ConstructionPro Week, Volume: 1 - Issue: 15 - 08/13/2012

CIMdata Stresses the Importance of Preparing for Multi-CAD Environments

By Steve Rizer


It is imperative for users of computer-aided-design (CAD) technology to have adequate tools in place when working in a multi-CAD environment; otherwise, there could be a substantial amount of time and money wasted, according to a paper that the consulting and research firm CIMdata Inc. recently released. “When selecting a modeling solution, prospective users must assess their needs for importing alternative CAD data formats in a manner that provides for a smooth transition and the ability to manipulate and edit imported model geometry.”


The paper, entitled “CAD Selection Considerations: Multi-CAD Management,” reports that product designers often waste time by recreating CAD model data that was generated with a CAD solution other than their own chosen design suite. “That lost time delays their new product introduction and can ultimately result in missing a market window of opportunity.


“Many designers rationalize the recreation of CAD model data for a number of reasons. Often they are working with multiple supply chain partners using different CAD solutions. In other cases, designers within geographically dispersed corporations leverage work done in a different company group that uses a different CAD solution. This is a common occurrence when a parent company acquires a new business. Today, many products are developed in a multi-CAD environment.”


Many companies forgoing adequate tools purchase licenses for all necessary CAD solutions, requiring design data to be shared and data translation between different solutions be performed. The document stresses that the cost burden in such a scenario “becomes excessive.”


To avoid these situations, CIMdata recommends purchasing a CAD solution “that can smoothly import foreign CAD data. Of critical importance, however, the CAD solution must provide a rich set of functions to manipulate and edit the imported geometry.”


CIMdata suggests that prospective buyers of a CAD design solution develop a series of structured criteria against which they measure each solution’s capabilities regarding importation of third-party CAD data. “First, however, at a more fundamental level, the CAD design suite they select should provide all of the necessary modeling domains they require, ranging from 2D design and sketching through full 3D design, and hybrid combinations of all three. Next, the solution of choice must provide user interface environments for their potentially diverse set of users.”


The company emphasized that designer skill levels can vary between a casual user and a full-time power user. “Each requires a different set of capabilities that matches their level of expertise, expectation, and experience.”


CIMdata recommends that the following questions, among others, be addressed when choosing a CAD suite: 

  • Does the CAD suite allow for the smooth import of all the third-party CAD data formats our company must accept?
  • Does the CAD suite allow for the smooth import of all legacy CAD data formats our company must access?
  • Once third-party and legacy CAD data is imported, can our designers manipulate and edit individual geometry items within the data?

In an interview with ConstructionPro Week (CPW), CIMdata Executive Consultant Ken Versprille provided the following additional information about the report:


CPW: What statistics, if any, can you share regarding the extent to which the practice of recreating product models originating from different CAD solutions exists and/or regarding the extent to which licenses are being purchased for addressing multi-CAD situations, and/or regarding the extent to which adequate CAD solutions (‘adequate’ meaning no or minimal re-creation of models or licensing is needed) are in place for dealing with multi-CAD situations? In other words, how widespread are the problems associated with re-creation of models and costly licensing? How many of your clients have encountered the problems mentioned in the report?


Versprille: There are some statistics[, but] nobody has ever been able to do a broad, pure scientific survey of all the CAD users…. There is a series of papers that was done in conjunction with PTC …, and they themselves had run a survey in late 2011 of 300-plus end users of CAD, and at that point from their survey, [it was found that more than] 68 percent of those users [reported having attempted] to reuse models in their next product release. They were trying to reuse models, actual physical parts, and/or CAD models from previous products in their current designs…. Over 59 percent of those same people reported that they struggled to modify imported models coming from other CAD systems than the one they use particularly. That gives you some insight into really what’s going on in the industry, and I must admit that I’ve been doing this for over 16 years as a PLM [product lifecycle management] CAD consultant and then even before that working for a vendor within the industry for another 16 years, [and] this follows as a pattern. We’re not seeing any numbers that are surprising here. This has been fairly consistent over the last 30 years that when 59 percent say that they are modifying imported models, that says at least 59 percent are importing different models. Likely it is more than that.


CPW: That seems like an alarming statistic.


Versprille: It’s the situation the industry has been in and will continue to be in for the foreseeable future I would think. Here’s the problem: the CAD applications that people use to design products are constantly evolving. You’re chasing a moving target. If you’re able to solve all of the problems today, tomorrow new problems would crop up because people would add to the technology, and when they do add to the technology, new stuff is very difficult to move around between products. I would say that anybody who has been in this industry for any length of time will, at a very gut level, admit that things have gotten better than they were 10, 20 years ago, but nothing is perfect today and likely will not be perfect in the future, but things will continuously get better.


CPW: So technology will not evolve to the point where adequate solutions for multi-CAD situations become standard, making the problems identified in the paper essentially non-existent?


Versprille: Absolutely never, unfortunately. It just won’t. And if you stop and think about it, one of the things I know when I do a presentation in front of people, I will say, ‘If all of these problems are solved tomorrow, I am going to quit my job and start a new CAD company and do something very different from everybody else because I will then stand out from the rest of the market because everybody will be ‘me to’ kind of people.’ What happens simply because of the competitive nature, the technology constantly will evolve and that leading-edge level of the technology will always be a problem in trying to exchange data.


CPW: The paper alludes to the costs/cost savings associated with these three scenarios (re-creating models versus licenses versus adequate solutions in place). What estimates, if any, can you provide regarding the average costs that can be expected with each scenario taking place? How much of a cost savings can having adequate CAD solutions in place for multi-CAD situations deliver?


Versprille: Nobody to my knowledge has ever done a scientific-type study, but when you stop and you look at what the problem really is talking about is there are companies -- and I’ve worked with both types of companies. There are companies that have to produce models or work with models from different CAD systems than their own chosen CAD systems. These companies will take one of two approaches. One, they will buy a few systems of the competing CAD system and then convert, or they will buy utilities to convert all these other database formats into own selected CAD format. Or there are some who will actually work on projects and build teams of engineers and designers who work in different CAD systems. Now, these companies are typically mid-range, tier-one-level kind of suppliers who are working with big OEMs, and the OEMs can dictate what it is, what CAD format they will accept, and the tier one is sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place and having to, if they want to do business with a given OEM, they must provide data in that format, and like I said, they will either choose to develop CAD in their own format and translate before they send it, or they will have special teams, and there are pros and cons to either approach, and it comes down to how can you measure the money. Well, a big part of the equation is lost business if you don’t do something a certain way. So, it’s hard to compare apples and oranges at that level, but most of these companies over the last 15-16 years that I’ve dealt … they will be flexible in how they deal with this problem. They will have one strategy overall but then they will make exceptions depending on how big of a contract they have with an OEM. Unfortunately, there is no single, simple answer to that question.


CPW: Is there a rule of thumb for what percentage of a design budget ought to be reserved for investment in adequate CAD technology? If so, what is that percentage?


Versprille: I would more say a certain percentage of budgets should be set aside for companies to constantly explore and evaluate new technologies that come through. One of the biggest problems I see from industrial users is because they’re so busy internally focused in on their own product development and their own profits, they don’t have enough time and/or money to really set aside to go look at and evaluate anything new that comes down the pike, and they can get themselves into a situation where they may be three to four to five years behind the technology curve, and if their competitors jump at something new, that puts them in a bad position, so I recommend more to my clients that they either work, they put aside a certain amount of budget to do that kind of exploration themselves or they work with a consultant or some other means to do that exploration for them and then make recommendations.


CPW: For those not opting for a consultant, is there a certain amount of time that you would recommend?


Versprille: Not really. I think it can vary. There are programs where, depending on the size of the company, I would say, they may want to put a budget aside that is equal to one or two people. That may translate into actual people they hire or subcontracting that they put out for. For smaller companies, there are what I would call a consortium consulting group, that CIMdata is one of them, where we have individual experts in different areas and clients can join as a group, so you may have 30 or 40 different industrial clients all contributing a piece of financial support for one person in the consulting group to go chasing graphics technology or modeling technology for the entire group. It’s less cost for them than trying to hire an individual person.


CPW: In your opinion, would it make sense for state and federal lawmakers to require adequate CAD solutions in multi-CAD situations for all public projects where the use of CAD technology is specified? Why or why not?


Versprille: Everybody’s definition of ‘adequate’ is going to be different. Our philosophy is when we talk to an industrial client, one of the first things we do is we establish certain interviews with the people at the industrial client because everybody’s requirements are very different. Until you really talk to them and explore what they are, you can’t really get a good sense of it. They may think they sometimes know what their requirements are, but when you start talking to the people in the trenches, you get a very different message.


CPW: Other comments?


Verspille: The paper you downloaded is a series of four short papers that we’re doing. Picking up certain key topics within CAD modeling that we’re making recommendations to end users. These are important things that you should look for when you choose a CAD. The first in the series dealt with model changes. Very often you need to make changes to models, whether it’s for the next model release or a requirement has changed and you have to make edits. There’s a series of tests we recommend that users look at when they evaluate CAD products for being able to make those changes. The second in the series was the multi-CAD issue…. In draft right now is a third, which deals with large assemblies, and I’m actively working on a fourth about complex geometries -- surface, free-form surface geometry -- and the issues that revolve around that.


CPW: When will those be coming out?


Verspille: I would say by the end of the summer they should all be out.



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