Can 2D and 3D CAD Live Happily Together?


While there are certainly compelling and well documented benefits to adopting 3D CAD, there are still a significant number of organizations that are still using and supporting 2D CAD systems. Many of these organizations are successfully implementing a hybrid design environment, employing the best of both 2D and 3D design tools, and they are by no means alone.

According to a 2012 study conducted by Jon Peddie Research, the total CAD market was estimated to be $6 billion in 2010; of that total, the 2D CAD market was $2 billion. Other surveys indicate that up to 75% of manufacturers are still using at least some 2D CAD tools.

Why is 2D still being used?

Reasons vary for the reluctance of many companies to completely migrate their design to 3D. Cost is obviously a factor, though once you calculate the advantages derived from designing products in 3D, it seems less of one. Benefits of 3D design include: faster time to market, higher-quality products, integration with simulation software for virtual prototyping, easier part reuse, and the ability to leverage 3D CAD data for downstream uses.

The time is takes to implement new 3D CAD software and to train new users on these systems are also cited as issues for many manufacturers. With competition at an all-time high, many feel they can’t afford the requisite downtime required of a full-blown 3D CAD implementation.  Others cite the fact that their customers still request 2D deliverables.

In other cases, companies maintain a large amount of legacy designs in 2D. Recreating all those legacy drawings in 3D would be time-consuming and somewhat pointless. Still others don’t want to lose 2D design-related skills and expertise that they have built up over many years. For many of these manufacturers, therefore, it makes sense to maintain both systems. New designs are created in 3D, but they maintain a vault of 2D drawings for slight modifications of previous designs.

Hybrid CAD environments: the best of both?

To straddle the fence, many manufacturers deploy both 2D and 3D design tools. They see the advantage of performing design, analysis, visualization and clash detection using 3D CAD tools, but maintain 2D CAD system to create shop drawings or for collaborating with customers or supply chain partners.

A closely managed hybrid design environment can enable manufacturers to seamlessly switch between 2D and 3D design tools. The key is interoperability between the two. The 3D tool should be able to provide direct import of native 2D files while maintaining full associativity to the 3D model. Any changes to the model are reflected in the drawing, reducing the need for manual updates and ensuring that the 2D drawings are in synch with the 3D model.

This level of interoperability provides engineers with the freedom to safely reuse 2D drawings to build 3D part models and then share insight gained from digital prototyping with suppliers or partners using 2D. This capability is also important in multi-CAD environments, enabling users to share 2D and 3D design data without the need for file translation software.

Creating a roadmap to 3D

Another advantage of the hybrid CAD environment is that is enables companies to adopt 3D design tools gradually, reducing downtime. Often this means letting users continue to use the 2D tools they are comfortable with while gradually learning the 3D software at their own pace. This slow migration method can save countless hours of design and rework and enables users to spend time innovating rather than managing workflow issues.

Certainly some users will be reluctant to learn new 3D tools. It’s the job of CAD managers to provide adequate CAD training for new users to feel comfortable working with new 3D design tools. Ultimately though, engineers themselves will be better able to compete in the future by learning 3D design skills, as 3D design systems will eventually become the standard.

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