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Providing 3D CAD Models

How to sell more products by providing 3D CAD models directly to customers

Updated 8/26/2019


Industrial manufacturers know that providing 3D CAD models is a business necessity. Ten years ago, providing CAD to customers who called or emailed was enough, but not anymore.

Today’s industrial buyers expect on-demand product data, instant CAD & BIM downloads in their native format, and high-quality product images — all with the click of a button.

Are you meeting these heightened expectations? How are you guaranteeing your company can provide CAD models to customers today and five years from now?

Here’s what manufacturers need to know about providing 3D CAD models to customers.

Jump to the Section You Need:


Why Deliver 3D CAD Models to Potential Customers?

No one plays “Risk” before reading the rules of the game, and no one wins without devising a strategy.

Before you jump in and stick CAD models on your website, you need to understand the playing field. Let’s look at how the industry has adopted 3D CAD models and CAD catalogs over time, where manufacturers are today, and where the industry is going next.

Industry Adoption of 3D CAD Models and CAD Catalogs

3D modeling is the #1 ranking CAD trend in terms of importance, adoption and usage, according to a 2019 report from Business Advantage.

Approximately 92% of respondents currently use 3D models, and the researchers expect the adoption rate to climb in the next five years.

Key Takeaway: Manufacturers who aren’t providing 3D models to customers are missing out and losing business to those that do.

3D cad model and 3d modeling adoption (image source: Business Advantage report, CAD Trends 2018-2019)[/caption]

Are Manufacturers Keeping Up with These Trends?

Unfortunately, no.

Forty years ago, 3D CAD software was new to the scene. Industrial marketers relied on product catalogs, magazine advertisements, and mail-order product samples to get their products in front of engineers. 

But today, their buyers aren’t there. Digitalization has changed the industry, but what have manufacturers done to change with it?

Computer programmer and entrepreneur Scott Brinker points out how the trends of technology and organizational change don’t line up. Buyers are fast to follow technology trends, but organizations are slow to adopt these changes and get stuck doing things the old way.

Technology changes exponentially; organizations change logarithmically.

– Martec’s Law, by Scott Brinker @chiefmartec

Many manufacturers do not readily adopt industry changes. You might  ask, “Is providing 3D CAD products on our website really the lead-generation tool that fits our customers’ needs?” 

Meanwhile, innovative companies are winning your business by meeting buyers where they are: with the current technology trend.

Today, there are cloud-based CAD systems, PDF data sheets with interactive 3D previews, and hundreds of different CAD software providers used by engineers and consumers of 3D data around the world. And next year more design engineers will access and use these tools from their smartphones. 

Again, technology is continuing to evolve — is your business moving with it?

logarithmic vs exponential growth manufacturing

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

For manufacturers, this meant the previous ways to deliver CAD to customers no longer made the cut.

In 2003, manufacturers had two main ways to provide these CAD product models to customers: 

  1. Export working STEP files of their products
  2. Partner with a CAD software tool

To distinguish yourself from your competitors and give customers the exact product models they faster and more efficiently, you must do more than export STEP files of your products.


1. Provide high-quality product data

STEP files were a quick-fix solution to a growing problem: engineers needed on-demand product models, but most manufacturers were not ready to meet those expectations. These low-fidelity files allowed for engineers and designers to use a product model in their CAD system, but at a cost… 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.

Also, they were often based on the manufacturers working CAD models, meaning another company could actually use the file to manufacture a copy of the product. 

Moving into 2020, manufacturers must provide native CAD model downloads to customers in their preferred CAD format. This ensures customers receive the product data they need as well as the necessary engineering and purchasing information, while protecting their valuable intellectual property. 


2. Instant product configuration at customers’ fingertips

Long gone are the days when customers flip through a paper catalog and skim tables of product specifications. An online filtering system doesn’t cut it either. Engineers and architects expect a better experience online – they expect on-the-fly configuration.

Engineers expect to find, configure and download a product from a manufacturer’s website within seconds. This means manufacturers must use technology that gives this experience to customers. If you provide this, it’s a huge differentiator.


3. 3D product catalogs to deliver CAD to customers

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

3D product catalogs provide the digital customer experience engineers and architects expect while delivering the digital product models they need. This type of solution emerged in the early 2000s and has grown rapidly in popularity among component manufacturers.

Today, the industry is in the early majority stage. Some industry verticals adopted this faster than others. In short, those who don’t find themselves with a 3D product catalog or equivalent solution will be the late majority then laggard, and their product sales will suffer for it.

providing 3D CAD models: 3 reasons why

3 Reasons why CAD Models Have Been the Differentiator for Manufacturers

Those manufacturers who make it easy for customers to get CAD & BIM downloads from their website have seen the benefits first-hand. They are the ones leading their industry toward a customer-focused, technology-driven future.

What makes 3D CAD models the key ingredient for industrial success?

Here are the top three ways in which CAD & BIM models have enabled manufacturers to climb the industry ladder:

1. Product configurators have a proven ROI.

If you’re a marketing manufacturer looking to drive more sales from your content library, free 3D CAD downloads should be your bread and butter.

“Brennan Industries doubled their online CAD downloads overnight after launching our configurator on their website. PFA saw a 99% customer adoption of 3D CAD models after implementing their catalog configurator. That’s significant to a manufacturer of any size,” says Tim Thomas, CEO at CADENAS PARTsolutions.


2. Instant 3D downloads are a home-run for digital customer experience.

Digital customer experience (DCX) includes all the digital interactions between the customer and a manufacturer. These interactions (such as ease of website navigation and page speed) help the potential buyer form an opinion of your company.

Your goal is to make it easy for the potential buyer to say “yes”. To do this, your website must have  simple navigation, on-demand data access, product details and graphics, transparent pricing and more. –  Online 3D CAD and BIM models are an essential piece of this strategy that improves “ease of doing business” for manufacturing customers.


3. Manufacturers have more time to focus on product innovation.

By providing online CAD & BIM downloads to customers, manufacturers free-up time for their employees and let engineers do what they were hired to do in the first place: to build better designs.

“We never want our clients to worry about the digital customer experience for their CAD products,” says Thomas. “We provide the 24/7/365 access to our clients’ products, enabling manufacturers to focus on what they do best, creating new products.”


See what manufacturers are saying about 3D CAD models:

“3D CAD model downloads are our best sales leads, so we knew we had to get this right.”

Aaron Hansen, Bison Gearn and Engineering

“What really blew us away, was the adoption rate when we would provide application reviews. 99% of the time the design already featured a model generated by our online configurator.”

Mark Scanlan, PFA, Inc.

“We saw our downloads double overnight when we switched to the CADENAS PARTsolutions 3D CAD catalog.”

John Joyce, Brennan Industries

“Having CAD available on a website is a necessity today, however having the right products that are configurable, easy to access, fast and accessible on any device is the expectation of our customers.”

Bruce Hamper, Power Jacks

“The standard in our industry is getting CAD models online…

…We knew if we could make our products self-service from within our website, it would be much easier for customers to get CAD models of our products and to purchase from us.”

Christopher Nook, Helix Linear

“Engineers now have the ease and convenience of downloading the files themselves without having to take time out of their busy schedules to contact us. And it saves us the manpower of having to provide CAD models or prints on a one-by-one basis.”

Ken Wolcott, Qosina

“No more wait time! This new tool is all about convenience for our customers, enabling us to deliver the amazing customer experience we strive for.”

Majdah Bin-Salamon, Hunt Valve

Customer Expectations for Online CAD Today

It’s no secret that today’s architects and engineers want a remarkable customer experience. They expect to find a downloadable product model online, and they expect it to be easy to find.

That’s why DCX and online CAD & BIM models go hand-in-hand. Component manufacturers need to understand what and how they provide 3D downloads to customers. Once they know this, industrial marketers can use this knowledge to reach more engineers and planners and drive more qualified leads and sales.

Here’s what you need to know about online customers’ expectations and behaviors:

Where Is the Industry Heading Next?

As mentioned in that previous study, researches expect 3D models to remain the top industry trend and see even more adoption. 

AI, machine learning and the Internet of Things are growing trends they expect to see impact the industry in the next five years. A better question to ask would be this: “How are 3D CAD models going to take manufacturers to the next level?”

The overarching trend that prompted the explosion of 3D CAD models in the mid-2010s is still relevant today. Only, it has a catchier name:

Personalized digital customer experience.

Why digital customer experience?

Buyer expectations don’t change just because they’re doing something B2B or buying an industrial product. The expectations are exactly the same: they want exactly what they want, when they want it, without having to wait. If they can’t get that, they will move on to the next manufacturer.

Component manufacturers must continue to find ways to make it easy for customers to buy their products. So, what is the best way to get this done?

Providing 3D CAD models to customers gives engineers the content they need and the buyer experience they want. That’s how manufacturers are setting themselves apart from their competition and setting themselves up for the future of CAD modeling.

The next evolution of CAD

Already, the industry is evolving into a new realm of data analysis and digitalization. Breakthrough innovations in CAD technology are changing the perception of what’s possible with product models -once again transforming the way engineers, architects and planners create and design.

Here are just some of the directions in which the industry is going:

  • Design collaboration moves to the cloud
  • Personalization for feature-rich products
  • Simulation takes the forefront with digital twin and Industry of Things
  • Intelligent design anticipates design errors and repairs.

High-fidelity 3D product models are the foundation for all the digital trends emerging in the industry. These are not in conflict with the product downloads that component manufacturers deliver today. Rather, these 3D product models serve the manufacturer as sales leads as well as digital assets to carry them into the future of design.


How to Provide 3D CAD Models Online

How to provide 3D CAD models from your website — the right way. Now that everyone knows the game, it’s time to talk strategy.

By leveraging your knowledge of industry trends and customer insights, you can build a marketing and sales enablement strategy around 3D CAD & BIM models fit for your business.

Before diving into the methods for delivering CAD models, there are a few important factors you should keep in mind:

Key Factors to Consider When Providing Online CAD to Customers

Manufacturers know they need to provide CAD & BIM models to their online buyers. Before turning this initiative into action, industrial marketers must take a step back and determine:

  1. The current state of their CAD data
  2. How they are going to deliver CAD to customers

If you already provide online CAD access, the factors listed below will help you evaluate how you can improve your online CAD deliveries.

Factors around CAD and BIM data

Factors around CAD access and delivery

How to Protect Your Intellectual Property (IP)

“We’re afraid to let our 3D CAD models out the door because we don’t want someone copying our intellectual property.”

Our experts hear this all the time. Manufacturers are afraid to give engineers and planners free CAD or BIM downloads because they think that gives away their proprietary data. We understand – protecting your intellectual property (IP) is extremely important, and manufacturers should never risk this just to keep up with industry standards.

Good news for manufacturers: there is a way.

Instead of giving customers the real engineering model of products, industrials can provide them with a “sales version” of the product as a CAD or BIM models.

Why re-build your CAD/BIM models?

This stripping of intellectual property does several positive things for the distribution process between manufacturers and design engineers.

  • It creates a smaller model that engineers can test more easily.
  • The smaller model is lightweight, so they can load and update quickly on a webpage.
  • It protects the manufacturing company so others cannot copy their designs.
  • They provide easy and accurate testing for engineers who are looking at the parts catalog.
  • They ensure the industrial creativity you’ve spent so much time and effort on isn’t stolen.

What not to do

Both the engineer and manufacturer have a vested interest in protecting the IP of product models. Here are three approaches to avoid:

  • Avoid sharing the manufacturer’s actual engineering drawings on the website for anyone to use.
  • Don’t offer digital product data online to customers.
  • Don’t just provide simple 3D contour models that just show the surface of a product.

Methods of CAD Delivery to Online Customers

Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of delivering CAD models online. There are four main methods for providing CAD or BIM product models: 

  1. Email delivery 
  2. DIY-hosted solution 
  3. Neutral cloud
  4. Native cloud.

While some solutions may blend these categories, understanding these four methodologies will help you gain a better understanding of how to provide CAD and which solution is best for your business.

1. Email Delivery

Most manufacturers who provide 3D CAD models to customers are familiar with this method. In fact, most manufacturers have probably done this already:

The designer emails or calls the manufacturer to request a CAD model of a product. If the designer needs a custom model, he will likely have to send a drawing and product specs along with the request.

From there, that request goes to the manufacturer’s engineering department, where an engineer will find or create the model to email to the designer. This process can take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of weeks, depending on the project and the engineer’s workload.


Benefits of email CAD delivery

With this delivery option, you have 100% control over your CAD models and what you send to potential customers. This makes it possible for you to set your own boundaries for what product data you include (and don’t include) in those models.

Another benefit of this method is its affordability. If you’re concerned about short-term costs, you can still deliver CAD & BIM models to designers without paying too much more. In all likelihood, you already have CAD or online versions of your products. Therefore, you can work with the materials you already have in order to send a “sales version” of the CAD product model to potential buyers.


Drawbacks of email delivery

Email delivery of CAD models is both a limiting and resource-heavy method for the manufacturer. While this is seemingly the easiest method for CAD delivery, its benefits are also its disadvantages.

You are 100% responsible for your CAD delivery, which means the burden falls on your team to deliver product samples with the right information, in a timely manner, without giving away your intellectual property.

The cost savings associated with this delivery method are also misleading. With more CAD requests come more time spent away from the job you originally hired your engineers to do. You either hire someone to design product models for CAD requests or risk losing valuable engineering time from your team of busy engineers.

This method isn’t ideal for end-users and customers, either. Potential customers have to wait for you to send them the CAD file (which typically is not in their native CAD format) and stalls their projects.


See what manufacturers are saying about 3D CAD models:

“The standard in our industry is getting CAD models online…

…We knew if we could make our products self-service from within our website, it would be much easier for customers to get CAD models of our products and to purchase from us.”

Christopher Nook, Helix Linear

“Having CAD available on a website is a necessity today, however having the right products that are configurable, easy to access, fast and accessible on any device is the expectation of our customers.”

Bruce Hamper, Power Jacks

“Engineers now have the ease and convenience of downloading the files themselves without having to take time out of their busy schedules to contact us. And it saves us the manpower of having to provide CAD models or prints on a one-by-one basis.”

Ken Wolcott, Qosina

“3D CAD model downloads are our best sales leads, so we knew we had to get this right.”

Aaron Hansen, Bison Gearn and Engineering

“No more wait time! This new tool is all about convenience for our customers, enabling us to deliver the amazing customer experience we strive for.”

Majdah Bin-Salamon, Hunt Valve

“We saw our downloads double overnight when we switched to the CADENAS PARTsolutions 3D CAD catalog.”

John Joyce, Brennan Industries

“What really blew us away, was the adoption rate when we would provide application reviews. 99% of the time the design already featured a model generated by our online configurator.”

Mark Scanlan, PFA, Inc.

2. DIY-hosted solution

Most manufacturers understand they need to provide instant 3D CAD models to their online customers, and they need to make that available on their website.

Many start with a home-grown CAD catalog.


What’s a home-grown catalog?

A home-grown configurator is a company-made-and-supported application a manufacturer uses deliver 3D CAD models to customers. This tool is often built by the manufacturer’s 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 configurator, as customers should be able to find and access the product models they need without the manufacturer’s help. A true product configurator needs logical rules built-in to the system. Each product needs a “recipe” that sets the parameters for what the user can configure based on what the manufacturer can build.


Benefits of the self-hosted solution

Again, this delivery method gives you 100% control over your product models and CAD delivery. For manufacturers who can store, maintain and continually upgrade their CAD models in this solution, it’s a differentiator against those who only provide CAD via email requests.

The DIY 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.

Complications when building your own CAD catalog

To be clear: a home-grown catalog solution is not an original idea, and it comes with many complications. These fall to you to solve for yourself.

Take it from Achinta Mitra, an industrial marketing expert:

“It is not difficult to create an online library of CAD files if you only have a handful of parts. However, manufacturers need a much more robust solution than their homegrown efforts if they have thousands of parts with tens of thousands of possible configurations. They need a system that can scale up quickly and is not a drain on their in-house resources.”

Here are some of the problems manufacturers face when building their own product configurator:

3. Neutral Cloud

In this method, a third party helps the manufacturer provide 3D CAD & BIM downloads from their website via a provider-hosted solution.

The third-party provider takes the manufacturer’s existing CAD models, hosts them on their own platform. These can be “sales models” or full working models. It depends on what the manufacturer provides. The models are then accessible to users from that platform and through the manufacturer’s 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 the manufacturer’s CAD catalog.

Depending on the provider, this CAD configurator / catalog could live in an iframe, which is embedded on the manufacturer’s website. This is similar to embedding a YouTube video or social post on a website, only this CAD catalog requires much more bandwidth. Other times these are hosted on the provider platform only and customers must follow a link from the manufacturer website. 


Benefits of a Neutral Cloud solution

This method is an efficient way for manufacturers to provide CAD downloads from their website without having to handle the challenging and resource-heavy maintenance of a DIY catalog. Since the third-party provider hosts the catalog on their platform, that group is ultimately responsible for storing and maintaining the catalog and CAD files.

With the third-party provider, the manufacturer reaches more customers. The CAD catalog lives on either the manufacturer’s website and/or the provider’s CAD download portal. Many engineers and designers who exclusively use that particular CAD tool know they can always find a native CAD download in these CAD download portals. Now, the manufacturer’s products are on that portal and readily available for download.

This interface also creates a great online experience for the manufacturer’s 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.


Problems with Neutral Cloud delivery

In order to use this method, you must give up some control of your 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 personalization and oversight control. Typically they share the exact model the manufacturer provided to them. 

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 — in which case, you have little-to-no control and can lose your CAD deliverability if you go with an untrustworthy vendor.

A key issue with this solution is its limited ability to provide native CAD or BIM downloads in a variety of formats. 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 will be a big differentiator between you and another manufacturer. 

Product changes and updates can also be cumbersome. While you are no longer responsible for making 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 the manufacturer’s existing models into “sales versions” the manufacturer can send via a few select CAD formats. On the other hand, the native method 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 the manufacturer 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 the manufacturer can use and maintain its CAD catalog.


Benefits of a Native Cloud solution

With a native cloud solution, you have more opportunities to deliver CAD models to engineers without the workload that comes with a DIY solution.

The third-party publishes and hosts a “master catalog” on its platform, which serves as the single-source for all current CAD product models. You then publish this catalog on your website, CAD download portals, distributor sites, USB drives and anywhere else you provide CAD.

Unlike the neutral cloud solution, this master catalog structure enables you to make product changes one time, which are automatically reflected anywhere the CAD catalog was 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.


Problems with Neutral Cloud delivery

Like the neutral cloud solution, you don’t have 100% control over the deliverability of your CAD models. You must decide if relying on a third party to provide CAD & BIM is a worthwhile partnership compared to a home-grown solution.

Because of the advanced functionality of native cloud, these solutions are slightly 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 you away from this option, consider how much it costs to achieve the functionality of native cloud with a DIY solution:

  • CaD software for top 6 CAD formats = $1,500/year/format = $9,000/year
  • an engineer to maintain the solution = $50,000/year
  • a large hosting plan to support the catalog = $2,500+ / year
  • the time it takes to build the home-grown solution 

All things considered, you must make the best choice for their company. However, choosing to not provide 3D CAD models to your buyers will always be the wrong choice.

Questions to Ask Before Providing 3D CAD

You want to find the best way to provide 3D CAD models to online customers. But, how do you know what functionality will delight your customers and keep them coming back?

If you want to create the best digital customer experience and meet the on-demand needs of engineers, we believe the product configurator is the answer.

Product configurator (aka “online CAD catalog” or “digital parts catalog”): the online library of a supplier’s standard parts and machines that engineers and designers can view and purchase for their designs.

Providing customers with online 3D CAD downloads through an online configurator is the most efficient way to meet customer demands and stay relevant in the digital industry.

With a product configurator, your customers can:

  • Configure your products in real-time
  • See the orderable part number for that exact product
  • See what that configuration looks like in a 3D preview display
  • Download a representation of the product in a CAD format that matches their CAD system

A great 3D catalog makes it easy to understand and specify your products and get them “designed in” to the customers’ projects. This removes the need to flip through the pages of a paper catalog to find sizes and options, removes the need to study and understand your part number, and removes the need for them to draw the product themselves.


Delivering 3D CAD models on-demand with a product configurator


Here are five more benefits of choosing a product configurator to deliver 3D CAD models:

  • Give customers around-the-clock access to your products world-wide.
  • Enable designers to easily find, preview, download and configure the exact product they need in their preferred CAD format.
  • Provide salespeople a real “leg up” against the competition with on-the-go product library, product previews and lead-tracking capabilities.
  • Share an interactive 3D preview of the configured product that’s always the exact, specified part.
  • Track the contact information of your next new prospect through CAD downloads and build your list of qualified leads.

When is it time to question what you provide now?

What are the red flags that tell industrial marketers it’s time to use a professional service? The situations are different for each industry, but these are some sure-signs for industrial marketers that it’s time to look for a CAD catalog provider:

  • Your competitors are providing product configurators and CAD, and they’re outselling you.
  • Your customers are requesting CAD models more often 
  • You’re hearing from online customers less in general 
  • You need a way to provide CAD downloads and digital product samples to customers faster.
  • You want to protect your IP while still giving customers the product data they need.
  • It is always a struggle to keep up with changes in technology.


Questions to ask your next digital catalog provider

The right 3D product configurator and e-catalog can make a big impact on business and sales. Choose wisely.

  1. How easily can customers specify products on my website and within the product configurator?
  2. How does your configurator prevent the engineer from building invalid parts?
  3. What technology architecture is your platform based upon?
  4. What happens when there are new browser updates, CAD software versions, and technology changes?
  5. What updates did you make to your solution last year?
  6. Which web browsers does your configurator and 3D viewer support?
  7. Does your platform deliver true native CAD files or just neutral files?
  8. Do you include any hosting or service fees?
  9. How flexible is your platform if I need to grow and expand my offering?


Getting the Most from Your 3D CAD Models

Industrial marketing content is more than just blog posts, whitepapers and downloadable tools. Content is any tangible asset you are willing to share with visitors. Industrial manufacturers are beginning to realize there is marketing wealth in their engineering library.

This chapter will cover how you can stretch the marketing mileage from your catalog of 3D CAD models.

Reach More Users to Sell More Products

Part Communities and Download Portals

When it comes to the number of online places you provide CAD models of their products, more is more. Providing your products on popular CAD/BIM download portals is an effective way to reach more engineers and architects who are looking for product samples online.

A part community, or online CAD portal, is an online resource where millions of engineers go to source parts and get new design ideas.

These online communities are normally associated with a magazine, an industry or a specific CAD system. The CAD models there are professionally designed and certified by the manufacturer. No “user-submitted content” or “crowdsourcing,” — these models are certified, current and accurate by the component manufacturer.

Designers around the world use CAD/BIM forums and download portals to discuss design issues, share ideas, offer solutions and find products to download into their designs. Many of these CAD & BIM forums and communities serve targeted subsets of users.

Reaching these designers is just as important as providing multiple CAD & BIM formats because these buyers are loyal to their CAD forums. By placing their products on these download portals, you make it that much easier for engineers to download their products.

Beating the Firewall: Reach OEM Engineers

Take a look at the chart below, taken from our 2017 Industrial Sales and Marketing Report:

Engineers were asked which website features influenced them the most when selecting supplier parts online. The results revealed that the most important features are a “simple and easy to use website” and “native CAD model downloads,” as well as the quality of available product data.  

In short: Engineers want a simple path to get the accurate product information they need so that they can get back to work.

But what about the engineers working at large OEMs or the government?

Often times, these engineers are not allowed to go online to search for parts to spec into their design. Rather, their employer requires they find a part within their part library or specific, offline part database. These are potential customers who need parts, too, so how can you make your products accessible to them?

The best way to get products in front of these engineers is for you to publish your CAD models on the enterprise solutions OEMs use. When looking for a CAD download provider or third-party to build a CAD catalog, you should ask that provider what/if they support catalogs republished on enterprise solutions.

This solution also helps the OEM engineers. If they cannot find the part they need for their design, they often redraw parts (sometimes even redrawing parts they already have!). But with more products in the native format they need available in their part database, these OEM engineers reduce errors and save time on their design.

Power the Sales Team and Distributor Network

3D CAD Models as “Sales Enablers”

While many companies are willing to spend money on marketing efforts, those efforts aren’t directed to the areas with the most payoff. Perhaps their efforts are in the right places (i.e. blogs and email marketing), but the balance of the marketing mix isn’t right, and visits are not converting to leads or sales.

To align sales and marketing and to improve the teams’ overall sales velocity, manufacturers can turn to their 3D CAD catalogs.


Using the Digital Parts Catalog as a Sales Enablement Strategy

For manufacturing companies, this “CAD Content Marketing” needs to be the area of heaviest marketing effort, since engagement is more traceable and since it has a higher ROI than any other medium. Plus, it’s a marketing asset that most B2C companies would kill for – a free download that converts to a physical sale 85% of the time. That’s marketing gold.

See what Achinta Mitra, founder and author of the Industrial Marketing Blog, has to say about 3D CAD models and your marketing strategy:

providing 3d cad models: achinta mitra quote 1

Competitive Advantage of Delivering 3D Models

Providing 3D CAD models from their website isn’t just a market-sales tool for component manufacturers. It’s a competitive advantage.

Here’s more powerful insights from Mitra, published on his Industrial Marketing Blog:

providing 3d cad models: achinta mitra quote 2

Mobile Apps for On-the-Go Product Access

CAD download apps are growing in use and popularity among engineers. In fact, research from IEEE GlobalSpec found that use of mobile devices and apps by engineers for work-related tasks increased significantly over the past decade. Their primary uses: reading email/articles and conducting product searches.

Mobile CAD apps can also be used by your sales team. These apps enable sales reps to adapt to their new role in the buying process: deliver value and enhance the customer’s digital experience.

With on-the-go CAD models and 3D visualization of their company’s products, the sales team can show-off products anywhere: at trade shows, on the shop floor, in meetings and more. Using the app, the salesperson can work with the customer as a valued expert to help guide customers to the part they need. Salespersons can even build the product specifications for customers and send them the download on the fly.


Embed Your CAD and 3D Viewer on Distributor Sites

Manufacturers’ relationship with distributors is symbiotic. The manufacturer wants to work with the best distributor to get their products in front of more people; distributors want to work with the manufacturers that sell the product engineers want most.

If you and your distributor are teammates in boosting product sales, why shouldn’t you share the same tools?

It’s possible for manufacturers to embed their 3D CAD catalogs on distributor websites. We call this concept “one to many”. By authoring the product catalog one time as a “master” catalog, industrial manufacturers can then use that single source of data to output their catalog to their product pages on distributor websites.

This enables distributors to provide enhanced product data and a better online buying experience from the manufacturer’s product pages:

  • Enhanced product information (rich data)
  • Up-to-date CAD data
  • 3D product visualization
  • The manufacturer and product metadata
  • Free CAD or BIM model downloads to customers
  • PDF product datasheet with a 3D viewer


Why should manufacturers do this?

You have your digital CAD catalog on your website – why do you need it on distributor sites?

If your answer to the first question about where your online product sales come from was distributor sites, you already have an incentive. Here’s more justification for boosting your product data on distributor sites:

providing 3d cad models: why mfgs should embedd with distributors

  1. Engineers still use distributor websites for product searches.

Today, the typical path to purchase is rarely a straight line. Engineers bounce back-and-forth from distributor websites, third-party vendors, component suppliers and the manufacturer’s website before making a purchase.

The bottom line is you miss out on sales if you disregard distributor sites.

To sell more products online, you must understand their buyers’ journey and where they go to purchase products. That means not just answering customers’ needs and pain points but also being available where they go to meet those needs.


  1. It’s a differentiator for both manufacturers and distributors.

Online engineers want to see products with rich content.

Therefore, they will choose a product from Manufacturer A with rich content over a product they can’t from Manufacturer B. Similarly, engineers will go to Distributor A for product searches if they know they can get the exact product they need if Distributor B doesn’t offer it.

Delivering a free CAD or BIM download to test in their design helps engineers and integrators determine whether or not to purchase that product. It’s no wonder engineers prefer products from manufacturers that provide this – it’s insurance for the engineer that the part they see is the part they get.


  1. Rich product data drives sales for the manufacturer and reseller.

Online buyers are creatures of habit. Give a customer exactly what they want, how they want it, and when they ask for it – you’ve won their future business. That’s why a good digital customer experience goes a long way – and a negative experience is so harmful.

Engineers and architects will return to manufacturer and distributor websites that deliver the products they need quickly and in the right format. And, they’ll tell their engineering friends and colleagues where they go to get parts.

Just one product download can result in many product purchases because the engineer or architect will go back to that trusted product for future designs. According to our Industrial Sales & Marketing Report, one 3D product download averaged to 16.7 purchased parts, highlighting the ROI for 3D CAD models.

But remember, 88% of online customers are not likely to return to a website after a bad experience. Manufacturers need to consider the DCX anywhere they provide 3D CAD models, not just their own website.

Provide a Conversion-Driving Digital Experience

You know if you want to drive more leads and sales, you must provide an exceptional digital customer experience.

You need to find creative ways to engage with engineers while still giving them the self-serve, on-demand experience they expect. Although delivering free product samples was once a great way to do this, today’s engineers don’t have the time to wait for a sample part delivery.

While some manufacturers promise to send a physical product sample to customers within 24 – 48 hours, you can give engineers the sample they need instantly.

With an online configurator, engineers can access and customize your parts in real time before downloading a free CAD model of their designed part.

Since the online configurator lives on your website, your website because the new favorite “vending machine” for online components. Like any other vending machine, the online configurator gives engineers the power to choose the exact product they need for their design. However, the configurator exceeds vending machine standards and customer expectations by making those products free and downloadable as a native file.

Here are other ways in which the online configurator naturally creates a better DCX:

  • Speeding up the design process
  • Improving accuracy across designs
  • Empowering the buyer with more information and more control
  • Creating an easy-to-use interface streamlined to purchasing

Integrate Your Configurator with Marketing Automation & CRM System

If someone downloads a 3D CAD model from your website, they’re essentially raising their hand and saying, “Sell to me!”

So, how are your going to track (and follow-up on) your CAD & BIM downloads?

Connecting your CAD downloads with an existing contact management system and marketing automation is a sales-enablement must-have.

For those manufacturers that use a product catalog to deliver 3D CAD to customers, tracking is easy. A premium 3D product catalog enables manufacturers to directly link their existing marketing automation and CRM systems to the new catalog. This means industrial marketers can build a sales enablement process from their 3D CAD & BIM downloads and measure the ROI of their models.

The result is a self-sufficient cycle of data collection, contact management and automated actions that lets manufacturers sell more products at a higher velocity – driven by the 3D CAD downloads.


Here’s how to do that:

  1. A new lead downloads a product from the online CAD catalog.
  2. The CAD catalog sends the designer the 3D product sample and sends the new contact information and activity to your marketing and CRM system.
  3. You send a beautiful, automated email to the new contact, confirming their download and offering assistance for more downloads and purchasing information.
  4. An activity is logged when the designer (or their purchasing department) buys that product.
  5. Future downloads that customer makes are logged as activity in the CRM system and tracked by your CAD catalog.


Take the Next Step Toward Providing 3D CAD Models

Now that we’ve covered everything there is to know about providing 3D CAD models to customers, industrial marketers can build or revise their content marketing strategy around 3D product downloads.

Take the next step toward doubling your qualified marketing leads and sales.

Schedule a demo with our eCATALOGsolutions experts today!

Not ready to talk to a person? Download our ebook to learn how industrial manufacturers are building a remarkable digital customer experience with 3D product downloads and CAD configurators.

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