Challenges in Transitioning from 2D to 3D

The CAD industry is so far along now that the discussion for many is no longer 2D CAD vs 3D CAD, but methodologies within the 3D CAD (such as direct modelling vs history modelling).  However, the adaption of 3D CAD applications such as SolidWorks is still on-going.  Many companies are still using 2D CAD applications.  Why does it take so long for many companies to make the transition when the benefits of 3D CAD seem to be so apparent?

I think Jeff Ray, CEO of DS SolidWorks Corp, properly identified this problem in an interview for the recent article CAD Tools: Breaking Barriers by Linda L. Bell (NASA Tech Briefs, Jan 2009 issue).  In part, he states that when a company considers making the transition to 3D CAD “the pain of change has to be less than the pain of the status quo.”  3D CAD still needs to be easy to access and use.  It also needs to be robust enough to be a design tool for those users that demand more from their applications.  On speaking about how SolidWorks has answered the need to make this transition easier, Ray states, “our last two releases have included a new user interface [where] the workflow predicts which tools the users will need and makes them readily available.”

Even still, there are many challenges to making the transition.  These involve learning a whole new way of working.  For example, when one draws a square, it doesn’t stay a square.  It can become a cube, rectagular rod or a plate.  It can also become a recess or square hole in another feature. 

Once one gets a grasp on these concepts, setting up the new 3D CAD software to work within the company’s documentation system can seem even more challenging.  This is one area that seems to missed (or at least not implemented fully) by many of the 3D CAD applications.  Having the ability to make drawings isn’t the end of it.  Communication with PLM’s and ERP’s is just as important in many companies. 

As my friend Chris MacCormack has recently pointed out, management of the 3D CAD files themselves must also be addressed.  With one or two users, this matter solves itself with simple use of folders.  However, as departments expand and companies grow, solutions for the raising difficulties change.  Of course, this must also be addressed with 2D CAD applications, but it is a much more complex matter with 3D CAD applications.

Most of us first address these issues with wide-eyed innocence. Upon going through this once, that becomes innocence lost.  To consider the transition from 2D CAD to 3D CAD, all of the above must be taken into consideration, and actually other issues too.  To improperly paraphrase Uncle Ben, with the great power enjoyed with the use of 3D CAD comes great responsibility in how it is used.

Now, it is understood that 3D CAD applications are not useful to all CAD users.  But if the field is mechanical engineering, it is very likely 3D CAD going to be worth the transition from 2D.

5 thoughts on “Challenges in Transitioning from 2D to 3D

  1. I think Jeff’s statement is true regarding the pain of changing. The problem is that I’m not sure SolidWorks has identified what causes the pain. Learning to use the software is the least of problems. It’s been easy for a long time (easy for engineers and CAD operators that is). The bugs and broken features, and the difficulties that are encountered during installation are a much, much greater hindrance. The software trying to “think” for the user is a problem (think MateXpert and other such Xperts) because software rarely-if ever-makes better decisions than a typical user.

    Often, when companies are considering a change, the comment is made that “it never goes like you expect.” Unfortunately with SolidWorks, this is way too true. It always becomes much, much more difficult largely because of bugs and broken features. Minimizing the disparity between expected transition effort and actual effort would be huge in convincing others to make the change. If the testimony is “it went better than we expected” or “it really isn’t too difficult”, that will count far more than any glitz and glamor or the software “doing it for you”.

    That said, there’s still much more involved than just the Software!!

  2. Having seen this article shortly after its publication I waited to see what other comments were made before chiming in, and in doing so am going to ask readers to look at the issues, touched on, from a different perspective.
    The first thing I would like to say is that if 3D CADD had anywhere near the productivity advantages that stepping from the drawing board to CADD had there would be no discussion let alone the long running one it has been.
    3D CADD has been available for almost as long as 2D CADD so if the advantages were as great as we are often told they are it stands to reason 3D should have won a long time ago.
    SWL – “Many companies are still using 2D CAD applications. Why does it take so long for many companies to make the transition when the benefits of 3D CAD seem to be so apparent?”
    The answer to this question lays in the phrase “seem to be so apparent”. 3D ‘seems to have benefits’, but the reality is quite different and has less to do with software functionality, ease of use and or training; but it has a lot to do with how much money 3D actually will return, or make for a company/individual, over and above the application of 2D! This is a highly sensitive point, for many protagonist, and it does tend to focus users in such a way that often exposes the fact that a 3D user will use his/her experience as the reason another should change without knowing if that is commercially sensible, realistic or not.
    Equally, 3D CADD vendor management is going to put the spin we see in this article for obvious reasons: no vendor is going to let on their 3D software will not live up to the productivity claims made. But at the end of the day that is what they all are going to have to admit – at least for a great many CADD users there are no financial benefits.
    To me, the other error made when these topics are being discussed is the assumption that a ‘transition’ needs to be made, as if once it is done there is no turning back.
    So is the problem of ‘transition to 3D’ more to do with the fact that vendors – and some users – actually want others to follow their lead regardless of whether it is of benefit or not or is it just that for those that need 2D, need it for reasons so powerful (money) they are willing to forgo 3D for their purposes. In other words they have chosen to make sound business decisions and in doing so are being unfairly judged by those with different agenda or requirements???
    In the closing paragraph, of the article, this statement – “Now, it is understood that 3D CAD applications are not useful to all CAD users.” – touches on my last point but the closing portion, of the paragraph, dilutes the recognition by saying – “But if the field is mechanical engineering, it is very likely 3D CAD going to be worth the transition from 2D.”
    I firmly believe the ‘fragmentation’ and ‘verticalisation’ of the CADD industry as being destructive forces, and have been roundly hammered for that view; and it is no surprise that those that choose to criticize are also keen protagonist of 3D.
    Maybe the time has come for the vendors to realize the 2D and 3D CADD are not something that should be separated as they have been: maybe it is time CADD vendors understood that at any given time a designer or draughtsperson may need to be able to switch from one method to another – and back again – for very unique reasons; reasons that may not always be very obvious at the time.
    Most of what CADD users ‘do’ is judged and analyzed with the benefit of hindsight and it is impossible for any person to project themselves backwards, having solved a problem. But it can be very frustrating to a designer/draughtsperson to find they are ‘forced’ to use 3Dor2D tools that hamper their way forward when they know they could solve it easily using a 3Dor2D solution, or, equally they are unable to easily switch between 2D and 3D in the same ‘space’.
    It is this last point that I believe is the most important and the way forward for CADD vendors. I once had this discussion with those in charge of the development of Inventor, at Autodesk, and was greeted with the statement that it was “impossible” to combine 2D and 3D functionality, as I was suggesting. I thought this was a very telling comment: in essence I was listening to an engineer say something was impossible when in fact his company had a product that did just what I was suggesting. He either could not see what I could see, or would not! It was sad to hear an engineer, in his position, limits his company’s products way forward with such a defeatist attitude! .
    But even his comment must be look at in the light of the marketing agenda and when that is done it was obvious to see the user/customers success and productivity took second place to the vendors requirements; and in the main that is a reflection of the 3D CADD vendor driven agenda behind the ‘transition to 3D’.
    I do not believe 3D and 2D should be separate packages and I do not believe that it cannot be done only that those involved choose not to do so. More importantly I believe development of both 2D and 3D (in its various forms) must continue on an equal footing and any ‘switching’ – back and forth – that needs to be made will be made by users when the ‘apparent and or alternative benefits’ can be seen and realized in financial terms.
    Users of CADD software are the designers and draughtsperson, CADD vendors are tool suppliers and their agenda, whilst important, should not be the main driver for their customers!
    A prosperous 2009 to all.

  3. R. Paul Waddington,

    First, the offer:
    Thank you for your insightful contribution. If you are willing to reorganize your thoughts into article form, I will be more than happy to post it formally on “SWL”.

    A brief comment:
    There are times when I do just need to make a simply 2D drawing. It would be nice for the 3D packages to better support this scenario. However, in my own environment, the time and money I save on a day to day basis more than covers any slightly more cumbersome 2D activities I encounter once in a blue moon. Other people are in other situations where 2D activity is more important, and this should be considered if there is pressure to move to a 3D application.

  4. “A brief comment:
    There are times when I do …….and this should be considered if there is pressure to move to a 3D application.”

    Yes, I agree. Each person may find the combinations of 2D and 3D varies from job to job and personal preference, and each of us will make some level of compromise, without much fuss, provided it is, as you say, infrequent or a once in a blue moon event.
    I have argued, in the past, I would rather use difficult, flexible CADD software (AutoCAD/MDT) in preference to a polished package that confines the process of design and draughting along ‘strict’ inflexible guidelines.
    “First, the offer:”
    Thank you fcsuper: it is something I am quite passionate about and yet whilst I do write epistles I am not sure I am up to writing quality articles. Happy to let my musing be repeated, used and criticized by others though.

  5. There are a long learning curve when changing the design process from 2D to 3D. First the design concept will be difference. Second, the designing time may be longer compare to 2D and the start up cost also an consideration factor.
    I see some advantages over 3D from the 2D. The material weight calculation, BOM creation, facilitate machining process ( fore complex profile). Good presentation.
    I am still comparing and hesitating over the change..

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