Taking a Second Look at 3D CAD

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The use of 3D design tools is increasing globally among manufacturers who are trying to stay afloat in today’s increasing competitive markets. Leveraging 3D CAD tools can help them to design better products faster. Despite the obvious advantages to the product development process, there are still a fairly sizable percentage of organizations using mostly 2D tools in the design of their products.

In the study, CAD Trends in Product Design, conducted by PTC, over 7,000 product development engineers, managers, and executives worldwide were asked to weigh in on the current status of both 2D and 3D CAD being used in product development today. Of those respondents, 10.2% are still using mostly 2D design tools in their product development.

That doesn’t mean, however, that these 2D users haven’t considered adding 3D design tools.  According to the survey, which included respondents from over 51 countries, including the U.S., Germany, Japan, France, Italy, India, Korea, China, U.K., most of those 2D users (78.4%) have evaluated 3D CAD tools. Of those, 15.4% have determined 3D isn’t a good choice for them; 34.7% have not made a decision regarding implementing 3D tools; and nearly a third (28.3%) have plans to adopt 3D design tools in the future.

Among the top reasons cited for sticking with 2D design tools was the fact that important team members have mastered the technology (52%); it makes it easier to work with legacy data (46.9%); and it’s less expensive than 3D CAD (44.6%).

Exploring new options in 3D: Direct Modeling

When the first parametric feature-based CAD software emerged, much was touted of the advantages of quick parametric changes and model-drawing associativity over 2D drafting and the timesaving such approaches would offer.  For many—as seen through survey results—the learning curve to 3D CAD is viewed as being too steep. Feature-based CAD systems are often seen as intimidating and complex so management might worry about the productivity lost during the transition.

Another option for organizations looking to transition to 3D is direct modeling applications, which enable users to quickly define, capture and manipulate geometry. Direct 3D tools don’t rely on complicated network or interdependent features, and there aren’t as many constraints, such as original feature definitions that dictate how users manipulate a model’s geometry. As a result, users can focus on creating geometry not on building features, constraints and design intent into their models.

With direct modeling, changes are made to models by push/pull/drag interactions using geometry handles. Modifications are made to explicitly selected and/or inferred sets of geometry, as opposed to parametric, feature-based CAD tools in which modifications are made through existing feature definitions. In parametric-based, 3D systems, changes then propagate to other related or dependent features, which requires the user to anticipate and define feature constraints, relations and dependencies to ensure that changes will update all related downstream geometry in a predefined manner.

With 3D direct modeling tools, 2D users can continue to design the way they did using their 2D tools, allowing their designs to evolve without having to plan their creation in advance.  Training time is greatly reduced because the way they interact with the model is so similar to the way they did using 2D design tools. There is no need to understand the model’s history or design intent in order to be productive using direct modeling tools.

Product development is increasingly a collaborative task, with many departments outside of engineering (marketing and sales, logistics, manufacturing, finance, service, and Quality) frequently weighing in on designs. All members of the collaborative design team can easily learn to use direct modeling tools, even those who are not engineers and have no CAD experience. By using simple automated features, such as drag-and-drop, as well as more advanced feature recognition and real-time geometry interaction, direct 3D CAD tools enable non-engineers to develop new products or tweak existing ones.

These tools are ideal when speed and flexibility outweigh the need for designs to strictly adhere to aesthetics requirements, performance metrics and manufacturing criteria. Designers creating multiple concept models can benefit from the speed, flexibility and intuitive nature of direct modeling tools. Digital prototyping is another stage of design that can be facilitated by the use of direct 3D tools, since it enables engineers must rapidly create and explore design geometry by modifying previous models or legacy data.

Often new designs are simply modifications of previous designs. Most manufacturers—whether they have adopted 3D tools or not—maintain a treasure chest of drawings or legacy data that resides in their 2D systems. When changes are required to these designs, they are often done in the 2D system, not exported and modified in 3D CAD systems.

When, however, 2D designs need to be exported to 3D for modifications, direct modeling tools make this process much easier. Legacy data can be more easily leveraged and re-used with direct modeling tools, because traditional feature-based CAD tools often do not provide the ability to make changes to non-native CAD data.

Image by Fox·Photography_VE

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