Interoperability, the ability to share CAD data files between companies and between applications in the same company, continues to pose a difficult challenge to most manufacturing companies, says a recent survey by Kubotek USA (www.kubotek.com). About 95 percent of all survey respondents said they had interoperability issues, and almost half of all respondents said they have to re-design parts on a regular basis because of interoperability problems. Translator issues and missing or corrupt data are the two most frequently cited factors.
Of the 2,869 CAD users who completed the Kubotek 2006 Interoperability Survey between May and July of 2006 (www.kubotekusa.com/company/interopsurvey/index.asp), 50 percent were from companies with less than 100 employees, 32 percent from companies with 100 to 1,000 employees and 18 percent from companies with more than 1,000 employees. Around 69 percent of the respondents were based in North America, 16 percent in Europe and 5 percent in Asia.
According to the survey, 43 percent of all respondents do not use the originating CAD software to make subsequent changes, and 34 percent are forced to rebuild 3D models from scratch at least half the time. The models needed to be rebuilt from scratch to complete a redesign, create a revision, or derive a new part or tool because it could not be done effectively using the original 3D model data file.
In examining the file type usage by industry, the survey indicated that design engineers working in the mold/tool/die/forging industry had a significant need to work with multiple file formats. Almost half of the respondents in the mold/tool/die/forging, automotive and transportation industries and 32 percent in engineering and design services use five or more different file types each month. The data shows that as the number of CAD file types being used increases, the need to revise, redesign or create new parts or tools also increases.
Translator issues were most consistently cited as the biggest problem with getting outside 3D CAD models into the user's CAD system. Missing or corrupt data was the second most often cited problem. The main areas of difficulty are in passing model data between designers using different software, in having to deliver models in different formats to customers and in receiving models in different formats from suppliers.
In an interview with AMERICAN MACHINIST, one machine shop operator summed up the situation when he said: "We model a part from a customer's drawing, then send it out to them for approval. We may also send out drawings for subcontractor quotes. Of course nobody is using the same software, so they cannot use the same native files and everything has to be translated and retranslated. Then we get the drawings back with questions and, of course, it's in a different format. We have to translate it once again just to see what they are asking about. When we finally get approved drawings, we have to transfer them to our CAM software and that can open up another can of worms."
Kubotek's survey found that 46 percent of all respondents use a parametric feature-based CAD system for their redesign work. Of that group, 87 percent normally have access to the original feature tree, 84 percent regularly need to rework feature trees, and 66 percent indicated that the feature tree usually (more than 50 percent of the time) needed major rework to complete the design task. Only 6 percent of parametric users reported that the original feature tree of the existing or received model always provides the control they need over the model.
Kubotek says: "There is a significant difference between those who use parametric feature-based CAD systems and those who use direct-modeling systems with respect to the need to rework models. Our data indicates that those using parametric feature-based CAD systems have a higher incidence of redesign or rebuilding models from scratch — direct-modeling users do not redesign or rework models as frequently. In fact, 61 percent of direct-modeling users need to rebuild their models less than 25 percent of the time as compared with 43 percent of the parametric users. None of the users of direct-modeling tools reported a regular (three quarters of the time or more) need to redesign models."
It should be noted that Kubotek makes geometry-based CAD software.