Putting a Finer Point on Multi-CAD

Chad Jackson, Lifecycle Insights

Multi-CAD. Multi-CAD. Multi-CAD. It is all the rage today. You hear about it on webinars. You see it flashed at user conferences. It’s in many an eBook. But the more discussions I see on multi-CAD, the more I wonder if folks are really talking about the same thing. You see, there are many different facets to multi-CAD.

Today, I want to put a finer point on all of them. In this post, you’ll find some definitions for different aspects of multi-CAD and learn the advantages of recent technology advances and what they mean to organizations.

Multi-CAD Part Interoperability
What is it? Multi-CAD part interoperability is simply opening a part model built in a different CAD application. For many years, this was done via neutral formats like STEP and IGES, which at times could be messy due to the differences in the geometry kernels used by different CAD applications. But today, part models built in other CAD applications can be opened in their native formats, cutting down the time spent on fixing broken imported geometry.

Why do it? So you can build downstream deliverables, like 2D drawings or NC machining toolpaths, from the part.

What’s the value? Findings from my 2013 3D Collaboration and Interoperability study showed that 49% of today’s engineers spend at least 4 hours a week fixing imported geometry. This advancement promises to cleanly bring in that geometry, dramatically reducing this timewaster.

Multi-CAD Assemblies
What is it? When suppliers design different parts of one product, you are bound to end up with designs in different CAD formats. The onus of cobbling together these parts lies with the product manufacturer.

In the past, there were two ways to approach this problem. With CAD, users would import models via neutral formats, fix the geometry, and then create the multi-CAD assembly. Alternatively, 3D visualization tools, which could open models in multiple CAD formats, could be used to assemble those parts.

Why do it? The concept of virtual prototyping promises to catch issues like interferences and performance issues in CAD instead of the testing lab, saving significant time and money spent on many prototypes.

What’s the value? This activity happens one way or another. It’s simply a matter of how much of the organization’s time is spent fixing non-design problems.
Creating assemblies out of neutrally formatted models has been time intensive. Using 3D visualization tools accomplished this task. But the traditional capabilities associated with CAD, like conducting simulations, can’t be done with 3D visualization tools.

Additionally, conducting assembly simulations can be seen as a ‘nice-to-have’ activity. If there are problems that hinder the ability to conduct those simulations, they can be dropped or forgotten.

Multi-CAD Data Management
What is it? Today’s product manufacturers often use many suppliers, each of which can contribute parts to a design. Traditionally, Product Data Management (PDM) systems have managed design data in only one format. Multi-CAD data management is the use of Product Data Management (PDM) for designs regardless of the format in which the design data exists.

Why do it? Those product manufacturers don’t just want to see the final state of the design, but want snapshots of it during its progression. In some industries, this is actually required to comply with regulations. Furthermore, today’s CAD models contain assigned materials, part numbers, authors and much more. That information often needs to be incorporated into Bills of Materials (BOMs). Extracting this information from CAD models is another important function of PDM systems.

What’s the value? Multi-CAD data management lets organizations avoid one of two distasteful options.
In the first, models in other CAD formats are simply managed as files in the PDM system. Information embedded in them is not extracted for use in BOMs. Instead, users must manually copy such information into spreadsheets.

In the second, the organization deploys multiple PDM systems, one for each major CAD format that is prevalent in their designs. This lets them extract the right information from those design models, yet there is no single source of truth across products.

Multi-CAD data management lets the organization use one PDM systems for all CAD formats.

Summary and Questions

  • Multi-CAD part interoperability entails opening a part built in a different CAD application. Progressive CAD tools allow this to be done natively instead of through neutral formats.
  • Multi-CAD assemblies are built from models created in many different CAD formats. Again, progressive CAD tools directly support this activity natively.
  • Multi-CAD data management is when a single PDM system manages all design data, regardless of CAD format.

Are there other aspects of Multi-CAD that should be considered? Which aspect of Multi-CAD provides the most value? Which still has the furthest to progress? Sound off. Let us know what you think.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.

Editor’s Note: For more on managing a Multi-CAD environment, visit PTC’s Multi-CAD Resource Center. For more on product data management, visit PTC’s PDM Resource Center.

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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