Product Design

CAD Manager's Journey into 3D, Part 4

12 May, 2009 By: Robert Green

Readers respond to the survey numbers with disbelief and share reasons for not making the transition.

In the past three issues of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I've covered the wide variance of adoption rates for 3D software in general and in specific segments of the CAD field I've received a lot of feedback from users, vendors, bloggers, and CAD managers. Wrapping up this series, I'd like to share some of the more interesting questions and statements I've received and offer some conclusions. Here goes.

3D Adoption in General
The interesting thing about the feedback I've received regarding 3D adoption is that most comments settle into one of the two following categories:

"You've got to be kidding -- there are many more companies using 3D than that!"

"You've got to be kidding -- there's no way that many companies are using 3D!"

As a reminder, here are the numbers I shared in the previous edition, broken down by industry segment:


Totally 2D

Evaluating 3D


Totally 3D











Civil Engineering





Consumer Goods Design










Interestingly enough, the feedback was almost evenly divided between these two camps, yet was highly correlated to certain industry segments. Those who thought 3D was more prominent than what my statistics indicated were invariably from product design or manufacturing backgrounds. Those who thought my 3D numbers were too high were invariably from architectural or construction firms that use 2D AutoCAD for their project work.

I interpret the divergent responses as validation of my survey's findings that a large gap exists between companies using 3D and those that aren't – in other words, there’s not a lot of middle ground here. Both sides of the issue have passionate opinions on the subject. It's really interesting to see the cultural divide between 2D and 3D reflected in reader feedback.

Bottom line. Where you work determines whether you're involved with 3D implementation. If you’re in a field that has a high rate of 3D adoption but are working for a 2D-only company, you are restricting your future career options. (For details about this, see CAD Manager's Journey into 3D, Part 3.)

Responses: Mechanical CAD
Several mechanical designers sent me comments that could be summarized as, "We use 3D tools for analysis and design but still have to deal with 2D printouts for manufacturing and shop floor processes." A few of the responses I received expressed some frustration along the lines of, "I wish we could go fully 3D so I'd have to support fewer software packages."


These mechanical CAD users fit perfectly into the hybrid 2D / 3D category that is increasingly becoming the norm. These users’ companies have adopted 3D for applications where it works well and have stuck with 2D methodology elsewhere. They have taken a go-slow approach to the 3D transition and most likely will use 3D fully in a few years. The CAD managers in these companies do double duty in supporting multiple software programs, but at least the company is getting the benefits of 3D design methodologies where those tools deliver cost savings.

Bottom line. All things taken into account, these hybrid 2D/3D firms represent a large chunk of the mechanical CAD market and underline the fact that just because a company uses 3D software doesn't mean it is completely 3D.

Responses: AEC
Building information modeling (BIM) is the newest 3D trend in CAD technology, and it aims to overhaul how buildings are designed. Not surprisingly a few firms use BIM exclusively, many firms are trying to figure out BIM, and many companies haven't begun their BIM quest. There was certainly no shortage of responses from those using -- or aspiring to use -- BIM.

Here are a few I'd like to share:

"No way can we use BIM because all our contractors want AutoCAD."

"We love using BIM tools but are frustrated by having to dumb-down our BIM to send out 2D files to construction."

"We'd love to use BIM, but we can't figure out how to work with our mechanical and electrical subcontractors."

Note the common thread in all the problems? That problem has to do with information portability and interoperability required in architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) firms. Because AEC projects bounce around between a principle architect, subcontractors, and building owners, it seems that the project documentation tends to devolve toward industry-standard DWG files.

Bottom line. 3D success in AEC fields will depend on making BIM work, but BIM is not universally accepted as a data standard yet. Those companies who succeed with BIM will be the ones that can coordinate BIM use throughout their extended work teams, which is no small task for a CAD manager.

3D Disconnect
I received a number of questions from readers that could be paraphrased as, "The CAD companies tell us everybody is using 3D but your numbers don't reflect that, so who should I believe?"

This is a great question with a relatively simple answer: Believe both. Let's examine a hypothetical case study to see what I mean.

Case study. Joe User purchases a copy of Inventor Professional from Autodesk. When he does so he actually receives the Inventor Product Suite, which contains both Inventor and AutoCAD Mechanical. Joe's company continues to use AutoCAD Mechanical in 2D mode for production work while Joe investigates how the firm will use Inventor in the future. The questions are: Is Joe a 3D user? Is Joe's company a 3D company or a 2D company?

From Autodesk's point of view, both Joe and Joe's company are 3D users because they purchased Inventor, a full-blown 3D design tool. From a CAD management point of view, Joe's firm isn't 3D yet because it's still using AutoCAD in 2D mode for its projects. Joe himself is becoming a 3D user as he investigates using the software for his company.

Bottom line. My questions were designed to find out how many companies are actually using 3D in their day-to-day work practices. The CAD companies' numbers are based on sales statistics. I think my survey presented a more realistic picture of actual 3D software use in the marketplace, which is expectedly somewhat lower than the sales statistics you might have seen in the past.

Summing Up
The more I correspond with readers, the more I come to understand that the move from 2D to 3D is a long-term, expensive process that is resource- and training intensive. It also has become apparent to me that a CAD manager's role in moving a company from 2D to 3D is pivotal, because 3D adoption doesn't happen unless driven by someone with skill and patience. So be ready, CAD managers, because you're the people who will pilot your companies to whatever level of 3D use makes sense.

Only you can gauge what 3D tools you'll use and how fast the change will happen at your company, but I hope this series of newsletter articles has given you perspective on how to approach the task. Until next time.