3D Printing, CNC, and many methods of prototyping are quickly becoming ubiquitous tools across science and engineering. We have more access to these tools than ever before. But how do you actually make use of them?
Personally, I use Autodesk Inventor – one of the major CAD programs available commonly used for parts and assemblies. Different CAD software packages are designed to be more or less suitable for certain niches of engineering (architecture, building design, artistic models, etc.). And If you have used any CAD software, you will know that all of the primary industrial CAD programs (SolidWorks, Creo, SolidEdge, etc) are basically the same. If you know one, you can figure the rest out pretty easily.
But why Autodesk Inventor? It’s is free with a .edu email address. Create an account and download it here: https://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/inventor-professional
Inventor, as with most major CAD software, has a massive learning curve. This guy does an awesome job breaking down how to do projects in inventor on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCF7zEkelSRiHB1rOnspaBgQ
I recommend following along some of his tutorials and then trying to make something on your own (coffee mug, table, chair, water bottle, whatever). And google anything you don’t know how to do along the way. 9/10 times, someone has a tutorial or video on it somewhere.
If you just want to get up and running quickly without much hassle, try an online solution like TinkerCAD or something like that: https://www.tinkercad.com/
And check if you need any specific unbiquious parts that arent on manufacturers websites on GrabCAD: https://grabcad.com/
For purely animation purposes, Blender is awesome. you can make beautiful scenes and short clips. It’s incredible to me that it’s actually freely available. Check it out here: https://www.blender.org/
CAD is really useful for piecing together projects in silico before you go and buy all the parts and forget something. you can troubleshoot spacing issues with ease, and design custom parts to machine or print around the system in anticipation. Even better, it makes for nifty looking professional animations.