How Can CAD Models Be Repurposed for Online Sales and Marketing?

E-commerce has been growing significantly over the past decade. According to the U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce, e-commerce retail sales grew 15.2 percent to $127 billion dollars from the second quarter in 2017 to the second quarter in 2018, whereas offline retail sales grew only 4.8 percent in the same time period. Figure 1 illustrates the estimated quarterly e-commerce retail sales in the United States from 2004 to 2018.

Figure 1. Estimated quarterly e-commerce retail sales in the United States from 2004 to 2018(in millions of dollars.)

Source: The U.S. Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce.

Online shopping brings remarkable value to daily consumers due to its easy access, competitive prices, vast selection and speedy delivery. However, on most e-commerce websites, there is an amazing lack of 3D online product customization options. Actually, manufacturers have accumulated a wealth of 3D CAD data authored by their design and engineering teams. Today,these data are primarily used to guide manufacturing. From time to time, designers and engineers are asked by sales and marketing teams to take a screenshot, render an image, or create a product video. But that’s far from reaching the full potential of 3D CAD. Therefore, as shared in a previous post, “Shop Customizable 3D Products Online? Of Course!”, an increasing number of manufacturers, such as Urb-E, Posh Shed and Leisure Creation, have made their product web pages 3D-aware, interactive and customizable. Figure 2 shows an example of an online 3D shed customizer by Posh Shed.

Figure 2. An online 3D shed customizer by Posh Shed in the United Kingdom.

Consumers can choose their favorite build level, size, door hinge side, glazing option, furniture color, window side and roof finish. These choices are reflected instantly on the 3D shed model on a webpage that you can pan, zoom and rotate. The model even allows you to look inside the shed as shown in Figure 3. Furthermore, you don’t need to install any software to enjoy the benefits of 3D. An Internet connection and a browser are all you need, which means you can use a computer, a tablet or a smart phone to customize sheds or other products.

Figure 3. An inside view of a Posh Shed 3D online product.

Of course, these features are invaluable for both consumers and manufacturers. The question is how you can use them. This article will walk you through several major steps.

A key distinction to remember is that online 3D models must be lightweight so that they can load quickly and update on a webpage. Otherwise, consumers’ patience may run out and their shopping carts may be abandoned. Therefore, 3D CAD data have to be simplified and optimized for an online presence. SOLIDWORKS Sell provides a dedicated Publisher for this task. It publishes only essential CAD model pieces online to lightweight mesh bodies or OBJ files. The mesh file sizes often account for only a small fraction of the original CAD file sizes, so this can greatly speed up the online model loading and update process, as well as ensure a sleek consumer experience. On the other hand, the online mesh bodies include only graphical information. They don’t contain your detailed CAD proprietary information, which can ease concerns about intellectual property protection.

Figure 4 shows the SOLIDWORKS Sell Publisher add-in, which can be used to help market this simple kitchen table online. By the way, the CAD data don’t have to be in native SOLIDWORKS formats or include multiple SOLIDWORKS configurations. As long as SOLIDWORKS can open non-native solid bodies in the graphics area, the Publisher can pick up the data from the current display and process them into online mesh bodies. As you may already know, SOLIDWORKS 3D Interconnect can help bring in all the major proprietary and neutral formats.

Figure 4. SOLIDWORKS Sell Publisher.

Here you may notice a dedicated SOLIDWORKS Sell command bar with only one button. Additional buttons and functionalities may be included in the future. On this note, the software updates frequently, sometimes as often as a couple of times per month. So, it’s recommended that users check and install the latest version regularly to enjoy the software’s most recent enhancements. Actually, because of how frequently the software is updated, you may find that your version of the user interface looks a bit different from what is shown in the screenshots in this post, but the main concepts won’t be very different.

First, click on the Publish button on the command bar,and you will see the Property Manager on the left side of the screen. From the top, first up is the Template section. A template in the context of SOLIDWORKS Sell is an online product presence, which captures its components, group structures, materials, assemblies, scene settings and rendering options. Please click on the New Template button to create a new template for this kitchen table as shown in Figure 5. You may rename or delete a template from the context menu as needed.

Figure 5. A new kitchen table template.

Now, let’s move on. It may be a good idea to fold several user interface sections so that the Property Manager doesn’t become too long and require you to scroll up and down frequently. As you can see in Figure 6, I have folded the Templates and Options sections by clicking on the arrows shown in the green circle. The focus now is on Group, which means a collector of components that share the same properties, such as materials and functions. I have created a group called Top and then selected the table top for this collector. You can select geometries from the graphics area, the object list on the Property Manager, or the SOLIDWORKS feature tree.

Figure 6. A group for the table top.

Similarly, you can create other groups such as Legs and Supports as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 7. Top, Legs and Supports groups ready to be published.

The numbers under group names, such as 1 in the Top group or 4 in the Legs group, stand for the number of solid bodies picked up for a specific group. Besides the cross highlighting in the graphics viewport, selected solid bodies are also indicated in a bold font on the object list. Please note that these objects have not been published to the online template yet, so the box of Parts in the group doesn’t contain anything at this point.

One section worth mentioning is Resolution after Groups. It controls how coarse or fine online mesh bodies will be. For simple geometries that are similar to this table, the coarse resolution should suffice. For artistic products such as jewelry or apparel, you may need finer resolutions to match the exact curves and surfaces of the objects. Obviously, the finer a resolution is, the bigger the mesh file size will be, and the slower a 3D viewport webpage will load.

With this simple group structure and the default settings, you can now click on the green check mark on the Property Manager to publish this template. Depending on the complexity of the model, the resolution settings, and Internet speed, it may take several seconds or minutes for the Publisher to simplify and optimize the geometries into online mesh bodies.

You may wonder why this table doesn’t have any SOLIDWORKS materials assigned to it. The reason is that the SOLIDWORKS Sell online portal provides a rich material library along with specific settings optimized for website displays and renderings. For example, I have assigned several materials to the three groups as shown in Figure 8. You can switch between these materials and enjoy the instant configuration updates for the table top, legs or supports in a browser.

Figure 8. Kitchen table with assignments to the Top, Legs and Supports.

That concludes this article. We walked through several key steps on publishing CAD data into online configurable mesh bodies. As you can see, the user interface looks intuitive and the workflow is straightforward. You can produce a simple 3D online configurator for this kitchen table in several minutes. I hope that you will find this tutorial helpful. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments area below. To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS Sell can help promote your ideas and products, please visit its product page.


About the Author

Oboe Wu is a SOLIDWORKS product manager with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of model-based enterprise and smart manufacturing.

Recent Articles

Related Stories

Enews Subscribe