How did we end up with so many different CAD systems?

If you’re old enough, you probably remember a time when a company worked with a single 2D CAD system for design. You couldn’t do as much with the tools back then, but you could count on everything to work together.

If you’re on the younger side, you may have been working with 2D and 3D CAD files from different sources from the day you started. Leveraging, recreating, and cleaning up models are just part of the job—but probably not the reason you became an engineer.

Regardless of when you first started, I think we can all agree that the modern multi-CAD environment has its plusses and minuses. We’re going to talk a lot about that in the coming weeks. To start, let’s look at how we got here.

Few companies collect CAD systems strategically. More often, they just end up with them. Here’s how:

  • Legacy CAD systems. While many companies began with a 2D system, most have upgraded to 3D. Some have even graduated from one 3D product to more sophisticated  systems. Migrating old data into the new system is often costly and time-consuming, and the easiest thing was to keep the old systems hobbling along in case someone needed those old files again. It’s a lot like keeping your VHS player around because you’re too busy to digitize the family movies.
  • Mergers and acquisitions. Growing companies add products, engineering teams, designers, and, with them, more CAD systems. Mergers and acquisitions are usually chaotic times for a company, and streamlining the CAD systems generally falls off everybody’s to-do list.
  • Geographic expansion. New countries, new markets, new offices, new opportunities are exciting. But new design and engineering centers often have their own preferred systems. And now, some of the company data is only available in those formats.
  • Manufacturing versus engineering. The best system for manufacturing hasn’t always been the best system for engineering.  Traditionally, data is handed off as 2D drawings. So why not adopt the best tool for the job? Add another CAD system to the mix.
  • We can’t live without it. Sometimes the engineering staff simply can’t live without a certain tool and its special feature. The company trusts them, so it picks up a seat or two.

This is why it’s so common to find two or three CAD systems within a company. In fact, a 2010 PTC survey found that the average manufacturer works with design data from 2.7 CAD systems. (Find out what other challenges faced engineers working in multi-CAD environments)

Unfortunately, when everyone uses a different system, work gets messy. The disadvantages sneak up on you: CAD data needs to be recreated, translation problems arise, and design intent is easily lost. Add to that cost and people needed to train users, support multiple systems, test interoperability, and troubleshoot multiple CAD systems. At some point, even the largest company can benefit from consolidating systems.

In the coming months, we’ll look more at CAD consolidation, that is, streamlining your CAD systems. We’ll talk about:

  • When is CAD consolidation worth your effort?
  • How to identify and remove design gaps.
  • How common CAD tools facilitate interoperability.
  • Using data upstream and downstream.
  • What consolidation means to the IT headache.

Stay tuned! And why not find explore why companies like Sony Ericsson, Simeco, Tangen and Dettwiller have consolidated CAD systems, moving to PTC Creo.

[Ed – here’s a short video introducing the PTC Creo AnyData Adoption technology for supporting CAD consolidation]

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One Comment

  1. Karl Strahlendorf
    Posted Oct 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Great article. Big problem. I have been working with CAD for twenty years at the design end of the auto industry. When I started in design, clay models were the only way to express 3d design. Everyone said that was going to be replaced by CAD. Only, scanning technology developed as well and gave new life to clay models.
    In the 3d development on the tube, there are to factions. Engineering that uses manufacturing friendly software like Catia. There isn’t much competition there. The design styling factions are all over the place. There are the old school nurb modeling softwares such as Alias. It is very difficult for new, more flexible softwares to break in, like Rhino, or Modo. These are legacy issues as well as training issues. It is very hard for car companies to assess people with other software experience. Car companies want some sort of certification that you can work with the necessary software. Training and certification for some of these newer software is hard to come by and not standardized. Also. management usually doesn’t have a plan, let alone a long term plan. Developing a plan is the start.

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