Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Moving from 2D to 3D to Digital Product Development

Realizing the continued advances in computer technology and 3D CAD, it is a bit odd to consider that even today much product design is still being done in 2D. AutoCAD from Autodesk is still a top seller within the product development space. Autodesk touts many thousands of seats on support within the mechanical space. Why hasn’t everyone switch to 3D design by now? Students are now leaving high-school and college with 3D CAD experience. The software is considerably lower cost and is now much more capable and useable. So why is 2D still being used for mechanical design?

Of course the question is not that simple. Let’s first take a look at the usual transition from 2D design to 3D product development.

  1. Design with paper and pencil, create detail drawings on paper
  2. Design with paper and pencil, create detail drawings with 2D CAD
  3. Design with 2D CAD, create drawings with 2D CAD
  4. Create 3D models, use 3D models to create 2D drawings
  5. Design in 3D, use 3D to create 2D drawings
  6. Design in 3D, virtual prototype and simulate in 3D, use 3D to create 2D drawings
  7. Digital product development, leverage 3D throughout product lifecycle to reduce/eliminate the need for 2D drawings and duplicated effort
Today product development is being done at all levels listed above, from level 1 to level 7. As strange as it may seem to some of us, products are still being designed with paper and pencil. Equally strange, for some of us, some product development is being done with little or even no drawings. For those companies that have actually made it to level 7, the success that they are having would indicate that eventually, if you want to compete in product development, 3D will be a key component of your product development processes and environment. So what’s the hold up?

2D has been used for design ever since man started designing things thousands of years ago. It was only recently that we started using computers to assist with the design process. Moving from the drafting board to CAD took some time to get used to but it was not a difficult move once we gained confidence with the computers. Moving to the computer did not involve any change in the process other than we were plotting our drawings rather than blue printing them. The actual design process changed very little.

When 3D first emerged into engineering and product development, it was very expensive and slow. A few early adopters were able to get value from it, but 2D CAD was still the tool of choice for real design work, besides our processes were very dependent on the 2D drawing. While some understood the benefit of designing products in 3D, most systems were justified and purchased on the idea that 3D would provide the ability to speed the process of creating drawings. At this stage many companies made the decision that their products were so simple, from a geometrical view, that 3D would not provide the needed ROI. I have personally been told by several company representatives that their products are so simple that there is really no value for them to move to 3D. Generating the necessary 2D drawings is most likely not the bottle-neck of the overall process for these companies. But are there other benefits to 3D that these companies are missing out on?

There are many companies still with this mindset. They have made the conclusion that the value of moving to 3D does not justify the cost. Obviously these are the two areas we will focus on in this paper. What is the benefit and value of 3D based product development environment, and what is the cost of moving from 2D to 3D? Considering that 3D CAD has now existed for at least 30 years, we should be able to answer these questions.

Using 3D to create Drawings Faster

Benefits:
While some may argue, it is very easy to prove with most any 3D CAD system that you can create drawings faster with 3D than with 2D. Even a drawing for a simple shaft can be created faster in 3D than in 2D. The 3D user simply creates the profile of the shaft and revolves it. You probably need at least 2 views for the 2D drawing. In 3D, these views are created automatically and match exactly. By the time the 2D draftsman has the first view done; the 3D user will have the entire drawing completed, along with a nice 3D representation of the shaft that can be leveraged into the assembly design process, and perhaps other future products. Creating drawings faster represents the most minimal benefit /value of moving to 3D. To understand this value you simply need a stop watch and an understanding of the hourly rate/cost of a draftsperson.

Costs:
Moving to 3D to create drawings faster does not require a process change. You will need to purchase a 3D CAD tool, but most of the cost will be related to the training required of your CAD users on a new system. There may also be some cost related to the management of 3D models and associated drawings. When selecting a 3D CAD system at this stage we usually consider functionality and ease-of-use as critical criteria. These are important factors, but take note that there are many differences in today’s 3D CAD products that can have significant impact to your design process. It may be wise to get some professional help to ensure that you are putting in to place the right foundation that properly supports your process and business needs. Making the right choices at this stage can greatly reduce the potential for future cost as you mature in the use of 3D design data.

Another cost that may need to be considered at this stage is related to your existing design data. In some cases this may be in the form of paper drawings, but more often today this data is in electronic form. The value of this data is usually aligned with the lifecycle of your products and your requirement for leverage and reuse. Typically companies will maintain this data in its current form, which means that the costs related to maintaining (viewing, changing, printing, storing, …) will not go away just because you purchased a new 3D CAD system. These costs will remain for some time, perhaps years. There can be much value, however, in leveraging 2D data into 3D on an as needed basis. If leverage and re-use is important to your business, be careful in the selection of the 3D system to ensure that the provided functionality to leverage and reuse 2D data fits your process requirements.
The 2D Environment

Using 3D to create Accurate Drawings

Benefits:
This represents a much more substantial value than just making drawings faster. With one 3D model, many views of the part can be generated, across sheets if needed. All views will match the model – exactly. There is no possibility that one view is incorrect. An incorrect drawing that goes to production can have substantial costs. At this point drawings are still the master document, but they are entirely derived from the 3D model. To understand the value you will need to evaluate the frequency of errors related to incorrect drawings, and the cost related to the error.

Costs:
Creating more accurate drawings by utilizing the 3D model is a given, and will require no additional investment, other than perhaps continued education in the use of the tool. As users become more proficient in the use of 3D, 2D views in the drawing are just simple output from the 3D model. It is now just a matter of annotating the views.

The 3D Environment

Using 3D to create Accurate Designs

Benefits:
Now we are approaching a level of value that is not only substantial but also somewhat difficult to measure. In the first two situations mentioned above we are assuming that drawings are being created of good designs. In this case, we are questioning the accuracy of the design itself. Do parts fit together correctly? Are interferences understood? Does the assembly work as it should? At this point drawings may still be the master document, but the 3D model is being used deeper in the design process to ensure accurate designs. We can also begin to formally manage the 3D model and assemblies. BOM’s can be extracted and access controls as well as revision and versioning can now begin to be applied at a part and assembly level rather than just documents and drawings. To understand the value, look in the scrap bins of your manufactures and assembly lines. Also understand the volume of change orders and why they occur. How much rework is being done due to errors in the design of the product?

Costs:
At this stage there may be some impact to process, although minimal. What can be more of an issue, and cost, are the necessary changes to culture and habits that will be required of the CAD user. Some of this will happen naturally as they grow in the use of 3D. Further training for the CAD user will also be required to take advantage of more of the advanced functionality of the CAD system. Assembly modeling will now be required. Standard part libraries should also be developed and maintained to get full advantage of the system. There may be additional design task specific modules that may need to be purchased. Also at this point, more formal management of the 3D models and assemblies will be required. Without formal management, wasted duplication will occur. Part naming and numbering at the model level will also be required and, if not already done, will require much attention. Drawing numbers will begin to lose their relevance.

Using 3D to support Digital Product Development

Benefits:
As we leverage 3D to support and now drive complete digital product development, value can be a magnitude beyond that of creating accurate designs. It can also be even more difficult to measure, but it is possible. What we can begin to consider at this stage is the leverage of 3D data throughout the product development lifecycle. We can now consider the 3D model as the master, rather than the 2D drawings. All downstream documentation is derived from the master model. Rapid prototyping can be completed based on the master model. Manufacturing and assembly tooling can now be derived from the master model. CNC programs can also be developed based on the 3D model geometry. The effort to develop and maintain fully detailed drawings can be greatly reduced and in many cases eliminated. With the 3D model as the master, the management of information can be greatly streamlined. With formal management of the master model and all related information, everyone will be working on the latest version. Team members are informed of all changes as the development progresses.

Costs:
As you move to digital product development, process change will be the most significant cost. With process change comes some need to address culture and habits as well. This will also require close interaction with downstream processes, including the supply chain and partners. There may also be additional functionality that will need to be purchased to get to this level. Another significant cost will be PLM. Formal product lifecycle management must be in place to support this level of productivity. It will not work without it. Unfortunately the costs to move to this level can be very elusive. It is greatly dependant on the product design cycle, product lifecycle, product volumes, supply chain, company size and distribution, and key business drivers. Don’t just start throwing tools and technologies in assuming that what works for one company will work for ours. Pay close attention to business drivers and the supporting processes. Otherwise your costs will go quickly out of control – very fast and very big.

Summary

At a very high level, the value of 3D can be summed up very quickly. Basically as we work through the various stages identified above, we are simply reducing the potential for duplication of effort, and accompanying error. We are also increasing our ability to leverage existing data downstream, resulting in improved innovation, higher quality and reduced cycle times (to name a few). Sounds a little too simple, but basically that is what it is all about. Consider designing in 2D, if you are designing a part with a hole in it, it is very likely that you are creating a representation of that same hole several times as additional views are added. This is a simple example of where duplication of effort can be eliminated as you progress into 3D design. Consider a tool designer that is using 2D to design the required tooling, if the 3D model is not being leveraged; geometry is certainly being recreated that has already been created at some point earlier in the process. It is very easy to consider countless other possible ways that duplication of effort happens within product development and throughout the product lifecycle. The basic value of 3D is in doing something once and leveraging it to the maximum possible.Consider cost, also at a high level. What must be considered foremost are culture, process and business. In reality the purchase of a 3D CAD tool may be the lowest cost piece of the puzzle. Tools and technologies, including 3D CAD, must enable process and process must deliver on business drivers and objectives. If you start throwing tools and technologies into the mix without considering this, costs can quickly fly out of control. It is important that you start with the right tools and technologies that support your business and process drivers and requirements. As progress is made in the use of 3D, process will need to adjust. However the impact to process can be minimized by selecting the appropriate 3D technology/tool. Often times 3D CAD is purchased based on user preference, ease-of-use or other low-level requirements. Be careful, there are many differences in today’s 3D CAD systems that can have significant impact to process. Select the right tools in support of your business needs.

Take a close look at the state of your product development process. Where do you fit on the chart above? Can you recognize the value and benefit of moving up the chart with your processes? Are the related costs understood?


The chart above from the Aberdeen Group indicates that those companies that are progressing towards digital product development (Best in Class) are realizing significant business benefits. The necessary technologies exist today and there are even standards that have been defined such as ASME Y14.41 to help companies make the move. If you are not already making the move to digital product development, it is likely that your competitors are well ahead of you.

Coexistence Strategy & Interoperability Best Practices for 3D CAD

Introduction:

In today’s product development environment, it is not uncommon to find multiple 3D CAD systems in place at the same company. This can be the result of acquisitions, process driven requirements or perhaps user preferences.
With this white paper we simply want to review some best practices for a coexistence strategy where two or more 3D CAD systems may exist in on environment or company.

Coexistence can mean different things to different people. It is very dependent on your process. In some cases coexistence can simply mean that data from different sources are being managed in the same database. While in other cases it may refer to data level interoperability between multiple systems. This paper is focused on the later.

Important Facts:

  • “History trees” or “feature trees” cannot be translated to other CAD systems. A feature tree contains things like 2d sketches, parameters on the sketches, parameters defining a 3D operation and the parent/child relationship of the operations or “features”. There is no industry standard for the translation of this type of data. Very specialized feature tree translators are available, but are very costly and marginally successful.
  • Today geometry is the only common data between 3D CAD systems. Translating geometry is common and possible through standards like IGES, STEP and a few others. Custom, or specialized geometry translators are also available that can improve the success rate of a translation.
  • To translate a 3D solid model, all edges must connect to form a “water-tight” solid model. Connectivity is critical. Without connectivity, a solid model cannot be formed and what is left is a set of unconnected surfaces and/or edges.
  • All edges have a start point and an end point. The start point of one edge must match the end point of another in order for it to be “connected”. The “accuracy level” of a 3D modeling system determines how close 2 points need to be before they can be considered one point, or “connected”.

Most CAD systems run at different accuracy settings. This fact greatly complicates the successful transfer of geometry. Some may run at 1e-06mm while others may run at 1e-04inch.

Best Practices and Suggestions:

Set a company standard for geometry accuracy. This is not a trivial task, but will be the most important and effective step to take in developing a coexistence strategy. It may involve raising the accuracy of one CAD system, or perhaps lowering the accuracy of another. Understanding the impact of accuracy settings is complex. Consider the following:

  • CAD systems that allow for uniting, subtracting and intersecting 3D parts with other 3D parts will require that all parts involved in the operation have the same accuracy setting. Many 3D modeling systems don’t allow this type of operation and as such utilizing geometry of a different accuracy level may not be an issue.
  • Consider downstream operations that leverage the 3D models. Such as tooling. What accuracy level is required to effectively communicate geometry to the CAM system.
  • Consider other outside suppliers and partners. Is there a common level accuracy that can be agreed to?
  • Increasing the accuracy with some CAD systems will greatly impact the robustness of the system. Many CAD systems run at a lower accuracy setting to increase the ability to perform complex geometry operations. A blend, or round, will work at the default lower accuracy setting, but the same blend may fail at a higher accuracy setting. Push your CAD vendor to make high accuracy modeling more robust. If a failure like this occurs, it is a defect.

Choose a standard format for geometry translation. The common choices are IGES, STEP. The ACIS SAT and Parasolid transmit file formats are also good. Also consider that for both IGES and STEP, there are many different configurations available. Each CAD system may better support a particular configuration over another.

  • IGES is the most simplistic geometry exchange standard. Because of the many different configurations possible in IGES, successful “connected” translations may be very challenging, especially if there are significant differences in geometry settings between the sending and receiving systems. It is very important to know what configurations the two systems are expecting.
  • STEP is by far more successful than IGES at capturing the connectivity of a solid model. There are different configurations such as AP203 and AP214, but it is much more rigid than IGES. STEP is also capable of exchanging much non-geometrical data such as assembly structures, part colors and other attributes, 3D dimensions, notes and parameters.
  • Custom translators will of course provide the highest rate of success in exchanging 3D connected geometry. They are still susceptible to variations in geometry accuracy but can be much more “forgiving” of inaccuracies in the geometry, and are tailored to the exchange of geometry between two specific CAD systems.

Most all CAD systems also provide the ability to “heal” geometry inaccuracies on import. Check with your CAD supplier and understand what the capabilities are and how they work.

Many CAD systems also allow direct user interaction with unconnected geometry in such a way that the user can effectively close gaps that cannot be automatically closed or “healed” during import. Be sure to understand what capabilities are provided by your CAD vender for doing this type of work.

With a common geometry accuracy level and a determined best exchange format, geometry exchange can be very robust. You can now consider automating the translation of part data based on process requirements.

  • Consider using PDM related automation technology to perform translations based on check-in, state-change, or some other manual or automatic trigger, regardless of which CAD system it comes from.
  • Notifications can be setup if required to keep the project team synchronized.
  • Use a PDM system to help keep all data organized properly.
  • It is best to use PDM capabilities that will allow for multiple documents (models, neutral files, …) to be related to a single part. This will allow you to associate multiple CAD native formats and the related neutral formats to a single part object within the PDM system.
  • The neutral files (IGES, STEP, x_t) can be linked to the part within the PDM system and accessed from any CAD system.

Other Challenges:

Geometry translations should be done at a part level, not an assembly level. Translation at an assembly level results in a single file that contains all parts that make up the assembly. As a result, coexistence at an assembly level, especially with formal data management, can be very challenging. It depends on your requirements for coexistence. Requirements for access control and revisioning/versioning will be critical to understand before defining an assembly level strategy. If it is desired to translate all parts within an assembly, it may be best to consider a batch translation of each individual part. If it is required to translate the assembly “structure”, you will need to define acceptable practices for the management of the results.

Most typical “history-based” modeling systems have very little ability to manipulate translated geometry as there will be no history, or feature tree. The translated geometry will come in as one feature with no parameters, rendering the model non-editable.

Summary:

Keep in mind that a successful translation does not mean that the receiving system is superior to the sending system. It simply means that either the sending system is sending higher level accuracy data, or the receiving system is effectively healing the geometry. However, if the results on the receiving system are a collection of unconnected faces and edges, it is very likely that the sending system is sending geometry at such a drastically lower accuracy level than what the receiving system is expecting that the receiving system cannot heal the gaps without making unrealistic assumptions. All CAD systems have reasonably good geometry healing capabilities, but that can only go so far. Pay close attention to geometry accuracy.

Coexistence of different 3D CAD systems can be challenging, but it is possible with some careful planning in context with your product development process and requirements. Some trial-and-error will be required to best determine a suitable and acceptable accuracy level. The same is true when determining the translation format that produces the highest level of success.

For more information about CAD interoperability check out my article in Machine Design: http://machinedesign.com/ContentItem/72275/AnINTEROPERABILITYUpdate.aspx

Paul

Innovation in Product Development

Originally posted Feb 2008

Well first of all, what is innovation? Here are some of the classical definitions:

  • The act of introducing something new
  • The introduction of something new
  • A new idea, method or device
  • The successful exploitation of new ideas
  • The process of making improvements by introducing something new
When it comes to product development, the generation of "new ideas, methods or devices" may fit best. As stated in Wikipedia: Innovation most likely refers to both radical and incremental changes to products, processes or services.

So is innovation important? Whether it is radical or incremental, innovation is not only important to successful product development, but critical. Without it, you really have nothing.

The next big question is: How do you get it, or where does it come from? There are several critical factors to successful innovation.
  • Recognized as a critical success factor (CSF) to the business
  • Supporting management
  • Supporting processes
  • Creative people -
  • With the ability to interact and collaborate -
  • With access to lots of information and data -
  • Enabling them to make fast & good decisions
Strangely enough, it is not uncommon for innovation NOT to be one of the top business drivers within manufacturing companies. Over the years, things like time-to-market, design-for-manufacturing, low cost manufacturing, and quality have more often filled the top spots in the company business drivers. However in recent years we have seen a renewed interest with innovation in product development. Many companies now consider it a key to their success. If it is a key to their success, management most likely knows about it and supports in some manner. This is another subject entirely; how does management not only support it, but encourage it? Well, maybe we can cover that in another paper.

So how can processes support and encourage innovation? Innovation can be captured in a process. However, for most of us in the manufacturing world, we think of process as something that is serial and repeatable – kind of like manufacturing a product. We have even tried to capture this serial process and control it – again, like manufacturing a product. Unfortunately, this type of process control will only stifle innovation and perhaps kill it. Much has been documented about the process of innovation, but what is most important, is to understand what kind of innovation is important to your business and how it happens.

It certainly requires creative people. But what do these creative people do? Well, usually they interact with other creative people and lots of data and information. In the end though, all of this interaction and collaboration is no good unless it leads to the ability to make good and fast decisions. It is about creative people enabled and encouraged to make decisions. It sounds too simple, but it reality it is simple. Don’t over complicate it.

I recently wrote a paper about the relationship between Product Data Management (PDM) and innovation in product development. The paper was published at http://www.cadcamnet.com/ on 12/20/2007 and is titled "The Intrinsic Relationship Between Innovation and Engineering Product Data Management". Check it out when you get a chance. Let me know what you think. How important is data and information to innovation? Can PDM contribute to innovation? Are there systems out there that are enabling and supporting the chaotic nature of creativity and innovation?

Paul

My Review of SpaceClaim

Originally posted Nov 2007

A few weeks ago I downloaded the 30 day trial of the SpaceClaim product. Wow! How cool is this? So far I am very impressed. Considering this CAD tool has been on the market less than a year, it is a very capable modeling system. SpaceClaim is well outside the box of traditional history-based modeling systems.
When compared to Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, Inventor and other history-based systems, SpaceClaim seems effortless. No up-front work or thought is required to determine how best to create the model. With my first model I started out with a simple rectangle profile and quickly created a block.

I then added 2 additional edges, pulled and tapered a few faces and started defining some shape.
I "pulled" some blends into the shape and continued stretching and pulling. Then I added some mirror planes, a shell and few cut outs and, well, I am no car designer, but the resulting geometry is very impressive, especially considering that I have never used the software before. Total time from start to finish was about 2 hours. I watched a few demos and I spent 2 or 3 hours figuring out the use model, UI and how the system worked. Then I just jumped in.

I also created a simple fan wheel. For some reason I have created this model in many different 3D CAD systems. The blade is freeform and is usually created with a loft through multiple profiles. The hub is a simple revolved profile. I created this model faster with SpaceClaim than I have ever created it before – with a variety of systems.



As with most non-history CAD systems, changing freeform surfaces can be challenging, although I was surprised with what changes were possible. Usually once you create a freeform part, and then add blends; it gets very difficult to change. With a history-based system you can go back in the creation history (structure) and modify profiles and such, regenerate and see the resulting changes.

SpaceClaim does maintain “history” in some cases, such as with mirror planes and shells. It doesn’t create a structure tree however, the “relationships are handled very dynamically, very cool. Although, I’m not sure how to turn them off, if I didn’t want them.

I also created a simple vise assembly. This took all of about 3 hours at most. SpaceClaim is such a dynamic system. You don’t need to put a lot of up-front thought into your design or the modeling process. Just dig in and start creating. It was so easy to create this assembly. The only issue I had with this was with some blending of the Slide part. I'm not sure if you can see it in the picture, but there are two 4-edge vertices in it. I could not get the vertex region to come out the way I wanted. I had to settle for some compromises, although all required blends were added. Earlier I created other 4-edge blends with no problem. I am not sure what was different about this one. Blending is always one of those things that continually improves over time. I also couldn’t figure out how to put the threads on the vise screw, but if it is there, I'll figure it out. If not, I suppose I will have to wait for the next release.

There are a few things that bugged me. Sometimes the small pop-up tools would get in the way of the pull arrows. I couldn’t figure out a way to move them, only to turn them off. I probably need to read the documentation sometime. No surprise, but as the model become more complex, results of a pull were not always what I anticipated. Sometimes the adjacent blends of a pulled face would update, sometimes they would be left behind. I assume this depends on how complex the blends are. Thankfully there is a very nice undo and redo function. I ran into several situations where I wanted to snap to existing geometry during a pull. I am not sure if this is possible with this release. I could not find a way to do it. As a result, there were times when I had to go back and measure something and then do the pull and enter the same values in. I like the fact that it is attempting the Booleans real-time as you are pulling (at least it appears to do this). You get immediate feedback if you attempt something that is geometrically impossible, you can then adjust what you are doing. All-in-all, for being such a “young” tool it is actually a fairly mature 3D modeling system.

I also loaded several models in from other CAD systems. One of the benefits of a non-history based system, is that the modification capabilities apply directly to geometry, regardless of where or how the geometry was created.

The user interaction with the system and the UI is fantastic. This is how it should be. It’s just so simple. My son is in college now, and through high school and college he has learned several 2D and 3D CAD systems, both history and non-history. He took to SpaceClaim like he was born with it or something. It just seemed natural to him. He is a big gamer and is very much into the computer world, and I have heard him complain so much about other CAD systems. This one, he just seemed to enjoy. Maybe it is a younger generation thing – well I enjoyed it too.Anyway, SpaceClaim has my vote. I hope they do well. It is such a dynamic and conceptual tool. While many of you are wasting time trying to figure out your history/structure trees, others will be innovating far ahead of you with a tool like SpaceClaim.

Paul

(oh, and if you don't understand the difference between history and non-history CAD, read our previous post "Selecting a 3D CAD System".)

Selecting a 3D CAD System

Originally posted Sept 2007

I recently wrote a paper on MCAD technologies regarding history-based systems versus history-free systems. With the introduction of SpaceClaim there seems to be more discussion in the industry on the differences between these technologies. I submitted the paper to a few publications and CADCAMNet was quick to take it and publish it. It was published in 3 parts with part one being published July 19, 2007. You can view the articles following the links below.

A Primer on MCAD Modeling Technology, Part 1: It’s All About the Trees

A Primer on MCAD Modeling Technology, Part 2: Design Intent is Not Necessarily in the Eye of the Beholder

A Primer on MCAD Modeling Technology, Part 3: How MCAD Technology Impacts the Product Development Process

I have been involved with 3D modeling for about 20 years and have always been fascinated with the technologies; first as a user, starting with Graphtec, Anvil and ME30. I later was involved in supporting the sale of 3D Design systems as a technical consultant responsible for providing demonstrations and benchmarks for many companies as they were evaluating various CAD systems. It was always interesting to see the different ways in which companies evaluated these systems and what was important to them.

I have sat in rooms with drawings spread on the table, stop watch and video camera ready, with someone ready to count mouse clicks, as I converted the existing drawings to 3D models. I often wondered how many employees they had with the responsibility of converting 2D drawings to 3D models - I bet none, maybe one at most. So why did they evaluate the tool in such a way?

I sat side-by-side at a table in a conference room with one of our competitors. We were expected to import an assembly and then make changes to it. The test was to see who could get it finished first. I completed the import and changes in less than 10 minutes. We spent the next 2 hours watching the other guy attempt to make the changes. He was unable to complete it. This seemed like a reasonable test if your business requires that you import 3D data from other systems. Unfortunately, they never purchased. I could never figure out what exactly their criteria was, but it certainly had very little to do with the elaborate competition and technical capabilities of the toolset.

In the course of what seems like hundreds of benchmarks that I participated in, I very rarely ever lost a benchmark. However, we only won at most 50% of the deals. I am not sure if this is common for all CAD companies, but what's interesting is that often times the capabilities of the toolset and its ability to meet technical demands of the business and process often had a small impact on the selection.

So how do companies today select a 3D CAD system? Benchmarks seem to be much less common today. 3D CAD is becoming more of a commodity now. Most 3D CAD systems are very capable and it is becoming much more difficult to differentiate between the many that are on the market.

There certainly are differences between user interaction models and user interfaces. This may be the more prevalent selection criteria today. User preference seems to be significant - "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", as they say. Selecting a CAD system that your users prefer and that new employees already have experience with is not a bad thing. It can save on the cost of training. I still see a lot of employment opportunities from companies looking for mechanical engineers requesting knowledge of a particular CAD system. This is not a good testament to the ease-of-use of the CAD system, but today it is important.

Certainly the status of the CAD company seems to be important. Not just the stability of the company, but the personality and presence of the company in the industry. The best product doesn't always win. Its all about marketing. A good presence in the market can overshadow a weak product.

Upper management also seems to have much influence on the decision for a CAD system. Often times this influence is based on experience from a successful implementation at a previous company they worked for. Sometimes it is even based on a relationship with a particular sales person. Certainly upper management looks at the financial stability of the various CAD companies as well as their presence in the market. Unfortunately, many times this influence is not based on the technical capabilities of the toolset, or it's ability to deliver on business and process requirements.

Unknown to many people, and perhaps unimportant to many people, is the fact that there are still many deep technical differences between the existing 3D CAD tools on the market. These differences can have a significant impact on your process and even business. Take for example geometry accuracy. Most CAD systems run at different accuracies. Typically the lower the accuracy of the system, the easier it is for the system to successfully add blends and other features. File sizes are smaller and system performance is higher. But at what cost? How does system accuracy affect the leverage and use of the 3D data you spent so much time creating? Should the fastest system with the smallest file size win?

So what do you think is important in the selection of a 3D CAD system for your company?

Paul