2008

CAD Tools: Usability versus Capabilities

CAD software has come a long way in terms of ease of use, interoperability, speed, and capabilities. But there is still a long way to go. We spoke to executives at leading CAD software companies to find out what’s most important to their users, and what the next revolution in CAD software will be.

Migrating from 2D to 3D

Engineers and designers who use CAD software have seen quantum leaps in ease of use, speed, and features in the past few years. Programs are more compatible with each other and with other types of engineering software, and the availability of increasingly faster hardware has improved productivity. But with all the improvements, there still is a barrier to using 3D CAD for many customers. For many, it’s the initial investment and the training involved, and for others, it’s simply the fear of change.

Image“People have to get out of their comfort zone and realize that they can be more effective in 3D,” said Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks Corp. “There’s a fear — and it’s been perpetuated by CAD vendors — that it’s a big deal to go from 2D to 3D. For as many people as there are out there still using 2D, I hear that many reasons why they’re doing it. The fact is, once people start using 3D — assuming they’ve been trained and they’re getting support — they never go back to 2D. You talk to people who have made the change, and they can’t even tell you whether or not it was hard. It’s intuitive, it’s the way the brain thinks, and it’s the way human beings communicate,” he added.

Ease of use and cost also remain barriers to the switch from 2D to 3D. A significant learning curve is still required, even with improvements to the products. “Despite the significant advantages of 3D versus 2D modeling, some of the barriers to adoption exist, including the learning curve, ease of use, and cost,” said Sandy Joung, director of product marketing for PTC. “Modeling in 3D versus 2D requires a different cognitive process — similar to the difference in sculpting (3D) versus painting (2D). This change in user behavior, in addition to the learning curve required to use new software, results in a barrier to adoption,” she added.

ImageThe cost barrier exists primarily for smaller companies — how does one justify the investment? “It’s the ‘if it works don’t fix it’ mentality,” according to Kris Kasprzak, director of Solid Edge product marketing for Siemens PLM Software. “Measurable benefits are often adequate to demonstrate that 3D is superior to 2D. Ease of use is really no longer an issue for the educated consumer,” he said. “Today, the transition is easier than ever before with great migration tools and the ability to reuse existing geometry.”

Until recently, moving from 2D to 3D also involved interoperability issues. That’s changed, according to Simon Bosley, Inventor product manager at Autodesk. “Making the move was hard because of concerns about reusing existing investment in 2D drawings. This has changed with better DWG interoperability. Now that users can incorporate legacy data into the 3D model, they are much more willing to adopt 3D methodologies,” he said.