Some background:

We've been buying the products of a supplier of window and door hardware (locking systems etc.) for around 10 years. We spend tens of thousands of GBP with them per year.

They're changing some of their product lines to update them and make their locks more secure etc. and they are discontinuing their old products.

The new products are NOT a direct replacement for the old - some sizes, fixing details etc. change which means we have to change the design of our products to suit.

In doing so, I have asked for some 3D cad files. We model everything already in 3D CAD and so it is relatively easy if we have our suppliers' CAD models to put the right bits in the right places, work out any tolerances, positioning, clashes of components etc.

Our supplier has come back and said that they have a policy of not sharing their 3D CAD files, presumably to prevent reverse-engineering of their products. They'll send 2D CAD files in some instances but not for everything. They do already have 3D CAD models of their components - it's very clear and obvious from their sales and technical literature as there are views of the components from different angles etc. which could only be produced from a 3D CAD model, so it's not as if they'd have to create the files specially for me. The components in question are not particularly complicated in terms of component/assembly design. Holding one in my hand I could learn everything I need to know about how they are made, what they are made of etc. if I were to want to get some of my own made.

There is nothing I could learn from having a 3D CAD model that I could not learn from having the physical item, BUT I could really use the CAD model to make my work significantly easier. As it is, I will have to create a 3D model myself which will be a pain and take time I could be using more productively. Other similar suppliers have given us 3D CAD when asked.

My question is: are there any benefits to this hardware supplier of not giving me the CAD model which I haven't thought of? Also is there some way I can convince them to hand over the goods? I could look for another supplier but this would be a huge pain at this point because of how integrated into our designs this particular supplier's products are. From my point of view this gives them no actual benefits, and only serves to annoy their customers.

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    You mean aside from them protecting their intellectual property in terms of the design? I'm not sure they'd appreciate people sending their 3D CAD files to China and getting them manufactured for a faction of the cost. – user44108 Sep 19 '17 at 13:01
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    I could model the component I'm currently asking for and send it to China within about half an hour, an hour tops. If this were the only component I needed then it would not be a problem but there are many components I need. Again it is well within my capabilities to model them from physical measurements but it's a huge PITA. We also have a pre-existing, long-standing supplier/customer relationship. My point is if I wanted to reproduce them then this would be a very small barrier indeed, but as it is, it just makes it a pain for me to use this supplier's products. – WhatEvil Sep 19 '17 at 13:04
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    Interesting question. A bit outside our wheelhouse but I guess this is on-topic as it's a sort of business negotiation. Are you in management and do you have final decision power when it comes to component sourcing and supplier negotiation? I'd suggest putting a TL;DR at the very top though and clarify your title as there's a difference between product info and detailed CAD drawings. – Lilienthal Sep 19 '17 at 13:20
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's about conducting business with a vendor rather than being a workplace problem. – Blrfl Sep 19 '17 at 13:45
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    There are questions about working with clients here all the time. "How do I tell my client such and such". Is this fundamentally any different? – WhatEvil Sep 19 '17 at 13:52

The nature of the question means this answer is going to involve a fair bit of speculation so please bear that in mind..

I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the idea that they are looking to impede those who would want to reverse-engineer their products, after all you yourself say that to recreate the models for all the components would be a PITA and it's enough of a hassle that you don't really want to do it yourself if you can avoid it. A potential nefarious competitor looking to rip of their designs and have them manufactured cheaply might not even have someone of your CAD skills on board so the original files would go a long way towards making that a workable plan in such a scenario.

As to why they don't want to give you the files I can think of two reasons:

Over-zealous policies

It's possible that the supplier has a policy preventing these files being sent out (e.g. to impede competitors as discussed above) and your contact(s) don't have the authority to overrule the policy in this case

They have concerns about your company's motives

You state that you purchase components worth tens of thousands of pounds a year from them. Depending on the size of the supplier/your company that could be a sizeable chunk of their revenue and/or a sizeable amount of your company's costs. It could be viewed that your company has quite a bit to gain by farming out construction of these components elsewhere and thereby saving a lot of money.

Unfortunately they are unlikely to tell you if their reasoning is the second one. Luckily though the approach to take is probably the same - as others have mentioned pursuing setting up some kind of NDA might work.


All you can do is ask.

If there is nothing contractually between your companies, they can say no.

You could replead your case, and offer up signing a NDA / Non compete. I know this is not 100% protection, but it might be just enough for them to give you what you need.

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