Product Design

CAD Manager's Journey into 3D, Part 3

21 Apr, 2009 By: Robert Green

A deeper look into the numbers reveals probable reasons behind 3D's slow acceptance.

In the past two issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I've been expounding on the relatively low rate of actual 3D software adoption. I've received a lot of e-mail on the topic, with responses all over the map. However, the most common request I've had so far is for an analysis of how 3D implementation is proceeding for various industry segments rather than CAD users as a whole. So in this issue I'll present my industry-specific findings and draw a few conclusions as I go. Here goes.

Data Collection
To arrive at industry segmentation, I've included in my calculations the responses from the past two years of surveys to get a larger sample. And although the year-to-year results do change somewhat, it is surprising how little things have changed in the past year and a half, a period that encompasses both survey data sets.

First I computed the categories of 3D implementation for the two years of data I analyzed for all industries. The percentage distribution worked out as follows (note that I included the 2008 results in parentheses).

Totally 2D23%(19%)
Mainly 2D but evaluating 3D51%(51%)
Hybrid 2D/3D21%(24%)
Totally 3D5%(6%)

Here are the immediate conclusions I drew from these results:

  • The real rate of 3D adoption (the Hybrid 2D/3D and Totally 3D categories) rose only 4% over the period. And although 4% does signal more adoption, it is not earth shattering.
  • Of those who've implemented 3D, most are using it in a mixed/hybrid environment with 2D CAD.
  • The reduction in totally 2D environments seems to match the increase of actual 3D implementation exactly. Note that the Evaluating 3D category remained unchanged.

Industry Breakdown
The industry segments I surveyed were AEC/construction, civil engineering, consumer goods design, and manufacturing/MCAD.

I realize this doesn't give a detailed breakdown, but it is based on previous surveys, so these are the most accurate figures I can calculate. The following chart shows the comparative breakdown for each industry segment:

 Totally 2DEvaluating 3DHybridTotally 3D
Civil Engineering
Consumer Goods Design

When viewing these results, please keep in mind that AEC/construction is roughly 65% of the survey sample, with manufacturing/MCAD, consumer goods, and civil engineering making up the rest. We can see from the industry breakdown that 3D has made far less progress in AEC/construction than it has in other areas, and because this segment represents almost two-thirds of the survey results, it drags down the overall totals.

Quick Conclusions
You'll note that 84% of the AEC/construction industry is 2D! Very few companies have brought 3D into their workflows, and almost none have made the full transition to 3D. Why so low? Most likely it is because most of the industry still uses a lot of paper and uses 2D DWG files as the primary project documents. It seems that even if you want to be fully 3D in the AEC industry, it is almost impossible to do so because of market factors.

Civil engineering has the highest degree of full 3D use. Why? I believe it is because most civil companies that report full 3D conversion also report using Autodesk Civil 3D, which is based on AutoCAD DWG technology, thus greatly reducing the number of the problems you would typically encounter trying to share DWG files with other 2D applications. The other interesting piece of data is that many civil firms that reported being fully 3D are smaller companies that don't have huge numbers of users to train, thus enabling them to make the switch more quickly.

Manufacturing, MCAD, and consumer products firms have very high rates of 3D adoption, but most run a combination of 2D and 3D. Many of these firms use 3D design tools but use 2D for shop drawings or to collaborate with outside customers and vendors. These firms also tend to use more 3D rendering and simulation tools, which explains higher adoption rates as well.

No matter which industry segment you look at, there's still a lot of 2D out there, and the move from 2D to 3D over the past two years of survey data doesn't support mass migration to 3D.

What Does It All Mean?
Based on a combination of reader feedback and my own experience in a variety of industries, I've developed a few conclusions regarding why 3D adoption isn't progressing more quickly. First, contract requirements for 2D DWG files mean a lot of AEC companies continue to work in 2D tools even if they might like to move to 3D. Companies in industries that collaborate with other firms the least (small civil engineering firms, for example) find it easier to make the 3D leap because they are less constrained by 2D limitations that AEC companies deal with.

Industries that require analysis and simulation (manufacturing and product design) have no choice but to move to 3D tools because 2D CAD systems simply can't perform the functions they need. Finally, although user training and software costs are often mentioned as barriers to 3D implementation, it appears that business needs actually drive 3D implementation. If you need 3D to do your job, you'll use it; if not you won't. It really does appear to be that simple.

Summing Up

So what is your opinion? I'd very much like to hear from anyone who has a differing perspective. In the next issue of the CAD Manager's Newsletter I'll wrap up this miniseries on 3D implementation by sharing reader feedback and passing along recommendations for CAD managers who are planning for a transition to 3D CAD.

I'll now wait for the e-mail responses to roll in. Until next time.