Making the Leap From 2D to 3D CAD
Written By: Dave Martin
8/27/2020 Read Time : 3 min.

Still thinking about a switch from 2D to 3D CAD?

Years ago, I spoke with a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) company that felt there was something wrong with their process. The company did it all—from designing ductwork, to sourcing and customizing equipment, to installation. The owner worried they were slow to bid on contracts. They worried they were losing out on business because of the slowness. Their design work was entirely 2D. We proposed switching to 3D so they could:

  • Generate quotes faster
  • Bid on more contracts
  • Deliver designs quicker by leveraging existing designs and reusing data
  • Reduce development costs

They couldn’t pull the trigger on the switch. Their engineers felt threatened by the new technology and thought they would lose their positions of expertise. The company feared change and getting out of their comfort zone with the workflows they had in place.

Many product development organizations are based around 2D design and drawings. Many decades after the introduction of 3D CAD, and the mechanical engineering industry is still focused on 2D drawings as a medium for our primary deliverables.

I hear people say, “If you want to get good at product design and engineering, you should spend X months learning how to create drawings, preferably by hand.” After a quarter century as an engineer, I can confirm this is absolutely not true. 2D was necessary when paper was the only way to communicate how you wanted something built and inspected.

Today, 2D drawings are a barrier for individuals and companies who want to enter into the product development space. It takes training and effort to learn how to think in 2D when we live in a 3D world.

In addition to the benefits I mentioned earlier that the HVAC company could have had, 3D modeling has numerous other advantages, including (but not limited to):

Design validation. 3D models empower you to perform design checking, such as mass properties analysis, tolerance analysis, fluid analysis, and interference and clearance checks. The 3D models can also be used for simulation, including structural, thermal, and modal analyses.

Streamlined workflows. Your 3D data can be used to generate information like Bills of Material (BOMs), manufacturing process plans, and work instructions that can be used throughout the supply chain.

Improved design reviews. 3D models allow you to perform more meaningful design reviews, especially when combined with Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities. 3D and AR allow you to see your model in context, and thus iterate faster, make fewer prototypes, and get your best work faster.

Leverage information throughout the enterprise. Rendered images and animations can be used in marketing and sales.

Generative design capabilities. Supply a set of system design requirements and goals, including preferred materials and manufacturing processes, and the generative design engine automatically produces a manufacture-ready design as a starting point or as a final solution.

Live simulation. Real-time simulation capabilities give you instant feedback on your design decisions right in your CAD environment. You no longer have to guess how your design might perform under real-world conditions.


How to Transition to 3D

Once you decide to make the leap, you’ll likely find the transition is easier than you expect. Some tips that help simplify the process include:

  • Start small. Don’t change your entire design team and all product lines at once. Begin with a single new product. Develop your templates and libraries. Develop your new workflows and compile lessons learned.
  • Train your users. Don’t expect your users to pick up 3D modeling on their own.Establish a learning program consisting of instructor-led and web-based training, support systems, and ongoing professional development. Use a mentoring system so early adopters can help others transition.
  • Work with your downstream internal customers. Communicate with procurement, inspection, inventory, and planning to find out how your new capabilities can make their lives easier.

The Future

After taking the leap, you might find you’ll want to go entirely 3D design. In 2020, model-based definition (MBD) and technical data packages empower us to skip the intermediate 2D step between our designs and products.

You might think that your company’s products are simple and you don’t need the power of 3D. This may be true. 2D software packages might be the appropriate design tool for you. However, even if your products are relatively simple, your processes related to manufacturing and supply chain are complex. 3D can simplify these parts of your process.


Making the Switch to 3D CAD with Creo 7.0

If your products are complex, 3D CAD is the tool for you. Once you’re ready to make the move, Creo 7.0 is ready to support your efforts to innovate faster and design smarter. Creo 7.0 introduces revolutionary generative design and real-time simulation capabilities, improved multibody design, and more. Learn more on the What's New in Creo page.

Creo 7.0: The Future of How You 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 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.