Robert Bean, COO, Kubotek USA
The promise of automation has always been labor savings and speed. Computer-aided design is no different. CAD was going to make engineers' lives easier and bring better products to market faster and cheaper.
Sometimes it seems like we're no more productive than we were with drafting boards and paper. Certainly paper had no interoperability issues. With all the different CAD file formats, it is hard enough to share CAD files within a single organization, much less in a global manufacturing environment where designer and manufacturer may speak different languages, work with different tools, and have different experiences, expectations, and visions of an end product.
Engineers who design products or equipment based on models created by others need to be able to share files efficiently. Many people need to be able to leverage the CAD model data and be able to share this data anywhere.
CAD vendors often describe this sharing as "interoperability" and claim to support the process through industry standards like STEP and IGES or direct translators. The problem is that imported designs are difficult or impossible to modify in most feature-based solid modelers. In addition, simply converting a CAD file to a different format doesn't capture all the information that an engineer needs to do the job.
All CAD vendors design their products to edit their own data; most CAD vendors do not design their products to edit and work efficiently with imported models that were created in other CAD programs. Recently, a new understanding of this issue has led several CAD vendors to begin offering something they call "direct editing" of models without the need to access the history tree. When working with parametric modeling tools, users are unable to modify imported models without editing the geometry locally. History trees are required to edit imported models and because they don't translate, they don't exist.
Yet, direct editing doesn't go far enough. It involves manipulating geometry on a very low level whereas "direct feature modeling" involves the actual geometry and allows the user to recognize features dynamically and edit each by modifying the feature itself.
Until recently, most CAD vendors had turned a blind eye to the issue, declaring the problem solved. They are, at last, acknowledging that parametric modeling and history-based designing can actually slow down design work with imported models, as well as hinder data exchange, ultimately impacting the success of the manufacturing process. Because they have such legacies in their parametric architectures, though, and in their layers of features and functionality, there is no going back. They can only go forward. For most of them, this means leaving behind their CAD foundations and focusing most of their resources on things like product lifecycle management. In fact, even the mid-range CAD vendors are focused more on data management and PLM than they are on fixing the problems in the CAD world.
Let's face it: most CAD vendors believe that every company will eventually standardize on their CAD system. In reality, different businesses have different needs for design tools. They always will. CAD vendors need to recognize and admit that they aren't the be-all to end-all of the design world. They need to see that their customers' concerns about sharing data and interoperability should be their priority.
Reach Bean at email@example.com.