Product Design

CAD Manager's Journey into 3D, Part 1

24 Mar, 2009

The majority of companies today still face the transition to 3D CAD, so prepare now to lead the way.

Everybody uses 3D software, right? I mean, if you read all the press releases from software companies, you'd think that 2D is as dead as the drafting board and that everyone is using digital simulation to design buildings, consumer products, and land development projects. Yet I still see a lot of 2D AutoCAD and MicroStation in use in the field, so apparently not everybody has made the move.

I set out to measure the actual use of 3D software by analyzing some data from my CAD Manager’s Survey last year and thought you might be interested in what I found. I'll also point out some substantial CAD management challenges and make a few recommendations that I hope you can use in your environment. Here goes.

Survey Data
To measure 3D use, I settled on four categories of 2D/3D use as follows:

Totally 2D
Mainly 2D but evaluating 3D
Hybrid 2D/3D
Totally 3D

The reason I organized the responses in this manner is that it follows the progression most companies go through as they evolve from exclusive 2D use to exclusive 3D use. I've observed that almost all companies go through a 3D testing phase before settling on a hybrid 2D/3D use profile and, ultimately, a full 3D implementation.

The data I received this year surprised me regarding just how 2D centric the market still is. See for yourself:

Totally 2D 19%
Mainly 2D but evaluating 3D 51%
Hybrid 2D/3D 24%
Totally 3D 6%

2D Still Common
The first thing that jumps out of the survey results is that 70% of the CAD managers who replied to the survey work in companies that are almost entirely 2D in terms of their daily work processes. I am encouraged to see that most 2D firms are at least exploring or testing 3D, but the fact remains that the majority of companies out there are using 2D!

The companies that have implemented 3D software and integrated it into their working environment either partially or fully represent only 30% of the market, with only 6% of companies leaving 2D behind entirely. The inescapable conclusion is that almost all CAD managers have more work to do to move their companies to full 3D implementation.

Why Is 3D Lagging?
Why does 2D persist when there are so many available and affordable 3D alternatives? Why is 3D implementation lagging behind? These are good questions with a host of partial answers including the following:

  • learning curve time for new software
  • training costs (related to learning curve above)
  • higher performance hardware required to run 3D well
  • schedules that don't allow time for proper training
  • legacy 2D information that must be supported
  • users who simply don't want to learn 3D


The conclusion I've made is that simply purchasing 3D software is a very small part of the transition to 3D compared to the time-consuming and expensive problems listed above. My experience shows that almost all CAD managers have several of these problems to contend with as they move their companies to 3D implementation.

A Note on User Reluctance
I don't care what the software literature says about ease of use, it is very hard to get an AutoCAD or MicroStation user to give up a software tool he or she has been using for 10 years or more. Many users are under a substantial amount of deadline pressure to complete their engineering, design, or architectural duties and simply don't want to risk making mistakes due to new software. There's also the human tendency to resist change that works against 3D software implementation.

I continue to see companies that buy great software, hardware, and training resources only to see continued user resistance to learning. Could this be the root reason why 3D isn't catching on as fast as the CAD companies would like? I think so.

Conclusion: Successful CAD managers will have a plan that deals with user avoidance if they are to move their companies into 3D software use.

Other 3D Considerations
Let's fast-forward and assume that your company has made the leap to a hybrid 2D/3D software environment. What types of problems will you experience now that you didn't have to worry about in a purely 2D environment? Consider the following:

  • Old software viewing tools may no longer work.
  • Software interfaces to machine tools may not read 3D formats.
  • Data management tools to manage files may not read 3D formats.
  • Data management tools may not understand complex filing structures like assemblies or project navigation structures used in 3D tools.
  • Your clients may not accept your 3D files, thus requiring 3D to 2D translations.
  • You may receive 2D data that has to be translated into your 3D software.
  • Larger 3D file sizes may overwhelm server drives.


As you can see, getting users acclimated to a new 3D environment may be just the beginning of your problems.

Conclusion: Successful CAD managers will have to consider these problems and plan ahead to prevent these types of problems before they occur.

Summing Up

In upcoming issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll be offering practical tips and tools moving your company from 2D to 3D with maximum user acceptance and minimum expense.

I hope I have helped you to see where your company is in the journey from 2D to 3D and to consider which of the problems I've noted might affect you. Because the CAD manager is the one responsible for piloting the company from 2D to 3D, I can assure you that it is worth your time to carefully consider which obstacles you might encounter.

So think about your situation and get ready to start building a plan for your 3D journey. Until next time.

Related content:CAD Management