If your company is a supplier to a Japanese manufacturer, you may shake your head from time to time as the raw CAD data for a new part comes in. How are you supposed to use this? Holes don't match up, surfaces are broken. How could they release this?
The reason is that the way design engineers use CAD in Japan is very different from the way North American users apply it. The kingpin of Japanese industry is manufacturing, which has an enormous influence on the role of CAD and the engineers who use it.
"Typically, the data coming out of the design teams is very rough and approximate," says Christian Nardin, managing director of Dassault Systemes KK, the Japanese subsidiary of the makers of CATIA. "It needs extensive rework by the production engineering teams, which have high expertise and know-how, a perfect understanding of the design intent, and a strong focus on quality of execution and reproducibility."
This focus on manufacturing means that designers are often absolved of detailing responsibilities that their U.S. counterparts might have. As Frank Kovacs, SDRC's director of marketing for Asia Pacific, notes, "2D is still used by more than 80% of the companies in Japan because the drawings are still the release mechanism and are considered to be 'art.' I think this process allowed Japanese companies to be very successful in the early '80s for improved quality and manufacturabilty compared with the U.S."
It also encouraged the use of manufacturing criteria in design decisions, says Marc Halpern, director of research, engineering, manufacturing and design, D.H. Brown Assoc. Inc. And, it was a key to keeping a tight reign on the bottom line. "The strong focus on minimizing manufacturing costs has significant benefits because they are eight to 10 times higher than design costs," he notes.
However, it has also meant that designers have traditionally not been given advanced 3D tools. Clearly, this is changing, especially in leading-edge industries. Scott Ikeda, a spokesperson for Fujitsu, notes that while 2D is still deeply rooted throughout Japanese industry in general, the automotive, electronics, and precision engineering industries are taking the lead in moving to 3D.
Ned Denison, senior director of Asia/Pacific sales and marketing for Autodesk postulates that the evolution in the tools used by designers is dovetailing with the changes in how they are delivered to the desktop. "CAD was considered as a design-capture tool within a computer-integrated design and manufacturing context," he says. "It was built on a mainframe and was not integrated with the main computer system. Now that more CAD systems are based on networked PC technology, CAD is becoming an integral part of the design/manufacturing computer system."
CAM first. CAD systems that are fully integrated with CAM systems remain very much the exception. But use of CAM is very advanced, and arguably much more sophisticated than it is in the U.S. Denison says that this stems from the willingness of Japanese companies to invest internal programming resources to create custom CAM solutions based on packaged modules.
Until recently, at least, this has created a large schism between the worlds of CAD and CAM. Japanese manufacturing engineers are reputed to be among the most demanding anywhere. A proliferation of Japanese vendors, recognizing the importance of the domestic CAM market, have focused on perfecting their CAM applications.
This has left room for American CAD vendors, especially those with high-end 3D packages, to make inroads. Companies like Fujitsu, which is a major vendor in the Japanese CAD/CAM market, rely heavily on reselling 3D CAD software from companies like MICROCADAM, Unigraphics, and SDRC, primarily for the high end, while its own ICAD series is a big player for the mid-range.
Manufacturability drives analysis. The focus on manufacturing has also driven the analysis (CAE) market. Like CAM, CAE is an area where the Japanese may be ahead of the Americans. Many major companies that are still using 2D for design have nonetheless invested in sophisticated 3D systems for CAE.
"For years, Japanese companies have embraced the CAE portion of engineering and seen the benefits more than their U.S. counterparts," notes Kovacs of SDRC. "They have seen the advantage of simulation-based design to reduce costly prototypes, and the value of this based on increased quality and reliability."
Nikon, for example, has been using CATIA/CADAM DRAFTING (CCD) in 2D for core CAD, but I-DEAS for CAE in 3D for several years. While the company has not yet determined what 3D CAD package it will use, it will decide soon. "CCD and I-DEAS have had a great impact on cycle reduction time," notes Yoshihiro Fujino, manager of the Technology Systems Center. "However, both systems were not as efficient as expected in slashing cost. 3D becomes mandatory."
What is still rare in CAE in Japan is putting the tools in the hands of the designers themselves, a trend that vendors are now pushing in the U.S. The electronics giant Sharp is an exception in this area. The new Viewcam video camera marked the first time Sharp designers used SDRC's analysis tools. They did quick shock checks on components, a strength analysis on the cassette cover, a deformation check for a cylinder, and a plastic flow analysis of the cabinet prior to final design completion. The models were then used for rapid prototyping and mold creation.
The result? A 30% smaller camera developed in 75% less time. "Sharp reduced unnecessary processes by using the same data from design to molding," notes Hideaki Kata, manager of the CAE Center in Sharp's Product Engineering Development Div.
But what about all those companies who are using 2D for CAD and 3D for CAE? Does it make sense to build a complex 3D model just for analysis, but not for CAD or CAM? In fact, says Halpern, engineers do not have time to build complex computer models. Instead, he says, "Resourceful engineers with years of design experience build very simple finite element models that provide them with 80% of the information they need. These simple models capture the essence of the physical behavior that the engineers want to study. CAE technology is effectively used to identify well-defined laboratory tests that can be performed quickly to satisfy their remaining design information requirements."
Another factor that affects the way CAD is used in Japan is the way industry in general is organized. While U.S. companies have cut back drastically on the number of T1 suppliers, big Japanese firms still work directly with thousands of subcontractors, says Autodesk's Denison.
"Japanese primary contractors use a huge number of subcontractors for detailed designs and manufacturing of components," he notes. "Subcontractors are usually small companies and cannot afford to have various CAD systems to exchange data with primary contractors' data. So standard data exchange format is very important."
But while data exchange is important, many times it doesn't even reach that point, as Dassault's Nardin points out. "Paper drawings, and to some extent tapes, are the norm for exchanging data with suppliers," he says.
Of course, it makes it easier if everyone is using the same software. Big, leading-edge companies tend to have their suppliers working on-site, with everyone using compatible software. "These close relationships and working teams have different implications compared to the supplier OEM relationships in the U.S.," says Kovacs of SDRC. "Geographically, U.S. suppliers are typically more dispersed than their counterparts in Japan."
Japanese suppliers have to ensure that their CAD solutions can meet the needs of worldwide corporations. Hirotech, for example, develops and manufactures doors and other equipment for Mazda. Nobuhiro Konishi, an engineer in the tool design section of Hirotec says his company has been working in 3D using AutoCAD for six years. "Many companies have it, and it is used worldwide," he says. "We have engineers in the U.S. I'm using the Japanese version, and the U.S. members of our team are using the English version." However, he uses English only for annotations.
2D/3D. 2D clearly remains the design norm in Japan. This is changing, but most industry observers say not to look for a 3D revolution. "In Japan, the manufacturing process is based on 2D design data, and the transition to new design processes is slow," says Fujino of Nikon.
Dassault's Nardin explains that while there are some exceptions, there is typically a coexistence phase between 2D and 3D to facilitate the transition. This is in part due to cultural mores which include a respect for tradition, constant evolutions but no revolution, a bottom-up decision-making process, and conformity with accepted methodologies.
Kovacs of SDRC says, "The early adopters of the 3D technology seem to be those companies with very large complex assemblies (copiers, for example) and very expensive prototypes to find errors in. The benefits of 3D can be easily understood, and the pain from their previous efforts is reduced significantly using 3D CAD and CAE tools." He cites companies like Minolta and Sony as examples, or Fuji Xerox, which cut development time in half by moving to I-DEAS for 3D CAD.
Indeed, Nardin concurs, adding that "global" corporations are already in the process of implementing 3D digital mock-ups. He sees the trend most strongly in the automotive industry, which is far more advanced than other industry segments in terms of new technology implementation. "Companies like Honda that are using CATIA are paving the way to CAD, CAM, and CAE integration around a single master model," he says.
As IBM Japan recounts in a recent publication, there were problems getting Mitsubishi engineers to change their ways. Design engineers at Mitsubishi were faced with moving to 3D under CATIA. There was more than a little opposition regarding the introduction of the new system. Mitsubishi management gave various presentations and demonstrations, but resistance remained strong. Then, they prepared a demonstration using an actual truck design scenario. It compared the design tasks under the 2D application, versus the new 3D system. Seeing the actual drawings had an enormous effect. As IBM tells it, Mitsubishi engineers were comforted by the 2D/3D comparison because they were able to relate the new 3D process to what they were used to doing in 2D.
If some of the major companies go, others will soon follow, reports the May 1998 edition of Daratech's (Cambridge, MA) CAD/CAM/CAE Industry Update newsletter. Mike Arashiba, president of Daratech's Tokyo-based partner FAMOTIK, was reported as saying that, "In three years, 3D will be the primary system among Japanese manufactures, due to increased competition and the tendency of Japanese companies to look at their peers. When Toyota, Honda, or Nissan are using more 3D and solids, then others will follow."
User's choice. When it comes to choosing CAD systems, users wield an enormous amount of power in the decision-making process. It is very different from elsewhere in the world. Vendors count on the fact that oftentimes in the U.S., one user or group might try out a new CAD package. If they like it, they might tell their colleagues about it and order some more. Not so in Japan.
"The Japanese companies want to see a leading-edge company implement the CAD system before they decide to purchase it," explains Autodesk's Denison. "This is due to their purchase decision-making process called 'ringi,' which dictates that one person cannot make a final decision and multiple managers have to approve it."
He also says that the Japanese are much more concerned with quality than Americans. This makes them very reluctant to buy a first-generation release or be the first to purchase a new upgrade. Dependability is part of the quality process in Japan and experimenting with new software is not consistent with dependability. "Americans are more likely to take a chance on new technology and accept the pain when it is not proven or dependable," he concludes.
A Fujitsu spokesperson, however, asserts that the days of in-house, proprietary systems are fast becoming a thing of the past. "Currently, most users, including those in the automotive industry, purchase commercially available systems," he says. "It is too time-consuming to develop systems in-house, and the level of commercially available packages is higher now. For CAM, 2D CAD, and limited-function PDM, Japanese companies tend to buy Japanese-made software. However, for 3D CAD, CAE, PDM, and PIM, U.S.-made software is more sophisticated."
Village engineering. Until recently, Japanese CAD users have not looked much beyond their 2D tools in the quest to implement concurrent engineering practices. Nardin puts it this way: "Concurrent engineering is actually performed today through 'village engineering' and traditional teamwork, rather than through electronic technology implementation. However, advanced thinkers now realize there are limitations inherent to the traditional methods, as globalization implies the extended enterprise, and pushes electronic business."
Furthermore, adds Kovacs of SDRC, design teams in Japan have always worked in teams and groups. "The concept of a specialist, not communicating with the group, is relatively unheard of," he explains. "Therefore the adoption of tools that focus around teams and team communication tend to perform better within the existing processes than stand alone tools."
Halpern even contends that Japanese automotive companies in particular still have a strategic advantage over their American counterparts due to optimized product development processes, despite the fact that they are working in a predominantly 2D environment. These processes, built upon a culture of effective communication and collaboration, have been embedded in 2D CAD practices that employ multiple CAx products across corporations, he says.
Nardin notes that this is an area where the Japanese and Americans really diverge. "In Japan," he says, "the individuals are actually modeled around the manufacturing process. They show high commitment and dedication. U.S. visitors to Japan complain that back home the technology has to be extensively relied upon to do the job right instead of the people, and that design changes are not allowed after design approval at the design team level."
Change in the air. The way CAD is used by design engineers in Japan is clearly changing. But how quickly it happens is a matter of debate.
"You only have to look at the technical press to see a strong signal Japan is going to change dramatically in the near future," says Nardin. "It is amazing to see the quality of the in-depth technical features on advanced CAD/CAM/-CAE/PDM technologies." Also remarkable, he says, are the many manufacturing R&D programs sponsored by Japanese public authorities, in cooperation with universities and industry.
Fujino of Nikon, however, takes a more long-term view. "In terms of new technology, US companies have a more open-minded approach, and new technology is easily accepted; whereas Japanese companies highly value tradition. Change will be linked to the process re-engineering of the entire company." And that doesn't happen overnight.