How Product Development Can Thrive in Multi-CAD Environments


Dealing with CAD data in multiple formats is the reality for manufacturing organizations today, thanks to extended supply chains that bring more partners and suppliers into the design loop.  Some companies deploy different CAD tools for designing the various subsystems, or electrical and mechanical components, of the product. For other organizations, it’s their customers who use different CAD tools. Others are still dealing with legacy data from older systems.

Regardless of the reasons, being able to efficiently manage CAD data in various formats is of utmost importance in today’s global design environment. Studies certainly bear this out. A study conducted by the Aberdeen Group, “Working with Multi-CAD? Overcoming the Engineering Collaboration Bottleneck,” found that a staggering 82% of companies are using three or more different CAD systems in their design process, and 42% of the companies surveyed are using five or more.

The challenge becomes bringing together all those CAD models into a single file, without the losing or having to recreate work, slowing down the development process and potentially adding errors along the way. To avoid this, manufacturers must juggle and manage CAD data in multiple formats and efficiently integrate them all into a single product design. By doing so, they can provide their engineers with full visibility into the entire product and the ability to design in the context of all related parts and components.

The Obstacles

It’s simply not as easy to design a product using different CAD systems. One of the biggest problems rears its head once changes are required. Traditionally translated geometry from one CAD system becomes a “dumb” block of geometry, since the intelligence built into the original CAD model is often lost. When engineering change orders (ECOs) come through, manipulating the translated geometry can be difficult and often must be recreated. Engineers are often forced to “clean up” the geometry to create a solid model, a time-consuming task.

Another issue arises when designs are shared across the design team for design reviews and collaboration purposes. As each design participant makes changes to the model, files often get out of synch and the risk of subsequent errors increases significantly. All this affects downstream functions that are now heavily dependent upon the CAD model. Manufacturing information, such as assembly instructions or NC tool paths; sales and marketing materials; and field service documentation can all be impacted by miscommunications due to poor revision control or translation errors.

Best Practices for Multi-CAD Environments

Despite the challenges of dealing with multiple CAD formats, those companies deemed by Aberdeen as “Best-in-Class” support their multi-CAD environments by standardizing on one CAD system, but making sure they have the ability to deliver and receive in many different formats. This enables them to leverage work already done by suppliers, partners or customers to save time and improve collaboration. According to the study, this enables them to shave their overall development time by 31%. These companies also released their designs on time 90% of the time, decreased their development cycle by 32%, and 91% of their designs met quality targets at release.

Product development can thrive in multi-CAD design environments. Organizations must have a clear definition of the business process that is driving their data exchange requirements and understand the data exchange solutions available for their CAD tools. They also need to understand the CAD tools being used by their suppliers or partners and how the complexity of the products they design affects the translation results.

PTC’s Creo family of design apps offers tools for working with native CAD data from multiple sources.  The software’s Flexible Modeling Extension enables users to import data from a different CAD system, open up the native CAD file and manipulate and modify the geometry instantly. Users can add the parametric intelligence later. With these flexible-modeling capabilities, users can add design intent to imported data, enabling them to easily incorporate and edit CAD data created in other CAD systems.

Product data management (PDM) and product lifecycle management (PLM) systems can greatly facilitate designing in multi-CAD environments by managing not only the original CAD design data but also the translated information being received from or sent to other design participants. PLM systems can connect multi-CAD environment with in a manner that enables organizations to manage all their design records, reference their design data in processes, and leverages design data for downstream design use in ERP and manufacturing systems.

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