Is CAD about to get much simpler?
Image credit: Gary Swift
In these times of unprecedented digital change, CAD software is lagging behind in a big way.
Is CAD up to the job when it comes to designing state-of-the-art machines such as jet engines, wind turbines or even particle accelerators? Absolutely yes. CAD vendors have done well taking advantage of the ever-increasing computing power Moore’s Law so gracefully provides us with. Creation, modification, analysis, or optimisation of engineering designs is possible to extents unimaginable in the 1970s when CAD first emerged. Companies like Airbus or Tesla design and test new products almost entirely in the digital realm, with first physical prototypes being a close match to first production units.
Looking at other software companies that leveraged the digital age, one must draw attention to Google, Netflix or Uber. Yes, the definition here is loose and the selection of examples deliberate. What do these have in common? The answer is simplicity of use for a frictionless user experience. While CAD software might seem to have little in common with the above examples, I would argue that it has much in common. After all, it’s all about organising a vast complexity of data into being accessible via a satisfying customer experience. Simplicity is the next big thing in CAD, and when it comes I believe it will change the commercial playing field dramatically.
Engineers undergo months of training to gain basic skills in using CAD for even the simplest of designs, and it is often more than a year before they can be considered as trained. This has nothing to do with engineering knowledge and everything to do with complexity. It’s a legacy thing. CAD companies are making their products better by adding new features and improvements. This is not a bad thing for those who already know the tools, but these small incremental changes prove a huge barrier to adoption for new engineers wanting to gain a CAD skill. Decades of accumulated tweaks got us here – and it’s nobody’s fault. In the UK we have a shortage of new engineers. Disciplines are merging and engineers are expected to acquire multiple skills. It is of utmost importance to make CAD a lot simpler.
The world is changing fast and is driven by the user-centric consumer experiences we are exposed to in our daily digital interactions. The generation born from 1982 onwards, also known as millennials, take ease-of-use for granted. Can you imagine Uber being successful if it took a whole day to learn how to use its app before even booking a ride?
Engineers must go through the hardship of CAD training to be able to take advantage of the benefits it gives. Disruption is coming to CAD because millennials demand it. The other important argument is the cost of CAD training, not only in terms of fees but also in the engineering time spent, which is a necessary investment for companies. Where there is such massive financial incentive, a viable business case unfolds.
The change is imminent. Whether it will come from the likes of Dassault Systèmes or Ansys, or from some totally unexpected innovators is yet to be seen. As often happens, established companies with their all-singing, all-dancing solutions are disrupted by new entrants that initially come up with non-competing alternatives addressed at less demanding audiences. This was the case when Sony launched its pocket transistor radio in 1955, followed by successive products that eventually made market-leading brands like RCA obsolete.
A good example today in the CAD world is the activity from the engineering component distribution sector. Through powerful free downloadable tools, with no licence fee requirement, CAD has become more accessible to more engineers. These solutions, though, use lower-end existing technologies and, while making a positive step in accessibility, are today not providing the step-up change so much needed.
Combining simplicity in the user interface with ever-increasing functionality will make engineers’ lives easier, save companies cash, and enable anyone to become a designer. Creativity will start flowing from many more sources, driving forward human endeavour in one of the biggest disruptions since CAD emerged. The time couldn’t be better than now, when the most pressing issues of the environment and growing population require radical innovative products to be developed.
Mike Brojak is head of DesignSpark Customer Solutions at RS Components
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