The world of 3D modeling has revolutionized design. As an example of the power that 3D CAD (computer aided design) that can deliver to designers, when Boeing launched the 777 into service in 1995, it was the first commercial aircraft to be conceived entirely using 3D CAD. Powered by the CATIA system developed by IBM and Dassault Systèmes, Boeing understood the advantages that designing with computers would offer.

However, it has taken many years for 3D CAD to become a tool for everyone. Adopting traditional 3D software was, and continues to be, intimidating. Not only was the software expensive, but the training and ongoing support for such complex systems represented a major cost. The rigid hierarchy of parametric-based modeling software took time to learn, and only the largest companies could afford to invest in CAD operators.

For this reason, the earliest champions of 3D design software were large corporations, with the automotive and aerospace manufacturers taking the lead. Using 3D CAD software was simply out of reach for smaller businesses.

The latest developments in 3D CAD software have changed this. The emergence of direct modeling software like Onshape has allowed designers and non-designers alike to make use of 3D CAD software. This new technology lends itself to a wide array of tasks that would have been impossible to traditional parametric-based software.

However powerful these computer aided design tools are, there is always one task that soaks up valuable time that could be better used for creative purposes. That task is modeling.

Are you a designer or are you a modeler?

Creating a complex 3-dimensional shape in a CAD tool is a time-consuming task. The introduction of direct modelling and the truly innovative and disruptive approach of Onshape has made modeling considerable easier, has and enabled non-CAD users to adopt this powerful technology.  However, designers who wish to incorporate accurate models of components into their design must still devote a considerable amount of effort into recreating them accurately. The effort expended in the re-modeling of standard components detracts from the amount of time that can be spent designing.

Having access to dedicated, pre-made 3D models of the components that are needed for a particular design can save a significant amount of time, allowing the design process to be shortened. Component manufacturers have long understood the importance of providing these models to customers. By providing real-time and self-service access to design data, they are making it easier for their products to be designed-in.

However, many manufacturers choose to publish their models on their own website in a small number of neutral file formats. Neutral formats are designed to be universal, created to allow 3D information to be shared between companies and collaborators. Almost all 3D software platforms enable the importing and exporting of neutral formats. However, there are pitfalls of sharing 3D design information that need to be considered.

The 3D representation of the solid object is the primary role of 3D modeling, and so the geometry of the model must be accurate. However, neutral formats cannot be relied upon to provide complete accuracy during the import process. Errors can occur as software systems interpret neutral format files, requiring the user to perform additional checks to ensure that the transfer of information is correct.

Another important aspect of design is the digital thread.  The digital thread is the record of the component and is woven through every stage of its life like a thread through a fine silk garment.  This thread begins when a 3D model is incorporated into a design, but it depends on the correct information being available at the start of the process.  Modern 3D CAD software can collate these data into a Bill of Materials (BOM), but the use of neutral CAD formats does not allow this information to be automatically integrated.  The use of neutral formats required the designer to enter this BOM data manually.  Not only does this consume valuable design time, but it also risks breaking the digital thread at the very start of the process.

There is an alternative to neutral formats. Every 3D modeling software platform generates its own file format, optimized for use in its own virtual environment, known as the native file format.

Models created using the native format will conform to all of the software’s internal rules and will contain all of the information needed to design it, along with a complete list of the components used. This guarantees the highest level of integration with design software and includes the correct data to maintain the digital thread throughout the lifetime of the design. It will provide a fully detailed Bills-Of-Material (BOM) to help the procurement and purchasing process.

TraceParts Seamlessly Integrates with Onshape

This is the functionality that Onshape has embedded into its innovative cloud-based CAD system. The new TraceParts native app that has been introduced into Onshape provides users with instant access to the huge TraceParts design library. Available for free, this library provides designers with instant access to 3D models of over 130 million part numbers of industrial components from over 1,100 leading manufacturers.

TraceParts 3D Design Library User Interface is seamless integrated within Onshape application.

The integration is seamless. Once a product has been selected from the library, the user can view real-time 3D preview of the model and its associated data and choose to insert it directly into the active design. The component is integrated into the bill-of-materials using the Onshape-native data format, immediately bypassing any concerns over compatibility or accuracy of the model.  In fact, as Onshape hosts the design as a database entry in the cloud, there is also no need for a conventional file download.

The innovative cloud-based functionality employed by Onshape has been integrated with the TraceParts library to provide a powerful new tool to help collaborative design. In real time, users can share concepts and designs with colleagues or even customers around the world. The ability to quickly compare alternative solutions whilst viewing the model means that all participants can influence the design process. Whether this is part of the concept stage, the design cycle or even the sales pitch, this ground-breaking integration of online library with cloud-based design software will revolutionize the design workflows.

The combination of Onshape’s innovative cloud-based interface with the online catalog provided by TraceParts creates a powerful new tool for designers and non-designers alike. By incorporating accurate 3D models into Onshape’s intuitive interface, designers can save valuable time by removing the need to re-model existing components. Non-designers can provide input into the design, ensuring the best possible outcome for manufacturers and customers.

Collaborative, intuitive and inclusive – make the TraceParts library part of your design process using Onshape.

Subscribe for free to TraceParts 3D Design Library directly from Onshape App Store!

About the Author

David Pike is better known as Connector Geek. With nearly 30 years of experience in the world of interconnect, David enjoys helping engineers understand more about exciting engineering solutions.

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