Current developments in the field of automated assembly systems show an increasing interest in systems that are flexible in both CAD based product design and CAD based assembly. For the application addressed in this paper, coupling the vision system and a CAD database is of prime importance in order to achieve the required automatic reconfiguration of the assembly cell when new parts are defined. This paper presents a 3D CAD-based vision system for obtaining 3D data about the scene. After the images are acquired, edge detection is preformed and the detected edges are stored as chaincodes. Following that, a stereo vision algorithm is applied for finding the recognition features. The output are lists of features that are combined into a 3D wireframe representing the scene. The recognition algorithm takes the observed wireframe outputs from the stereo vision system, and compares them with a set of model wireframes derived from previous models, in order to select the 'best match', where the previous models used for recognition are derived from a product data model (PDM). The PDM is an interface between the CAD database and the recognition system, which allows the automatic generation of new models when new parts are introduced into the system. The vision system described in this paper is part of an intelligent robotic assembly cell, where the aim is to build a flexible intelligent robotic assembly cell, such that robots would be able to automatically assemble a random variety of small- batch products.