Concept models are a lot like cooked meat and pies. “Hey butcha! that looks like some tasty meat there; give me 5 lbs and a pie for the kiddos!” You see what you’re getting, you take it home and have a delicious and satisfying meal. And like a butcher shop, concept models take away all that messy prep that can turn into a rotting mess faster than Bruce Springsteen can say, “but I’m a vegetarian.”

Concept Models are one of the single most important design methods you can use when designing something in SolidWorks. Concepts have always been a general method of communication and coordination between different departments, but the benefits of having a concept in 3D are as vast as the types of meat cuts and you know when you have the perfect one. Here’s some things to help develop perfect concept models.

Benefits of a 3D Concept model:

  • Design can dynamically communicate intent to engineering
  • Engineering can communicate issue to production
  • Issues can be at beginning of design
  • Provides an envelope for developing geometry
  • Shows overall layout and scale of entire design in different orientation

The benefits are more obvious after you see them of course, and switching from 2D layouts can be daunting. So, here’s a few tips to get you started and show you where to focus.

Talk with other departments (Find the best butcher shop)
The first thing to do is find out how each department uses the others information. For example, how does engineering use the information they get from design.

Determine modeling technique (Pick your favorite cut)
You are going to have a way to develop concept models that is fast for your product. I suggest developing simple, single part models that have just enough detail to show intent. Once you have one done, the others go faster. I’ll focus on similarities between products, so I can use what I already have to start other items.

Set up a library (Buy some extra and freeze it)
Just like what is often done with 2D. If you have a 2D library, mimic it in 3D. This will be crucial in being able to set up concepts very quickly.

Set the environment (18 oz. fillet with a side of mashed taters)
Whether you product is meat a drillbit or a plumbing pallet, putting it in it’s intended environment can give a sense of scale and often times show things that may be an issue. I do this by putting the parts in an assembly with other items it interfaces with around it.

Do a design review in-house (Feed the family)
This can help fine-tune your method of modeling and of presenting the concept. Input can be given by each department involved and it gives them a chance to see how 3D concepts can make their life easier.

Here’s an example of the process:
I’m developing a cabinet. I want to show a concept to the customer. I build the concept in a single part where it’s easy to make changes. I can add it to an assembly to show interfaces with other items or replace with a different concept. I render the part. A preliminary design review is held with the customer. Issues are discussed. Changes are made. Approval is given. Engineering will take the concept and use it as an envelop. If changes occur, updates can be made to the concept that update the engineering if desired.

I still see a lot of conceptualizing going on in 2D. It may seem easier because the typical blocks and layouts were done in 1989 and used ever since. It will take a little forethought, but moving toward creating concepts in 3D will give you benefits that you just can’t get with 2D.


Josh is founder and editor at, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.