The 5 Most Important Advances in Product Development Today

Written By: Cat McClintock
  • 4/5/2017

New technologies are quickly changing how we think about products, and the software we use to design them

How often do you use your phone—as a phone? For many of us, “phone calls” constitute just a fraction of how we use these ever-present personal devices: More often, we stream music, capture images, find directions, browse the Internet, and more.

So when technology pioneer Kevin Ashton’s recently declared that smart phones aren’t actually phones anymore, most of us agreed: “With up to 10 networked sensors … they’re the Internet of Things in your pocket,” he wrote. “Phone is an app,” he added, as if in afterthought.

The thing is, it’s not just your phone: Products everywhere are rapidly transforming as new technologies emerge. In tandem, many manufacturing methods and business processes are evolving to create leaner products—unlike any before.

For 3D CAD software, that’s led to dramatic updates just in the past few months: Today’s systems don’t just support these revolutionary new technologies; they often help optimize them.  

If you’re having trouble keeping up with it all, you’re in the right place. We’ve rounded up the top five most innovative technologies impacting product design and development today to get you up to speed.  Here’s what’s happening, what’s around the corner, and how to learn more about the pivotal advances molding the future of product design:

1. Internet of Things (IoT)

Much like your mobile phone, the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the very concept of a “product”:  New products are often much more than simple, physical end results of design and manufacturing. They’re smart, connected combinations of hardware, software, sensors, antennae, data, and more. They can monitor themselves and their environments, control their responses to changes, optimize their own output and efficiency, and ultimately operate autonomously.

In this new playing field, it takes more than a beautifully packaged hunk of steel, plastic, and electronics to wow consumers.

It’s clear that this impacts CAD users. You can mine tremendous value from the wealth of data that these smart products yield—for example, quickly enhancing and taking to market second and third generations of a product based on incoming feedback from sensors residing on products already in the field.

But as a designer, you’re in danger of information overload or focusing on the wrong data.  An increasingly important part of product designers’ jobs going forward will be discerning how to harness the power of IoT: What data to collect, how often, and how much—problems that a modern product development system needs to address.

2. Model-Based Definition

Imagine creating a 3D model containing the annotations and associated data elements needed to define a product—no drawing required. That’s what Model-Based Definition (MDB) is all about.

MBD provides a more complete picture than most 2D drawings or 3D models, adding dimensions, surface finish, materials, tolerances, and more to the model. Delivering that non-geometric information used to require separate 2D drawings or documents.

Now, MDB streamlines product development, saving time and costs. A 3D model becomes the source authority that drives all engineering activities: It’s used by downstream stakeholders, by suppliers, and across the extended enterprise. This improves communication across the organization, benefitting everyone downstream.  

model-based definition shown on CAD part

A model with product definition data included.

2. Multi-CAD

Traditionally, attempting to work with non-native CAD files from customers, suppliers, partners, or colleagues has been a bane of product designers. You may need the other guy’s design, but that non-native CAD file can stop you cold.

Now there’s a new option: With multi-CAD technology, you can bring data from common CAD systems directly into a software suite—without needing the original authoring CAD system. Incorporating CATIA, Siemens NX, and SolidWorks data directly into your designs as though they were native is the new reality. So is bringing new revisions of non-native data into designs.

Multi-CAD technology frees your team to use the best supplier for the job (not just the one who uses your CAD tool) and makes design faster and more cost effective.

multicad part introduced to model

Seamlessly introducing parts from partners and suppliers into a model, even when it’s not from the same CAD vendor, saves valuable time during the development cycle.

3. Additive Manufacturing

Keep an eye on the convergence of 3D printing and 3D CAD: The vision of designing, optimizing, validating, and printing (all from within a single piece of software) is a reality now.

Additive manufacturing (a.k.a. 3D printing) is the process of building an object, one thin layer of material at a time. This can be complex, requiring multiple software packages: Export, redesign, optimize, and reimport your models—then rinse and repeat for your next revision.

A new alternative bridges the gap between 3D printing and 3D CAD.  Innovations in product development let you design, optimize, validate, and run a print-check within one environment.

New CAD packages offer tools to check for design flaws, specify materials, optimize print tray layout, and much more before printing a model.

5. Augmented Reality (AR)

Products aren’t the only things changing in this landscape: The tools you use to design them are shifting too.

Virtual reality gets a lot of buzz. But its cousin, Augmented Reality (AR), will impact your design work soon.

Unlike virtual reality, which creates an entirely new and immersive 3D environment, AR adds information to the user’s current environment. For example, picture riding in a self-driving car: AR might display weather data on your windshield or provide an Internet browser in front of you.

Product designers will increasingly take advantage of the new AR experience: For example, you could “sit” inside your design when designing the interior of that self-driving car. This new level of experience empowers anyone to visualize, share, interact with, and iterate 3D designs during the design cycle and beyond.

Augmented reality

In this AR example, the mobile device displays data from sensors, in real time, located on the motorcycle.

Get ahead of trends in product design at PTC’s Virtual Conference

Ready to see how your product design software could be handling these new technologies? We’ll discuss each of these trends at an upcoming virtual conference, The Future of Product Design: Smarter and Connected.  Join us live from your desktop on April 11, 2017 from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. EDT | 4-7 p.m. UTC to understand how design is evolving, what technologies you most need to know today and how to apply them in your daily work, and what’s next. See you at The Future of Product Design: Smarter and Connected virtual conference!


  • CAD
  • Industrial Internet of Things

About the Author

Cat McClintock

Cat McClintock edits the Creo and Mathcad blogs for PTC.  She has been a writer and editor for 15+ years,  working for CAD, PDM, ERP, and CRM software companies. Prior to that, she edited science journals for an academic publisher and aligned optical assemblies for a medical device manufacturer. She holds degrees in Technical Journalism, Classics, and Electro-Optics. She loves talking to PTC customers and learning about the interesting work they're doing and the innovative ways they use the software.