Trends in CAD and Product Design 2022

Written By: Ruth Morss
  • 1/13/2022
  • Read Time : 5 min.
Stock image of drone helicopter carrying the numbers 2022.

Despite the pandemic, most product developers stayed busy as ever getting products out the door in 2021. So, you could easily have missed what’s new and trending in the industry—whether it’s at the company across the street or an enterprise on another continent.

That’s why we asked Brian Thompson, Divisional General Manager, CAD Segment, at PTC, for some insights.

Throughout the year, Thompson works with hundreds of manufacturers, large and small, across a swath of industries and geographies to understand their product development needs. Here’s what he told us:

How did the second year of the pandemic impact the CAD industry?

I would never want to diminish the impact that the second year of COVID has had on human beings and on businesses, but I do have to tell you that the CAD segment at PTC had an exceptional year.

Our larger customers showed us they remain committed to investing both in new products and in new product development strategies. At some point, we hope, COVID will recede, and those companies want to be prepared for that.

Customers in the small to medium-sized business (SMB) space had less of a financial cushion and were more conservative in their spending. We still had a healthy 2021 in that part of the market, but spending was not at pre-pandemic levels. That said, we’ve seen a resurgence and expect improvement in 2022.

What challenge stands out the most for the industry in 2022, regarding mechanical engineering?

Digital transformation. I realize “digital transformation” has become somewhat of a cliché, but the fact is that our customers have digital transformation initiatives across the board and transformation is happening. Nobody’s sitting around having more coffee and discussing it – customers are putting energy and money behind these initiatives. What does this look like? What are our customers doing?

If I were to give an operational definition of digital transformation at the discrete manufacturers we serve, I’d say these manufacturers have seen the power and value of doing more digitally in design and in product development. COVID brought that message home quickly.

I’d also say that our customers want to be far more model-based in everything they do, not only in product design and product development. To see this, recall what model-based definition (MBD) is: it’s an approach to creating 3D CAD models so that these models effectively contain all the data needed to define a product.

That has two big implications.

  • First, that the 3D model is the source authority for everyone and drives all engineering activities because the information is placed directly on the geometry – no more chasing outdated or asynchronously edited 2D drawings around the company!
  • Second, that important complementary processes, such as simulation, or preparing models for manufacturing, run off that model. We’ve just published a case study about Brasseler’s Komet brand that shows how that works from creation of the model to reuse of manufacturing toolpaths. When this happens, MBD has an impact along the entire value chain.


How is that specifically impacting market requirements? Customers are looking for technologies that help them get as far as they can in the digital environment before they commit to money, time, and togetherness in the lab developing prototypes. It’s not just about COVID, it’s about cost. Our partner, Ansys, the world leader in simulation, did research showing that upwards of 70% of product cost was already baked into the product by the time development reached the prototype stage. 70%! By the time you reach that number, any changes you’re making will have only a small impact on cost.

To do that, we’re seeing manufacturers looking to simulation and generative design, and I don’t think it’s any secret why they’d do that. With simulation, designers can experiment in real time, change their minds, change materials and approaches – all without spending anything on materials or lab time until they need to.

Generative design takes this a step further. We’ve seen customers like Jacobs Engineering and Volvo Trucks use this with great success. The computing power is in the cloud so engineers set the problem, the system creates and ranks alternatives, and engineers can use one of the solutions as-is or continue to evolve it on their own. You not only save time, but you also see alternatives you might never have considered in the time you have for the project.


What is the status of digital transformation among your users?

Our customers see huge opportunity in digital transformation and are moving forward to grasp it. No question. They know that no matter what the size of their business, they can enjoy benefits. We’re seeing customers be successful by starting at home. What I mean by that is that they set aside the time to reassess their usage of Creo. This is a more nuanced analysis than it might seem.

First, we see successful customers start with the basics – what’s being used and what isn’t being used. Second, they ask themselves a more far-reaching question. Are their people using Creo according to the most modern recommended workflows and techniques and, if not, what can be done about this? Customers want their highly skilled engineers at the top of their games, both in the tool they use and how they use it.

It’s not unusual for a customer to come to us looking for a little help. I’m happy to tell you, we’ve seen a lot of success with Creo LEARN, a cloud-based training offering that provides unlimited access to live, virtual half-day classes. Some teams use Creo LEARN to upskill users quickly for new projects. Others want their teams to earn full Creo certifications, or they have advanced users who want to get into a virtual lab with an instructor and spend time on a topic.


What will become important in terms of development and design? Which topic(s) do you think designers should definitely familiarize themselves with?

Design engineers need to embrace digital. Full stop. I’d break that into several steps.

Simulation and generative design technologies will become more important because these technologies allow design engineers to do what they went into the field to do – design great products! I have yet to meet the design engineer who says “Gee, what I really want to do is spend more time preparing my model for analysis only to find out I made an avoidable mistake at the beginning.” Let me tell you, analysts feel the same way – they want to work on problems that require their specialized expertise. I’d tell designers to brush up on topics like stress, strain, heat transfer, structural analysis – what they’ll need to use these tools most effectively.

MBD will continue to increase in importance. I want to underline that MBD is not a clerical shortcut. MBD is about expanding the influence of the CAD model up and down the value chain. That means the CEO is using a viewer to look at the model; the manufacturing engineer is running tool paths off that same model; and the design engineer is using that same model for simulation.

If you move even higher, MBD is foundational because it’s part of customers’ model-based enterprise strategy and in turn part of their digital transformation strategy. With MBD, both users and companies can start to open a new world. It’s incredibly exciting to think about and to be part of that with our customers.

You should know that you can start on your own journey and see benefits - no matter what your business. You don’t have to boil the ocean or have miraculous insights at 3 a.m. to enjoy the benefits of digital transformation. Just begin. I hope my comments above demonstrate how your readers can begin. My colleagues tell me I’ve got one volume – loud – when talking about this stuff because I get so enthusiastic about it!

I think the past two years have shown that it’s not worth trying to make predictions, but I can say we’re hopeful not only about our business, but about how digital transformation can help our customers, and their customers in turn, to be productive and to be safe. It’s a privilege to be part of it.


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About the Author

Ruth Morss

Ruth Morss is a B2B content creator and freelance writer with a background in Art History. When not pining for Italy, Ruth writes about product development, CAD software, engineering and PTC Mathcad. In her free time, Ruth enjoys rowing crew, baking, and learning why and how engineers do what they do. A self-confessed jewelry fanatic, she believes in accessorizing.