Five years ago, we asked executives at leading CAD companies if, in five years, most design engineers would be using 3D design tools rather than 2D, and all of them said yes. Yet, there are still barriers that design engineers face in migrating from 2D to 3D. Jeff Ray, CEO of SolidWorks, believes one major barrier continues to be fear of change.
“It’s the classic technology lifecycle adoption conundrum: the pain of change has to be less than the pain of the status quo,” Ray explained. “The disruption in the global markets is putting enormous pressure on companies that have been doing business in 2D to design. People are suffering doing what they’ve been doing. Lessening the pain of the change is all about making it easier to migrate to 3D.”
Dan Staples, director of Solid Edge product development for Siemens PLM Software, agrees that fear of change is a major barrier. “Instead of bringing the 2D user into the 3D environment, you have to give them 3D in the 2D environment they’re comfortable with,” Staples said. “They know the value of 3D, but can’t stop production to learn it. There’s simply too much risk in lost productivity during the transition.”
While vendors recognize that 3D is not practical for all users, 3D tools should be easy to access and use for those demanding a more robust design tool. Said Michael Campbell, senior vice president of product management for PTC, “The fact is that 3D CAD is much more powerful than 2D CAD, but in order to harness that power, you need to think in a different way, just like riding a motorcycle gets you somewhere faster than riding a bike. We believe the value of 3D is very compelling, and making that power accessible requires that 3D CAD products be easy to buy, easy to learn, easy to install and set up, and easy to use.”
CAD providers are facing more pressure to make 3D products easier to use, which could help in 2D to 3D migration. “2D continues to provide a hands-on environment that is convenient for many design problems, such as large machine design and conceptual layout. For many jobs, 2D has been the right choice,” according to Chris Randles, president and CEO of SpaceClaim. “3D offers many benefits over 2D, but the complexity of feature-based modeling can make 3D impractical.”
The pressure of competing in today’s global marketplace is a top reason why companies are looking to migrate to 3D, according to Simon Bosley, product manager for Autodesk’s Manufacturing Solutions Division. “Being best-in-class requires manufacturers to use technology to stay ahead of their competition. Businesses can no longer be behind technology and risk extinction,” he said. “To remain successful, they must take the first step and migrate from 2D to 3D.”
Along with ease of use of the basic software comes the demand by users for more simplified design through ad - vanced features in their CAD tool. Vendors are responding to this demand by focusing new releases of their products on performance enhancements and new technologies that improve the modeling process.
“Today’s design process is not what it was ten, or even five years ago,” ex - plained Campbell. “We provide a number of integrated add-on modules for simulation and manufacturing. The seamless integration, elimination of data translation between applications, and a single, consistent environment simplify and improve process productivity.”
Ray agrees that productivity is a major focus for today’s CAD users. “We’ve found that 50 percent of our users are spending more than 70 percent of their time in our product, and as such, we know we have a duty to respect their time,” said Ray. “Our last two releases have included a new user interface; the workflow predicts which tools users will need and makes them readily available.”
Vendors are offering new options that help users eliminate some of the stumbling blocks that have made modeling and conceptual design a tedious process. “We’ve looked closely at what users struggle with and found that easier commands and more options are not the answer,” according to Staples. “You have to take usability to the next level, and that requires a fundamental shift in core CAD technology. Most systems are based on a concept developed over 20 years ago. We introduced synchronous technology for a simpler design process,” he explained. “Because features are not dependent on history, users can move key design elements directly, and instantly update previous geometry.”
For Autodesk, their technology focus is digital prototyping, which, according to Bosley, enables users to re-use data on future projects. “Digital prototyping brings together design data from all phases of the product development process to create a single digital model. Businesses are able to bridge the gaps that can exist among conceptual design, engineering, and manufacturing teams,” he said.
While Randles explained that Space - Claim does not consider itself a traditional CAD vendor, the company’s direct modeling tools help customers simplify their design process. “Our direct modeling solutions were built from the ground up to be easy to use with smart capabilities to create, edit, and share 3D designs,” he stated. “Perhaps the greatest beneficiary of these emerging tools will be the CAD team, because they will see higher-quality input from engineering, and their work will be usable by a broader audience.”
Trends for 2009
As the global economy forces companies to be more cost-effective, CAD vendors will be watching trends more carefully this year to gauge where their customers need the most immediate benefit. “The global economic environment will drive the selection of solutions that are more cost-effective and contribute to increased innovation and faster time to market,” stated Randles.
“Our current economic conditions may force companies to take deep costcutting measures to offset lower sales,” said Staples. “Manufacturers will still invest in technology, but only that which provides real productivity gains so they can streamline operations. Outsourcing places natural tensions on companies in terms of project management and handling foreign data. This will require technology to better address working with supplier data,” he added. Customers won’t be the only ones affected by a poor economic climate, according to Ray. “Quality will be the focus of design tools. I think that this year, there will not be as many CAD vendors as there were last year. Market forces will filter out the marginal players who do not have a rock-solid product that provides a high degree of value.”
But while the economy remains bleak, Ray believes that the result could be a technology revolution. “For the first time, we’re going to be forced to have real energy policies across the world, and utilize renewable sources of energy. Those demands are going to lead to a technology revolution, the likes of which we haven’t seen since NASA put a man on the Moon.” The upside, Ray added, is that “lawyers and politicians will not be leading that charge. It will be engineers.”