The broad diversity of CAD technologies available today offers more choice and capability than ever before. All that variety presents a unique problem, however. Given any moderately complex design involving different engineering disciplines, design partners, and/or suppliers, chances are you'll be wrangling multiple CAD platforms. We call it – wait for it – multi-CAD. Multi-CAD is simply a reality of design in the 21st century.
In the past, interoperability was very cumbersome and so CAD standardization on a common tool was often a critical strategy. These days it's rather typical to deal with multiple CAD tools even in the same company, especially when departments or divisions have different histories. Standardizing on a single platform often isn’t practical, and, if multiple suppliers are involved, it may be altogether impossible. Thanks to improved CAD interoperability, surviving the multi-CAD jungle has never been easier. But despite the improvements in technology, multi-CAD is not without its pitfalls. Pitfalls include unnecessary rework, corrupted data, missed deliverables, not to mention the budget and schedule impacts that accompany them. Here is some tactical multi-CAD advice to avoid those pitfalls:
Develop a Translation Plan
You probably love it when a plan comes together, but effective plans don't fly on good intentions alone. Asking a few basic questions can shed light on where your pain points might be - remember you're trying to optimize effective use of each individual CAD tool, and avoid costly model rework stemming from translation issues. A good understanding can inform CAD standards and workflow to make certain the right people have visibility and access to the right assets. Some questions to ask:
- What are the deliverable requirements?
- Which partners/suppliers are involved? Can they change?
- How many CAD/CAM systems are involved?
- Are there forthcoming CAD upgrades / changes on the horizon?
- Who has design ownership over what parts? How will that change during the course of design/manufacturing?
Mind The Import Gap
The direct import capabilities in most modern CAD packages are rather robust. However, not all CAD importation technology is created equal. Some are better than others, but most are not without their quirks. While direct import translators have eliminated most of the shenanigans with moving to and from intermediate neutral formats like IGES or STEP, migrating data from one kernel to another is still a bit of a black art. Consequently, some models are bound to suffer trauma by way of math. Some methods to mind that import gap:
- Minimize the number of translations, especially across different kernels.
- Be mindful of the deliverable format and maintain a copy in that format as your work for reference. The reference helps prevent last minute translation surprises on delivery.
- Try to avoid "round-tripping" – constantly going back and forth between two different platforms – whenever possible. For example: if changes occur when a model has moved from one CAD system to another, it’s attempting to just make the change in the second system, and push a reverse translation back to the original. Instead consider going back to the original system, making the change, and follow the original translation chain.
- Test your entire translation chain with representative geometry ahead of time.
Understand Editing Scenarios
Accounting for how your translation chain works in one direction only is not enough. Changes will happen. For example, design changes may occur after a model has transitioned from one CAD system to another. It’s important to understand how editing will be accomplished in such cases. That contingency needs to account for the resultant impact on model quality and design intent. Unexpected last minute changes can wreck your most orderly multi-CAD strategy. Be mindful of the following:
- Consider how design intent is consumed downstream. Otherwise, effort spent on intricately parameterized models in one system may be rendered useless by the smallest change in another system.
- If re-modeling is often required, re-think your workflow.
- Investigate how direct editing technologies such Synchronous Technology, Fusion, or Innovative Design can potentially save your bacon with late stage changes.
Watch the Big Picture
Finally, managing the overall design is of utmost importance. Everyone involved in the design process needs to be a able to collaborate within a master model context regardless of their particular tool interface. That's true whether they are directly contributing to the design or they are participants in the larger product development process. Providing that collaboration context is especially important for those either not familiar with or have no access to any CAD tool. That often requires managing neutral formats of the master design in addition to the native files, and keeping all of that precisely managed. It's certainly not something you want to tackle manually - a collaboration and management platform like GrabCAD Workbench can make all the difference.
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