Which CAD and BIM Delivery Method Is Best for You: Email Delivery, Self-Hosted 3D Catalog, Neutral Cloud or Native Cloud?
Providing 3D CAD models online is no longer a luxury – it’s a necessity. Take it from other industrial marketers:
“The standard in our industry is getting CAD models online.” – Helix Linear
“Having the CAD files on the site is helping us better provide the product content our customers want… We continually work to improve the customer experience on our website,” – JTEKT North America
Engineers and architects expect to find 3D part models on the manufacturers’ website. If your products are not available as free digital downloads, you could be missing out on valuable leads and sales.
The good news: It’s easier today to deliver 3D part models online than ever before.
We’ve seen 100+ manufacturers drive more product sales when they started to provide CAD models to customers from their own website. Do it right, and you’ll be on your way to more downloads and sales, too.
You may already deliver 3D CAD models to customers, but are you employing the most effective method?
This article is for you to achieve a better understanding of what options of CAD delivery are out there. We’ll break down four methods of CAD delivery, pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of each.
4 Methods of CAD Delivery to Online Customers
There are four main methods for providing CAD or BIM product models:
- Email delivery
- self-hosted solution
- Neutral cloud
- Native cloud
Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of delivering CAD models online, starting with the most basic method to the more enterprise solutions.
1. Email Delivery
Your customers will email or call you to request a CAD model of a product. If the customer needs a custom model, he will likely have to send a 2D drawing and product specs along with the request.
From there, that request goes to your engineering team, where your company’s engineer will find or create the model to email to the customer.
This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks, depending on the project and your engineer’s workload.
With email CAD delivery, you have 100% control over your CAD models and what you send to potential customers. This is great, making it possible for you to set your own boundaries for what product data you include (and don’t include) in those models.
You will already have CAD or online versions of your customer’s products; therefore, you can work with the materials you already have in order to send a simplified “sales version” of the CAD product model to potential buyers.
Another benefit of this method is its affordability. Short-term costs won’t be a concern for you, as email delivery enables you to deliver CAD & BIM models to designers without paying too much compared to other methods.
While this is seemingly the easiest method for CAD delivery, its benefits are also its disadvantages.
Email delivery of CAD models will be both a limiting and resource-heavy method for you.
You are 100% responsible for their CAD delivery, which means the burden falls on your team to deliver product samples with the right information, without giving away your intellectual property.
The cost savings associated with this delivery method are also misleading — you already pay your engineering staff to design product models for CAD requests, but is that really what you hired them for? Taking this meaningless task off their to-do list will free-up time for more important designs.
This method isn’t ideal for end-users and customers, either. They have to wait for you to send them the CAD file (which typically is not in their native CAD format) and stalls their projects. Often times, younger engineers will not show interest in your company if you only offer email delivery. They are looking for efficient self-service and will move on to another manufacturer who provides this quickly.
2. Self-Hosted Solution
You understand that you need to provide instant 3D CAD models and BIM files to your online customers and make them readily available on your website.
You may want to start with a self-hosted 3D catalog or product configurator.
So, what exactly is a self-hosted 3D catalog?
A home-grown catalog is a company-made-and-supported application that you will use to deliver 3D CAD models to customers. This tool is often built by your own CAD team and has a dedicated team or person who maintains, updates and facilitates the delivery of CAD & BIM product models to online specifiers.
Interactivity plays a key role in the catalog-configurator. Customers should be able to find and specify the product models on their own (while having a way to contact you for help with special assemblies).
A true product configurator needs logical rules built-in to the system. In other words, each product needs a “recipe” that sets the parameters for what the user can configure based on what you can build. This way, engineers and architects can’t configure a product you don’t manufacture.
Again, this delivery method gives the manufacturer 100% control over its product models and CAD delivery. You can store, maintain and continually upgrade your CAD and BIM files in this solution, and it’s a differentiator from those who only provide CAD via email requests.
The self-hosted catalog is also a great tool to deliver a remarkable digital customer experience. Customers can get product models on-demand without having to go through a salesperson or your engineering team.
To be clear: a home-grown 3D catalog solution is not an original idea, and it comes with many complications. These fall on you to solve for yourself.
You will face these challenges when building your own product configurator:
- Maintenance can be a time consuming and challenging task, requiring a team or person dedicated to continuously updating them
- Protecting IP/Engineering data can be difficult
- Often only 1 CAD format and possible STEP files are available for download
- Requires a large hosting branch, slowing your website down
- It can be expensive, recourse heavy, and challenging to maintain/upgrade
3. Neutral Cloud
In this method, a third party helps you provide 3D CAD & BIM downloads from your website via a provider-hosted solution.
The third-party provider takes your existing CAD models and hosts the “sales versions” on their own platform. The models are then accessible to users from that platform and through your website via a CAD catalog.
Oftentimes, the third party is a CAD software provider and has its own CAD download portal, where it will also publish your CAD catalog. Giving your company additional publicity and brand recognition.
This CAD configurator or CAD catalog lives in an iframe, which is embedded on your website. This is similar to embedding a YouTube video or social post on a website, only this CAD catalog requires much more bandwidth.
This method is an efficient way for you to provide CAD downloads from your website without having to handle the challenging and resource-heavy maintenance of a DIY catalog.
With the third-party provider, you reach more customers. The CAD catalog lives on your website as well as the provider’s CAD download portal. Many engineers and designers who exclusively use that CAD software know they can always find a native CAD download in these CAD download portals. Now, your products are on that portal and readily available for download.
This interface also creates a great online experience for your customers without weighing heavily on the website’s bandwidth. The CAD catalog allows users to find, configure and download 3D models on-the-fly, which cuts down on their design time and streamlines the process for downloading custom CAD models.
Finally, having CAD models on the website helps you improve your authority with Google. This only works if your website has a large hosting bandwidth, or else the configurator will slow the website.
In order for this method to work, you must give up some control of its CAD model delivery. This is not to say that third-party providers can’t protect I.P., but rather, you don’t have as much control over personalizing the experience to match your brand and preferred appearance.
Similarly, the third-party provider could decide to change a feature of its CAD catalog solution, reorganize its CAD download portal or shut down entirely — you have little-to-no control and can lose all CAD deliverability.
A key issue with this solution is its limited ability to provide native CAD or BIM downloads. Most third-party providers only enable users to download product models in one or a few file formats. As native CAD downloads are a growing expectation for online engineers, this could be a big differentiator between you and your competitor.
Product changes and updates can also be cumbersome. While you don’t have to make the specific changes to the CAD models, you must ensure that a change to a product family is reflected in every CAD model everywhere those product models are available for download. With the neutral cloud method, that means someone must go into each CAD model and make the update.
4. Native Cloud
Finally, there is the native cloud method of CAD delivery. This method is very similar to the neutral cloud method but with fewer limitations and a more streamlined maintenance program.
In the neutral cloud method, a third-party simply transforms your existing models into “sales versions” that you can then send via a few select CAD formats. In the native cloud method, the third-party recreates those CAD models and builds a “recipe structure” or pilot model. This model can be easily configured and adjusted for each product configuration and other parts within the product family, which enables you to provide a “sales version” model to customers in any CAD or BIM format.
In summary, the difference lies in how the CAD product models are built, which impacts how you can use and maintain your 3D catalog.
With a native cloud solution, you have the most opportunities to deliver CAD models to engineers without the workload that comes with a self-hosted solution.
The third-party published and hosts a “master catalog” on its platform, which serves as the single-source for all current CAD product models. You can then publish this catalog on your website, CAD download portals, distributor sites, USB drives and anywhere else it provides CAD.
Unlike the neutral cloud solution, this master catalog structure enables you to make product changes one time, which are automatically reflected anywhere the 3D catalog is republished.
This solution also lets you provide all six major CAD software as native downloads from the catalog. Native cloud can also support 3D visualization, PDF product datasheets and 2D/3D neutral file formats.
Like the neutral cloud solution, you don’t have 100% control on the deliverability of its CAD models. You must decide if relying on a third party to provide CAD & BIM is a worthwhile partnership compared to a DIY-hosted solution.
In addition, the workload for native catalogs is more time-consuming and resource-heavy upfront. If you view this method as a long-term investment, that time commitment will be offset by less maintenance and upkeep down the road.
Because of the advanced functionality of native cloud, these solutions are more expensive upfront. Of course, quoting a CAD catalog depends on several factors, including the product geometry and quantity, so the actual price will differ for each manufacturer.
Before letting the cost deter this option, consider how much it costs to achieve the functionality of native cloud with a comparable self-hosted, native solution:
- top 6 CAD formats = $1,500/year/format = $9,000/year
- an engineer to maintain the solution = $35,000/year
- a large hosting plan to support the 3D catalog = $2,500/year
- the time it takes to build the home-grown solution
Now that we’ve covered the 4 key ways to deliver 3D CAD most efficiently to your online customers, you can make the best choice for your company.
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