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Marketing with CAD Models, an Update on Trends & Formats

A Sustained Upward Trend

As the graph above shows, 3D CAD model downloads continue to trend upwards. About 90% of engineers download 3D CAD models and they, on average, annually download 63 CAD models each (according to Business Advantage’s annual CAD Trends surveys 20142015201620172018). As explained in those links, these numbers conservatively estimate the number of CAD downloads only, and do not count CAD views – an engineer may view a number of part models (zoom, pan, rotate, etc.) before selecting which to download.

The Quickest Way to Model a Part is to Download It

The increase is partly because more and more industrial suppliers (manufacturers and distributors) are offering 3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawings as types of marketing content, so more and more engineers are finding the models of the parts they need and learning that, “the quickest way to model a part is to download it”. See this post, Digital Marketing with CAD, Get the FAQs for detailed answers to 22 frequently asked questions but I’ve recently been asked to answer the following three questions.

1. Should you CAD portal or not CAD Portal?

This question refers to whether you should syndicate your CAD data to 3rd party CAD portal sites. Obviously you should put your CAD models where users look for them. Research has shown that offering CAD viewing and downloads on the part detail pages of your own website is priority #1 and automatically addresses search engines – for example, look at the CAD models on the Grainger and McMaster sites. Priority #2 is enabling your distribution partners (if any) to do the same. Priority #3 is to syndicate to CAD portals (such as which also gets your CAD models ‘inside’ PTC and Autodesk CAD software tools).CDS CAD Download Survey - Where do you look online to find CAD models of standard parts?

Preferably, in all cases, you end up generating leads in exchange for downloads and keep the models and drawings on your website with backlinks to them from distributor or CAD portal sites. The benefits of this are just one place to keep your viewable/downloadable CAD up-to-date, more SEO specifically for those part pages, and visitor traffic generated directly from the search engines and CAD portals to your website.

2. How many CAD file formats do you really need to provide?

This question is probably asking what CAD file formats should be offered for CAD downloads – we’ll answer that question first but there is another vitally important CAD file format question that we’ll then answer. For CAD downloads the answer is the ‘native’ CAD file formats for all the major CAD systems along with all the standard CAD file interchange formats (IGES, STP) for other CAD systems or for customers that prefer to use them – see For Downloadable CAD Models do CAD Formats Matter?

3. Which CAD Format Should Your Models be Built and Maintained In?

Your master CAD models should be built and maintained in a format that leaves you free to use them in any CAD system or any CAD download system. Just as you don’t want to be constrained or locked into any one CAD vendor’s CAD system so you should not let yourself be locked into any one CAD Download vendor’s system. Beware of any CAD download vendors who attempt to lock you into their proprietary CAD formats and thereby restrict (or make very expensive) your ability to change vendors in the future. You should always choose that your CAD models be built in a top commercially available CAD system – we recommend PTC’s Creo(R), Dassault Systemes’s SolidWorks(R) or Autodesk’s Inventor(R). That ensures portability. but also be sure to contractually retain full legal ownership of your CAD models into the future, whoever might build them for you.


3D CAD models and 2D CAD drawing downloads continue to be more utilized and therefore more important to industrial digital marketing. The most important thing is for your website to offer CAD model viewing and downloads of your parts but ensure future portability of your CAD models and drawings by building and maintaining them in a commercially available CAD system.

If you have other questions please ask them by leaving a comment below (or click to ask a question) and, as always, if any answer isn’t clear or thorough enough please call us.



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