Most CAD managers have by now read about the costs associated with juggling multiple CAD formats. For the more than 10 years analysts, journalists, and vendors have been repeating that “interoperability issues cost the US automotive industry about $1 billion per year and delays the introduction of new models by at least two months.”1
But I think that’s wrong. I think it can become much more expensive, especially if you’re not in the automotive industry.
Keep in mind that automotive historically dictates what CAD tool its supply chains and tiers use. For industries without the heft to demand standardization, the cost and impact of interoperability is likely higher—unless you have a well thought-out strategy.
Interoperability headaches widespread for non-auto industries
A recent analyst survey2 of manufacturers across many industries discovered that 82% had 3 or more CAD tools or formats in place. An amazing 43% worked with 5 or more CAD tools or formats. And that’s leading to interoperability issues.
You can see those issues clearly as, in the same survey, companies identified their biggest problems with the multi-CAD environment:
- 32% identified their top challenge as losing the intelligence embedded into the native CAD file.
- 29% complained they had to remodel parts, because changes in the original file couldn’t be made.
- 28% said they had to recreate models in the desired CAD format
In our own surveys, we had similar results. A 2010 PTC global survey3 of over 4,000 users of all CAD products showed that interoperability led to the most CAD frustrations:
- 32% struggled with making changes to a CAD design, especially when built by someone else.
- 19% said there was no good way to make productive use of data from multiple CAD systems.
These numbers indicate two alarming trends. First, considerable manual effort is being spent to remodel and recreate parts and models that already exist. Second, valuable design intelligence or intent may be lost as designs move through different tools and formats. That’s a huge drain on product development. In fact, some sources say teams waste 25-70% of their effort on these types of problems.
So, clearly, interoperability costs. But can you solve it with a single-CAD environment? I don’t think so.
At first, standardization seems the obvious solution. Like the auto industry, you can try to get all your suppliers, customers, and clients on the same CAD tool, and do away with interoperability issues. But, the Aberdeen survey suggests the most successful companies don’t standardize. Standardization restricts supplier selection, limits your ability to work with data from clients, and can increase product design costs.
Among Best-in-Class performers (the top 20% of companies surveyed by Aberdeen) many benefited measurably from using multiple CAD format—despite interoperability headaches. These manufacturers say multi-CAD leads to:
- 32% reduction in product development cycles.
- 31% reduction in product development costs.
- 90% of designs released on time.
Making multi-CAD work
We can learn from those Best-in-Class manufacturers. If you’re trying to make a multi-CAD environment work:
- Select suppliers based on skill, experience, or price ahead of the CAD tool they use.
- Select in-house CAD tools that maximize the leverage of data from multiple CAD sources.
- Rationalize in-house CAD software vendors; look for solutions from a single vendor that can replace the multiple CAD tools likely to be in-use—from through 3D.
- Consider CAD technologies that can help automate data exchange.
- Look to tie CAD tools, models, drawings, and derived formats together through the use of a common PLM platform.
CAD interoperability is clearly a problem, but Best-in-Class manufacturers are finding ways to use multi-CAD strategies to their advantage, developing products significantly faster, cheaper, and on time compared to their counterparts.
What’s the situation at your company? How many CAD tools does your company use? Tell us how you’re dealing with CAD interoperability across suppliers and clients?
Image by rosipaw.
1 Research Triangle Institute, ‘Interoperability Cost Analysis of the U.S. Automotive Supply Chain’ Report, March, 1999.
2 Aberdeen Group ‘Working with Multi-CAD? Overcome the Engineering Collaboration Bottleneck’, December, 2010.
3 PTC, Project Lightning poll, 4,200 respondents, June, 2010.