Is the Long Term Archival Landscape Changing?


Some things never change. Attend a CAD or PLM related conference and you’re bound to come across some angst-ridden presentations. Sometimes, it’s about software quality. Other times, it’s about the most requested feature that just never makes it into the new release. Consternation builds, and many worry such issues will never be resolved.

This isn’t always the case, however. Since the resurgence of interest and investment in CAD, new capabilities are emerging that address problems that have been around a long time. In this blog post, we’ll focus on those new capabilities, specifically with regard to Long Term Archival (LOTAR). Ultimately, I’m looking for a discussion about just how much the new capabilities have eased LOTAR issues.

Why is Long Term Archival a Problem?
First, let’s get a baseline of why this is a problem at all.

Today, you typically see a new release of CAD or PLM software every 9-18 months. Of course, these new releases include lots of new capabilities. But some of the value of new releases manifests itself in the form of improvements to existing capabilities. Such development efforts include refactoring existing code. Some changes are small. Some are large.

This means that over time, a model or drawing created in a prior version might have issues when opened in a newer version. Geometry errors might emerge where there were none before. Data might be lost. Key dimensions might change. Additionally, some engineering organizations might even switch to different CAD applications. In that scenario, translation errors can cause the same sorts of problems.

For engineering organizations that constantly churn out CAD content, this represents a major issue. These deliverables are highly valuable. Errors that arise as data ages can lead to an erosion of the company’s intellectual property.

Given the need to reuse designs or run change processes on existing products, it’s a dangerous proposition.

What is Being Done about Long Term Archival?
Actually, a lot has been done about LOTAR.

The LOTAR organization is an international collaboration between many different industry groups. Organizations like PDES, The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and many more bodies are heavily involved. You also see heavy participation from large companies like Boeing, Airbus, Sandia and many others. These concerned parties have developed numerous standards that have laid out requirements for LOTAR activities. In short, these groups are leading the public discourse on LOTAR and effecting real change.

How are Technology Advances Affecting Long Term Archival?

Before we start jumping into old and new capabilities that affect LOTAR, there’s one very important but subtle topic to address: What are the key objectives here?

  • The most obvious goal is to access older design data without errors. The need here is self-evident. Organizations need to open such data so they can distribute it when necessary.
  • The other objective is to modify such design data. Many engineering organizations need to use existing designs as a starting point for new ones.

As a side note, isn’t it interesting how these objectives are similar to those for design data interoperability? But I digress.

Here are some new capabilities that help organizations to achieve these two objectives:

  • Backward Compatibility: Believe it or not, some software providers have promised and actually delivered on backward compatibility. You can open design data from prior software versions without experiencing problems opening or managing the file.
  • Data Validation: In the realm of design data interoperability between CAD applications, a number of tools have emerged that allow users to validate that a translated model does, in fact, match the original. Some provide functionality to compare versions of the same CAD application.
  • Native Translation: Years ago, a slew of 3D visualization tools that could ingest models from any CAD application emerged. Some were subsequently acquired. Over time, those capabilities were integrated into CAD applications, providing new capabilities to open native files from other CAD applications.
  • Direct Modeling: The ability to modify and change geometry without any features is a boon for LOTAR as features may not be functional in newer versions of a CAD application. This enables organizations to achieve the second objective detailed above.

All in all, significant progress has been made to support LOTAR efforts. Are we there yet? That’s up for debate in the comments section.

Recap and Questions
As new versions of CAD and PLM systems are released, new mechanisms for existing functionality can cause issues when trying to open and modify data from prior versions.

This represents a significant risk to engineering organizations as CAD models represent intellectual property, which they need to access for years later.

The LOTAR organization is an international collaboration between many different industry groups and companies that have defined numerous design data archival standards.

Four capability areas, including backwards compatibility, data validation, native translation and direct modeling, address pain points related to LOTAR.

I think a lot of progress has been made on the LOTAR front. But what do you think? It would be great to get your perspective.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

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. 2013-2014 © LC Insights LLC

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