CAD interoperability – Is it a problem?


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.

Standardization fail?

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:

  1. Select suppliers based on skill, experience, or price ahead of the CAD tool they use.
  2. Select in-house CAD tools that maximize the leverage of data from multiple CAD sources.
  3. 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.
  4. Consider CAD technologies that can help automate data exchange.
  5. 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.

This entry was posted in Reinventing Design and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.


  1. Posted Mar 8, 2011 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    1. Can you provide examples where companies are receiving 30% reduction in production development cycle and cost using Multu-CAD.

    2. Can you provide what CAD tools maximize and leverage of data from multiple CAD sources

    • Geoff Hedges
      Posted Mar 9, 2011 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comments.

      The Aberdeen Group that conducted the research tells me that they carried out the research between November and December 2010, and gathered data from more than 270 companies. There was a wide range of companies represented – 44% of respondents from small business, with revenue of $50 million or less and 39% of respondents were from small enterprises with headcount of 99 people or less. The research is normally conducted anonymously, so Aberdeen can’t disclose the actual names of companies.

      From our perspective, Creo will maximize the leverage of data from multiple CAD sources through its AnyData Adoption technology – Creo 1.0 is planned to ship in June 2011.
      I’d also recommend taking a closer look at Creo Elements/Direct, this direct modeler can leverage data from a variety of 3D sources, and enable users to modify that 3D data.

      There are lots of published success stories on the PTC website, visit and filter on Creo Elements/Direct.
      My favourites are the ASMAG UK and Sanders – both great examples of companies using direct modeling to speed up their product development by 30% or more.

      Thanks again for your post.
      Best Regards,

  2. Roger Fields
    Posted Oct 30, 2011 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    My company currently is using Creo Parametric, AutoCAD, Inventor, and SolidWorks. Our main structural analyses are run through STAAD. I have been tasked with finding out if Creo models can be “dropped” into STAAD for analysis. So far, I have been able to save as a DXF and export to STAAD. However, all the loads still need to be configured. I would like to compare the structural analysis in the Creo Suite against the STAAD. It seems like it would be more cost-effective, but which program will be more accurate? We need to analyze joints and connections as well as beam structures.

    • Geoff Hedges
      Posted Oct 31, 2011 at 9:35 am | Permalink

      Hi Roger,

      Thanks for your question. From my research, it does seem DXF is the only published interface for the STAAD application, and that has the limit that it’s mostly designed for geometry, rather than loads, etc.

      I would recommed evaluating either Creo Simulate (a standalone simulation tool) or the Creo Advanced Mechanica (an extension to Creo Parametric). Both work with Creo data without data conversion, and not only bypass the need for data translation, but also mentain all information about loads, etc even after optimizing the geometry – so you don’t have to repeatedly re-define it. Contact PTC or find a local PTC partner to discuss further.

      And if you decide that you’ll continue with STAAD, it’s well worth asking if there’s a way to speed up or automate creating the DXF formats within Creo.

      Best Regards,
      Geoff Hedges

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title="" rel=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <pre> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  • Archives

  • Connect with PTC Creo