5 CAD Modeling Best Practices You Can't Live Without

Written by: Dave Martin

Read Time: 3 min.

CAD Modeling is both an art and a skill. Over multiple projects, industries, and years, certain techniques emerge as being critical to success. We commonly refer to these as best practices. Let’s look at a few that are essential to product development.

Keep Your Ideas Organized

Both new product introduction (NPI) and sustained engineering demand “what if” work. During the former, you iterate different design concepts; during the latter, you implement change as part of a correction or improvement.

This leads to multiple “what if” scenarios as you save models into new files, to preserve the original designs, and to perform work on unconnected copies.

From past and current experience, I can tell you that the typical "Save As" process doesn’t work when you’re trying to choose which path to take and have to incorporate the solution into the original models. This can mean Copy and Paste or at worst, redoing the work entirely.

Keep your design concepts within your CAD package, so that they’re easy to retrieve and update in one place. 

Creo Design Exploration Extension keeps track of your ideas so they’re easy to retrieve, rework, and share.

Practice Top-Down Design 

Products today are more complex than ever. They often include aesthetic housings, electromechanical components, user interfaces, internet connections, cable harnesses, sensors, and more. A top-down approach provides leaders with the ability to control product design and distribute information to teams and engineers. This in turn provides engineers and designers with the speed and flexibility to develop creative solutions in their areas.

Most importantly, top-down enables you to promote reuse of design data and implement significant changes faster and easier than more basic bottom-up approaches.

Explore New Technologies

We’re living in an exciting time for product development with the introduction and development of technologies like Additive Manufacturing, Augmented Reality, Internet of Things, Topology Optimization, Generative Design, and more. Investigating and adopting these tools can provide you significant savings and possibly a competitive advantage.

For example, when I was at Amazon, we were spending a fortune and losing time on sending designs to external prototype shops. I could spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars a week in expedited shipping costs. Sadly, the prototype would sometimes be irrelevant by the time it arrived.

By adopting Additive Manufacturing into our design process, I could have a prototype in hours instead of days, and iterate a design twice a day instead of twice a week.

Augmented reality (AR) superimposes your product onto the real world with the ability to provide supplemental information like process steps, sensor readings, and other operational feedback. AR can be used for reviews, virtual prototyping, and manufacturing process planning.

AR also differentiates you from the rest of the market when you incorporate it into the product, as advertising and/or the human interface.

An iPad uses augmented reality to show data on a real-world scene.

An augmented reality experience layers information on top of a real-world scene.

These are just a couple examples of benefits from new technologies. Imagine how other emerging trends can tip the scales in your favor.

Get Performance Feedback as You Design

Speaking of new technologies, you should know that tools now exist that can evaluate the performance of your design in your CAD system as you work. Yes, real-time simulation.

Will moving a hole over two centimeters compromise your model's ability to withstand a known load? What if you moved it just one centimeter? What if you tried a different material?

In the past, you might have sent the model to simulation experts to find answers to these questions--and then waited. Maybe for days, maybe for weeks. Now you get answers in real time, without all the detailed setup you’d expect from a full-blown simulation tool. So, it's easier to try out different ideas and optimize your model.

That saves everybody time, while helping you design the best models possible.

A guitar effects pedal design with real-time simulation.

An engineer redesigns a guitar effects pedal using feedback from Creo Simulation Live.

Don’t Rely on File Systems

Maybe you manage your CAD files on network shared folders. Maybe you don’t have that many users, or your products don’t have many components. Even if you think your products aren’t complicated, your processes are. A product lifecycle management (PLM) system not only vaults your CAD models, but also helps with:

  • Configuration Management: know exactly what goes into your products.
  • Change Management: control and track how you make improvements to your designs.
  • Visualization: Enable everyone across your enterprise - planning, procurement, inventory, manufacturing, sales, and marketing – to see what your models and drawings look like using a web browser.

These five best practices for CAD will help you improve quality and productivity while lowering errors, cost, and time-to-market. Which of these do you follow?

Download An Engineer's Guide to CAD and the Renaissance of Product Design.

Tags: CAD Retail and Consumer Products Connected Devices

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 amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.

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.