Are we still talking about this?

The argument for going to 3D from 2D packages still seems to be out there but it is somewhat less forceful than it was. Justin Cunningham reports

It seems for the likes of Autodesk at least, it has begun to realise that for users still on 2D, some 60% of its customers, there is little chance of convincing them otherwise.

So what is stopping these users from moving over? Is it the change aspect that people are naturally fearful of, how it might affect processes and production, or does 2D do what many people want and they are not interested in all the fancy benefits that 3D is touted to bring?

"There is a lot of that," says Colin Watson, a business development director for Imass – a software solutions provider. "In many sectors, 2D drawings are the deliverables that trigger payment. It is based on presenting 2D drawings, not a 3D model.

"But also, there is a whole generation of people who can still read a 2D drawings. That doesn't exist so much anymore and the younger generation are use to using 3D models and 3D images. For them, seeing a 2D drawing sometimes doesn't mean a great deal."

For many companies, working in 2D gives them the solution they want. And in the present climate a move to 3D represents risk. Despite all the advances and effort by the CAD vendors to make the jump as straightforward and pain free as possible, it is still a daunting step.

As well as a different method of using and commanding the software to do what you want, designing in 3D is different on a conceptual level. In the 2D world, users have to be very precise about measurements and the way it is laid down as a drawing. But, in 3D, particularly with programs such as Autodesk's Inventor, much of that is conceptual design work, sketched in 3D. It then has the precision dimensions added once the overall form is correct.

"It changes the whole way working," says Watson. "That means a definitive need to train people."

For those that make the leap of faith, it does on the whole lead to productivity improvements. But this does take time and does not happen overnight. And in the current climate where many companies are reassessing productivity and costs on a month by month basis, this is simply not an option.

But 2D CAD is not the AutoCAD that many might remember, fresh out of 1985. Despite being a 2D package, it has moved on massively and various add-ons and modules mean that it is, in most respects, a state of the art piece of software. Autodesk has put large amounts of effort to get the 2D packages to interact well with 3D.

"If you're a 3D user on one of the mechanical applications like Inventor, these can produce 2D drawings automatically from the model," says Watson. "The work that Autodesk are doing is making that automatically generated 2D content much richer. That means when it is passed a 2D application user to finish off the detailing, less work is actually involved as most of it is done on the model.

At present, Imass is finding users who haven't yet made the investment in 3D are waiting until they feel more confident in there own situation and the companies financial position before making that decision.

But, interestingly, companies that have made the investment are increasingly going back and re-examining the software to try to make more use of it as they have found they are only using a very small percentage of what it can actually do.

"I do see that as our major role at the moment," says Watson. "Rather than finding companies that have a 2D process and then trying to migrate them across, which is a time consuming process. The new business side of it is slowing down, but there is still business to be had with existing customers. That is training them and making them aware of new functions and things like configuration management etc."

Justin Cunningham

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