CAD Central

30 Apr, 2008 By: Kenneth Wong

MCAD vs. ECAD; on-site vs. on-demand PLM

Electrified CAD

The reconciliation between mechanical CAD (MCAD) and its estranged cousin electronic CAD (ECAD) continues with SolidWorks' recent acquisition of Priware, the developer of CircuitWorks. Priware, a SolidWorks Gold Partner based in the United Kingdom, had already done much of the legwork required to let SolidWorks users read and write printed circuit board (PCB) layouts drawn in standard ECAD formats such as IDF or PADS. With CircuitWorks, SolidWorks users can produce a detailed 3D assembly of a PCB and its components.

CircuitWorks for SolidWorks is another example of the type of MCAD–ECAD bridging capability that will be crucial in manufacturers mechatronics product development.
CircuitWorks for SolidWorks is another example of the type of MCAD–ECAD bridging capability that will be crucial in manufacturers mechatronics product development.

According to Priware, these assemblies are particularly useful for

  • 1. checking interferences between the PCB components and the surrounding mechanical parts
  • 2. designing PCBs with complex shapes
  • 3. producing physical PCB prototypes
  • 4. thermal analysis of products with embedded PCBs (such as cell phones)

For more clues about where this may lead, you can turn to the MCAD–ECAD Collaboration Extension in Pro/ENGINEER, introduced by PTC in January. The motivation for bridging these disparate engineering branches comes from the manufacturers' rush to develop mechatronics; that is, complex electromechanical products driven by software (such as a luxury vehicle with voice recognition, Bluetooth-enabled multimedia consoles, and automatic navigation features).

Joe Barkai, Manufacturing Insights' practice director for Product Life-Cycle Strategies research service, predicted, "By 2010, the number of software-embedded control units will represent 35–40% of the value of the average car. This industry is investing heavily in improving the capabilities of mechatronics, and as much as 90% of future innovation in new vehicle systems will be in in-vehicle software and electronics" ("Mechatronics Product Life-Cycle Management: Trends and Best Practices,"

On-Site or On-Demand?

In the Webcast titled "Gaining Control of Your Product Lifecycle with PLM," broadcasted March 27 (archived online at, on-demand product lifecycle management (PLM) provider Arena Solutions' co-founder and chief technology officer Eric Larkin outlined the difference between companies more suited for on-site PLM (or in-house PLM) systems and those well-positioned to take advantage of the on-demand (or software-as-a-service) option.

"If your business relies on a patented 15-step business process that has to be done just so, then you might be better off working with one of the big PLM toolkit providers, who can develop a custom solution that tailors to that process," he said. "On the other hand, if you have tens, hundreds, even thousands of parts, and you succeed by getting this product to the market more quickly with better quality, and you do that following best practices in design development and manufacturing, then on-demand is really worth a look . . . The customers who selectively share their product records with their suppliers get the greatest value from the [on-demand] service. Finally, we get a significant number of customers who are looking for a low risk way to get their feet wet in PLM. A traditional PLM solution has significant upfront costs, so by the time you find out if the solution works for your business, the vendor has already received most of the financial benefit they'll get from that relationship."

Test Draw

Autodesk Labs launched another online application for the curious crowd. Project Draw (, a new vector-based program, follows the classic software-as-a-service model, allowing users to create floor plans, printed circuit board layouts, flowcharts, user interfaces (for both Mac and Windows), kitchen and bath layouts, and other 2D diagrams by dragging, dropping, and resizing primitive shapes and geometric blocks. The finished drawings can be exported to JPEG, DWG, DXF, PDF, and several other formats.

The application provides shading and gradient options, along with the choice to take a drawing offline and continue working on it. In its present incarnation, it doesn't allow someone to use Project Draw to open an exiting AutoCAD, DWG, or DXF file and modify it. Because this technology is in a preview stage, the application will continue to morph, based on user input. A quick scan of the discussion forum for Project Draw reveals users are interested in universal modeling language drawing objects, a more refined ruler display, and a reworking of the shadowing command.

About the Author: Kenneth Wong

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