Exploring the Downstream Benefits of 3D CAD

Remember being a kid and digging into a box of Cracker Jack with pure abandon? Sure that molasses-flavored, candy-coated popcorn and peanuts were delicious, but how many of you first shoved your whole hand in the box to find the “prize” at the bottom? Whether it was a temporary tattoo or a decoder ring, the extra bonus prize set Crack Jack apart from other candy options.


Many of you are now wondering where I’m going with this. I think 3D CAD is quite similar to Cracker Jack. Many organizations that have transitioned to 3D CAD are aware of the big benefits it offers to product design, which include faster, automated design changes, facilitated communication, increased visualization, simulation tools to predict product behavior, and interference and collision checking capabilities. The list goes on and on.

But wait, there’s more, which leads me back to that mystery surprise at the bottom of your Cracker Jack box. There are other significant benefits that can be realized through the adoption of 3D CAD by multiple downstream applications, off the critical path (within engineering and manufacturing) of product development. These added benefits further validate that making the transition to 3D will benefit your company—not just in the engineering department—but throughout the entire enterprise.

Leveraging 3D CAD data off the critical path

Product development requires the carefully coordinated efforts of multiple disciplines, which all play a critical role in the ultimate market success of any product. While engineering and manufacturing play a starring role in the design-test-build phases of product development, other departments, such as marketing, sales, service quality, training, and technical documentation, also play heavily into the successful rollout and support of final products.

These departments are often referred to as off the critical path, but their involvement is still critical. Despite this, not all companies are taking advantage of leveraging CAD data to these important downstream design participants. In other words, more companies should reach down and find that additional “prize” offered through the adoption of 3D CAD.

Let’s drill down into finer detail about how downstream departments can leverage the use of 3D design data and what tasks are being performed using it.

  • Better sales proposals. Want your proposal to stand out from the crowd? Then stop submitting bids in 2D. Competitive proposals that feature fully rendered 3D images and animations will give you a leg up on competitors still submitting bids in 2D and help potential customers understand the intricacies of your product.
  • Effective sales collateral. Another important downstream consumer of design data is marketing, the department in charge of creating the product literature used to market and sell products. Being able to create supporting collateral in advance using 3D CAD data enables marketers to seed the market to assess interest in a new product.
  • Better training materials. Instructors can hit the ground running by tapping 3D CAD data to create the technical manuals and tutorials that will be used to help users understand how to ultimately use the product.
  • Assessment of maintenance feasibility. All products will eventually need to be serviced via regular maintenance. Service personnel can leverage 3D CAD data prior to manufacturing to access how easy or difficult it will be to service that product once built.
  • Faster assembly instructions. Once upon a time, technical illustrators were forced to manually create assembly instructions based on 2D drawings. Today, 3D assembly models can be quickly and easily “exploded” in 3D CAD to create exploded views of product’s internal components that can be used in technical illustrations and assembly instructions.
  • Facilitated collaboration. Design review teams today have expanded to include many non-technical members, such as marketing, sales, and service. Trying to collaborate with them using 2D drawings can lead to misinterpretation and errors. Sharing a 3D model with which they can interact can help them understand how a product will function so they can add their input.

Sharing design data outside of engineering

Just like that prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack box, organizations might be surprised to learn of all the additional ways they can leverage the value of their investment in 3D CAD.  The ability to share 3D data downstream with non-engineering departments can deliver significant bang for the buck by increasing productivity, optimizing workflows, and providing non-technical personnel with a voice in the development of new products.

While engineering and manufacturing departments intuitively understand the value of 3D CAD, companies must educate, train and encourage these downstream design participants to use and understand the extended value of 3D CAD data and how they can use it to be more productive and better contribute to the success of future products.




Cracker Jack Image Credit: Geoff Livingston via Flickr

Jeremy Regnerus

Jeremy Regnerus

Senior User Advocacy and Community Manager at SOLIDWORKS
CSWE, SOLIDWORKS Geek and connoisseur of all things geeky and nerdy.
Jeremy Regnerus
Jeremy Regnerus
Jeremy Regnerus

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