Kubotek USA Survey Shows That CAD Interoperability Is Still A Major Problem In Design And Manufacturing

Kubotek USA today unveiled the results of the 2005 CAD Interoperability Survey, the company's study of the design and manufacturing marketplace. The survey was designed to find out how widespread the issues around CAD interoperability are and the depth of the problem. More than 1,250 CAD managers and users provided valid responses. An executive summary is available online at: http://www.kubotekusa.com/products/spectrum_CP

Engineers who design products or manufacturing equipment based on models created by others need to be able to efficiently share their files. Industrial engineers need access to the files for in-process assembly and fabrication drawings. Manufacturing engineers need to modify designs based on what machine tools are available at the time. CAD vendors often describe this sharing as "interoperability" and claim to support the process through industry standards like STEP and IGES or direct translators. However, converting a CAD file to a different format does not capture all the information that an engineer needs to do the job.

"CAD was supposed to make life easier for designers and engineers," stated Robert Bean, chief operating officer, Kubotek USA. "The reality is that CAD files need to be leveraged and shared by everyone in the design and manufacturing cycle. Unfortunately, the proliferation of different, proprietary CAD formats has added a new level of complexity and has created an additional roadblock to productivity."

Kubotek's CAD Interoperability Survey demonstrates that, although many design and manufacturing companies are focused on standardizing on a small number of tools, and CAD vendors claim to have "solved the problem" through the use of industry standard formats and direct translators, the end users are still having difficulty sharing files.

One way that some designers are coping is through the use of CAD viewers. Kubotek USA recently introduced the Kubotek Spectrum(TM), a free downloadable software solution designed to provide convenient access to design data stored in all the most commonly used computer-aided design (CAD) formats, including: Pro/ENGINEER, UG, CATIA, SolidWorks, Inventor, KeyCreator, CADKEY, AutoCAD, IGES, STEP and more. A multi-CAD engineering tool, Spectrum provides an easy way for engineering and non-engineering professionals to access engineering and design data, improving inter-departmental communications flow and helping manufacturers speed products to market.

Kubotek Spectrum is immediately available for free download at: http://www.kubotekusa.com/products/spectrum

Kubotek Spectrum is a convenient way to review design data stored in the most common and current engineering file formats, without the danger of changing the data in any way. Available as a download, the professional grade viewer, which has a Windows interface, can be easily mastered by non-engineering professionals working in the marketing, sales, executive, and support or service departments.

Kubotek Spectrum is derived from the Kubotek KeyCreator product. The rapidly expanding KeyCreator product line includes multidimensional design and drafting, NC programming and the company's unique geometry-based foundation with localized feature editing and sophisticated deformation techniques. KeyCreator blends surface, solid and wireframe modeling, allowing for easy model modification and editing functionality to support rapid manufacturing.

This is a concise, yet comprehensive collection of survey results that accurately portrays the current state (or lack thereof) of CAD data interoperability.

The results of this survey should not come as a surprise to anyone who deals with multiple formats on a regular basis, but do confirm a number of things that many connected with the CAD industry (either as a vendor or customer) have known for some time. The results, in all likelihood, would have been nearly the same regardless of the CAD vendor who conducted it. It points to the fact that although progress has been made with regard to interoperability, notably with IGES and STEP, new file formats continue to proliferate and further populate an already crowded box. As the sheer number of file formats grows, so do associated problems associated with interchanging data between them, and so do the coffers of the many companies involved with either products or services whose sole purpose is to solve or at least accommodate the problem.

Some of the key points derived from the Kubotek CAD Interoperability Survey include:
  • More than eighty percent of the respondents indicated that they reuse data and model components from a previous model (either their own or someone else's) when constructing models.
  • Only 30 percent of the respondents consistently received CAD models from their co-workers in their preferred tool's format.
  • Only 6 percent of the respondents always received models from other companies in their preferred tool's format.
  • Over three-quarters (77 percent) of respondents said they receive half or fewer of their external CAD models in their preferred format.
  • Almost half (46 percent) of the survey respondents need to use 3 or more different CAD tools per month.
Again, none of these points should surprise many of us, but they are sobering reminders of the work that yet needs to be done to tackle this problem. Admittedly, CAD vendors are not in business with the expressed intent of giving their products the ability to readily import and export model data to competing CAD applications for editing or refinement. No surprise here. Virtually all vendors allow indirect data import via IGES and STEP, but this process often leaves a lot to be desired, not with what is imported, but what sometimes is not. Also, IGES and STEP are used relatively sparingly (less than 20% according to this survey). Some vendors support direct editing of imported models without having to be concerned with the associated history tree, but this freedom from constraints is not always without problems of its own.

So what 's going to happen with this big mess. Honestly, probably not much for simplifying things. As a matter of fact, IGES and STEP are not going away anytime soon, new file formats will continue to be born and evolve, and companies that translate data between formats should enjoy a steady growth path. Is there hope for a universal method for translating native data to native data? Don't hold your breath because it ain't gonna happen for a long, long time.

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