Jan 20, 2016 -- Manufacturers of all scales, small to medium, are facing a rapidly growing challenge of handling product design process that is often performed across multiple CAD authoring systems. It is inevitably the reality of modern product design strategy, as global suppliers and design consultants intervene with in-house engineering teams when designs become large and complex. In most cases, even at the departmental level, the chances of different histories of the CAD model cannot be ignored, pointing a need to have different CAD technologies within the organization.
An unavoidable situation like this where multiple CAD systems are involved even for a single design function, is becoming a prominent reason to extend the design time; as designers have to deal with translating the model in native format, without losing the required features and design intent. This is not all, multi-CAD environment brings along number of problems for manufacturers that can turn the design process into a catastrophic failure in terms of cost and time.
A good learning example is from the Europe’s biggest single industrial project, Airbus; which went into trouble in 2006, when the sections of their flagship A380 model reached the French assembly plant from Germany with wiring flaws. This problem not only reduced the profit forecast by $6 billion, but also pushed the deliveries back by on average two years. Airbus cited the failure to use single design software in French and German assembly plants as a reason behind this fiasco.
Dealing with Multi-CAD Environment
While it has become a norm to have files coming from multiple CAD formats, there’s nothing much done to maintain the CAD model interoperability. The use of neutral file formats such as IGES and STEP aren’t completely addressing the translation problem and often looses the richness of the model during migration. Even worse, there isn’t any neutral translator that exists to re-create association between 2D drawings and their 3D models. While several CAD companies do have their extensions and plug-ins to reduce inaccuracies during translation, it still has its own complexities.
The deeper and more reliable solution to this problem is CAD standardization, and using neutral file formats is indeed the first step towards this transformation. Manufacturers can begin with intermediate solutions while working towards standardization, using additional tools that will facilitate multi-CAD collaboration and file transfers.
Examples of these tools include visualization technology that allows the designer to view the Cad model from different CAD platforms in a single viewing environment. By superimposing the two models into a single assembly, one can check the clearances, interferences and can access mass properties easily. However, this technology is still a visualization tool and not an authoring tool, as such, it does not allow designer to actual make modifications to the design. Feature recognition (FR) technology and direct modeling techniques are also some of the ways to handle smooth data interoperability.
FR tools can detect engineering features such as extrudes, chamfers, slots and patterns, and can restore them after data transfers. While this technology migrate good amount of data, there will be some sort of user intervention still required. Direct modeling on the contrary is an approach to make direct changes to the 3D model without the use of parameters or features.
However, the real step towards complete migration is to move towards a primary file format – the format of the main CAD authoring system in the organization. This move however isn’t easy and requires focusing determining the standard CAD system within your organization.
Determining the Standard
To determine the standard CAD system for your organization, you need to have certain considerations. The first one is to analyze your existing tools, and determine which ones are likely to survive in the market for the next 10-15 years. Secondly, there will be a system in your company that can become a de-facto standard, having attracted more number of users as compared to other CAD tools. Also, the choice of standardizing a particular CAD system can also be dependent on revenue that system is bringing for the company. If there is a client that plays a vital part in the total earning of the organization and requires working on a specific CAD system, keeping that system as a standard is a right choice.
Cost is also a factor in many cases, and it shall include everything right from the cost of licenses, maintenance cost, cost required in training and data migration. Once the system is finalized, the next immediate step is to realign design process that work according and within the flexibility of the standard system. This requires a robust communication between the CAD users across all the departments and training them to follow specific guidelines while developing geometries.
Standardizing CAD system brings along number of merits and users can follow best design practices automatically. It provides a single unambiguous data, reducing design complexity and associated time and cost involved. This in turn helps to capture more sales revenue by allowing you to bring products to the market sooner, as compared to multi-CAD using competitors. From small to large organizations, standardizing CAD begins playing a vital role right from the first year of its implementation and will continue to support organization growth even in the future.
Nikunj Patel is a design engineer working with Hi-Tech CADD Services for the past 4 years. He loves designing specialized industrial equipments and can always be found in the lab discussing, brainstorming & tweaking designs. He has also worked on architectural projects taking interest in every aspect of design & analysis.