The Evolution of 3D CAD and Complementary Engineering Solutions

Careful observers of the ongoing evolution of the CAD software marketplace can’t help but notice that the demand for full-featured engineering solutions continues to build.  Historically CAD was, and today continues to be, computer-aided representations of geometry.  However, that alone is simply not enough.  Customers are attaching other attributes, characteristics and meaning to geometrical designs.  For example, material types, with associated engineering characteristics, costs, manufacturing steps, bills of materials, simulated performance etc. add new dimensions beyond 3D and set the context for these engineering solutions.  Modern 3D CAD offerings from leading companies such as SolidWorks are reflections of this phenomenon, with engineering solutions such as SolidWorks Plastics, SolidWorks Electrical, SolidWorks Sheet Metal, and SolidWorks Plant Layout among others.  In our opinion, this is a long-term trend and sets out a set of parameters within which we can speculate on how the 3D CAD offerings will evolve over the coming years.

Successful product design is the intersection of customer need; the interplay between selling price, cost, and profit; product performance, and product differentiation.  It is a complex set of criteria that have to be balanced and evaluated.  Further, as product performance demands increase, so do costs and potentially product differentiation.  The challenge is how to increase performance and differentiation while lowering or maintaining cost. This presents designers with a range of interconnected choices.  Engineering tools help designers and engineers evaluate these choices and optimize designs based on the criteria in play and this is precisely why the market is craving more and more of these solutions.  They literally save design time and effort, while lowering costs, and maintaining quality standards.

Interestingly, regardless of whether an engineering solution is offered or not, many customers are either using one or they are employing work-arounds that stitch together a variety of disparate tools and inputs to create a solution for themselves.  This is particularly evident in fields that incorporate fabricated composites, industrial fabrics, or technical textiles (non-woven materials such as plastic film or sheets)–otherwise known as soft goods.

CAD for fabric-based soft goods is dominated by 2D CAD offerings that are almost universally devoid of any engineering features with the possible exception of visualization tools that simulate fabric drape.  Designers sketch in 2D and use other systems to attach additional attributes to the 2D geometry.  Customers are generally left to their own efforts, manual process, or forced into using a small ecosystem of software to account for engineering performance, cost, or manufacturing criteria into their workflows.

In contrast, new offerings like ExactFlat Design Studio extend the capabilities of leading 3D CAD programs like SolidWorks and add in the necessary features to enable engineering solutions for soft goods.  ExactFlat improves on the status quo by enabling the shift from computer-aided design to computer-aided engineering for soft goods.  The benefits for the customer are relatively obvious.  First, it breathes additional value into software that they may already have installed and in use for other purposes.  Secondly, it reduces the cost of owning and maintaining software as all the features needed are consolidated within the ExactFlat SolidWorks environment.  Lastly and most importantly, robust design and engineering tools provided make designing and developing products significantly faster and less complicated.

This is demonstrative of how we see the advancement of 3D CAD:  two independent evolutionary trajectories, the first from the leading 3D CAD software providers themselves who will continue to innovate, and secondly from a marketplace providers that solve more specific engineering challenges.  This can be conceptualized as a hub and spoke model of software evolution in which the hub evolves and becomes more robust, as the spokes evolve alongside and independently giving rise to a dandelion pattern.


The implications for customers are universally positive, as it is likely to result in greater customer choice and ultimately greater value.  Generic CAD has made significant contributions to improved design and development and lowering cost.  As the leading CAD platforms evolve, the inclusion of specific engineering solutions, such as ExactFlat for SolidWorks, are poised to continue this trend and make further contributions.

Tri-D Technologies
Tri-D Technologies, makers of the ExactFlat suite of products and a SolidWorks Solution Partner, builds software for manufacturers that work with composites, industrial fabrics, and technical textiles. We help companies bring their products to market faster, with lower effort, lower cost, and a simpler process. To learn more, visit