Building a Case for 2D Design


Despite all the best marketing efforts of CAD vendors and compelling articles in the trade media espousing the benefits of 3D design, there are still manufacturers designing products in 2D. You have to look no further than the millions of AutoCAD users still plugging away on the software that is the top seller in the 2D product development market.

In the survey entitled CAD Trends in Product Design, conducted by PTC, over 7,000 CAD users, engineering managers, and manufacturing executives worldwide were asked to weigh in on their use of CAD. Nearly half of respondents (47.3%) were still using a mixture of 2D and 3D design tools and over 10% of respondents were using 2D only. An additional 41.2% were using mostly 3D design software.

So the question is why are so many products still being designed using 2D? Certainly the benefits have been well touted and verified by various research consultancies covering the space as well as end users. Certainly the price of both 3D design software packages and the hardware on which it runs has plummeted in recent years. Certainly engineering students are all well versed on 3D design techniques long before they graduate. Perhaps the argument for switching to 3D has evolved to how can we best take advantage of both 2D and 3D.

When asked what the primary benefits are of using mostly 2D design, the participants in the PTC survey were split fairly evenly on their reasoning. The largest share and a little over half (52%) said the biggest benefit was they had important team members who have mastered 2D design; another 47% responded that it made it easier to work with legacy data; and another 44.6% use 2D simply because it’s less expensive.

Why 2D is still in the Mix

There are also a handful of design applications that might not require the sophistication of 3D design. For products that are perfectly, axially symmetric, it is probably sufficient to create the designs in 2D. Simple piping designs, factory layout, sheet metal designs, process schematics, electronic and circuit board design (unless packaging becomes an issue), and traditional machine layout design can be more efficiently designed in 2D.

Hybrid 2D/3D design environments are still commonly found in the machinery industry. Electrical system design and PCB schematics remain the domain of 2D design, even though pundits would argue that 3D design could facilitate connectivity designs and resolve routing issues much faster for things such as wire harnesses.

Concept design is another area that might not require 3D design. Designers might find it easier and quicker to create a concept using 2D tools. The key is to be able to capture that 2D data digitally so it can be used as a foundation for the 3D model, once it’s moved to the detailed design phase. Many 3D CAD vendors are working to integrate flexible 2D design tools into their 3D design software to facilitate concept design as well as layout design.

The reality is that, despite all the proven benefits of moving product design to 3D, history-based parametric 3D modeling software is very complex. For simple products, it might not make sense for manufacturers to make the transition. There are, however, direct modeling 3D tools that easier to learn and might fulfill the requirements of many of these 2D users. They are flexible, more intuitive to use, and enable users to manipulate geometry without as many constraints or interdependent features.

Many of the 2D users who participated in the PTC survey, however, are investigating the transition to 3D for a myriad of reasons. Of those surveyed, only 10% were adamantly staying with 2D. Of the rest, nearly a third (28.3%) were planning to adopt 3D design in the future, while another 34.7% were considering the transition but had yet to make a decision.

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