Why You Should Use CAD Software to Drive Innovation

Written By: Dave Martin
  • 8/15/2019
  • Read Time : 4 min.
Digital image of engine.

A product development organization wants to create the next big thing, something that will disrupt their industry, dominate the market, and capture the zeitgeist. Most engineers want to make something that will change the world, something they can point to and say “I was part of this.”

If this sounds like you, you should be using computer aided design (CAD) software to drive innovation for product development. CAD software supports ideation, iteration, and prototyping necessary for innovation success.

Let's take a look:


When I was at Amazon’s Lab126 hardware division, many projects started with “Jeff (Bezos) wants to be able to .…” To turn that idea into reality, we had to generate our own ideas and concepts quickly.

CAD software facilitates ideation via techniques like freeform and freestyle surfacing and direct modeling. In freeform surfacing, you manipulate curves and surfaces in 3-dimensional space with real-time updates showing you how the final surface will look. Freestyle surfacing is like starting with a lump of clay and then pulling and pushing it into the desired shape. These techniques are more artistic and organic than traditional technical surfacing - and faster.

Freeform model being created in Creo.
Image. Freeform surfacing in 3D CAD software Creo

Direct modeling allows you to create new geometry and modify existing geometry by grabbing surfaces and edges and dragging them to new proportions, without regard to a model’s history or having to define explicit values for dimensions and parameters. Direct modeling tends to be faster than parametric modeling at both the beginning and the end of the design phase; these stages are ripe for ideation.

There’s an even greater and more exciting technology emerging for the ideation phase: Generative design. This methodology enables you to harness the power of machine learning to propose a large number of potential design concepts based on boundary conditions and design constraints that you define. Generative design puts the power of artificial intelligence into the hands of engineers.

Object created with generative design.

Image. An object created using generative design. A design engineer specifies the constraints for a part (for example, weight or strength), and artificial intelligence (AI) suggests alternative designs that meet the requirements.


“If you double the number of experiments you do per year you’re going to double your inventiveness.” – Jeff Bezos

On Amazon Prime Air, our founder said that we want to fail exactly once in every possible way, and that we learn from every flight, especially the failures. In other words, you want to build and test a lot; you want to run a lot of experiments. CAD software allows you to perform these experiments through data reuse and design exploration.

Data reuse means leveraging existing models to create design variations; you’re building off what worked in a prior iteration. CAD supports data reuse via:

  • Saving copies.
  • Creating families of components.
  • Driving different configurations from electronic notebooks.

Design Exploration (video) allows you to iterate via checkpoints and branching. You are empowered to experiment by examining potential changes and scenarios. You can create checkpoints along the way to represent different choices, and at each checkpoint you can follow different branches of more choices. After exploring these different possible choices, you can review and commit to the experiment that works best.

Assembly in Creo Design Exploration Extension.
Image. Design Exploration Extension in 3D CAD software Creo

Real-time simulation facilitates iteration by providing immediate feedback regarding how changes to geometry affect your margins of safety. By providing the designer with data regarding component performance in its operating environments, you can iterate faster by eliminating engineering cycles between the design and analysis groups.

Electronic housing design with real-time simulation results in Creo.

Image. With real-time simulation, product developers save on prototyping costs as problems are found and fixed while they're still in design.

Prototype Early and Often

“To me, ideas are worth nothing unless executed.” - Steve Jobs

Along with iterating, there’s no substitute for taking something from the computer screen and testing it out in the real world.

Prototyping used to be expensive and take a lot of time. After you had designed the product, you had to design the tooling to create it, source the raw materials, and then make it. With the explosion of additive manufacturing, you can literally hold your prototype in your hands hours after modeling it.

Virtual prototyping via augmented reality (AR) reduces those hours down to minutes. You can publish your model to an AR server and then use your phone or a tablet to see your concept projected onto the real world.

Embrace Change to Innovate

“Some people don't like change, but you need to embrace change if the alternative is disaster.” - Elon Musk
Most people - even engineers - fear change. If you want to innovate, you’ve got to embrace change. CAD has evolved recently to include:

  • Combining the direct and parametric modeling paradigms.
  • Additive manufacturing.
  • Augmented reality.
  • The Internet of things (IoT).
By using CAD, you ensure that your organization will constantly get access to the latest technologies and developments in design, analysis, and manufacturing. CAD software and innovation go hand-in-hand, because CAD provides your engineers with the capability to maximize ideation, iteration, and prototyping.

An Engineer's Gide to CAD and the Renaissance of Product Design

  • 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.