Put the Kibosh on CAD Upgrades? It Might Be Time to Rethink That Plan.

Keeping up with CAD software upgrades can be a lot more stressful than keeping up with the Joneses. Vendors continue to tempt with releases chock full of new features and extended functionality, but the hassle and hefty expense of upgrading keeps many organizations at bay, making do with CAD tools that have definitely seen better days.

While that laissez-faire attitude might have worked in the past, there are notable technology advances that should make companies reconsider a “not happening here” stance on CAD upgrades. Modern CAD tools usher in an array of functionality, from more flexible, cloud-based delivery options to blended direct modeling and parametric capabilities that give users the best of two modeling worlds. These and a growing list of other advancements go far beyond the incremental improvements that are typical for prior generation CAD upgrades. We’re talking about some real productivity gains, not to mention, the ability to make wholesale changes to how products are designed and built today.

According to a CAD/CAM market survey conducted by Lenovo and NVIDIA, regular upgrades—not just to software, but to hardware as well—have a dramatic impact on user performance and productivity. The survey, of 600 CAD/CAM professionals, found that more than 68% experience performance gains from software upgrades, one in three citing increases of up to 25% when moving to a newer hardware platform.

For the most part, respondents said the upgrades were driven by vendor release cycles, but there were plenty of business drivers given to justify moving to a new platform. Thirty-seven percent of respondents were looking for hardware/software combination that would support simulations while 35.9% desired a platform that could handle advanced, real-time rendering. Despite the clear business case for an upgrade investment, one in three respondents said their management was a roadblock to upgrading hardware, putting them at risk for costly maintenance and security issues on the older models and diminishing their ability to take full advantage of more powerful CAD software.

What’s going on in the CAD world that should make companies reevaluate a prolonged anti-upgrade posture? The answer is plenty. Here are just a few reasons why now might be as good a time as any to take a fresh look at your firm’s CAD environment:

Flexibility. CAD isn’t exactly known for being a go-with-the-flow kind of application. But today’s CAD programs, even parametric offerings, now infuse more adaptable direct modeling capabilities with traditional feature-based capabilities, encouraging engineers to flex their design muscle by trying out more concepts. Current generation tools are also much more welcoming when it comes to including non-CAD experts in the design process. Features like new visualization tools and the ability to easily work with multiple CAD file formats push collaboration to the next level and are in themselves a good reason to get a fresh set of eyes on the latest CAD release.

And let’s not forget about delivery options. Today’s CAD is rapidly being made over so key functions can be accessed on mobile devices, accommodating today’s increasingly on-the-go workers. In addition, cloud-based delivery options for CAD software are also starting to emerge, promising a more efficient and cost-effective alternative to traditional licensing.

Extended functionality. Today’s CAD programs go far beyond basic 3D design capabilities. Simulation and CAD data management are often offered as complementary packages, as the core CAD program has increasingly evolved to include many base capabilities in these areas along with built-in review and markup, visualization, sheet metal, among other extended features.

[Ed: Extensions and add-ons are cost-effective ways to get the benefit of more system functionality, without the cost and disruption of a traditional upgrade. For even more savings, look for “bundles” –packages of multiple add-ons at a fraction of the cost of buying each separately.]

State-of-the-art horsepower. Say your company has been on an aggressive tear keeping its hardware current. That means your team might be sitting on workstations equipped with multi-core processors, modern graphics cards, and Solid State Drives (SSDs), but still running outdated CAD systems that can’t possibility take advantage of new parallel processing or high performance memory capabilities. Running older versions of CAD software on current generation hardware is not only a waste of your hardware investment, but it also is a good way to restrict engineering productivity and design innovation.

Usability. Let’s face it—CAD software has never been the easiest application to use, which is why it’s been restricted to users that have cultivated a high degree of expertise in the package and as a result, are highly reticent to switch. Modern CAD programs now incorporate a range of features and functionality that make CAD operations much more intuitive and accessible, potentially attracting new classes of users and helping existing ones take full advantage of the program. New user interfaces complete with familiar Microsoft-like toolbars in addition to streamlined workflows, social and community capabilities, intelligent editing, and improved integration with other core design tools are just a taste of what’s available to help make users productive with 3D modeling right out of the gates without a lot of training.

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all case to be made to justify a CAD upgrade and in some cases upgrading can be costly and time consuming. While many will ultimately decide that it’s not in their best interest to make a move, I’d argue that it’s time to put the upgrade issue on the table. There’s far too much good stuff going on in CAD to stick blindly to the status quo.