Thinking about switching CAD tools? What you need to know
Michelle Boucher posted on July 22, 2013 | 8016 views
As Chad Jackson mentions in his recent postthe last three years in the CAD industry have been really interesting. For a product many could have considered a commodity at the turn of the century, CAD vendors have proved there is still work to be done. It is an exciting time and we are seeing many innovations with direct modeling, greater interoperability, and cloud technologies, just to name a few. These advances may be leading you to ask yourself, “Is it time to switch my CAD tool?”

Before even thinking about an answer to that, first think about your design process. From a recent Aberdeen design study, engineers reported that their top design challenges are:

  • Frequent design changes (39%)
  • Changing design requirements (34%)
  • Projects are understaffed (29%)
  • Increased product complexity (25%)
  • Problems/errors are found too late (19%)

At the same time, time to market pressures are still fierce, with over half (56%) of the respondents reporting this to be their top pressure on the design process. This means when evaluating CAD tools, you need to make sure your selected tool has the flexibility to adapt to changes, yet can manage today’s ever increasing complex designs. Complexity can mean working with very large assemblies, involving multiple engineering disciplines, or perhaps handling multiple design variants or configurations. At the same time, the workflow/user interface must be streamlined because without extra staff, every engineer needs to be as efficient as possible to get products to market on time so that the company may begin recouping the development investment.

So why do companies switch CAD tools? With the evolution of CAD tools over the last few years, I was also curious if the reasons for making the switch had also evolved.  Figure 1 shows the top reasons companies have made a CAD switch. This is compared to those who made a switch within the last 5 years.

Functionality and better productivity have consistently been the top reasons to switch CAD tools. This makes senses because if you are going to make the investment, it better make it easier to release designs more quickly. This is followed by ease of use and price. After that, we start to see some differences over the last few years. User preferences have started to have a lot more influence over the CAD tool used. This is likely coming from two trends. First, management is recognizing that to optimize engineering productivity, they need to be happy and comfortable with the tools they are using. Two, this speaks to all of the progress made by the CAD vendors to make it easier to work with multi-CAD data. The ability to work with multi-CAD is critical in order to take advantage of older legacy files to support design reuse. Plus, if users are allowed to use their preferred CAD tool, in some companies this may mean engineers are working with different  CAD tools. Another issue that has become more common is companies want their CAD vendor to be a valued partner. Over the last 5 years, companies are 82% more likely to switch CAD tools simply because they do not like the relationship their have with the vendor. Service has become just as important as the product itself.

Finally, what kind of ROI can you expect to see after making the switch? Are companies glad they did it? Table 1 shows what companies have seen overall as an ROI compared with  companies who have made a CAD switch within the last 5 years. Interestingly, companies are recognizing that investing in training up front, while time consuming, ultimately leads to better productivity in the long run. Companies are now spending a little more than 2 additional weeks on training compared to what has been done traditionally. As a result of the training and easier to use CAD tools, companies can now expect to resume full productivity in a little over 24 weeks. They also report that it takes 42 weeks, almost 10 months, to see the return on investment due productivity improvements. Survey respondents also rated their satisfaction with the experience. Anything over a 3 would indicate satisfaction and on average, users who switched their CAD tool within the last 5 years rate the experience 3.5.

So if you are considering making a switch with your CAD tools, make sure the new tool will be able to support things such as frequent changes and complex designs. Ensure that your users will be happy with the new CAD tool and invest in their training. Ensure your CAD vendor will be a true partner, dedicated to your success. Our study found that 52% of companies have never gone through a major CAD switch, but if it is something your company decides makes sense, set your expectations to take a productivity hit, but know that most companies report a return on the investment in less than a year.


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