Four CAD Trends You Need to Embrace Now
Written By: Dave Martin

When you want to buy something, are you more likely to go online or to a store?

Do you share personal details about your life and family online?

Do you connect with complete strangers on your phone and then jump into their cars minutes later for a ride?

Internet commerce, social media, smart phones, the on-demand sharing / concierge economy: these are all examples of trends that are changing the way we live. Trends aren’t hard to identify; you hear about them all the time. We have a natural inclination to dismiss them. The very nature of a trend implies that it’s fleeting / transitory, soon to be replaced by something else buzzworthy by virtue of being neat and new.

But trends are trends for a reason: they offer value. Since they also involve change, we’re reluctant to invest effort in them. Embracing trends requires you to step out of your comfort zone, but that’s when growth happens.

What’s the danger of ignoring a trend? You risk being disrupted. Kodak actually invented digital photography. Yahoo had the opportunity to purchase Google in 1998 for $1 million and in 2002 for $5 billion; Google’s market capitalization at the time of this writing is over $680 billion. Some of the more notable companies that failed to innovate and adapt to trends include Blockbuster, Tower Records, RIM, Palm, and MySpace.

Trends exist in product development too. If your company is still operating the same way it did twenty or even just ten years ago, you risk being displaced by companies that are nimbler and learning how to develop products faster and at lower costs.

If you are a designer, engineer, or manager, it’s in your best interest to keep on top of trends. It helps make your personal brand more valuable, and prevents you from being left by the wayside. I remember when the last of the drafting board drafters and hand calculation stress analysts were phased out at my first job, because they didn’t embrace CAD or FEA. (Both CAD and FEA were derided as trends at one time.)

Here are four CAD trends that you or your company would benefit from embracing now:

Model-Based Definition

The typical workflow for many design organizations is to create a 3D CAD part or assembly, and then generate a 2D production drawing. However, Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) can generate machining toolpaths directly from the 3D CAD model. Coordinate Measuring Machines can inspect parts directly from CAD data. Furthermore, anyone who has created a traditional 2D production drawing can attest that the process is tedious, requiring numerous iterations of checking and fixing.

For two decades now, model-based definition (MBD) has provided an alternative. Rather than take a step backward from 3D to 2D, you can place product and manufacturing information (PMI) directly into your 3D model:


MBD is faster and requires less effort than the old-fashioned workflow. Yet there remains a lot of resistance to this process, which can save significant time and money. One common objections is “The drawing is the contract.”

No, the contract is the contract. Others say that they can’t go “paperless” because there are times when they need to hold a physical drawing in their hands.

MBD is not going “paperless.” When necessary, a standard 2D production drawing can be generated from the MBD combination states.

The benefits of embracing MBD include:

  • According to studies, documenting PMI in the 3D model can be accomplished in one quarter the time or less that it takes to create a 2D production model.
  • Errors are reduced because there are no drawings to get out of sync with the CAD model.
  • Data management becomes easier because you have fewer CAD documents to track.


This example of MBD shows a model created in Creo 4.0 that includes the same geometric dimensions and tolerances (GD&T) that once appeared only on 2D drawings.

Internet of Things

Various projections predict that by 2020, between 20 and 30 billion devices and objects will be connected to the internet. Could your products be improved by having internet connections for software or firmware updates, functionality improvements, and operational monitoring and reporting? Could your competitors be gaining an advantage by connecting their products to the internet?

With sensors embedded directly in products that communicate back to you via the internet, predictive maintenance replaces scheduled maintenance. Instead of changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles, wouldn’t you rather get an oil change when you need it? Rather than getting your car serviced every 12 months or 12,000 miles, wouldn’t you prefer that your car alert you when it needs to be serviced, or that it needs to be repaired prior to breaking down?

An IoT platform can connect to both the machines in the factory that build your products to keep your line moving smoothly, and your products in the field, so that your customers can monitor and optimize their performance.

Many organizations have developed or acquired numerous systems for data management, document management, change management, manufacturing process planning, manufacturing execution, inventory, scheduling, and other operations. The problem is, all these systems might not be able to talk with one another. An IoT platform can bridge the gap between all your applications.

Creo Product Insight integrates sensor readings into the CAD system, so that designers can easily integrate real-world data into their models.

Augmented Reality

Before CAD, people had to analyze 2D production drawings to guess what a product would look like in 3D. With traditional CAD, we can see what our 3D models look like, and can even put them in a simulated environment on our computer screens. But now with augmented reality, we can superimpose computer-generated imagery onto the real-world.

By blending the physical and the digital worlds, augmented reality provides significant capabilities to product development organizations:

  • We can see what our products will look like in the real world. Imagine, for example, how design reviews can have an added level of realism.
  • We can provide better assembly and maintenance instructions so people can be guided step-by-step through exactly what they need to do, faster and with fewer errors.
  • We can provide an enhanced training experiences to service technicians and end users.
  • The overall sales experience will be enhanced by showing our customers exactly what they can expect.


My chief engineer Blaze inspects our latest design. Seriously though, it took me about 10 minutes to create my first AR experience without any previous knowledge using Creo Parametric 4.0.

Additive Manufacturing

3D printing has been around since the 1980s, but its popularity has risen dramatically over the past couple decades with the advent of new techniques and lower cost machines. The benefits of additive manufacturing include:

  • A low barrier to entry. The cost of Selective Laser Sintering systems – which can 3D print without the use of supports – has dropped to as low as $15,000, with even more cost savings every year.
  • You can create more complex designs that can’t be manufactured with traditional subtractive techniques.
  • The overall number of components in a product can drop by factors of 10, 20, 50, or more. The need for welding or joining with fasteners is reduced substantially.
  • Parts can be both lighter and more durable.
  • You can create prototypes faster since there is no wait for tooling. You can iterate faster, too, since designs are easy to change and revise.
  • Moving parts can be printed directly within the product.
  • Material costs and waste are lower than subtractive manufacturing.
  • Instead of disposing end-of-life products and recreating new parts, many printed parts can be returned to a state like they are brand new.

And let’s be honest: it’s fun. You can complete your model, and hours later hold your design in your hands.


Creo Parametric 4.0 provides built-in 3D printing capabilities including Tray Assemblies and Lattice features.

Model-based definition, internet of things, augmented reality, and additive manufacturing are four trends that you can get started with today – literally, within minutes – using tools like Creo parametric and ThingWorx.

And if you or your company aren’t willing to capitalize on trends, don’t worry; someone else will.

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Tags: CAD
About the Author Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at He can be reached at

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.