In today’s CAD marketplace, while there are many 3D CAD users out there, there are still many more 2D users. The question that immediately comes to mind is, “why isn’t everyone embracing 3D across the board by now?”
In an interesting discussion I had with one of our customers (who happens also to be a very experienced 2D CAD user with over 2 decades experience). During our recent exchange, he made the statement, “3D CAD is for people who cannot visualize 2D”. Being an experienced 3D CAD user for now close to 12 years, to be honest I was taken aback by this statement, and it just started getting me to do some thinking.
To some extent, going 3D is not an easy decision. But given the intrinsic and indisputable benefits of 3D, neither is it a difficult one. However one of the most overlooked and fundamental advantages of 3D CAD systems is the uniting effect which comes from using a common “3D language” and how this pulls everyone in an organization together. What I mean by this is that we are now able to see the same design and have the same design intent in our minds. This is very important in minimizing the “design mishaps” that we often have due to miscommunication.
Of course, the worst of all imaginable “design mishaps” is when the parts we design do not fit! When that happens, it becomes a scramble to fix the design – in the process thereby inevitably increasing our manpower and material cost, and negatively impacting the product’s introduction in the market. These kinds of mistakes are easily detectable in 3D where we can do virtual collision detection within our assemblies while in the design process, something that is impossible to do with a 2D platform. Amongst a host of other measurable and more subjective benefits of 3D technology is that it quickly identifies the elementary design mistakes and all much earlier in the development cycle.
As a former design engineer, I know all too well that one of the biggest challenges in the design process is always the creation of mistake free 2D drawings. In a 3D system, drawing creation is actually quite effortless due to the fact that all of the hard work is spent creating the 3D model – views on a 2D drawing be created line by line. In legacy 2D systems there is no actual relationship between drawing views, and the projection views as well as all of the associated line types (hidden line, phantom lines, etc.) must be visualized by the user and cannot be performed automatically. Besides taking much longer to do, by nature it is a process that is inevitably riddled with mistakes. Again, the real nightmare comes when a design must be changed in a 2D system – in many cases it often requires a complete redrawing! In sharp contrast, 3D systems require merely regenerating/recalculating the 3D model and the 2D drawings update automatically.
One of the most important advantages of going 3D is that you can create better and more robust designs. With a 3D platform, you are able to realistically assign an actual part material, assign an actual usage condition (loading and boundary conditions) and simulate your design intent. In a way, 3D simulation helps reduce your prototyping cycles and predict any design failures much earlier in the development cycle. One extremely important benefit is that it will have a real impact on your product’s total time to market.
And after you have created a robust and highly sophisticated design of a new product, you probably need a tool to help explain your design to your customer or market it. Users of 3D tools are able to create realistic rendered images that can be used in product catalogues or in the creation of virtual “walkthroughs” – animations that can really wow your audience and possibly clinch that important deal!
Of course, these aren’t only the benefits which come when adopting a 3D platform – what I’ve given is only a handful of the most common. However since the emphasis in the marketplace today is centered around a growing need to work faster, more efficiently and get it right the first time – simply by embracing 3D in our engineering processes, we are lead in a natural and methodical manner toward increasingly higher productivity. After several years using 3D myself, I’m one engineer that is thoroughly convinced it is definitely a win!