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The Problems With CAD Tools: Vendors Address User Pain Points

CAD systems can be a design engineer’s best friend or their worst enemy. They help engineers create better products faster, but can prove daunting and frustrating in the process.We spoke to executives at several CAD companies to find out how they are helping their customers get past issues of ease of use, collaboration, and functionality, as well as other pain points users are still facing with their CAD tools.

#1 Problem: Ease of Use

CAD vendors have made great strides in improving ease of use of their software, but the fact remains that designers and engineers still have difficulty interacting with their CAD system. With all of the incremental improvements that have been made in this area, there are still pain points that cause users difficulty. So what are CAD vendors doing to improve the user experience?

“The main pain points that customers find when using CAD are related to the complexity of the tools,” said Mike Campbell, Vice President of Product Management, MCAD Solutions, for PTC. “Simpler CAD tools on the market generally are regarded as easier to use, but have fewer, less powerful capabilities. We’ve recognized that customers often are unwilling to make this compromise.”are unwilling to make this compromise.”

The key, added Campbell, is to provide products that are usable, but that don’t compromise the power and capability designers need. “By employing an approach that allows the user to get simple tasks done simply, but still providing a path to progress the design and take advantage of more complex capabilities, we’re doing more to improve the usability of 3D CAD in general.”

Adrian Scholes, Director of Solid Edge Marketing for UGS, agrees that too much functionality is a common barrier to ease of use for many designers. “A big problem with traditional 3D programs is that they add so much functionality that they soon get complicated and unwieldy. They essentially provide you with a toolbox and expect you to work out the best tool for the task at hand.” Specifically, Scholes continued, his product provides specialized commands and environments that help users design more quickly than with general-purpose CAD modeling tools.

Simplifying features and capabilities also is key to Alibre. “We focus on providing only the features that the majority of people need and use. It’s basically the 80-20 rule — 80% of the functionality at 20% of the price,” said Greg Milliken, Alibre’s President & CEO. “As a result, we don’t focus on extremely advanced freeform surfacing, extremely large assemblies, or a lot of sophisticated and complex options. There is just less to learn.” Even so, Milliken continued, “Ease of use is still a barrier to wider 3D adoption for all 3D CAD systems, including Alibre Design.”

Productivity is another key aspect of ease of use that still hinders designers and engineers. “Making the system faster from an interaction standpoint is key,” said John McEleney, CEO of SolidWorks Corporation. People will find the system easier to use and friendlier if it’s faster. People, by their nature, are inquisitive, and they want to try things. The problem is that we, as vendors, have made it horrific for people if they make a mistake,” he explained. “To go back has been very expensive, and sometimes you can’t go back. Users want a system that’s almost fault-tolerant.”