3D CAD and Virtual Reality – Welcome to the Future!

Virtual reality (VR) is pretty cool, but can we actually use it to help the overall engineering development process? And, can we use VR to help secure new customers or close a major deal?

Well, I’m happy to say that now we can.


SOLIDWORKS 2019 has introduced some great new tools to help 3D CAD users step into the world of extended reality (XR), which is a term used to describe the experience of a 3D digital world with the use of a viewing apparatus—sometimes a handheld device but more often a headset. XR is most commonly referring to virtual reality (VR) and/or augmented reality (AR) environments.

So, how does XR work in an engineering environment? Why should we be excited about this amazing new technology?

First, let’s take a look at the difference between VR and AR.

Virtual Reality

In VR, you wear a headset that completely blocks out the real world and allows you to examine and work with 3D CAD models at a 1:1 scale using handles or controls to manipulate the models.

Figure 1. A VR headset is used to manipulate a 3D CAD model at 1:1 scale using handles or controllers.

A little later in the article we will talk about some common applications for XR. In the example shown in Figure 1, we can see and examine a 1:1 scale model of our 3D CAD file in VR, which would be a great way to hold a design review meeting with a customer.

Augmented Reality

In AR, you also wear a headset.However, the headset is transparent.

Figure 2. An AR headset features a transparent visor. Two of the most popular AR headsets are available from Meta and Microsoft.

When working with an AR headset, you still see the physical environment—your desk at the office or equipment on the shop floor. You also see your virtual 3D CAD model superimposed over the existing real-world environment at a 1:1 scale.You can also use your hands, rather than controllers, to manipulate this 3D CAD model.

Figure 3. A Meta AR customer using SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD models in an AR environment.

In Figure 3, the 3D CAD model has been superimposed into an actual office environment in which the user can still see the officedesk, wall and plant.This would be a great way to show a customer what your products will look like in their workspace.

Sometimes instead of a headset, a tablet or similar device is used for AR.

Figure 4. Using Edrawings on IOS to display the paint sprayer, a 3D CAD model displayed in AR.

SOLIDWORKS has always been a leader in the world of 3D CAD and AR. Way back in 2012, SOLIDWORKS added AR functionality to Edrawings for IOS that could be viewed using an iPad or iPhone, as shown in this video.

How Can We Use XR to Sell More Products?

Now that we understand what XR is, and the basic difference between VR and AR, let’s take a look at some use cases. There are four primary use cases for taking a 3D CAD model into the XR world.

Figure 5. The four most common uses of 3D CAD models in XR.


Design Review

By being able to take 3D CAD models into an XR environment and examine them at a 1:1 scale, we can work with a team of engineers or customers to determine whether the look and feel of a product is achieving the desired results. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine the actual size of a product until we hold it in our hands. SOLIDWORKS XR can provide that true 1:1 experience.

Direct Sales

Imagine going to a customer site, asking them to put on a headset, and then letting them see, hold and manipulate your product at a 1:1 scale.That’s the power of XR in direct sales.This experience will give customers a unique look at your products and differentiate you from the competition.


One of the fastest growing markets in the world of XR is virtual training. Let’s say a company, which has multiple locations, makes and maintains engines. A common maintenance contract has a member of the team going onsite to replace a belt. This means the employee has to be trained to properly replace the belt. How do you perform this training?

Currently, a company may have an area at one of its facilities designated as a training engine. The downsides of this are that a new employee would need to schedule time and/or travel to get to this training facility, the training scenario would need to be physically set up and, overall, it would become a time-consuming process.

Figure 6. An example of Virtual Training developed by siminsights, one of the leaders in developing virtual training software.

Enter the world of training and SOLIDWORKS XR. With a training simulator, you could load the 3D CAD models into a VR or AR headset at any location and allow the employee to practice, practice, practice.

Along the way, they can earn a score indicating that all steps were completed accurately and within the allotted period of time. When the time comes for the employee to perform the actual maintenance task, they will be prepared and confident, knowing all the steps involved and how to resolve any issues along the way.That’s the power of SOLIDWORKS XR and training.

Trade Shows

The fourth use case could be a combination of one, two or all three of the other use cases—Trade Shows.

Figure 7. Setting up a VR station at a trade show.

At most trade shows, you will come across at least one booth that has some type of XR headset on display.This may be simply to alleviate the logistical challenge of shipping large products from one trade show to the next. There is a clear logistical benefit to using XR at a trade show.

Figure 8. It’s much easier to ship a laptop and headset than it is to ship an entire tractor.

You may also see presenters at a trade show using XR to show customers what their products would look like in a real-world environment. If a company sells watches, using AR could allow trade show attendees to see what the product looks like on their wrists—an example of using XR for direct sales at a trade show.

It can also be used to show customers how easy it is communicate design changes back and forth using a VR headset to examine the model at a 1:1 scale. This is an example of doing a design review, but doing it at a trade show could be a way to advertise your services as the right solution for customers looking for a cutting-edge technology partner.

OK, I’m Excited! How Do I Use SOLIDWORKS and XR?

One of the greatest enhancements to SOLIDWORKS 2019 is part of Edrawings 2019, SP1. When Edrawings 2019 SP1 is released in early January, users will be able to use the command FILE>OPEN IN VR to open any SOLIDWORKS part or assembly in a VR environment.

Figure 9. In Edrawings 2019 Sp1 users can open their SOLIDWORKS parts or assemblies directly into VR.

Once users choose FILE>OPEN IN VR, they will be able to examine their SOLIDWORKS models at a 1:1 scale in a VR environment.This functionality could be used for a design review, direct sales tool or to help with trade show logistics. It could even be used for training, so it really falls into all four types of use cases from figure 5, which is why this is such an amazing enhancement.

What If I Want Something a Little More Customized?

SOLIDWORKS has an amazing SOLIDWORKS partner program. Partners are already lining up to help users who want to dive into SOLIDWORKS XR. You can find partners who specialize in taking models from SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD and delivering a customized solution to:

  • Create a new virtual training program.
  • Deliver virtual customer presentations with your branding.
  • Set up an XR headset at a trade show.
  • Share designs with your team to perform a virtual design review.

You can also keep up with the latest news in the world of SOLIDWORKS XR by following the blog and searching for XR.


The idea of adding VR or AR to 3D CAD development and sales processes used to seem like science fiction. Now, it is a reality. We can use XR to create better products, help secure a major sale or even train employees on how to better perform their jobs. SOLIDWORKS 2019 makes this easier than ever with the addition of the new FILE>OPEN IN VR command, found in Edrawings 2019 SP1. And SOLIDWORKS has an amazing partner program to help you get an Extended Reality program written and customized for your needs.

About the Author

Toby Schnaars is a Certified SOLIDWORKS Expert from Philadelphia, Pa. He has been working with SOLIDWORKS software since 1998 and has been providing training, technical support, and tips and tricks since 2001.

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