Taking 3D Design and Engineering on the Road

If there’s a stereotype of CAD users; it probably goes something like this. White shirt, a tie, a mechanical pencil in the top pocket and sat in front of enough large display devices to embarrass a mission controller at NASA – and they’re usually sat in front of that array from dawn till dusk, modelling, drawing, and drinking a fair few cups of coffee along the way. Think Milton from Office Space – with a technical drawing, rather than a stapler.

The reality is that today’s CAD users aren’t your Dad’s CAD users. The days of the dedicated CAD specialist are going the way of the dodo. Today’s designers and engineers are a different breed. They’re typically engaged in the whole process, from sales and requirements planning, through specification and quotation and into execution of both concepts and delivery of engineered products.

They’re not sat in front of a squillion dollars’ worth of hardware – they’re out in the field, visiting customers, on the shop floor, meeting with suppliers to deal with those first off tooling issues, crunching on the kinks in the process.

We recently asked readers how much time they spend out of the office. The answer came as a surprise in terms of just how much the users of 3D design tools aren’t in the office. Half are out and about for a couple of days in a month, but 30% are out of the office for a week or more – only 20% are in the office, full time. Then throw in the fact that 60% or more are regularly doing design or engineering work from home, and it’s clear that the need for a more flexible approach exists.

So how are they accessing those chunks of data that are critical to much of that process? The answer is a confusing one. While the majority of folks are running a desktop workstation (with only 20% using a laptop as their workhorse hardware), it seems that the rise of the mobile computing device is helping. The iPad has, for some time, been dominant in the design and engineering space.

If you look at the overall market statistics, you’ll see that the Android hardware market share is the larger (compared to Apple’s iOS devices) at around the 78% mark (according to IDC, anyway). What few folks ever talk about it how that shifts when you narrow it down to specific industries and job roles. We know from our own conversations, research, and analytics, that the iOS market share in the design, engineering and manufacturing field, is dramatically different from the overall market per se (the iPhone/iPad accounts for around 60% in the last 12 months).

That said, the new breed of hardware coming from Microsoft is seeing some adoption – and rightly so. After all, if you can combine a decent spec’ed bit of hardware that runs your desktop solutions (your 3D design tools, your native email clients, project management tools, etc.) in a smaller form factor, more portable devices, then you’re onto a winner. We’re hearing good things about the new Surface Pro devices from 3D design users of all kinds. [Ed. For more about the Surface Pro, designed with PTC Creo, watch the following video.]

Then there’s the cloud. It’s a nebulous term that can mean many different things to many different people, but we’re fast approaching an era in which your 3D design tools (or a variant thereof) can be delivered either through lightweight ‘apps’ or using browser technology (either directly or using virtualisation). That’s going to free us even from the desktop workstation or the laptop.

We know that users are actively seeking out new ways to access their mission critical data when out on the road. What’s more important is that they have the tools to do something with that data other than viewing it. This is fundamental. It’s not about loading up a 3D model and spinning and zooming it or participating in a change or sign off process, but about being able to use those devices to conduct design or engineering work. Most want access to 3D design tools wherever they are and more interestingly, on whatever device they’re using. Are they going to get them? I’ve suspicion that we’ll see more on this on all fronts, from most vendors in the coming year or so.

Al_DeanAl Dean is Editor-in-Chief of DEVELOP3D Magazine (http://www.develop3d.com).

This blog post is paid for by PTC. The concepts, ideas and positions of this post have been developed independently by Al Dean.