Empower Ecommerce with 3D Technology and SOLIDWORKS

Happy holidays! It is the middle of the year-end shopping season. As you may have noticed, more and more online apps are now equipped with 3D content and augmented reality (AR). Figure 1 shows examples of these apps.

Figure 1. IKEA (left) and Wayfair (right) apps are equipped with 3D content and AR.

Even Subway enabled its ciabatta sandwich collection with AR, as shown in Figure 2. Imagine having this technology in all the restaurants or online shops in the future. Even if you travel abroad and do not necessarily recognize the language or special names listed on a menu, you will see what you are getting right away. Plus, the digital sandwich looks like a pretty appealing visual appetizer.

Figure 2. Subway enabled its ciabatta sandwich collection with AR.

As IKEA explained, it “is shifting its business model away from pushing customers through its suburban stores toward making shopping easier online, and downtown.” The app allows “customers to shop remotely for products they can visualize in the context of their own homes, lessening the need for them to travel….”

These applications are not alone. According to Gartner’s research, “100 million consumers will shop in AR and in-store by 2020.” In response, “46 percent of retailers plan to deploy Augmented Reality (AR) or Virtual Reality (VR) solutions by 2020.”

In fact, to scale up the 3D commerce activities and align technologies, retailers and technology companies have established a working group on the 3D Commerce standards. Figure 3 illustrates some of the participants as of August 2019. The 3D Commerce Working Group has attracted household retailers such as Amazon, Target, Crate and Barrel, Lowe’s and JD, as well as high-tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Samsung.

Figure 3. Companies participating in the 3D Commerce Working Group. (Image courtesy of the 3D Commerce Working Group.)

The benefits to online shoppers are easy to appreciate. For example, you can configure your favorite product out of millions of SKUs and see it in your own space to validate its size and style without having to travel to a store. The shopping experience feels much more fun, engaging and informed. Remember that attractive ciabatta sandwich?

However, besides better user experiences, what are some other benefits to manufacturers and retailers? It turns out that 3D technology provides noteworthy business implications as well. For instance, according to an article on Digital Commerce 360, Build.com shared that the return rate for AR shoppers is 22 percent lower than those who didn’t use the tool and bought the same product. Therefore, in one year, Build.com increased the AR-enabled products from dozens to 650, or 1,700 SKUs.

In addition, an electric switch manufacturer in Europe deployed SOLIDWORKS Sell to speed up its ordering process and reduce the number of errors in retail orders. Figure 4 shows a simplified ordering tool with the company’s proprietary information removed. Previously, due to complex design and business rules, distributors submitted a large number of mistaken orders that could not be manufactured at all. Repeatedly, orders had to be validated manually back and forth between internal teams and external customers. The process was frustratingly slow despite having four full-time employees dedicated to order management. These issues hampered the company’s business growth.

Now the rules are enforced automatically with easy drag-and-drop operations. Invalid orders are prevented altogether, so distributors can trust the tool and self-sufficiently submit correct orders quickly.

Figure 4. A drag-and-drop electric switch ordering tool powered by SOLIDWORKS Sell. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Hopefully by now we have all had a taste of the 3D commerce benefits to both online visitors and businesses. Here comes the billion-dollar question: how can you build 3D-enabled ecommerce content as well?

According to the experiences of some manufacturers, the investment could be cost-prohibitive due to the heavy contracting budget, long coding cycle and expensive ongoing maintenance. To me, a key enabler and opportunity is to make the process quick, easy and cost-effective.

Let’s break it down to three fundamental steps and look into available solutions for each.

1. Publish 3D Models Online

The source of 3D models can be CAD designs such as the furniture example shown in Figure 1, or 3D-scanned objects as shown in Figure 2. As is the case for any online activities, it is vital to optimize 3D models for fast online performance, such as the initial loading, geometry updates, material switches and transitions to the AR mode.

Figure 5 shows the SOLIDWORKS Sell Publisher inside the SOLIDWORKS environment, which can organize the product components, compress the geometries and publish the data online in several seconds.

Figure 5. SOLIDWORKS Sell Publisher inside SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

Due to the geometry compression, the model file size has been significantly reduced. For example, the original speaker top panel CADpart is 210 KB. However, now its online low-grade mesh object takes only 2 KB as shown in Figure 6, or about 1 percent of the original CAD model, which contributes greatly to the instant online responses. Yet, the appearance of the online model still looks compelling, as shown in Figure 7.

Figure 5. SOLIDWORKS Sell Publisher inside SOLIDWORKS. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
Figure 7. Compelling online appearances carry over from SOLIDWORKS materials. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

By the way, it is worth noting that two SOLIDWORKS materials, Polished Maple and Satin Finished Maple, have been automatically carried over from SOLIDWORKS to the online environment.

2. Build 3D Content Rules and Relations

After the raw geometries are published online, manufacturers and retailers need to build rules and relations to these objects to represent a final product. For example, you may want to make sure that all the wood panels share the same material as online visitors choose between materials.

Figure 8 shows that you can simply drag and drop geometries and create a Material Link to synchronize the materials between them. Again, the key enabler here is to make the operation as quick and easy as possible, so that any user can build 3D online products, even if they don’t have any modeling or coding skills.

Figure 8. Drag and drop geometries to synchronize materials between them. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

3. Polish Online Presentations

After the content is built, be sure to pay attention to its online presentation, because people do judge a book by its cover. A previous article, “How to Create a LEGO-like Online 3D Configurator,” shared the details that laying out a webpage in SOLIDWORKS Sell is similar to placing LEGO pieces.

Figure 9 shows the tablet layout in an editor. At this stage, you can add a QR code so that your audience can scan to access the page quickly. Or you can add a button to enable the AR mode. Notice that there is zero coding required in these steps. As a result, Figure 10 shows the iPad layout with the actual interactive 3D speaker. Please feel free to click on the link or scan the QR code to access the page and play with the product yourself. Have fun.

Figure 9. Lay out a 3D-enabled Web page in an editor. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)
Figure 10. An iPad layout of the online interactive speaker configurator. (Image courtesy of SOLIDWORKS.)

To recap, as the demand for 3D content grows stronger, a remarkable barrier reducer as well as a promising opportunity is to make its creation, optimization and presentation quick, easy and cost-effective.

SOLIDWORKS Sell has made a compelling case to lower the barrier significantly. To learn more about how SOLIDWORKS Sell can help promote your ideas and products with interactive 3D online content, please visit its product page. The best way to learn how to use this 3D technology is to play with live examples featured on a demo site, which includes actual client Webpages. Have fun and leave your thoughts below.

About the Author

Oboe Wu is a product management professional with 20 years of experience in engineering and software. He is an advocate of 3D technologies and practical applications.

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