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Providing 3D CAD Models

Discover how manufacturers sell more products by providing 3D CAD models directly to customers.

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

Today, engineers and architects expect on-demand product data, instant CAD downloads in their native format, high-quality product images, and configured PDF data sheets for specific products.

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 gsame, and no one wins without devising a strategy.

Before diving into an action plan, industrial marketers need to understand the playing field. Let’s take a look at how the industry has adopted the use of 3D CAD models and CAD catalogs over time, where manufacturers are today, and where the industry is going in the next decade.

Industry Adoption of 3D CAD Models and CAD Catalogs

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

The report spanned over 600 respondents from around the world, made up of managers, engineers, designers and other CAD users. The goal of the survey was to evaluate CAD trends in terms of awareness, perceived importance, current and future usage, benefits and more.

The report calculated an adoption ratio of 85% – this statistic refers to the number of survey respondents who use 3D modeling compared to the number of respondents who are aware of that technology.

Related to 3D modeling, 92% of respondents currently use 3D models and they reported a significant increase in the number of users downloading 3D models regularly.

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)

Are Manufacturers Keeping Up with These Trends?

Forty years ago, 3D CAD software was new to the scene. Industrial marketers could rely 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 the trends of technology and organizational change don’t line up. Technology continues to grow and change exponentially, and many buyers follow those trends. However, 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


Oftentimes manufacturers do not readily adopt industry changes. Industrial marketers ask, “Is providing 3D CAD products on our website really the lead-generation tool that fits our customers’ needs?” Meanwhile, innovative companies are winning by meeting buyers where they are: sailing up the “Technology Trend River”. (In this case, the Technology Trend river refers to the ever-growing and changing technologies in the industry).

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?

Those who are not keeping up with the rapid “Technology Trend River” may find their business capsized in the next decade.

logarithmic vs exponential growth manufacturing

Since manufacturers first started to provide 3D CAD downloads to customers, 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 the early 2000s, manufacturers had two main ways to provide these CAD product models to customers: 1) export STEP files of their products, or 2) partner with a CAD software tool. To distinguish themselves from their competitors and give customers the exact product models they need to do their job faster and more efficiently, manufacturers must do more than export STEP files of their products.


Provide high-quality product data

STEP files were a quick-fix solution to a growing problem: engineers needed online 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 couldn’t allow for the native exchange of parameters, design intent, and other important data that design engineers now expect with product downloads.

Moving into the next decade, 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 manufacturer’s information when the customer eventually purchases the design materials.


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. For manufacturers that do provide this, it’s a huge differentiator.


3D product catalogs to deliver CAD to customers

As manufacturers understand they need to provide instant, native CAD downloads to customers, they are often turning to the 3D product catalog as the go-to 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.

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. Now, they’re leading their industries 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:

providing 3D CAD models: 3 reasons why

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) is the impression that is built from the digital interactions between the customer and a manufacturer. Each digital interaction with your website should guide the user through the buyer’s journey.

A simple website design, on-demand data access, product details and graphics, transparent pricing – your goal is to make it easy for the lead to say “yes”. 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 are the expectations designers, engineers and architects have around digital customer experience and CAD & BIM models today:

delivering 3D cad models: customer expectations and insights

Checklist: Customer expectations from manufacturers online

On-demand access to product models or just-in-time delivery of physical samples.

Native CAD or BIM downloads in several formats and software versions.

Technical data and the manufacturer’s information included in a product download.

Easy navigation to CAD & BIM models from the manufacturer’s website.

Mobile-friendly content on the manufacturer’s website or app.

An accurate image or preview of the exact product prior to downloading.

On-the-fly customization of configurable products.

Free and unlimited downloads of product samples.

Downloads don’t require more than a name and email login.

24/7/365 access to product information and downloads.

Where Is the Industry Heading Next?

A better question to ask would be this: “How are 3D CAD models going to take manufacturers there?”

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 the best way to get this done.

Providing 3D CAD models to customers gives engineers the content they need in 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
  • Simulations take 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 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. Now that everyone knows the game, it’s time to talk strategy.

By leveraging their knowledge of industry trends and customer insights, industrial marketers can build a marketing and sales enablement strategy around 3D CAD & BIM models fit for the future.

Before diving into the methods for delivering CAD models, there are a few important factors every industrial marketer should kee 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 evaluative where they are now. This can be broken down into two spheres:

  1. The current state of their CAD
  2. How to deliver CAD to customers

For those who already provide online CAD access, these factors will help marketers evaluate how they can improve their CAD offerings to customers from their website and other online locations.

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.”

This is a comment our experts hear 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:

  • Post the manufacturer’s actual engineering drawings on the website for anyone to use.
  • Don’t offer digital product data online to customers.
  • Provide only 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: Email delivery, DIY-hosted solution, neutral cloud and native cloud.

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

1. Email Delivery

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

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 2D 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 this type of CAD delivery

With email CAD delivery, manufacturers have 100% control over their CAD models and what they send to potential customers. This makes it possible for industrial marketers to set their own boundaries for what product data they include (and don’t include) in those models.

Another benefit of this method is its affordability. Manufacturers concerned about short-term costs can still deliver CAD & BIM models to designers without paying too much more. In all likelihood, manufacturers already have CAD or online versions of their products; therefore, they can work with the materials they 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.

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

The costs savings associated with this delivery method are also misleading — the manufacturer must pay more workers to design product models for CAD requests or risk losing valuable engineering time from their team of busy engineers.

This method isn’t ideal for end-users and customers, either. Potential customers have to wait for the manufacturer 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 Configurator

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 or product configurator.


What’s a DIY configurator?

A DIY 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 the manufacturer 100% control over its 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 configurator 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 the manufacturer’s 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 the manufacturer to solve for itself.

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:

providing 3d cad models - drawbacks of DIY 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 the “sales versions” on their own platform. 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.

This CAD configurator or CAD catalog lives 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.


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 building and maintaining the catalog and CAD files.

With the third-party provider, the manufacturer reaches more customers. The CAD catalog lives on the manufacturer’s 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, 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.

Finally, having CAD models on the website helps manufacturers improve their authority with Google. This only works if the manufacturer’s website has a large hosting bandwidth, or else the configurator will slow the website.


Problems with Neutral Cloud delivery

In order for this method to work, the manufacturer 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 the manufacturer doesn’t have as much control is personalizing the experience to match their 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 — the manufacturer has little-to-no control and can lose its 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 one manufacturer over another.

Product changes and updates can also be cumbersome. While the manufacturer doesn’t have make the specific changes to the CAD models, industrial marketers 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, manufacturers have the most opportunities to deliver CAD models to engineers without the workload that comes with a DIY 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. The manufacturer can then publish this catalog on their website, CAD download portals, distributor sites, USB drives and anywhere else it provides CAD.

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

This solution also lets manufacturers 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, the manufacturer doesn’t have 100% control on the deliverability of its CAD models. Industrial marketers must decide if relying on a third party to provide CAD & BIM is a worthwhile partnership compared to a DIY solution.

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 DIY 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 catalog
  • the time it takes to build the home-grown solution

All things considered, industrial marketers must make the best choice for their company. However, choosing to not provide 3D CAD models to engineers 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 manufacturers want to create the best digital customer experience and meet the on-demand needs of engineers, 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.

A good product configurator or 3D catalog makes it easy for end users to:

  • create a configuration of one of the manufacturer’s products,
  • see the orderable part number for that exact product,
  • see what that configuration looks like in a 3D display, and
  • download a representation of that in a CAD format that matches the CAD system he uses.

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 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

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

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

  • Gives customers around-the-clock access to your products world-wide.
  • Allows designers to easily find, preview, download and configure the exact product they need in their preferred CAD format.
  • Gives salespeople a real “leg up” against the competition with on-the-go product library, product previews and lead-tracking capabilities.
  • Provide 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 next new prospect list.

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 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 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 places manufacturers 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 sub-sets 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, industrial manufacturers 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.  Engineers want a simple path to get the accurate product information they need and get back to work.

But what about the engineers working at large OEM companies?

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, but how can manufacturers make their products accessible to them?

The best way to get products in front of these engineers is for the manufacturer to publish their CAD models on the enterprise solutions OEMs use. When looking for a CAD download provider or third-party to build a CAD catalog, industrial marketers 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 increase significantly over the past decade. Their primary uses: reading email/articles and conducting product searches.

Mobile CAD apps can also be used by the manufacturer’s own 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. Industrials want 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 the manufacturer and distributor are teammates in boosting product sales, why shouldn’t they 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 manufacturers miss-out on sales if they disregard distributor sites.

To sell more products online, manufacturers 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 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

Manufacturers know that if they want to drive more leads and sales, they have to provide an exceptional digital customer experience.

Industrial marketers 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

Manufacturers need a way to track their CAD & BIM downloads – connecting that 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 the manufacturer’s marketing and CRM system.
  3. The manufacturer sends an 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 the 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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