There was a day when it was unlikely that a company would buy a 3D CAD system without extensively evaluating it. They required demos, trials, benchmarks, pilot projects and extensive financial ROI analysis. Are those days gone? Early in my career, I made a living by simply being able to demonstrate relatively new 3D CAD technology. These days, a demo is rarely required for purchases of 3D CAD. Decisions about a company’s core 3D CAD package have generally been previously made, or are now based on data formats of customers or suppliers.
It seems that 3D CAD is simply now an expected part of product development processes and an integral part of PLM in general. The specific version of 3D CAD doesn’t seem to be nearly as critical as companies previously expected them to be. Most can now get the job done in small to mid-size companies, with minor differences depending on the specific situation.
There does still seem to be a “pecking order” for the various CAD systems in the manufacturing sector. The large companies with the broadest set of requirements (and the deepest pockets) generally define the standard. This includes the Automotive and Aerospace OEMs as an example. Once they settle on a primary CAD system, many other suppliers base their CAD requirements upon the OEM’s decision. This doesn’t automatically mean the suppliers choose the same CAD system; just that the supplier needs to be able to communicate and exchange data with the OEM in an efficient manner. Often times, an automotive supplier will obtain a license or two of the OEM’s chosen CAD software, but it will not be deployed across their entire environment. The “Top-Tier” CAD that the OEM decided upon may only be used to translate and communicate directly with the OEM, while the bulk of their CAD users might be using a “Mid-Tier” CAD system that is perfectly capable of meeting the supplier’s design requirements. A host of emerging cloud based CAD technology is also available.
So what does this mean to the industry? Focus on the next thing. Maybe that is a fully electronic PLM environment, or updated NC or additive manufacturing software. It could be the adoption of up-front simulation technology to accelerate the design cycle. There are a lot of things from a technology continuity perspective that can still be addressed once the CAD platform has been settled upon. Just don’t lose sight of other opportunities for continuous improvement once your CAD house is in order.