The Trend Towards CAD Consolidation, Not CAD Standardization

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This blog post has been licensed for hosting by PTC. The concepts, ideas and positions of this post have been developed independently by Industry Analyst Chad Jackson of Lifecycle Insights. © LC Insights LLC

CAD standardization. CAD consolidation.

They’re practically the same thing, right?

Well, not exactly. Now, up until about five years ago, I would have agreed with that statement. Years ago, OEMs strictly required the delivery of design data in specific formats. In fact, findings from The 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Study show that practice is still enforced. A little less than 30% of those respondents stated their engineering organizations must create, not just deliver, design data in CAD applications specified by customers.

Today, however, there is a growing difference between standardization and consolidation. Mainly, that’s due to new capabilities provided by CAD applications. And that difference isn’t some throwaway point. It means organizations can employ completely different practices, especially in interacting with external parties.

In all, that’s what we’ll explore in this post.

Background on CAD Standardization

To start, let’s define CAD standardization. It is basically a requirement that all design data be created in a specific CAD application, even if there are other CAD applications that can be used as an alternative. Of course, there was and continues to be a lot of CAD standardization internally. However, these requirements were often passed down into the supply chain, often as contractual obligations. I think we all know it was and is a practice is somewhat common. But the most important question is simple: why?

Why Standardize on CAD?

One reason comes back to operational efficiency. Findings from The 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Study show that 49% of engineers spend at least 4 hours a week fixing design data. That geometry is broken when you move 3D models between CAD applications that use different geometry kernels. By avoiding any translation, you avoid circumstances where geometry is broken. Quite simply, your engineers spend less time fixing broken geometry.

That’s not the only reason, however. Another reason lies in the need to modify 3D models. Work in the design stage is a chaotic thing. That’s natural because engineers need to explore and iterate on new alternatives and options for the design. Many organizations need some means to modify these 3D models, either as actual final or proposed suggested changes in the supply chain. Translation of 3D models strip out the features used to build the geometry. When that happens, there is no mechanism to change the geometry. That’s another reason for CAD standardization.

Background on CAD Consolidation

CAD consolidation, in contrast to CAD standardization, isn’t about requirements. Instead of defining what format design data needs to be in when it moves around the supply chain, the ideas is to reduce the number of CAD applications used inside the engineering organization.

Why Standardization on CAD Isn’t Needed

Now, the natural reaction is to think that releasing control on the format of design data would lead to more broken geometry. That in turn leads to more time spent by engineers fixing broken geometry. However, a key advancement counters this issue.

As I have written before, 3D visualization tools have taken a long and winding road to split into ubiquitous PLM visualization or specialized 3D applications. The key, however, is that these tools have been able to work with 3D models in their native formats and not break geometry. This capability has been integrated over time into CAD applications, such that they can read design data in native formats from other CAD applications cleanly. This addresses the first reason to move towards CAD standardization. Verification and validation of 3D models once translated, however, is still an important step.

The other advance key to CAD consolidation, but not require CAD standardization, has been Direct Modeling. This approach provides users the ability to push, pull and drag geometry without the need for features. Of course, without the need for features, the demand to maintain design data in formats that preserve features also fades away.

Why Consolidate CAD?

While the main reasons to standardize on CAD are becoming a moot point, there are very valid reasons to consolidate CAD applications in an engineering organization.

  • Users now only need to know one CAD software application instead of many. That translates into fewer training classes, less time away from work and less knowledge to retain.
  • Engineering organizations only need to interact with one technical support organization instead of many.
  • Manufacturers can consolidate their spend with a single software provider, increasing their leverage for initial purchases and services costs.

What Does It All Mean?

CAD standardization has often been seen as a tough practice. Asking suppliers to provide design data in very specific formats, and perhaps even creating the data in specific formats, gives them reason to raise their prices. It has, however, always been seen as a cost of doing business.

CAD consolidation offers advantages in reducing costs, training and knowledge demands and fewer relationships to maintain. But it loosens requirements on external parties.

Recap and Questions

OK folks. Let’s recap.

  • CAD standardization requires design data be created in a specific CAD application. This practice helps engineering organizations avoid translating design data, which requires engineer’s time to fix, and allows modification of those models, either as design changes or suggestions.
  • CAD consolidation is an internal activity to reduce the number of CAD applications in use in the engineering organization, ignoring how design data is created in the supply chain. This effort is more feasible now because of two advancements in CAD applications.
  • The first advancement is the ability to open models in their native formats instead of translating them. This is enabled by the integration of 3D visualization tools to open design data natively into CAD applications.
  • The second advancement is the advent of Direct Modeling, allowing the modification of geometry through push, pull and drag interactions instead of through features. The voids the need to preserve features as a mechanism to change geometry.
  • CAD consolidation offers advantages in several forms, including the fact that users only need to learn and know how to use on CAD application, the need to interact with only one technical support organization and the ability to consolidate leverage, in the form of spend, against one software provider.

Alright folks. Those are my thoughts. Ready to discuss? Are you starting to see a change from standardization as these new CAD capabilities become available? How much of a need are you seeing to change supplier’s design data today, either as actual changes or suggestions? I’m interested in hearing your thoughts!

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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One Comment

  1. Posted Nov 4, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

    CAD companies have been telling their customers to use only Their Software for years. And if they did this, the lives would be so easy. But this hasn’t really worked.

    As you stated: CAD operators are still spending 10% of their week (4 hours) fixing broken files.

    And, what we don’t know is the answer to the deep dark secret of history-based (ProE, SolidWorks, Inventor) CAD… What percent of a CAD operator’s week is actually spent redrawing CAD files, because they can’t get the edits to work correctly in their own CAD software even if they programmed it themselves?

    I’d guess CAD operators waste an additional 10% of their week, starting from scratch, redoing their work, at a minimum.

    So, today history-based CAD operators loose at least 8 hours a week, fixing CAD files or starting over, what a waste!

    The problem is that It’s difficult for the history-based modelers to be Direct modelers too, Direct Modeling is just that – no history. History-based modeling is in the DNA of the history-based modeler.

    The best solution today is for companies that are using History-Based CAD to add a Direct CAD modeler. Don’t consolidate on one CAD system. It didn’t work then, it wont work now.
    Adding a Direct CAD modeler will allow designers, draftsmen and manufacturers to edit other models with ease and never have to start over – saving at least 8 hours of design time per week.

    Try it for yourself.

    Thank you for reading.

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