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Jan 19, 2022

Although the disruptions from COVID-19 is unaccountable for the manufacturing sector, there has been a silver lining when it comes to the adoption of digital technologies. The article offers an outlook on one such technology, computer-aided design (CAD), based on surveys and case studies, and elaborates on its impact on the manufacturing sector. - Brian Thompson, Division Vice President and General Manager - CAD Segment, PTC

It’s the time of the year to make predictions; always risky but irresistible, nonetheless. That said, I’d like to comment on the state of the computer-aided design (CAD) market now and what we believe will be the trends in the CAD space in 2022. In general, I’m optimistic. I would never want to diminish the impact that the second year of COVID has had on human beings and businesses worldwide. Still, I can say we had a good 2021, and, furthermore, we’ve seen digital transformation have a positive impact on our customers. We expect that to continue and accelerate.

State of CAD

We serve discrete manufacturers. Our larger customers showed us they remain committed to investing, both in new products and in new product development strategies. We all hope COVID will recede at some point, and those companies want to be ready. Our customers in the small- and medium-sized space had less of a financial cushion and were more conservative in their spending. We still had a healthy 2021 in that part of the market, but spending was not at pre-pandemic levels. That said, we’ve seen a resurgence and expect improvement in 2022.

Digital transformation: Overview and market requirements

I realise ‘digital transformation’ has become somewhat of a cliché, but the fact is that our customers have digital transformation initiatives across the board, and transformation is happening. These manufacturers have seen the power and value of doing more digitally in design and product development. COVID brought that message home quickly.

One trend I expect to strengthen is the degree to which our customers want to be more model-based in everything they do, not just in product design and product development. To see why, recall what model-based definition (MBD) is. MBD is an approach to creating 3D CAD models so that these models effectively contain all the data needed to define a product.

That has two significant implications:

  • First, that the 3D model is the source authority for *everyone* and drives all engineering activities because the information is placed directly on the geometry – no more chasing outdated or asynchronously edited 2D drawings around the company

  • Second, important complementary processes, such as simulation, or preparing models for manufacturing, runoff that model. We’ve published a case study about Brasseler’s Komet brand that shows how that works, from creating the model to the reuse of manufacturing toolpaths. When this happens, MBD has an impact on the entire value chain. This is also a trend we see taking hold in Indian manufacturers – model-based approaches driving significant efficiencies in collaborative development between engineering and manufacturing.

In terms of market requirements, I’d expect to see customers increasingly look for technologies that help them get as far as they can in the digital environment before committing to money, time and togetherness in the lab developing prototypes. It’s not just about COVID, it’s about the cost. Our partner, Ansys, did research showing that upwards of 70% of product cost was already baked into the product by the time development reached the prototype stage. 70% – by the time you reach that number, any changes you make will have only a small impact on cost.

It’s not surprising, then, that we’re seeing manufacturers turning to simulation and generative design. With simulation, designers can experiment virtually in real-time, change their minds, materials and approaches – all without spending anything on materials or lab time until they need to. It’s cost-free experimentation and, as important, the chance to fix major issues before the prototype state.

Generative design takes this a step further. We’ve seen customers like Jacobs Engineering and Volvo Trucks use this with great success. The computing power is in the cloud, so engineers set the problem, the system creates and ranks alternatives, and engineers can use one of the solutions as-is or continue to evolve the solution on their own. One not only saves time but also sees alternatives they might never have considered in the time you have for the project.

Status of digital transformation

The discrete manufacturers we serve see a huge opportunity in digital transformation and are moving forward to grasp it. No question. We expect that to pick up in 2022 as more manufacturers realise that no matter what the size of their business, they can enjoy benefits. We’re seeing one commonality in customers who are enjoying success: they start ‘at home’ by taking the time to reassess their usage of Creo. This is a more nuanced analysis than it might seem.

First, customers look to see what capabilities are being used, not used or less used. Second, they ask themselves a question, the answer to which can create value for the business in terms of efficiencies and potential for innovation. That question is whether their people are using Creo according to the most modern recommended workflows and techniques and, if not, what can they do about it? Customers not only want their highly skilled engineers at the tops of their games – they want to smooth the way for them.

It’s not unusual for a customer to come to us looking for a little help. Some customers need to upskill users quickly for a major project, while others have decided they want their people to earn Creo certifications, or they have advanced users who want to get into a virtual lab with an instructor and spend time on a topic.

The point here is that we’ve observed that successful customers start small, and they start by getting their digital houses in order. I expect this trend will continue and accelerate. It is important that everyone rids themselves of the notion that digital transformation success in 2022 requires boiling the ocean or waiting for miraculous insights. Start small but start.

2022 trends in development and design, and what design engineers should do

Design engineers need to embrace digital, period. I’d break that into several steps.

First, simulation and generative design technologies will become more important because these technologies allow design engineers to do what they went into the field to do – design great products. I am yet to meet a design engineer who says, “Gee, what I really want to do is spend more time preparing my model for analysis only to find out I made an avoidable mistake at the beginning.” Let me tell you, analysts feel the same way – they want to work on problems that require their specialised expertise. I’d tell designers to brush up on topics like stress, strain, heat transfer, structural analysis – what they’ll need to use these tools most effectively.

Second and higher-level, MBD will continue to increase in importance. I want to underline that it is not a clerical shortcut. MBD is about expanding the influence of the CAD model up and down the value chain. That means the CEO is using a viewer to look at the model; the manufacturing engineer is running tool paths off that same model, and the design engineer uses that same model for simulation.

If you move even higher, MBD is foundational because it’s part of the customers’ model-based enterprise (MBE) strategy and, in turn, part of their digital transformation strategy. With MBD, both users and companies can start to open up a new world. It’s incredibly exciting to think about and be part of that with our customers. At PTC, we’re looking forward to what 2022 will bring to us all.

Image Gallery

  • With simulation, designers can experiment virtually in real-time, change their minds, materials and approaches – all without spending anything on materials or lab time until they need

    With simulation, designers can experiment virtually in real-time, change their minds, materials and approaches – all without spending anything on materials or lab time until they need

  • Brian Thompson
Division Vice President and General Manager - CAD Segment

    Brian Thompson

    Division Vice President and General Manager - CAD Segment


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