Modernizing Your CAD

The truth is that only you can decide which design tools are the best fit for your company. However, when modernizing your CAD: 7 things we feel should come to mind as criteria to consider, for a pragmatic and comprehensive checklist to jumpstart your evaluation process and enable you to make the modern move.

Buying a CAD system isn’t an impulse purchase. It’s one of the most important decisions your company will ever make.

In the early days of CAD’s development, the software and hardware were extraordinarily expensive compared to the salaries of the engineers using them. Before the age of personal computers, a single seat of CAD might cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, including the specialized hardware. Engineers, meanwhile, were paid a fraction of what they are paid today. As PTC Executive Vice President and Onshape founder Jon Hirschtick notes, companies used to have “one super expensive computer surrounded by a lot of ‘cheap’ engineers.”

Today, that situation is reversed. Regardless of which CAD system you are using, your company’s investment in engineers is far more costly. So, the big question becomes: How do you best maximize every hour of your engineers’ time?

Onshape founder Jon Hirschtick likes to tell a bizarre story of a frustrated engineer who ran out into the parking lot and stood in front of a co-worker’s car to prevent him from leaving. The co-worker had some CAD files checked out of their Product Data Management (PDM) system and was about to go on vacation. The “body blocker” feared he would not be able to work on his project until his colleague returned and checked the file back in.

Onshape exists to make your job as stress-free as possible. But making the move from your legacy CAD to avoid these types of pains is the most effective way to innovate and remain the best in class within our digitally transformed world.

Many of the CAD systems on the market today have been around for decades and, to a certain degree, they all work in a similar way and are similar in their capabilities. This makes selection even harder, so you should avoid focusing purely on CAD features. Data created by CAD is used throughout your company and beyond, so investigate the suitability of any system for your design teams, your company, and your extended enterprise – especially if they are spread across multiple locations.

So here is a “cheat sheet” to aid your decision or aid for what to ask professional 3D CAD vendors when they’re demonstrating their products. The most important criteria to consider when comparing CAD systems, including:

  1. Parametric Modelling Tools– Users need a CAD System that has the modelling tools to accomplish day-to-day tasks and projects. While parametric modelling tools have existed for over 30 years, many are not easy to use and access. For example, in-context editing can lead to unexpected changes to models; assemblies can generate a lot of extraneous files to manage; defining mates in multipart design can break relationships between parts. Find out what CAD systems have done to ensure these tools work for the designer.
  2. The User Interface – Users must engage with their CAD system every day. More buttons don’t always equal more features. Assess each system to understand whether you will be in a modern system or one that looks 25 years old. Many CAD vendors have replaced massive rows of toolbars with more elegant, contextual controls. Since engineers are often reluctant to leave their familiar design tools, the best way to evaluate a CAD system’s usability is to sign up for a trial version and get comfortable with the user interface. Examine which systems enable collaboration. Check out the performance of the CAD system’s mobile client, for not only viewing designs while in the field but also for creating and editing models on the go.
  3. Total Cost of Ownership- CAD buyers are best served by considering the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) – the direct and indirect costs associated with adopting a new CAD system. These costs can include Software – CAD software, often priced per seat, can have upfront and recurring costs. Some systems have license requirements beyond the CAD software itself such as PDM systems or file backup software. Hardware – workstations with high-end video cards and CPUs, as well as solid-state hard drives or extra RAM are expensive and limit access to only those with workstations. Maintenance – Do you want your IT employees working on growing your business or maintenance of hardware, provisioning licenses, and workstations?
  4. Technical Support and Training – Customers often want and need technical support and training to get their teams to be productive right away when upgrading CAD systems or switching to a new one. Does a vendor offer In-app support and dedicated customer success teams that the best providers offer?
  5. Process for Updating Software – It is important to think about future-proofing your investment. Modern CAD systems with more frequent release cycles can better stay up to date with the changing macro environment. CAD software with 12–18-month release cycles often have painful upgrade processes. Also, ensure that a new CAD platform can take data from your existing system.
  6. Full CAD Ecosystem- The most valuable CAD systems are platforms with growing ecosystems extending the core product’s functionality. CAD systems must often interact with related software for functionality such as rendering, CAM, or stress analysis. Find out how each CAD vendor helps you find and install third-party software. Look for companies that facilitate vendor integrations by publishing a full API, and that let users “try and buy” compatible apps from a single marketplace, like app stores from Google or Apple.
  7. Security and Reliability– IP protection is increasingly important. Understand how your system controls access and prevents and protects against data loss. Sending file-based designs to vendors and partners means they can then copy or redistribute those files to others. To prevent data loss, file-based CAD systems often recommend additional file management software to mitigate the risk of lost or corrupt data files. In contrast, cloud-based CAD systems, which securely store your models in a central database, can grant roles and privileges for access to models without ever leaving files behind. Find out how each CAD vendor gives you control over access to your proprietary data, and how they reliably ensure your data is safe.


Remember CAD is the backbone of your business. Download your free copy of the “Modernizing Your CAD” guide today to help you determine which system is the best fit for your product development team.