Top Five Considerations When Choosing a New CAD System
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on September 27, 2017 |

In a recent ENGINEERING.com survey, we asked 230 product development professionals for their thoughts about their CAD systems.

Through that survey, we were able to turn the experience of CAD users into valuable data that could help design teams make important decisions regarding future CAD software purchases.

What are the key factors for choosing new CAD software? 230 product development professionals came up with these five.

The 5 Most Important Factors When Choosing a New CAD System

  1. The application feature set fully meets our needs
  2. The total cost of ownership of the application
  3. Ability to easily find answers to common questions through community resources
  4. The CAD solution is natively interoperable with other solutions such as simulation
  5. There is an active online support / community

A Practical Feature Set

Having CAD software that can actually meet your product development needs is an obvious necessity—so much so that it was the most important factor in making a new CAD purchase for the 230 individuals surveyed. As obvious as that may seem, it raises a point that many CAD users may not go out of their way to seek out new features when they already face time constraints meeting their existing deadlines.

Mack Rasmussen,director of technical support for engineering service firm Alignex and a long-term CAD user, spoke to ENGINEERING.com about the survey and had this to say about the importance of extra features:

“Some people using a CAD system don’t stray off the path a lot,” Rasmussen said.“If a user is working at a company that’s making sheet metal enclosures for air conditioning units, there’s a certain group of commands in the CAD software that they are using on a daily basis.  That user often doesn’t have time to go play with the new functionality that the CAD vendor just came out with because they are usually working very hard to meet production deadlines. They often don’t have a chance to ‘play’ with new features.”

Total Cost of Ownership

As useful as new features in a CAD system may be, if it doesn’t fit into a company’s budget, it may be off the table. Rasmussen pointed out that if designers are coming from the 2D world or are used to first-generation modelers and have begun using more advanced 3D modeling programs, the annual maintenance fees may seem high.

However, he also pointed out that the value and ultimate project savings of using such an advanced platform could displace the cost. Since 3D modelers were first introduced to the market, the technology has become more mature and more powerful, a fact that might be taken for granted today.

Rasmussen explained that, when 3D CAD was first released, it was a feat for an application engineer to even be able to draw a part with the software. “[T]he engineering department, as a group would sit and watch you try to draw a part,” Rasmussen said. “It was a challenge to try to draw certain parts. Basically, you just didn’t have the math, or it wasn’t fully developed yet.”

Now, not only can those same parts be drawn in minutes, but businesses are now adding product complexity and developing larger, smarter assemblies. For example, electrical engineers are being integrated into the front-end design process, which was impossible in the past.

Better design tools are also enabling products to be designed faster and with lower costs. The ability to catch problems by using simulation earlier in the design process makes it possible to reduce costs that would have been incurred during physical prototyping and testing.

Community Resources with Answers to Common Questions

Though a CAD vendor may be able to establish its own resources for its community of users, the community itself is largely outside of the company’s control. In turn, the resources generated by the community are dependent on just how active that community is.

And, to our 230 product development professionals, finding answers to common questions through community resources is a key factor in purchasing a new CAD system. In this regard, SOLIDWORKS happens to be particularly powerful, given the variety of forums and other sites where users go to exchange knowledge and experiences.Though the company’s official MySolidWorks community provides its own trove of resources, including forums and self-paced eCourses, numerous unofficial forums have sprung up as well.

SOLIDWORKS is the dominant 3D CAD platform in the market. The platform’s publisher, Dassault Systèmes, estimates that there are 3,246,750 SOLIDWORKS users on the planet, which would partially explain the active online community.

Additionally, the platform has had a leading educational program for many years, resulting in more students graduating with SOLIDWORKS training. This means that, not only are there a lot of users, but they are also skilled and able to provide the community with helpful resources.

Interoperability Between the CAD Package and Other Solutions

Respondents also highlighted the need for a CAD solution that is natively interoperable with other solutions. Rasmussen explained that simulation is becoming an important tool for virtual prototyping and testing. This allows users to iterate on designs more before incurring the costs of physical prototyping and testing.

While, in the past, even the simplest simulation could take days to run and complete successfully—unless the computer ran out of disk space or memory—the process has become more egalitarian and, in many cases, specialized hardware isn’t necessary. This, according to Rasmussen, has also allowed companies to control product development costs.

“The sooner we catch problems, the less it costs us to fix those problems,” Rasmussen said.“I believe that the companies that are catching those issues really early in the design cycle are actively using simulation in the design phase. That use of simulation is allowing them to iterate the design, make different choices much earlier than having to make that choice later based on physical testing.”

Active online support / community

Related to the topic of community resources, our respondents also value an active online community and support. Again, the high number of SOLIDWORKS users has given the company a reputation for its active online community. The exact number of forums and YouTube channels dedicated to the software is difficult to pin down, but these resources make it possible for users to quickly and easily seek help when necessary.

Read the full report on user satisfaction with their CAD software.

The results highlight five of the most important considerations to make when choosing a CAD system. The full report contains additional insights from the survey respondents, including issues related to improving product development costs and overall user satisfaction with their CAD packages.


SOLIDWORKS has sponsored ENGINEERING.com to write this article. All opinions are mine, except where quoted or stated otherwise. —Michael Molitch-Hou


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