@TonyTib typically one has to define the package dimensions and store in the library for 3D visualization. At the bare minimum, one has to define the component height.
Regarding usable output formats like STEP or IGES, very few or none(?) do that at the moment. Cadence's Allegro does have 3D visualization of the board assembly but the current version does not export to the mentioned formats. STL is good for 3D printing (as are the other models) but not ideal for importing to CAD assemblies.
Where does the PCB software get its information for the 3D model? Also, can they output the 3D model is a useful file format (e.g. STEP, not just STL)?
At work, I design our PCS (which are pretty simple) in Eagle PCB, and then pass a DXF footprint over to the ME's, who use 3D models from the manufacturers (typically STEP or IGES) to model the board (occasionally they have to model a new part) This process works well for us; the ME's can model a board pretty quickly, and we don't do it that often.
MP, I am glad that you have enjoyed the articles, and yes I have seen that I have a few mechanical guys and gals following along. I really do appreciate the support. If there are topics that you would like me to write on, please let me know. I am always open to considering new things, or perhaps I may already have some experience in these areas.
As to the mention of KiCAD, I had not see that thread that you mentioned. Thanks for pointing it out. I look forward to seeing the promised blog posts. I have heard that KiCAD is planning on making a few upgrades. I had heard that they upgraded their 3D viewer and I hear that they will soon have a footprint generator. This was the biggest thing for me. I am not a fan of having to go and dig up something similar to make a new part. It is just a poor workflow.
One thing that all of them need is better integration with a spice program. It would be nice to pull a schematic capture from, say, LTSpice, and use that as the netlist for the PCB CAD software. Or visa versa...
David, I am glad that I have at least one reader ;) I do really hope that this is useful to others. It is always hard to decided where to start with jumping to this world so hopefilly this gives people an idea of what is out there.
Max, I am glad that this was able to point them to a useful starting point. All have their own opitions, but this was a good starting point for me as I was trying to narrow down the choices that are out there.