Product Design

Q&A with David Prawel on People and Processes

11 Nov, 2008

Longview Advisors' founder offers insights on 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Market Report 2008.


Over the years, David Prawel, founder and president of the CAD consulting firm Longview Advisors, has become an interoperability crusader and a champion of STEP, a neutral format he believes is the best option for exchanging product data. His client list includes household names in manufacturing and high tech, including Delphi, BMW, and IBM. Recently, he delved into his favorite topic once more with an annual survey. He asked 538 participants (mostly engineers and others involved in product design and development) to reveal their primary CAD system, list their preferred format for 3D data exchange, and share details about their workflows. The result, "Collaboration and Interoperability Market Report 2008," is now available for download from Longview Advisors' web site. Last week, I asked him for his views on some of the survey results.

Kenneth Wong: In the report, when respondents were asked to list and rank their preferred CAD exchange formats, 19.2% picked STEP, 18.5% picked SolidWorks, 12.9% picked Pro/E, and 9.1% picked CATIA. What is the role of PDF in CAD interoperability?

David Prawel: 3D PDF or PDF is not that common as a CAD exchange format. Adobe has made many improvements to it in the last several years, but it's still not of the class of IGES, DXF, DWG, or STEP. Over the last year, STEP has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. I'm a big fan of STEP. I'm hoping people are getting the point — that STEP is the only long-term guarantee for CAD data exchange.

KW: The report notes that geometry translation errors and missing data caused by CAD translation are the most common interoperability problems experienced. Any tips on how to reduce translation errors?

DP: Surprisingly, the problem has little to do with technology. It has more to do with how the models are created. The solution to this is actually a low-cost one: good training. Time and again, reports and studies I've seen and done show well-trained CAD users produce models that are easier to share with other people. The second thing people can do is to standardize how they draw CAD. If your company creates a particular type of surface in a specific way, within your company and suppliers you should standardize how you create the CAD data for this. It's about people and process, not technology.

Engineers spent three to ten hours a week fixing CAD data; that's an unbelievable amount of time. This is waste. Anyone who cares about lean manufacturing ought to be thinking about this.

KW: According to the report, OEMs are adopting more specific CAD formats for exchange of data. Should suppliers to the OEMs invest in translation technology? Or seats of CAD programs that match the OEMs' preferences?

DP: Absolutely, suppliers should invest in translation technologies. Data translation companies have had an amazing track record for over 25 years. They really know a lot about the interoperability problem. Suppliers could buy CAD systems that match their clients' preferences, but that rarely works, because there's such a huge hidden cost in owning a CAD seat. Imagining the added complexity that comes from maintaining that seat, training someone on it, sending him or her to all the related conferences, and making sure it's used enough to pay for itself. In the end, suppliers take whatever format that's given to them and convert it to a format they can work with internally. Then, when the work is ready to be delivered to the OEMs, the suppliers translate the data back into the requested CAD format. That's where STEP is heavily used.

The study shows the OEMs require suppliers to use a specific CAD tool 32% of the time. But suppliers say they're told to use a particular CAD tool only 18% of the time. It's an odd inconsistency. It shows either one or the other has a misconception of what's really going on. Suppliers cannot afford to have a CAD seat for every OEM they're working with. This is why I urge people to make STEP work. It's the only independent format.

KW: In the summary, the report indicates editing rights are a differentiator of technological sophistication among OEMs. Can you add some clarification to it?

DP: When you ask a company, "Do you share your CAD data with your suppliers?" some say no, some say yes. Of those who reply yes, if you ask to what extend they let their suppliers see the data, they say it depends on the complexity of the work the supplier is doing. The designer, for example, can see all the information; however, for the manufacturers, probably just dumb solids would be enough. But if both the OEM and the supplier are technologically sophisticated, editing rights a part of their collaboration. They can share full data [with well-defined editing rights]. That knocks down a lot of the barriers in collaboration.

KW: Anything else surprising or interesting about this survey?

DW: In the beginning of the survey, we asked the participants to list their job titles and current positions. There's a selection for Executive. Some selected Others, but identified themselves as President. I guess they didn't realize a president is an executive. Oh, well!

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