How many CAD tools do you use a month? If you are coping with one or two, you're not alone. According to a survey of design engineers conducted by Kubotek USA, maker of KeyCreater (formerly CADKEY) CAD/CAE software, 26 percent of the respondents at companies with more than 500 employees reported that they use five or more CAD tools each month. A full 60 percent use a mere three or four CAD tools.
Matters are even worse at small companies (fewer than 50 employees). More than 80 percent of the engineers working at these firms reported that they receive at least 50 percent of the models in their non-preferred CAD format. Some 30 percent said they never receive models in their preferred format. Ouch.
And some have it even worse . . .
The extent to which design engineers face multi-CAD issues depends in large part not just on company size, but also the industry they work in.
According to results of the survey, CAD users who work in the mold/tool/die and forging industries are confronted by more interoperability challenges than users who work in other industries. More than 90 percent of the respondents reported that they receive half or fewer models in their preferred CAD format, compared to 75 percent for all industries.
The auto industry also faces more challenges than most do. More than a third of the respondents reported using four or more different CAD tools, compared to a rate of 25 percent of the respondents for all industries. Overall, the auto industry reported the use of more CAD tools, less standardization in primary CAD tools, and more interoperability issues than the other 11 industries represented in the study.
Who faces the least problems with software interoperability? CAD users who work in the consumer electronics industry.
Standardization — what's that again?
It's no surprise that only 6 percent of the respondents said they always receive models from external sources in their preferred format. And 77 percent reported that they receive models in their preferred format only half the time or less. But even when models are exchanged internally, only 30 percent of the respondents said they receive them in their preferred CAD tool's format.
In fact, a major finding in the study was the "complete and utter lack of any standard format." The 1,253 respondents of the survey listed 42 different software packages as their "primary CAD tool." Even the most popular (various versions of Autodesk) was named by only 30 percent of the respondents.
Even more significantly, the survey revealed low adoption rates of industry standard formats like STEP and IGES. Though these neutral formats were created specifically to facilitate the exchange of disparate CAD models, only 19 percent of the respondents reported using either of them.
The survey's conclusion: "A vast majority of designers and engineers need some way to handle models in different formats from their preferred formats."
But out in the real world . . .
Arguably, most CAD users could use a better way of dealing with the multitude of CAD formats thrown at them. But surmising that most users have figured out some kind of coping strategy (otherwise, how would they be able to get their work done?), this reporter elected to go out and talk to some of them.
Michael McGuire, principal at Wingspan Design, a design firm specializing in electronics, is a typical example of the modern CAD user. His company uses eight different software packages, including SolidWorks, Pro/E and AutoCAD. In addition to handling the internal exchange of data during the development phase, his group imports vendor models and ECAD data, uses E-Drawings to review development problems with customers, and sends STL, STEP, IGES, Parasolids, and native file formats to toolmakers and manufacturers. Whew.
To cope with various interoperability issues, McGuire's group takes a kind of hierarchical approach:
"Generally speaking, we tend to produce either top-level, control surfaces, or we end up doing the whole job," says McGuire. "Many of our customers use SolidWorks (our primary tool), so there are no exchange problems. For those who don't, we provide base features (IGES, STEP) that they can build on in their native CAD software."
McGuire explains that his group creates look-and-feel control models. Then they hand the files over to the customer to add features. "I have a lot of experience using master merge model (Pro/E) or multi-body parts (SolidWorks), which become the first feature. This is subsequently cut into pieces and used to create the full design assemblies. If the base feature needs to change, it is redefined and the customer file adjusts to reflect the changes."
Sometimes, McGuire says, customers and downstream teams will recreate the design in their preferred tool. McGuire's group then reviews the design to make sure it matches the design intent.
And sometimes, the best strategy for coping with CAD interoperability issues is to remove the CAD model from the equation: One point McGuire stresses is that it's not always efficient to exchange 2D and 3D models and drawings. "We often resort to PDF files and rapid prototypes to ensure that data errors are minimized."
Another engineer from an automotive component supplier (who wished to remain anonymous) has a different coping strategy. He says his company's manufacturing facility primarily uses AutoCAD, and line design historically was done in 2D. However, product engineers use various 3D software apps. Three years ago he purchased a seat of Mechanical Desktop to read-in IGES & STEP files of assemblies from product engineering and found that the STEP files yield better translation results.
However, most of the company's manufacturing engineers are constrained by management to continue using 2D AutoCAD design, So when he translates a file, he must then develop 2D views and blocks of each component for the other engineers to use!
So what's your coping strategy? To share your own tricks and read more tips from other engineers, join our forum at http://rbi.ims.ca/4913-523.