Push the Panic Button on CAD System Translations

23 Sep, 2014 By: Robert Green

If your company intends to use a risky translation-based workflow, examine it carefully — it may be up to you to raise the alarm.

In the "good old days" of 2D CAD there were only a handful of software systems that were widely used, and the need to translate between them didn't arise often. This resulted in a stable CAD environment where only one system was in use in an office and the CAD manager had firm control of file versions and tools.

Fast-forward to today, and we have multiple flavors of Autodesk AutoCAD and Bentley MicroStation, many mechanical modeling tools, building information modeling (BIM) tools from several manufacturers, civil engineering add-ons from a variety of vendors and — if all that isn't enough — there are more and more cloud-based tools that compete with all the above. At some point, the translation issues between all these tools will creep into your projects — and cause a CAD management train wreck, if you aren't careful.

In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll share a strategy for raising the issue of CAD translation with your management teams so you can alert them to serious problems that jeopardize the successful completion of projects. Along the way I'll point out some tips for communicating this strategy with your management and IT teams to make the argument that less is more — at least when it comes to CAD systems. Here goes.

Step 1: Know Your Outputs

Consider the following scenarios:

If an architectural firm signs a contract to deliver a BIM-coordinated model to a client using Autodesk Revit 2015, then it is perfectly clear what tool they'll need to use. Similarly, if a machine design shop signs a contract to deliver a working machine with SolidWorks 2013 model files as the final documentation, then there's no question about which program they'll require to create the model. And if a civil engineering firm signs a contract to deliver final documentation to a Department of Transportation (DOT) office in MicroStation v8 DGN format — well, you get the idea.

The non-negotiable fact with all these scenarios is that the company in question has entered into a contract that specifies how final digital files will be delivered. But what if your company isn't using Revit 2015 yet, doesn't own SolidWorks, or doesn't have a clue about how to work with MicroStation? Do you see a train wreck approaching?

Communication Tip: Immediately point out to management teams (especially project managers) that the company has entered into a contract requirement that can't be fulfilled based on current company knowledge and/or tools. Your job is to make sure they understand the position they've put you in and that while you may not know the answer now, an answer must be found for the project to be completed.

Step 2: Push the Translation Panic Button

As a CAD manager, there are certain phrases uttered by project managers regarding data translation that make me extremely nervous. Here are a few examples that could pertain to our imaginary projects above:

"We'll design as much as we can in AutoCAD, then let our BIM modelers input it into Revit as we go to save money on training and software."

"We can model the system assemblies in Inventor, then convert to SolidWorks for final delivery."

"We will use our current civil tools to design the new road project, then save down to AutoCAD, then translate that to MicroStation DGN for final project submittal."

The common denominator in all these statements is an assumption that translating between different CAD tools will actually work. The other assumption made is that the project will be executed in one CAD system, then will be translated at the end of the project lifecycle — when it will be too late to deal with any problems that may arise. That train wreck is looking more and more likely, isn't it?

Communication Tip: Make the project managers aware that translating CAD data is not a perfect process, and that rigorous testing must be done to ensure that the alternative workflows outlined above will actually work. Insist on dealing with the problem right away and cover yourself by putting your concerns in writing so you'll be taken seriously.

Step 3: Consider Specific Version Issues

Now that you've pointed out the general fallibility of translation workflows, you'll probably find yourself in the middle of figuring out what actually will and won't work. As you work through the process, keep in mind that the version of software used also affects the process. Here are a few examples:

1 2 

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

Add comment


Re: Push the Panic Button on CAD System Translations
by: jmaeding
September 24, 2014 - 2:30pm
Good article as always. I have a particular client that wants all civil piping and grading modeled so we can see in navisworks or infraworks. I told them they should require dwg's with solids, not civil3d objects, as that requires version coordination and so on. It was the best BIM advice I have ever given. It has solved so many problems. Each team can use any 3d modeling tools and they all come together. Don't be fooled into thinking you need to pass around proprietary custom objects if it creates technical gridlock.
Re: Push the Panic Button on CAD System Translations
by: MichaelPartenheimer
September 24, 2014 - 4:52pm
Thank you Robert for using the word "translation" rather than "conversion". When educating Project Management, I always leverage the well known phrase, "lost in translation" as a way to impart the potential pitfalls of this budget-busting workflow. In addition to the software file format, the way documents are compiled (CAD Standards) can also have a significant impact. There is no easy way to translate scores of MicroStation DGN files formatted based on the "Design Model/Drawing Model/Sheet Model" standard to a Drawing Model only standard. The translation variables are endless but one thing seems clear to me... no matter who needs what, somehow "translation" always ends up to be our responsibility... and with no project budget allocation. Thanks for this article. I will archive, then forward it to my project management team each time they request another "conversion" or tell me they can't "believe" its that complicated. Michael Partenheimer
More News and Resources from Cadalyst Partners

For Mold Designers! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the mold design professional. Sponsored by Siemens NX.  Visit the Equipped Mold Designer here!

For Architects! Cadalyst has an area of our site focused on technologies and resources specific to the building design professional. Sponsored by HP.  Visit the Equipped Architect here!