Commentary: Proficiency To Address Feature-Based CAD Translation for CATIA 5.0

By Ira Breskin

Proficiency Inc.’s ( leading-edge, network-based CAD conversion system will accommodate Catia 5.0, Dassault Systems latest release before next summer.

Proficiency engineers need that interval to extract and translate into a common code the elaborate design constraints, features and history contained in the this eight-month-old CAD system, said Michael Jannery, vice president, marketing.

Converting product designs created using any of the four leading proprietary CAD packages into a common format so they can be readily interchanged is the driving force behind Proficiency’s automated, two-step conversion process. It addresses a costly, long-standing problem that design departments have faced for more than a decade.

Four-year-old Proficiency uses its server-based Universal Product Representation software, introduced last September, to neutralize product designs done in Catia 4.0, as well as the latest versions of Ideas, Pro Engineer and Unigraphics.

Additional Proficiency software called the Collaboration Gateway, essentially feature-based CAD conversion agents deployed across a network, then converts the now vendor neutral designs back into the required proprietary format.

Proficiency claims to be the only software vendor that provides full translation of CAD design features, as well as geometries. It competes directly with industry standard software packages (IGES and STEP) that pull product geometries, but not features and histories, from the disparate, proprietary CAD packages.

More costly, labor intensive third-party or in-house efforts that manually reconvert files to the required formats, replete with features and design history, offer direct competition, Jannery said.

However, Proficiency software isn’t cheap. The company’s basic package starts at $300,000, plus moderate fees tied to the number of conversions; tiered usage fees offer volume discount. And for its standard 18% annual maintenance fee, Proficiency also provides users with software upgrades.

To date, Proficiency has sold six packages, three to named customers, all in the United States. But these customers include some big accounts – the likes of Ford, Caterpillar and the U.S.-based unit of Freudenberg, a large offshore maker of automobile gaskets and seals. Several dozen North American sales within a year, are likely, Jannery said.

“We’ve beefed up the sales force. Proficiency is ready for prime time,” he added during a telephone interview last week.

Prime customer prospects for Proficiency, based in Marlborough, Mass., are major auto suppliers who sell parts to competing automakers, each of which generally requires designs in the vendor-specific CAD format it has selected.

Automakers also are prime targets because they often want to share or meld disparate CAD designs contributed by company divisions or acquired units that use best-of-breed packages. These packages, often chosen for specific capability, provide CAD files incompatible with the corporate design standard. Volvo, for example, uses Catia software to design car chasis and Ideas for the body. In turn, BMW has settled on Catia for car bodies, but Pro Engineer for the powertrain.

Proficiency also is targeting procurements departments, a larger second market, that could use its software to generate standard CAD designs for specified components and subassemblies, Jannery said. The goal: study common designs to reduce stocking of excess inventory or duplicate parts.

Ira Breskin, a freelance editor/writer specializing in business and technology issues, is a frequent contributor to Business Week, Newsday, and the New York Times. He holds a B.A. from Columbia University and a Knight-Bagehot Fellowship in Economics and Business Journalism, Columbia University Business School. He may be reached at Email Contact.

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