Dassault Systemes/IBM launched version 5 of its CATIA CAD platform in March, 1999. Today, many companies are finally completing their transitions from version 4, a move that requires extensive staff training and file translation.
But one question remains—is it a precision, high-end modeler, or a flexible, creative design tool? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Coca-Cola prides itself on being an expert marketing and packaging firm that happens to sell soft drinks. And they delight in CATIA V5's ability to create hip new labels and containers for the retail market. In contrast, Black and Decker relies on its quality and reputation in producing construction tools. They call V5 an "adolescent" application that was sold too soon, and plead for fewer, "less-buggy" releases.
No one disputes that a trained engineer can do amazing things with CATIA, creating precision-toleranced, Class-A surfaces for planes, cars, and boats. And its sister products Delmia and Enovia control those mountains of data for manufacturing and PDM, respectively. But precision products demand precision CAD models, and that can cramp creativity for some consumer and retail designers.
Black and Decker (Baltimore, MD) creates power tools (both DeWalt and the Black & Decker brand), home improvement hardware (like Price Pfister and Kwikset), and fasteners and adhesives. They have three design centers to create about 50 new products each year. With 375 seats, CATIA is its sole design tool, Black and Decker's Glen Gise said at the CATIA Operators Exchange (COE) conference here April 16.
As an additional software challenge, Black and Decker has acquired three new companies over the past two years, each with its own type of legacy files: generators (2D drawings), compressors (Solid Edge), and lasers (Pro/Engineer). And they are also trying to adopt the DAMASA business philosophy: design anywhere, manufacture anywhere, supply anywhere.
To deal with all these challenges, as well as downsizing in the rough economy, they are transferring much work from the expensive, primary engineering centers to secondary centers such as Mexico and China. One drawback: the move requires even more training and collaboration.
In the midst of such change, why switch to CATIA V5? Gise gave many reasons, including: breadth of models, integration with Delmia and SAP, easier design modification, faster learning curve, more intuitive interface, and preservation of their investment in V4 models. But perhaps the biggest reason is a "huge" hardware savings, as they port CATIA off UNIX onto PC platforms.
Sounds great, but it's not so simple. "We are struggling a little bit with V5, specifically in translating V4 models," Gise says. "We're now running V5R7 service pack 6, but we often feel like beta-testers."
Another problem is the flood of new updates: "We're getting up to three releases and seven or eight service packs per year, so not much time goes by that we're not getting new code. But it's often buggy."
The company's industrial design team has given V5 an especially lukewarm reception, saying it's great for final renditions, but is too complex for upfront design. And their IT department is struggling under the demands of working with a combined UNIX/Windows NT environment.
So Gise offered some words of warning to other companies trying to transition from V4 to V5:
Beware a bug that causes false-saves, losing new designs
It's tough to be all things to all people: various departments say there are too many or too few constraints
Don't outpace your internal IT department
Problems in both forward—and backward-compatibility mean that all departments must be updated simultaneously
Companion, CATIA's online classroom, uses only Netscape, not Explorer
Overall, V5 is an "adolescent" release, he said: "There's still some immaturity involved in the code here, though it's rapidly changing, and it's a little unstable, but it has loads of potential." In conclusion, Gise told CATIA: "We'd rather see fewer releases; or at least releases that are more mature."
Contrast that with the design department at Coca-Cola. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, Coke sells over 200 products in 200 countries. Their stable of beverages may seem to show little variation, but the company considers itself to be a master marketer, taking particular pride in its iconic "contour bottle," recognized as easily as Nike's Swoosh or Adidas' three stripes.
Indeed, in a low-margin industry, they lag far behind other foods and drinks in price increases over the past decade. To deal with this challenge, they're applying a new business approach: "Think local. Act local. Leverage global." That means the headquarters sells its basic soda syrup to distributors (bottlers) around the world, but uses mass-customization to tailor products to hundreds of unique markets.
We see just the tip of this iceberg in the U.S., especially after the company got burned in 1985 trying to launch "New Coke." Now, 17 years after launching cherry Coke, they have recently launched lemon-flavored diet Coke and vanilla Coke.
But on crowded supermarket shelves, how do they differentiate? "Packaging is important," says Sterling Steward, leader of the company's Package Development and Design Team. It's also challenging, since bottles, cans, and pouches must hold pressurized, carbonated liquids with specific shelf-lives, withstand light and heat degradation, and stand out from competing brands.
Specifically, Coke saw a 20-40% increase in sales when it switched from straight-walled plastic bottles to the curvy (contour) shape. Likewise, a central American kids' fruit drink called Kapo spiked a 47% increase in the first two months after a redesign of its foil pouches.
Oh yes, and there's one more challenge—Steward has to do all this fast. The new Kapo design went from drawing board to market in eight weeks.
Still, they're just soda bottles—why use Catia V5? "We're a very high-end surface modeler," Steward says. His department did 600 new drawings last year, and did volume calculations for each (to a tolerance of 0.25 mL in a half-liter bottle), as well as surface area and center of gravity measurements.
That means they demand high performance from CATIA, often linking it to Alias Wavefront and Matra Datavision.
And the 3D modeling itself is complex: "At one fold in the contour bottle, 10 surfaces come together at a single seam, and many other CAD packages could not handle that," Steward says. For more information about CAD from CATIA: Enter 536