The Best Questions You Need to Ask Before Providing 3D CAD

Before you provide 3d cad models online

These questions (and answers) will help you provide the best CAD downloads for your business and industry.


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?

Let’s dive into what this technology is, why you need it, and the questions (and answers) you need to find the best solution for your business.


Get the Guide: Everything manufacturers need to know about providing 3D CAD models online and on their websites.


What is a 3D CAD catalog?

A good 3D Catalog makes it easy for your customers to:

  • create a configuration of one of your 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.

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


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 tell-tale 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.


Why use an outside company to deliver your product models?

Many manufacturers start out with a home-grown solution and later switch to a professional service, for good reason. DIY configurators present a huge maintenance challenge to manufacturers, who often need a dedicated person or team to monitor and update it. Plus, static CAD models are large files, hosting and storage is it’s own headache (and expense).

On the other hand, industrial catalog providers take care of that upkeep for you, so you never have to worry about the next software update, Internet laws (hello, GDPR) and new devices ever again. These companies also protect your IP by sending a sales-version of your CAD models to customers.





Questions to ask your next digital catalog provider

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

Here are some questions industrial marketers should ask about their Online configurator:


  1. How easily can customers specify products on my website and within the product configurator?

Ease of doing business is essential for both sides of the transaction. Manufacturers and service providers want to be the easiest to work with because their customers not only expect it, they demand it. The same standard exists for the product configurator.

The CAD configurator should make it easy for designers to select which product specifications they need for their design while the configurator does the rest and generates the correct part number for the exact configured part displayed in 3D on-the-fly.


  1. How does your configurator prevent the engineer from building invalid parts?

A product configurator should never have dead ends. That means, whatever parameters the user can set in the configurator must be a possible combination the manufacturer can build.

This goes back to the comparison between a simple “filter” selection, and a sophisticated configurator. A CAD product configurator should be built upon the product rules and product “recipes” that eliminates errors and invalid configurations.


  1. What technology architecture should your catalog be based upon?

If the technology is based on a single CAD system, then the possible output formats are limited. If you are investing the time and energy to build a catalog, you need to be able to generate all the CAD formats that are used in the largest industries.

Be certain the technology allows your catalog to be reused in many different places online, like Distributor web sites and engineering communities. Find out up-front how much mileage you can get out of the tool.


  1. What happens when there are new browser updates, CAD software versions, and technology changes?

Industrial marketers often choose a professional catalog technology over a home-grown solution for this reason. It’s especially important that the CAD catalog continues to work on multiple browsers and devices as that technology changes year after year.

Plus, CAD software formats are continuously changing with each new release. CAD models built in one CAD system, this year’s version, have a limited life.

Once choosing a product catalog provider, manufacturers should never have to worry about new browser updates, CAD software versions, search engine and technology changes ever again.


  1. What updates did you make to your solution last year?

Need a sure-fire way to know if a technology has future-proof product models? Ask what updates were made last year to keep things current. If the answer is vague, then the perpetual changes in CAD and Browsers isn’t being taken into consideration like they should.


  1. Which web browsers does your configurator and 3D viewer support?

Again, ask your digital catalog provider to be specific in what they offer and what browsers support their catalogs.

At this point, a 3D viewer is a necessity for any quality 3D CAD catalog provider. This interactive feature provides the digital experience engineers and architects need, and the product preview shows the designer the exact product before they download and test it in their design.


  1. Will you deliver true native CAD files or just neutral files?

Engineers and architects prefer native CAD models for the CAD system they are using, and they’ll chose a manufacturer that provides this over one who doesn’t. You should (at the very least) provide the 6 major CAD formats as native downloads:

  • NX – Widely used by the Automotive Industry
  • SolidEdge – Standardized by P&G and Consumer Goods companies
  • CREO – Large installations in U.S Government and Military
  • CATIA – The standard for the Aerospace Industry
  • SolidWorks – Mid-Range system popular with manufacturers
  • Inventor/AutoCAD – Autodesk has the largest user community


  1. Do you include any hosting or service fees?

A simple hosting fee just places your catalog on a server. These are usually inexpensive, since simple disc space is cheap. You really need a comprehensive service that ensures it all keeps running 24/7, has redundant and fail-safe services, and is kept continuously up-to-date. Also look for the possible option to include a simple maintenance fee that can be used to handle quick updates to your products whenever they are needed.


  1. How flexible is your platform if I need to grow and expand my offering?

Just because a CAD catalog provider has a standard look and feel doesn’t mean the manufacturer can’t ask for tailored solutions. The solution should fit the customers’ needs, so the manufacturer and catalog provider should work together to choose a solution that achieves this.

Down the road, the manufacturer may need to make changes to its CAD catalog to reflect product changes. Establish this with the digital catalog provider early, so you know what to expect.


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Business Development Consultant | Aaron helps manufacturers become “easy to buy from” and grow their business by understanding the value and importance of their Digital Customer Experience. Aaron enjoys playing baseball and basketball, hiking and skiing, and coaching his son's baseball team. He grew up in Colorado and Illinois and now lives in Mason, OH with his wife and two sons.