Mechanical Design Challenge

A California company aims to convert 1.5 million CAD users from 2-D to 3-D. think3 attacks cost, training barriers.

Question: It's 2002 -- why is less than 20% of mechanical CAD done in 3-D? Joe Costello is building a company that will help 3-D technology reach mainstream adoption among mechanical engineers. "Today there are more than 3 million 2-D users and just 500,000 3-D users," says the president and CEO of think3, Santa Clara, Calif. He believes that at least 1.5 million 2-D users would use 3-D if these barriers did not exist:

  • Cost -- up to six times that of 2-D.
  • Traditional 3-D's longer training.
  • Difficulties with existing working environments and legacy data.
Costello's research revealed that the No. 1 deterrent by percentage is that high-end 3-D systems are just too expensive. "Even though prices have come down, the average per seat cost is $17,000 to $18,000. For 2-D, it's $2,500 to $3,000. "Right behind cost, by one percentage point, is that 3-D systems can be too difficult to learn and use." He labels them "expert friendly." "They're truly built for the software gurus among the early-adopters, high-end users in aerospace and automotive." Costello defines training as "time-to-productivity, and for conventional 3-D systems that can range from as little as six months to as much as 12 to 18 months." Costello clearly sees his opportunity with those potential users of 3-D that cannot afford the standard pricing and the extended learning curve of high-end systems. He says his second opportunity is in offering compatibility with legacy systems. To build an even more compelling case, Costello's business model offers customers a flexible annual subscription fee. He says customers "buy in" at a risk-free rate and then add seats as ROI is demonstrated. Although think3 has not been courting high-end MCAD users, Costello seems quite proud of Boeing Co.'s interest. In June 2001 the aircraft maker started with six licenses and now has more than 60. Costello says that no on-site consulting or training has been needed. More typical of think3's customers is G.D, a Bologna, Italy, packaging equipment maker. Last year it replaced a troublesome hybrid CAD solution involving 250 2-D seats and 192 3-D seats with 300 seats of think3's thinkdesign. "thinkdesign will let us replace this inconvenient setup with a single tool, without any losses in functionality in either 2-D or 3-D, and achieve gains in productivity due to the tight 2-D/3-D integration within the design environment," says G.D managing director Alberto Casiraghi. Another strategic benefit: think3's ability to handle legacy data. Casiraghi says the legacy designs -- nearly a half million -- are constantly used and re-used.
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