Collaborative CAD requires file translation.
In order to speed design cycles, this has to happen quickly. But in order to keep proprietary secrets, it must be secure.
And in order to be useful to engineers, it must be accurate. Three solutions launched in September and October claim to solve these contradictory demands—Proficiency's (Marlborough, MA) Collaboration Gateway, ImpactXoft's (San Jose, CA) IX SPeeD Suite, and PlanetCAD's (Boulder, CO) SCS Envoy.
In this age of specialization, major automotive and aerospace companies often use different software tools for different jobs, not just between OEM and supplier, but also in-house—what Proficiency calls a "self-inflicted" variety of CAD platforms.
So Collaboration Gateway is designed to serve as a prelude to procurement, in the engineering phase of the supply chain, sometimes known as the design chain. With version 1.0 released in September, this tool is not a typical translator, but an "exchange agent" or "conversion enabler," says Dennis Tompkins, Proficiency's director of industry relations.
The distinction is that its engine—the UPR (universal product representation)—delivers a "high-level abstraction" or CAD "recipe" from sender to receiver so the new platform can rebuild the model itself. By not forcing a full translation through the new API, it avoids making judgements between the abilities of its four languages—CATIA, Pro/ENGINEER, Unigraphics, and I-DEAS.
Thus it avoids "re-mastering"—the approach to file sharing where the receiving engineer resorts to building a new file from scratch, because he can't rely on the translation. Or when he can only recover a "dumb solid" and must add the history and parametrics to make it "smart" again. That slows the process down, and also introduces problems when the new engineer doesn't know the design intent of the original.
"Very few features are in a CAD model by accident," says Michael Ricci, VP of professional services, during his demo. "So you need to preserve the design intelligence and constraints. You need to deliver not only the What but the Why."
Some companies will out-source this process to translating services like TTI's Acc-U-Trans; use visualized collaboration environments like CoCreate, Alibre, or Alventive; or use least-common-denominator translation standards like iges or step.
But true collaboration is not merely the sum of CAD plus PDM plus visualization. So another creative solution is ImpactXoft's IX SPeeD Suite.
It begins with a similar approach: its SPD (simultaneous product development) platform has three pillars: functional modeling, functional object representation (shipping CAD recipes, not the full geometry), and design intent merge.
Thanks to the design intent merge, users can work in an asynchronous mode and then reconcile their versions, without checking files in and out of a central database, says CTO Gian Paolo Bassi. The platform allows users to make last-minute structural changes because its "functional modeling" process is history-independent.
Likewise, PlanetCAD's SCS Envoy is a tool to provide "design data transmission" along with file translation, secure communication, and data quality assurance. The translation, copying, downloading, and communication tasks work transparently to the user, all tailored to recipient profiles on data format, security (authorized viewers), and media preferences. The commercial version is available in January.
"Today's CPC technologies are developed to be islands of collaboration, not nodes of collaboration," explains ImpactXoft CEO Attilio Rimoldi. "But to get an immediate coordinated response, you must realize you're not working in a supply chain but a supply network."