Our recent survey of 150 designers and engineering managers at small and medium size manufacturing companies showed that even the smallest engineering companies are using multi-CAD data for product development. For very small companies (less than $10m in turnover), 31% used data in 3 or more CAD formats in their product development process, and in companies with up to $100m in turnover this rises to 61%. The survey also showed that 32% of the respondents were experiencing difficulty with working with CAD data in multiple formats, and that 27% would even consider changing their CAD software if this would help them work better in a multi-CAD environment.
Can the number of CAD formats that an organization needs to work with be reduced? It is hard to see this happening as new CAD solutions using proprietary data formats continue to be introduced – both by new CAD software providers and even by established ones. The use of standard graphics kernels such as Parasolid (used by well established solutions like Solid Edge and SolidWorks, and by some of the new solutions in development like Onshape) helps as there is a reliable sharing of basic 3D geometry. But not all of a 3D model’s intelligence such as standard features and feature relationships are included at this “solid body” level. And then the use of data exchange formats like STEP and IGES, and neutral formats like JT can also help manufacturers consume foreign CAD data, but in this scenario data translation or conversion is being used and design intelligence is also lost.
There are a number of different software solutions and methodologies that help manufacturers in this area and I want to highlight a couple of these in this blog. The first of these is to use software that has capabilities allowing you to bring in multi-CAD data while maintaining the intelligence that was built in by the original designer. Through the use of synchronous technology Solid Edge has great capabilities in this area. This new video shows some great examples of how Solid Edge allows designers to use CAD data in multiple formats in the design of an assembly, for example by editing imported 3D models directly and using dimensions from an imported 2D drawing to define a 3D model.
A second approach is to deploy PLM software that is designed specifically to help manufacturers work with multiple CAD formats. One category of manufacturer for who this is a big issue is automotive components manufacturers who are typically asked by their customers – the large automotive OEMs – to supply and even design their products using a CAD format mandated by them. For example Ocap SpA, a manufacturer of suspension and steering components needed to manage product data across their multi-CAD, multi-site product development centers. According to Ocap’s engineering manager Jean-Jacques Topas “We considered different solutions and finally chose Teamcenter because it offered more reliable multi-CAD and multi-site capabilities … this provides seamless integration with CAD systems from different CAD vendors…you can open each unique item in both modelling systems without any translation”. Reading this case study you will see that Ocap is benefiting from the powerful combination of the multi-CAD design capabilities of Solid Edge and the multi-CAD management capabilities of Teamcenter.
Working with design data in multiple CAD formats is the reality for the majority of manufacturing organizations, and this is not going to change soon. These manufacturers need to rigorously explore the multi-CAD capabilities of their primary CAD software and their PLM system to both avoid losing intelligence from data that was created in other CAD formats, and improve the overall efficiency of their product development processes.