When computer aided design or CAD was first introduced back in 1957, it was a revolutionary replacement for a 2D drawing board. Research in the 1970s shifted from 2D to 3D and its findings gave rise to the introduction of AutoCAD in 1983, which was the first significant CAD program for the IBM PC. This was also a revolutionary step as the AutoCAD developers were able to offer the majority of functionalities offered by other developers at a fraction of the price. The global CAD market exploded from there to reach a forecasted $7.5 billion this year and $11.21 billion by 2023, while 3D modeling is expected to grow from $1.3 billion to $7 billion by 2023.
CAD AND 3D MODELING CHALLENGES AND WHAT'S NEXT
Despite this rosy picture, using CAD does not come without side effects. We are now witnessing another inflection point in CAD history where the technology needs to evolve in order to integrate with emerging technologies such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and mixed reality.
It is not our intention to engage in a lengthy analysis regarding the costs of the myriad of CAD solutions currently on the market. Perhaps it is enough to say that industry leaders like AutoCAD, Revit, Solidworks, or Maya will charge you thousands for starters and hefty maintenance fees going forward.
While the cost of CAD and modeling software is a hard pill to swallow for many, it is the complexity of learning how to use the software that is far more expensive. It is important to note that these applications are complex and comprehensive program and each user brings a different set of skills and knowledge when arriving at its doorstep. Here are some time commitments offered by a variety of different users:
- “30 hours training with a recommended 4 times of that as practice between sessions can prepare a person to work with Autocad 2D on your own. 3D modeling will require another 20–30 hours.”
- “To be proficient in using Autocad beyond that I would say a practice of about 500-1000 hours is good.”
- “If you are computer savvy, you can likely learn up to basic 3D level in about 4 quarters at a tech school.”
- “Useful industry and firm targeted crash course to be able to work as an entry level drafter professionally, probably 40–80 hours.”
- “So the answer is somewhere between 3 days (you can use it), 3 weeks (you feel comfortable), 3 months (productive), and 3 years (virtually no more questions).”
The bottom line is that one does not just sit down in front of CAD software and begin creating wonderful designs that the world is dying to buy. It requires a significant time investment to learn and use professionally regardless of your background.
We are now seeing the merging of 3D scanning, printing, design, and virtual reality. This gives rise to a whole new breed of design and manufacturing where there is there is the ability to have an unique viewpoint of a process before it ever goes live. Virtual reality now offers designers the ability to create and edit 3D models in room sized environments or “workshops” rather than sitting in front of a computer and pushing around a mouse. Professional design software by itself can no longer keep pace with industries that are simultaneously demanding more comprehensive and cost effective solutions.
VIRTUAL REALITY GETS SERIOUS
Virtual reality (VR) until recent years was never seen as a serious technology by industry players. It required expensive hardware, the user interface was awkward, and the quality of the experience was far from being realistic. This has all started to change as companies begin to see the productivity gains that can be realized by moving beyond flat blueprints and CAD designs.
In Ford’s virtual reality lab, designers, engineers, and researchers can all collaborate in a virtual space to produce a concept before a physical prototype is made. This lab efficiently drives decision making for evaluating materials, colors, packaging, and ergonomics. Functional teams from all around the world can participate in the design process and offer instant feedback. Productivity has been greatly accelerated and costs significantly reduced.
While the process typically starts with 2D ideation, VR is increasingly being used to create and edit 3D designs. Many designers now prefer to work inside of an immersive environment that can stimulate their creativity far more than staring at a computer screen.
Back in 2015, Nike patented the “Virtual Reality Sneaker Customization.” This patent is now being put to use as Nike looks to fundamentally change the way it brings products to market. Designers, using haptic technology and voice control, can now completely create the latest generation of shoes in a virtual space. This means that many rapid product interactions can take place before a physical shoe is produced. Nike believes this virtual process will open the door for more collaboration between them and the athletes who use their sports gear.
If car and shoes are not serious enough for you, then how about using virtual reality to build warships? As one can imagine, small errors can result in big costs when designing something as complex as a Royal Navy warship. In the not too distant past, BAE engineers used wood and cardboard to create mockups of ships. Let’s fast forward to the present day where VR enables these same engineers to walk around and carefully inspect a computer generated ship. On March 15th, 2017, BAE Systems took their VR development to another level by opening its New Product and Process Development Centre (NPPC) in Samlesbury in the U.K. This centre was created to use VR and 3D printing to drastically speed up the production times of military aircraft.
VIRTUAL REALITY IS THE FUTURE OF DESIGN
As we have discussed, the CAD and modeling software industry will continue to grow, but it must also evolve. From the use cases from Ford, Nike, ad BAE Systems, we can clearly see the huge impact of visualization and collaboration made possible by VR. There is little doubt that teams editing 3D models using VR is far more effective than individuals staring at computer screens. VR, 3D printing, and design will all become a part of the ecosystem that is now being called “Digital Factory.”
The goods news is that you do not have to be a Ford, Nike, or BAE Systems to use VR for design. While it is useful to be able to import 3D models into VR, these same models can be created from scratch in a virtual space. During our next blog post, we will analyze some innovative solutions that enable users to build and operate their own VR design center.
We would love to hear about and create your unique design solution! Please contact us for your free consultation.