAD it’s called the UCS, or User Coordinate System; in Inventor, you have the View Cube also.


Constraints refer to the relationships among your geometric entities, or drawing elements. In the sketcher workbench, you use geometric constraints to define the size and position of your drawings, and then you apply numerical dimensions to precisely define the size.

Constraints also refer to the relationships among your parts; these are called assembly constraints and they are available from the assembly design workbench.


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