Exchanging data between software systems has been a problem ever since the first two engineers using different CAD packages tried to import each other's files. It shouldn't have been a problem: The competing software vendors could have opened up their architectures to make available the different algorithms they used for representing the models. Of course, then they would have been giving away the secrets behind their core technology and possibly been forced to compete on some other ground, like price or service. So, those first two engineers were forced to find translators. Thus was born the interoperability problem in engineering software.
Translators like IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange Standard) and STEP (Standard for the Exchange of Product Data) help. But, as anyone who has ever studied a foreign language knows, translations can get messy. Things get left out, or misconstrued. That can cause big delays and big bucks--about $1 billion a year in the automotive industry alone, according to one estimate.
That's why work at Spatial Technology and Unigraphics Solutions is so important. Both provide solid modeling kernels--Spatial's ACIS and Unigraphics' Parasolid--that underpin many popular 3D CAD packages today. Engineers using several software packages based on one or the other kernel have no trouble exchanging data with colleagues whose models are based on the same kernel. More importantly, they each also enable engineers to work around imperfections in translated models.
Representatives from both companies were among speakers at Design News-sponsored panel entitled Pathways to Interoperability at the recent Computer Technology Solutions (formerly Autofact) trade show. Other panelists were from Altair Computing, ANSYS, CADKEY, and CoCreate, each of whom has its own strategy for overcoming data-exchange problems.
ANSYS developed a product for fixing CAD models coming into its analysis software. CoCreate's OneSpace works with native data from five different CAD packages. Altair has opened up its raw data through its Application Program Interface so users can get at the software's data structure. CADKEY has done something similar, as has Unigraphics and SDRC.
Thanks to their efforts and those of others, the interoperability problem is getting the attention it deserves rather than being accepted as inevitable.