The economic payback of 3D mice as a user interface

Paul Boughton

John Moseley examines the results of a survey among users of 3D mice and looks at the economic advantages of investing in these user interface devices.


Delivering high quality products faster than the competition is central to any company's success and CAD engineers play a crucial role. If they can improve product designs, identify problem areas earlier, and do all this in less time, they can make a considerable contribution to the companies' performance.


User interface research by GE Research, IBM, the University of Toronto, and others has documented the performance improvements resulting from user interface devices such as 3D mice that enable the CAD engineer to navigate 3D objects intuitively and to work with both hands simultaneously.

Companies that have invested in 3D mice regularly report impressive performance gains but there was no quantitative research to support these claims or to understand the economic impact.

To answer these questions, Technology Assessment Group (TAG) designed a 14-question survey to collect responses from 190 existing 3D mice users. The survey was fielded by MarketLab, an independent market research group, in May 2008. The survey asked users about their experience with 3D mice with regard to perceived improvements in product design and early detection of errors; productivity gains (how much faster they were in performing their work); length of time it took them to become productive with 3D mice.

This article presents the key findings of the research and then addresses the fundamental management question: What is the economic payback period?

The survey respondents were 190 US-based CAD engineers from companies with fewer than 10 CAD seats to companies with more than 500 CAD seats; existing 3D mouse users with experience ranging from less than three months to more than two years. The most commonly used applications were CATIA, Inventor, NX, Pro/ENGINEER and SolidWorks. Seventy-four per cent spend at least three hours per day using their CAD application and 41 per cent spend at least seven hours per day.

Survey results

As stated earlier, previous research has shown that two key factors significantly improve the performance of people using intensive 3D applications:

- 6 Degree of Freedom (6DoF) devices for quickly orientating 3D objects or views.

- Devices that enable working with both hands simultaneously (for example, a 3D mouse in one hand and a traditional 2D mouse in the other hand).

The initial survey objective was to determine the 3D mouse users opinion of these two factors in their work.

- 83 per cent find the 6DoF navigation 'very useful' or 'extremely useful'.

- 75 per cent find the two-handed work style 'very useful' or 'extremely useful'.

Quite clearly, the core features of every 3Dconnexion 3D mouse (6DoF and two-handed work style) are highly valued by the users.

The next objective was to understand how these factors affect the product design process. Can 3D mice actually improve design quality and improve error detection?

According to the surveyed users, a 3D mouse enabled them to much more easily rotate, inspect, and explore their designs. As a result:

- 85 per cent saw a 'noticeable' or 'significant' improvement in their product designs.

- 84 per cent thought that they could 'noticeably' or 'significantly' improve their detection of errors.

These are very high per centages, indicating that companies investing in 3D mice should confidently expect similar results.

The survey then moved on to productivity gains - a vital success factor for companies in today's ultra competitive market. More than 86 per cent report productivity gains, ranging from under 10 to over 50 per cent. The average productivity gain reported is 21 per cent.

Impressive statistics aside, a primary concern for companies considering investing in 3D mice is the time it takes for users to reach these productivity gains. After all, if it takes three month to become comfortable with a 3D mouse and another three months to become productive, are the productivity gains worth it? The survey reveals the following results:

- Nearly half (45 per cent) were more productive within two days, and 68 per cent were more productive within the first week of using a 3D mouse.

So far, the survey has revealed that the majority of 3D mouse users report design productivity and quality improvements when using 3D mice. It's now time to address the fundamental management question: What is the economic payback period?

Three principal factors will be used to answer these questions:

1. Cost of the 3D mouse. 3Dconnexion professional 3D mice range in price from EUR99 to EUR399. For the purpose of this example we will use the product with the richest feature set - SpacePilot (EUR399).

2. Loaded cost of the CAD engineer. The average salary for a 3D CAD engineer in 2008 is estimated as EUR58000. Employee benefits are estimated conservatively at 25 per cent of base salary, resulting in an average benefit loaded cost of EUR72500 per CAD engineer. In the absence of solid data, fully loaded costs (eg office space, software/hardware etc) will be ignored.

3. Productivity gain. For the purpose of this example, the productivity gain will be calculated by taking the average productivity gain from the survey (21 per cent) multiplied by the average time per day spent using the 3D CAD applications (50 per cent) resulting in productivity gain of 10.5 per cent.

The payback period determines how quickly the investment will be fully recovered. The calculation is:

Payback Period in Years = 3D Mouse Cost/(Annual CAD engineer loaded cost *Productivity Gain) EUR399/(EUR72500 *10.5 per cent = 0.052 years (19 days). This means that an investment in a 3D mouse will, on average, pay for itself in less than one month.


The Economic Payback of 3D Mice survey aimed to evaluate the anecdotal claims that 3D mice can significantly improve CAD engineer productivity. It reveals that productivity gains of more than 20 per cent are being experienced by CAD engineers while using 3D mice and that 6DoF navigation and simultaneous two-handedness were the key factors leading to this improvement. In addition, the majority of users believe that using 3D mice leads to improved designs and easier detection of errors.

Finally, it was shown that an investment in 3D mice can have an unusually fast payback (less than a month) leading to the conclusion that companies would be well advised to proactively consider investing in 3D mice.

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John Moseley is with 3Dconnexion, Seefeld, Germany.

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