DN Staff

September 23, 1996

7 Min Read
CAD across the water

Do European design engineers differ from their American counterparts in their use of computer-aided design? The answer involves culture, geography, and regional economics.

"The driving forces in Europe are different than they are in the U.S.," says Ian Dabney, SDRC's marketing manager for Europe. While companies on both sides of the Atlantic are working to be more efficient, Dabney notes that the Europeans prefer a "more pragmatic approach."

When considering a purchasing decision, for example, Dabney says the Germans tend to be very collaborative. The process may take longer, but the consensus can make the final choice stronger. That's why SDRC, like many of the CAD companies that are successful in Europe, is organized on a country-by-country basis.

Autodesk Vice President Mike Sutton attributes the differences to a combination of business and individual cultures. In Europe, he says, the number one question on users' minds is: "If I buy this product, is the investment worthwhile with respect to my productivity?"

Adds Marc Halpern, director of research, engineering, manufacturing, and design for D.H. Brown Associates: "European engineers are conservative in general, but they are also loyal. Once a company is established in a particular CAD system, it is reluctant to change."

Drive for standards. A recent Dataquest study on European MCAD "User Wants and Needs" indicates that a primary complaint among European users is difficulty in translating data from one CAD package to another. Consequently, users everywhere (though especially in Germany and the European automotive industry) are pushing hard to get CAD vendors to support the STEP standard for data exchange.

Halpern notes that it's not surprising that three of the major European suppliers--Dassault Systemes with Catia, Matra Datavision with Euclid Designer, and Hewlett-Packard's Mechanical Design Div.--are driving faster toward the STEP standard for file exchange.

"The Germans are toughest on standards," notes Halpern. "Don't even think of walking in their door if you don't support standards such as VDA for data- exchange."

DIN, the German equivalent of ANSI, has established a rigorous body of standards. "Anything you manufacture has a DIN number--from a bolt to subassemblies," notes SDRC's Dabney. "It's very complete and organized for efficient manufacturing." CAD engineers and designers, he says, are formally educated to use this system throughout their schooling.

2-D or 3-D? While European engineers are united in the drive for interoperability, they differ in their use of 3-D. In the Dataquest European MCAD study, about two thirds of the respondents said 3-D is their main form of design. The leading country is France, where 82% of designers surveyed indicated that 3-D is their principal method of design. The UK was a distant second, at 66%; Spain third at 61%; and far behind were Italy and Germany, with less than half the respondents indicating they use 3-D.

Why the variations? Michel Theron, former COO of Matra Datavision and creator of the solid-modeling part of the original Euclid CAD/CAM package, points to differences in the structure of the industrial base from one country to the next.

For instance, the core of Germany industry lies in mid-sized companies working on development of machinery, a traditional bastion of 2-D. Likewise, small (especially automotive) subcontractors dominate the Italian industrial landscape. They often find it easier to settle on one 2-D package for the majority of design engineers, and translate the files into the format of the primary contractor before they deliver the plans.

At the other end of the scale, France has relatively few small- and medium-sized companies, but has a handful of giants who control much of the country's industry. These big companies, especially in the automotive, aerospace, and defense industries, have also been early adapters of 3-D design techniques.

Mark Holmes, head of corporate communications for Computervision (CV) in Northern Europe, confirms that different products do well in different European countries. In Germany, users overwhelmingly prefer Medusa, which is particularly strong in 2-D design. "The German industrial base is oriented around heavy machinery," he says. "So their development process is historically document-driven as op-posed to model-driven."

Conversely, in the UK and France, CV users typically opt for CADDS 5 for full-blown, 3-D modeling.

What they want. European design engineers also use different criteria when choosing CAD packages.

HP's MDD Worldwide Sales and Marketing Manager Bob Simpson observes, "In the U.S., if a technology gets popular, a company will get a seat or two and try it out. There may then be a grassroots spread to the rest of the company." However, in Europe, and particularly in Germany, he finds the evaluation process much more rigorous and formal.

In order to better know its European users, Autodesk launched a major study in each country. Sutton explains that users fell into three basic categories: technocraftsmen, who like technology; traditional craftsmen, who are not particularly interested in technology; and utilitarians, who view technology as a productivity tool. In the U.S., the study shows about 70% of Autodesk users are technocraftsmen; in Europe, only half fall into this category.

Looking at a country-by-country breakdown, there is even more variation. In Germany and the German-speaking countries, utilitarians are in the majority, with technocraftsmen accounting for less than a quarter of all users. But the Spaniards, French, British, and Italians, the study reveals, rival the Americans in their enthusiasm for technology.

Sutton emphasizes, however, that these attitudes have nothing to do with users' CAD aptitude. Rather, it's important for CAD suppliers to understand where their users place their priorities.

But while there may be differences between the CAD market in U.S. and Europe, and between the European countries themselves, the bottom line is clear: Globalization of the world economy means that design engineers in all corners of the world have more in common than ever in the drive to design better, faster, and cheaper.

Matra Datavision: French and proud

Design News talks to Matra Datavision CEO Michel Neuve Eglise about Euclid Designer, the modeling component of the new Euclid Quantum CAD/CAM product line.

Design News: You've been talking about Euclid Designer for several years. What took so long?

Michel Neuve Eglise: Over the past six years, Matra Datavision's investment in new technology has been enormous. First, we designed a completely new architecture and we developed CAS.CADE, a very advanced and open software development platform and applications framework. On this foundation, we developed Euclid Designer, a powerful and innovative intelligent modeler. Then we created a complete suite of design, analysis, manufacturing, and data-management applications. Plus, we had our existing product lines to improve and support. As a matter of fact, it is amazing that we have been able to do it all in six years.

Q: What do you see as the major benefits for design engineers of the new Euclid Quantum family?

A: With Euclid Designer, our totally new product and process modeler, detail and assembly design is at the designer's fingertips. He has unprecedented flexibility for design changes with intelligent features, multi-constraint solver strategies, and full bi-directional associativity. He also has tools to store the design intent, to increase the intelligence of design, and to go beyond geometry into process definition and simulation.

Q: How much customer input did you have?

A: Over the years, Matra Datavision has developed in-depth relationships with many customers. They have provided us with very useful input. But, to help us in such an ambitious project we have, in addition, established a more formal and structured approach by creating the Industrial Advisory Board (IAB).

The IAB has members from 24 companies representing 10 countries in 16 industrial market segments. We worked hard together, both during plenary sessions and during the many meetings of the five special interest groups. They really have helped us answer the question: What should new technology and new-generation products be doing for the users?

Q: Some say Matra Datavision is a European company but wants to be perceived as an American company.

A: We are a European company and proud to be one. The Europeans--and France especially--have been pioneers and remain leaders both in the development and use of 3-D CAD/CAM. Our ambition is to bring this technology leadership to the world market.

But of course, we want to be close to our customers, wherever they are. This does not mean that we want to be perceived as an American company in America, or an Asian company in Asia. What it means is that in terms of service and support, we're happy to be perceived as a strong, local player.

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