Survey: 3D Modeling Paves Road to Success

9 Oct, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

Aberdeen Group questions 520 manufacturers, finds technology key in reducing costs, change orders and time to market

Don't keep two separate crews for drafting and engineering -- that's one of Aberdeen Group's tips to manufacturers trying to tighten the belt and trim the fat.

"Do more with less" has become the bosses' favorite slogan in manufacturing, observes market research firm Aberdeen Group. Yet, upper management is not about to compromise on product timeline, so how can manufacturers phase in technologies that'll help them produce more with fewer resources? Last month, in conjunction with Cadalyst, Desktop Engineering, and MCAD Cafe, the firm conducted an online survey of more than 520 enterprises. The results, along with Aberdeen's recommendations, are now available in The Transition from 2D Drafting to 3D Modeling Benchmark Report.

Where Do You Belong?
Looking at the external pressures the companies face, their strategic approaches, business processes and support tools, Aberdeen classifies participants into three categories: laggards, industry norm, and best in class. A full half of the survey pool turns out to be in the industry norm. Among the rest, 20% rank as best in class, and 30% as laggards.

No matter where you fall into this scale, you're lodged between opposing forces, says Aberdeen. "On the one hand, Aberdeen survey respondents report that their companies must develop more products and get them to market faster due to shortened time to market (65%), accelerating product commodization (29%) and threatening competitive products (27%). On the other hand, they also indicate that their companies must address customer demand for new products (47%) that are more complicated due to increasingly complex customer requirements (43%)."

Don't Take Away My 2D
You can ask your engineers to do more with less, but don't ask them to give up 2D, because they're not likely to do so anytime soon. "Many manufacturers are making 3D modeling part of the plan. Fully 71% of companies currently using 2D drafting are planning on using 3D modeling," Aberdeen notes. "While one might think that these companies would switch completely to 3D modeling and eliminate 2D drafting, that is actually not the case. In fact, 77% of companies that use 3D modeling also use 2D drafting."

In subsequent interviews with respondents, Aberdeen discovered a number of factors that make them cling to 2D. "For some, 2D drafting is better suited for conceptual engineering when users don't want to commit to part numbers and the complexity of assemblies. Others are constrained by the absence of 3D modeling in their supply chain. If their suppliers can't use 3D models, they certainly can't provide them as a deliverable."

Model Behavior
Bests in class -- or those that hit their revenue, cost, launch date and quality targets for 84% or more of their products -- have some characteristics that distinguish them from the rest. For instance, they are:

  • 40% more likely to have engineers use CAD directly to ensure they stay closer to the design,
  • half as likely to document any design deliverables on paper,
  • 12% more likely to completely develop designs electronically,
  • 24% more likely to use the extended design capabilities of 3D modeling, and
  • 55% more likely to use 3D models' downstream capabilities.

    One of the most notable luxuries of being a best-in-class enterprise is the dramatic reduction in change orders. According to this study, industry norm is 6 change orders per product, laggards are likely to average 9.8, but the bests in class only 3.7.

    Number of change orders per product by various classes of manufacturers. Best in class companies are typically farther along in adopting 3D CAD technology, according to an Aberdeen Group study.

    Aberdeen's Recommendations
    If you are a laggard:

    • do not employ separate teams of drafters and engineers,
    • document all design deliverables in electronic form,
    • acquire or access new hardware when migrating to 3D modeling, and
    • take measures to support design reuse throughout the design process.

    If you're in the industry norm:

    • give engineers 3D modeling tools,
    • deploy 3D modeling extended design capabilities,
    • deploy 3D modeling data management, and
    • measure design reuse at design release.

    If you're a best in class:

    • initially document design deliverables in electronic form,
    • deploy 3D modeling downstream capabilities, and
    • measure design reuse on periodic basis.

    An Engineer's Perspective
    Kyle Gerber, a design engineer for Terex Cranes, was one of the survey participants. He offers first-hand insight as to why keeping two separate drafting and engineering teams is counterproductive. "I have a 2D drafter who helps me out," he says. "I would have him do some sketches, then I would take his sketches and model them. But as I model, I begin thinking, 'Well, I don't want it like this; I want it like that instead.' At that point, it would be much faster for me to do the drawing than to go back to the drafter and ask him to revise it."

    The report confirms much of what he suspects, but Gerber points out what may be one of the fundamental pitfalls of technology adoption: Engineers are seldom empowered to make engineering decisions; technology purchases often come as mandates from upper management. "The right software is vital," he observes, "but CAD software is so expensive that [purchasing decisions] are usually made at the management level" -- by people several levels removed from the manufacturing floor, quite literally and figuratively.

    Aberdeen's report is underwritten in part by AMD, Autodesk, PTC, SolidWorks, and UGS. "Underwriters have no editorial or research rights and the facts and analysis of this report remain an exclusive production and product of Aberdeen Group," Aberdeen reports.

  • About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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