Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Business Report

Using 3-D Design to Benefit Consumers

Companies find that advanced design software can generate much more useful product manuals.

Though many engineers now use sophisticated 3-D hardware instead of drafting designs on paper, the technology hasn’t filtered down to the consumer, who usually opens a box to find lengthy, confusing instruction manuals on paper. But some companies have recently begun trying to use the designs they develop in computer-aided design (CAD) software as the basis for interactive, 3-D manuals.

Exploded view: A snapshot of an assembly guide to a half-ton ball screw jack created in 3DVIA Composer.

One such company is Cane Creek Cycling Components, a private company based in North Carolina, whose engineers use a program called SolidWorks. The software lets them flip and rotate their designs, zoom in on any surface, slice cross-sections to see the inner workings of the product, and simulate how a part moves on a bike. The representation is so accurate and complete, says Cane Creek engineer Jim Morrison, that using the software has drastically cut the number of prototypes needed during the design process.

But when it comes time to create product manuals, the engineers have traditionally turned the 3-D images generated by SolidWorks into 2-D instructions, essentially by taking screen grabs from the software. It’s such a laborious process that the company tries to create general instruction sets that apply to similar parts, Morrison says. “We have to expect the consumer to generalize a little bit, so even while the part in their hand may look a little different than the part in the instruction, they’ll have to say, ‘Oh, well, this is generally the same thing.’”

Now Cane Creek is exploring whether it can pass the advantages of 3-D CAD software from the engineers to a customer fiddling with a part. Using a SolidWorks design program called 3DVIA Composer, which translates CAD data into a form suited for marketing or instructional purposes, Morrison can control which specs he wants to publish to the outside world and still give users step-by-step 3-D assembly instructions. Ultimately, Cane Creek wants to redirect customers to its website for interactive manuals. Morrison says it took him just two hours to make prototypes of instructions for a headset (which is at the front part of a bike frame) so a bike builder or owner could go online, rotate the part, and make an “exploded” view of each of its individual components.

Last year, the medical-device company Cardiovascular Systems began using 3DVIA Composer to create assembly manuals for a device that clears plaque from arteries, and recently the company began using 3-D manuals to train doctors. Even so, it isn’t using the 3-D system for training all the time. Christopher Narveson, an engineer at Cardiovascular Systems, says that’s mainly because many employees are still more familiar with how to make product guides the old-fashioned way, in 2-D.

Indeed, it may take a while for more companies to develop 3-D training materials for their customers, says Peter Rucinski, product market manager for 3DVIA Composer. Even 3-D design software itself, he says, has yet to become standard across all industries.

Couldn't make it to EmTech Next to meet experts in AI, Robotics and the Economy?

Go behind the scenes and check out our video
Next in this Business Report
Design as Business Strategy

In Business Impact this month, we are exploring good design–of products, services, and the entire customer experience. How has design become a competitive advantage for businesses? How does it help to foster innovation? We’ll explain where good designs come from and how technology is changing the way they are carried out.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.