5 CAD Download Trends Manufacturers Need to Know for 2020

5 cad download trends 2020

These are the trends you need to know that affect your bottom line.


What do industrial marketers and manufacturers need to know about CAD downloads trends in 2020?

We’ve seen a ton of change in just the past year, let alone the last decade. Buzzwords like virtual reality, machine learning and AI seem to appear on every “CAD trend” report, but how relevant are they to your day-to-day life and revenue goals for 2020?

In this article, we’ll explore five important trends around 3D CAD models that impact your day-to-day and your bottom line.


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5 cad trends for 2020 infographic


1. 3D modeling is the #1 ranking CAD trend.

Just last year, Business Advantage published its Worldwide CAD Trends 2018/19 report, detailing the current and upcoming trends around CAD that engineers and industrial marketers need to know. The report asked over 600 CAD users and industry decision makers to rate 16 CAD-related topics on their perceived importance, current usage and prospective usage over the next five years.

Once again, 3D modeling ranked #1 in awareness, current usage and importance. Approximately 81% of respondents are aware of 3D modeling as an industry trend, and 69% reported using it in their careers. 

Take a look at the graph below to see how 3D modeling compared to the other 15 CAD trends.


3D cad model and 3d modeling adoption


Despite the emergence of buzzworthy trends like virtual reality and machine learning, the results of the study show that the market is still strongly focused on 3D modeling and 2D drafting. In fact, the usage of these trends is low in comparison to other CAD trends.

These CAD trends saw the most growth in usage compared to 2014-2017:

  1. Collaborative Design (+12%)
  2. 3D Printing (+6%)
  3. Generative Design (+8%) *introduced in 2018-2019
  4. Cloud Based CAD (+4%)

Looking ahead, researchers predict 3D modeling to remain the top trend over the next five years. That said, the study experts warn that the current most-important trends to users are reaching market saturation and have little scope to further expand their reach. Therefore, trends that see little usage and awareness today have the greatest potential to impact new and emerging technologies.



2. High-quality product data, instant configuration and native CAD downloads.

Since manufacturers first started to provide 3D CAD downloads to engineers in the early 2000s, the overarching trend was straight forward: Make it easier for engineers, architects and designers to do their jobs.

Digital customer experience remains the most important battlefront between manufacturers. This means manufacturers must do more than export STEP files.

Online engineers expect to find high-quality product data and easy access to products on the manufacturer’s website. A STEP file is a low-fidelity file that engineers can use as a product model in their CAD system. This comes as a cost for engineers: STEP files don’t allow for the native exchange of parameters, design intent and other important data that design engineers now expect with product downloads.

Moving into 2020, manufacturers must provide native CAD model downloads to customers in their preferred CAD format. This ensures customers get the product data they need while retaining the manufacturer’s metadata to connect the download to an eventual product purchase.


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In a similar vein to digital customer experience, manufacturers must make their CAD downloads easy to find and adjust to the engineer’s specifications. Today, engineers require on-the-fly configuration for highly-configurable products.

This has lead to several manufacturers going through a website redesign campaign centered around digital customer experience. We’ve seen many of our clients go through this process already, and we expect more to do so in 2020.

Manufacturers can provide instant configuration and downloads from their website with the right software. This can be in the form of an online filtering system, digital catalog or online configurator, which leads us to our next trend:




3. 3D product catalog adoption moves into “Late Majority” stage.

As more manufacturers understand the evolving needs and expectations of their customers, they often turn to their 3D product catalog as the trusted CAD delivery mechanism.

3D product catalogs provide the digital customer experience that engineers expect while delivering the digital CAD models they need. These technology enables manufacturers to provide instant CAD downloads in native formats, on-the-fly configuration, 3D visualization prior to downloading, and technical product datasheets.

This type of CAD delivery solution emerged in the early 200s and has grown in popularity among component manufacturers. As a leading, global provider of product catalogs, CADENAS PARTsolutions has seen first-hand how manufacturers across industry verticals have adopted this technology over the past two decades.

Today, the industry is in the “late majority” stage, although some industry verticals adopted this faster than others. 

Manufacturers who don’t have a 3D catalog or equivalent solution risk being laggard and may see their product sales move to digital-savvy competitors.


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4. More opportunities to market and sell to architects with BIM files.

BIM (Building Information Modelling or Building Information Materials) is a leading trend with a good growth potential, according to the Business Advantage report. Nearly half of the respondents said they currently use or plan to use BIM within 3-5 years.

The most popular BIM formats used by architects and designers are: 

  1. Autodesk Revit (57%)
  2. AutoCAD Architecture (33%)
  3. Navisworks (25%)

What does this mean for manufacturers? For industrials who build products for both an engineering and architectural audience, providing BIM files as native downloads is a major competitive advantage.

BIM is the preferred file type used by architects, and architecture firms are looking to BIM as the standard for product information. As it turns out, the best way for manufacturers to connect with architects is their website. 


85% of architects visit manufacturer websites to find product information and keep up on product trends, according to a study from the American Institute of Architects (AIA).


Architects reported that manufacturers (and their websites) are important influencers in the products they select for specification. Furthermore, the manufacturer’s website is the #1 place architects go to research a new building materials product. It is here, on the website, where manufacturers should give them the most-helpful piece of information about their products: BIM files.

CADENAS PARTsolutions helps manufacturers provide native BIM downloads from their website, but we’re not the only stakeholders who encourage industrials to but their files on their home base. Take a look at this quote from Zack Williams, an expert in marketing to architects:

If you want to make an architect’s job easier (which you should!) then provide downloadable digital models on your website.

I’m talking about providing files so that architects can quickly place your product into AutoCAD, Revit, Sketchup, or whatever software they use to plan out their product.

This is an absolute must.

In fact, I would go one step further and say BIM or Revit are the way to go. Architect firms across the nation are starting to see the 3D capabilities of BIM as the standard. And as more and more architects come to expect this type of technology – especially from high-end brands – if you can’t offer a 3D model, you may be out of the running.

3D models aren’t just helpful because they are the latest technology. They give architects insights into unforeseen issues in the project that 2D imaging can’t provide.”


Learn more about providing 3D CAD and BIM models to online customers.



5. More users are downloading 3D models online than ever before.

The market has seen a significant increase in the number of users downloading 3D models on a regular basis. 

Nearly a quarter of respondents from the Business Advantage report said they download models more than 10x/month. Fifty-seven percent said they download parts at least once per month.

Business Advantage attributes this growth in the frequency and regularity of downloaded CAD files to US users across industry sectors. As more manufacturers adopt technologies that support 3D CAD and BIM delivery, the number of downloaded 3D models will continue to increase.

In just the past year, CADENAS PARTsolutions has also seen a massive uptick in the number of CAD downloads from our own customer base: a record-breaking 405 million. Take a look at the chart below to see our recorded downloads year over year.


PARTcommunity Downloads 2006-2019

2019 3d part download stats_graph


The number of 3D CAD downloads in 2019 increased by over 35% from 2018, continuing an upward trend in downloads. October 2019 saw a record-breaking 39 million CAD model downloads for the first time in one month.

Why are these downloads so important to manufacturers? Take it from Achinta Mitra, the marketing-engineer and well-known industrial marketing expert:

Downloadable CAD files and ecatalog solutions are probably two of the most effective sales enablers I have seen for connecting with engineers,” says Mitra.

The download CAD file allows the manufacturer to be designed-in to the engineer’s application. When a “specifier” downloads a CAD file from the manufacturer’s website, the manufacturer’s information remains built-in to the downloaded file.

“It is going to be difficult for you to get to the RFQ stage unless your component is ‘design-in’ by one of the specifiers. You may get the purchase order from somebody in the purchasing department, but that is not likely to happen until the component is specified by a specifier,” says Mitra.



In Summary

A new decade is here, which makes it all the more important for manufacturers and industrial marketers to stay ahead of industry trends. 

To review, here are the five trends industrial marketers need to know:

  1. 3D modeling is the #1 ranking CAD trend.
  2. High-quality product data, instant configuration and native CAD downloads.
  3. 3D product catalog adoption moves into “Late Majority” stage.
  4. More opportunities to market and sell to architects with BIM files.
  5. More users are downloading 3D models online than ever before.

Learn how to sell more products this year by providing customers 3D CAD and BIM files from your website when you download our new, free ebook. If you want more information about how our 3D product catalog can help you achieve this, schedule a time to chat with our ecatalog experts.


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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.