Small Manufacturers, Big File-Exchange Issues

14 May, 2006 By: Kenneth Wong

New Kubotek USA survey finds job shops endure pressure, high financial burdens to meet clients' interoperability demands

Everyone in manufacturing wrestles with the interoperability monster. In May 2005, Kubotek USA, makers of KeyCreator (formerly CADKEY), surveyed more than 1,200 CAD users and managers. When asked to list the most common format of CAD files they received, participants coughed up 42 different formats. Furthermore, fewer than one in five used industry-standard IGES and STEP files, and almost half of respondents used as many as three different CAD tools a month.

Recently Kubotek USA conducted a second study, targeting companies that exchange CAD files with external clients -- primarily job shops and smaller second- and third-tier suppliers.

In the survey summary released to the media, Kubotek USA reports, "By nature of their size, job shops have limited financial resources. Yet, their livelihood depends on being able to compete in today's complex multi-CAD environment." So here are statistical snapshots of the shop floor, provided by the 571 participants, some from companies with fewer than ten employees.

Of the respondents, 37% said their use of a particular CAD tool and their ability to work in a certain file format are the primary determining factors in gaining a customer's business. An overwhelming majority, 84%, say they share CAD files with multiple clients, and 80% of those say that all customers require different CAD formats.

According to Kubotek USA, that means, "Not only do job shops have to deal with receiving, working with and sending files in disparate formats, but the majority have to do this for multiple clients, increasing the problem geometrically. ... Perhaps they feel the need to focus their new business efforts on customers who share the same format; however, this restricts their universe of prospects and potentially limits growth."

When asked to list the primary CAD file format in which they are required to accept the work, 571 respondents listed formats from 21 different CAD tools. AutoCAD, Pro/ENGINEER and SolidWorks emerge as the most common. More than one-fourth of respondents, 27%, admit they have purchased a specific CAD tool to satisfy a customer's requirements.

Kubotek USA observes, "This survey draws distinct attention to the impact on job shops, much smaller by nature, and oftentimes only one-person operations. These companies face a disproportionate amount of pressure and high financial burdens to secure new business and continue to meet client demands -- and the smaller the shop, the bigger the problem."

Editor's note: For more information about Kubotek USA's original interoperability survey, read Cadalyst'sEditor's Window and MCAD Tech News articles from Fall 2005.