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How to Use Product CAD Models to Radically Increase Manufacturing Sales – Part 4

Executive Summary

In this 6 part series of blog posts we’ll present an up-to-date overview of how to use product CAD models to radically increase manufacturing sales.

The 6 parts are:

  • Part 1: Changing Sales and Marketing Trends Create High Impact Opportunity for Industrial Suppliers
  • Part 2: Who Should Use this Opportunity & What Benefits Should You Expect
  • Part 3: How to DO IT RIGHT – The Role of Search (Catalogs, SEO, SEM)
  • Part 4: How to DO IT RIGHT – The CAD Models (Obtain, Maintain, Present, Syndicate)
  • Part 5: How to DO IT RIGHT – The Business Model (including Partners and eCommerce)
  • Part 6: How to DO IT RIGHT – Common Mistakes to avoid

Below is Part 4 – the other parts will follow sequentially in the coming weeks.

Part 4: How to DO IT RIGHT – The CAD Models

In Part 1, 2 and 3 we explained why product 3D CAD models within an SEO optimized Catalog are such powerful lead generation tools for industrial suppliers. Here, in Part 4, we explain how to obtain high quality 3D CAD models, maintain them up-to-date, present them online to successfully generate sales leads and protect your product intellectual property (IP) at the same time:

1. Source of the CAD models

Is a CAD Model ‘factory’ available? Even if you already have all your parts available as 3D CAD models you may not want to present those for download. Why? You want to protect the intellectual property at the heart of your products, so it may be fine to share the motor casing and mounting dimensions, but not the detailed internal design features. From your customer’s point of view a smaller ‘envelope’ CAD model is faster to download and all that is necessary to incorporate within their design. So re-use of existing CAD models might look like a cost saving starting point, but when you factor in your CAD resources spending time hollowing out existing models instead of working on new product designs, it probably is not cost effective to do this. Sometimes CAD models or the resources to build CAD models are not readily available, for example, many distributors do not have CAD resources in-house. The best solution is to choose a digital catalog supplier which also offers CAD services – ‘a CAD factory’. That provides a one-stop solution for your catalog data engineering, online product detail pages and consistent look and feel for your CAD models.

You must ensure the CAD ‘factory’ personnel are highly trained in CAD systems and can build models for full functionality, allowing for motion control, relational and parametrically driven parts as well as derived 2D dimensioned drawings if required by your customers. The second best solution is to use a 3rd party CAD factory, but you then have the difficulty of managing and coordinating the 3rd player. Building your own models should be the last choice, unless you have spare engineering capacity. However, once the CAD models are created, it is important to ensure that the associated attributes (Manufacturer, part number, etc) are consistently and accurately included because this helps ensure that your components are ordered when buyers later process the design. It is usually preferable to ensure that your downloadable CAD models are only promoting your Brand e.g. ensure that filenames aren’t promoting your CAD supplier.

2. Format of the CAD models

There are two sides to this question, firstly the CAD format in which an industrial supplier’s master models are built and maintained and secondly the CAD format or formats in which derivative models are made available to CAD users for download. This topic is covered in detail in this blog post but here are the conclusions.

  • The CAD file format used to build and maintain your master CAD models is very important for the longevity of your investment – we’ll cover in point 3 below.
  • The CAD download file format used for downloads was important in the past but isn’t important any more. Today’s leading CAD Systems import multiple native and standard formats so they can all work and the majority of users are capable of using many formats.

CASE STUDY #1 Stock Drive Products/Sterling Instrument (SDP/SI) is a Long Island, New York, based operating division of Designatronics Incorporated, a company that began in 1960 as a manufacturer of small mechanical products. SDP/SI designs, manufactures and distributes a diverse line of standard and custom, commercial and precision grade components, as well as a full range of electromechanical devices and assemblies – in all more than 70,000 parts. Responding to customer requests for CAD models of its products, the company decided to offer 3D CAD models of parts for download. “We believed it would boost our online sales, get products ‘locked’ into new designs and complement our online store,” said Herb Arum, SDP/SI Marketing Manager. “We chose CDS for their leadership in this area, their excellent CAD services, and their ability to integrate their solution into our existing web site. CDS has built approximately 53,212 high quality 3D CAD models for us and makes them available for download into all major CAD systems. Overall this online marketing strategy has been so successful in increasing product sales that we have largely stopped attending tradeshows. The self-service nature of online CAD downloads has decreased our telephone query handling costs by at least $200,000 a year.”

3. Are your CAD models reusable and sustainable long term?

If the most important thing is for your website to offer CAD model downloads of your parts, the second most important point is to ensure future maintenance of that service. That depends on portability of your CAD models by ensuring they are built in a commercially available CAD system with expected longevity. The best solution is to have the models created using a commercially available 3D CAD program. Leading 3D CAD packages include Pro/Engineer®, SolidWorks®, Siemens NX®, Catia®, Inventor®, etc. and are able to create CAD models for customers in either their native formats or in one of the common interchange formats such as IGES, STEP or DXF. By creating models using a commercial CAD package you ensure that you can update or modify your models anytime you need to. Every major CAD system fully supports interchange using neutral formats such as STEP and IGES. This is the best solution for delivering CAD models to your customers.

For the same reason STEP is also an excellent choice for long term retention of models. The least flexible solution is one not based on any commercially available CAD package, but which uses a proprietary scripting language in which the data has to be defined and is thereafter tied to that proprietary language and solution. Suppliers that use scripting languages (e.g. ThomasNET and PARTsolutions) usually claim that the models can subsequently be saved in most native CAD formats. Technically this is true (i.e. the model file extension, *.xxx may match the native CAD system), but the models can be overloaded with lots of extra features such as datum planes and axes that can make it harder for the designer to use them. Some scripting languages are complex to learn and do not offer the ability to manage complex CAD assemblies that commercial 3D CAD packages do. Further, once selecting a proprietary scripting language you are locked into that software vendor. There are 1,000’s of available CAD consultants who can build your models using a commercial CAD program, but if you select a scripting language based system you have no alternative than the vendor of that system.

4. Size of the CAD Models – are they small enough?

3D models are often very data-intensive resulting in files that can be so large that they are slow to download, and when added to large assemblies can overload the workstation making the assembly cumbersome to use. Ensure your selected CAD model factory is expert in keeping CAD models as small as possible. Your customers will appreciate your models all the more for it!

5. How will the CAD models be maintained?

The real difference between vendors is maintenance of the CAD models. The best choice is to have a service vendor with a built-in ‘CAD factory’ to maintain the CAD models for you in a one stop shop, so there can be no finger pointing between vendors. Confirm that the vendor uses state-of-the-art, web based, project management tools that you can access to easily send requests for new models or engineering change orders for existing models. QA issues or customer questions should also be handled in this way. The second choice is for you, or a 3rd party vendor to maintain your models (SolidWorks and 3DPartStream work that way). This requires allocation of your internal resources, perhaps to first learn a 3D CAD system, then to build and maintain the CAD models, plus your internal resources will have to learn and maintain a web-based online admin system to upload and manage the CAD files, or to manage a 3rd party to do it. In either case there is no single point of responsibility and some finger pointing between vendors is likely when a model isn’t working correctly. When maintaining scripting language solutions be sure to understand any limitations you may have going forward. Since the models are not produced in a commercial CAD system, you may be perpetually tied to working with your vendor for maintenance.

6. Cost of the CAD models – are they affordable?

When similar product families exist, the best solution is usually to build fewer, but more complex, master models from which all the parts can be dynamically generated, rather than building a single CAD model for each unique part. The master model is modified by using a ‘family table’ of dimensional data (similar to an Excel spreadsheet). Individual CAD models can then be generated dynamically as needed. Typically ~90% of the cost to build models is based on the number of master models needed, and the master models are priced according to their complexity and the time needed to create each one. If you want to host CAD models on your web site, you’ll need to create models in each native and neutral CAD format that your customers require.

There will be a cost associated with generating, exporting, and maintaining each part number in the many various file formats. The best and easiest choice is to select a vendor that can automatically create and deliver models in the formats usable by all major CAD systems. If you need 2D dimensioned drawings as well as 3D models, ensure that you select a CAD factory that can produce 2D as a by-product of the 3D models. This will dramatically lower the cost of providing 2D drawings. Some vendors create and dimension each individual part file and hence may charge excessively. Be aware that for 2D drawings typically ~70% of the cost to the customer is based on the time needed to create and dimension each master drawing created from the already built 3D master model. The remaining 30% is incurred by the time needed to pull up each individual drawing (part number), clean up each dimension on the drawing, and export out each desired file format per requested part number. Cleaning is required for each individual drawing because as a part’s features change so will each dimension on the master drawing. Most CAD model vendors do not provide 2D dimensioned drawings, because of the cost and time needed to create and dimension each individual file.

CASE STUDY #2 Ohio Nut & Bolt Company, a subsidiary of Fastener’s Industries Inc., manufactures resistance weld fasteners, levelers and adjusting screws in inch and metric threads and in low carbon and stainless steel. They also offer custom variations on their standard line of products. Responding to customer requests for CAD models of its products, Ohio Nut & Bolt decided to offer 3D CAD models of fasteners for download and ecommerce solution. “We feel that when a customer downloads a CAD drawing, they will purchase the product,” said Rich Bryda, Sales Manager, Ohio Nut & Bolt. “Providing online CAD has made us a faster company, the online information is readily available anytime an engineer wants to view the CAD drawings/models and when a specific product meets their needs, download it directly into their design. With the addition of 2D/3D CAD drawings to our web site, we are meeting the needs of our entire customer base and will undoubtedly increase our sales.” As a result Ohio Nut & Bolt is achieving web site traffic increases of 75% and an increase in sales lead generation of 35%.

7. What about 3D models for customized products?

Customized or built-to-order products are often complex assemblies that have many possible configurations. Such ‘configurable’ products may have many customer options that can be clearly communicated through the use of a web based ‘configurator’. These configurators guide users through a selection process and then create unique CAD models representative of the final configuration chosen. The best configuration solutions incorporate Visual Constraint Feedback™, though most traditional configurators do not. In a complex product, users usually don’t know the constraints and they almost certainly don’t know the interdependence of those constraints (i.e. if you select X you are giving up option Y in selection Z). The visual constraint feedback makes you aware of what effects any selection has on future choices. More than that, sometimes appearance can be just as important as substance. Substance is vital, but customer perception is just as important for successful adoption. The CDS Configurator provides Visual Constraint Feedback™, to provide efficiency for the user and feedback that educates the user to further increase efficiency. The most flexible solutions separate the online catalog, CAD model download and configurator into separate modules that can be integrated or not depending on the needs of a particular industrial supplier’s individual product lines and web site(s).

When configured products require 3D models the cost of creating and maintaining all of the possible 3D combinations and 3D formats is often cost prohibitive. A 3D model solution that can dynamically generate 3D models based on user defined values such as a cylinder’s precise stroke length delivers immediate value to engineering customers. Not all 3D model download solutions can deliver true customized 3D models. Some solutions only offer customized 3D models that have pre-defined values. For example, a custom cylinder’s stroke length may be between 1ft and 3ft, in which case you would want to allow your customer to enter in a value of 2′ 3/8” and download the 3D model. The best solutions provide this ability, while other solutions only allow users to download 3D models in say ½” increments. Custom or dynamic parameters can be added to a URL on the company’s web site via a web configurator or web page. This approach enables complete flexibility and lowers overall cost by enabling a few 3D models to support perhaps millions of potential products.

8. Quality of the CAD Models – will they meet user’s expectations?

The challenge of keeping errors to a bare minimum can be a daunting task when it comes to building perhaps thousands of CAD models. Hundreds of thousands of pieces of data can be used in a single project, making it very difficult to transfer data accurately. One way of addressing this problem is the four-stage approach developed by CDS Visual.

  • Stage 1: All dimensional and technical information needed to create a project is collected and a specification prepared for the client in a manner consistent with industry design standards to ensure correct design, modeling, and drafting techniques are used. The specifications include exact methodologies for creating consistent features throughout like parts, all necessary technical information, and QA sheets.
  • Stage 2: Family table data is double-entered by professional data entry personnel, the dual tables are then programmatically compared and any mistakes corrected.
  • Stage 3: After inserting the family table data into the master model, all variations are then manually exported and visually checked by the designer for any modeling errors.
  • Stage 4: Following the model and drawing creation stage, a 100% visual and electronic quality check is performed on every master model, and a statistically valid sample of associated parts (created from family tables) is checked by quality control engineers.

9. How good and how flexible is the CAD Model viewing?

The best solution accommodates any viewing technology that you might want to use now or in the future. Therefore select a vendor that supports multiple viewing outputs. Many users who download CAD models will have a CAD system installed on their computers but you don’t want a CAD system to be an essential requirement that limits adoption. To serve the most users flexibly try to require the lowest common denominator on the users system – preferably just a modern browser and an online connection and no need for additional apps or plug-ins to be downloaded.

10. Can I add CAD models to my existing web site?

If you already have an SEO optimizing catalog on your website then you just need to add CAD models. The best solution allows companies to add 3D models to their web site via a simple URL. An URL based 3D model integration allows for maximum html flexibility and very fast implementation of 3D model downloads. This raises the question, “if its that easy couldn’t I just add 3D models to my web site to save money?” Of course this is possible but companies have gone down this path have discovered that it is difficult to perform this activity as productively as specialists. Outsourcing your 3D models frees up internal resources to focus on activities that are not readily outsourced. CAD systems, 3D viewers, and web technology is rapidly changing and a specialists can deliver long term value at a competitive cost.

If your website needs a digital catalog to enable local search and SEO then choose a Catalog solution that also offers an integrated CAD model viewing and download capability.

11. How do I capture sales leads from my 3D CAD Model downloads?

We recommend allowing your website visitors to view 3D CAD models in their web browser without having to sign in or register. This is part of their search and selection process so you want no obstacles in their way. However, once they have selected a product and request a CAD download then ask them to complete a one-time, minimal, user registration. By ‘one-time’ we mean that the user only needs to register for their first download not repeatedly for every download and by ‘minimal’ we suggest name, company and email address. Use browser cookies so that upon return visits to your site further CAD downloads can occur without login or re-registration. CDS lead generation has many options, for example, whether or not to validate the customers email address by sending an email to that address with a confirmation link to click – this confirms that the user has access to that email address and it works. We also provide full user control and mgmt. with an approval process and admin control.

Once you’ve captured leads they obviously need to be distributed, followed up and reported on. Think about your lead handling and reporting process – who needs to get what online alerts, reporting and what automated interaction with your other systems, for example CRM or ERP, will you need?

12. How and where should I syndicate my 3D CAD models?

Obviously you should ‘fish where the fish are’! Put your CAD models where users look for them. A digital part catalog along with a configurator (or some configurators) and CAD model downloads should all be part of an industrial supplier’s integrated marketing. Of course that overall marketing includes the supplier’s website and SEO for it and can also include syndication of your CAD models to CAD search engines and portals such as The benefits of this are more SEO specifically for those parts, extra traffic generated directly from the CAD search engine to your website and back-links from the search engine or portal to your website. (The graph shows where designers search for CAD models of parts they need)

13. If I give away my CAD models won’t my designs and intellectual property (IP) be stolen?

A. No. When building CAD models of suppliers parts ensure your designs and other IP are protected by making your downloadable CAD models ‘outer envelope only’ and exclude the inner details. This outer shell of your design is all that customers need to include in their CAD designs. That way your CAD models are not complete enough to enable competitors to copy your designs but still enable your parts to be ‘designed-in’.

We could go on but but for more detail on CAD models see this A-Z Infographic or this more detailed list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

That completes Part 4 – the latter parts of this Blog post series will follow sequentially. In the meantime please feel free to comment below, call us to discuss any questions you have or click either button below…

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