3D CAD Future: How To Liberate Data?

Last week I had a chance to listen to Mike Payne during the COFES 2010 event in Scottsdale, AZ. Mike’s 18 minutes talk was entitled “Future of Mechanical CAD (Where does PLM fits In?). Mike provided a very interesting retrospective view on the history of mechanical CAD from initial 2D and all 3D evolution and revolutions. I personally liked his take on why 2D is still alive – “because it just works”. Whatever you’ll do in 3D will depend on the software you use. Whatever you are making in 2D can stay forever.

Mike’s view on the future mechanical CAD target was as following:
1. All in 3D

2. Discoverable (the learning curve is really fast)

3. Models unaffected by changes of software release

4. Intelligence built-in CAD tools

5. Data can be re-used between all apps

6. Interchange of best-of-breed tools

7. Based on Geometry and Topology

8. Inexpensive

9. Support for long term storage (i.e. PDF, STEP)

Mike Payne and Brad Holtz

For me the most interesting points presented by Mike were points 3, 4, 5, from the summary above. My short name to this change – “Liberate data from CAD tools”. In my view, they can present the biggest disruption in the 3D CAD industry since the introduction of the feature-based parametric modeling. Here is my take on this and why I think this change is so disruptive.

Dependencies on CAD vendor
In today’s world, companies are required to follow CAD vendors. Everything, they are creating in 3D is heavily dependent on the specific CAD application. It comes accumulated dependencies on the format of data, 3D features as well as a very long learning curve of CAD users in the companies. However, it creates huge benefits for vendors in the way of a maintenance revenue stream. It doesn’t mean you cannot shift between tools, however it presents a significant associated cost of change.

Competition On Tools
When/If dependencies on tools will be removed, the new form of competition can be presented. Vendors will be enforced to compete on a tool proper. The cost of change or switch between CAD systems will be no longer a factor in this competition. So, we can expect CAD market to become similar to the telecom market where a switch between previous and next mobile phone is zero for the end user.

Long Term Data Retention
Since intelligence will be introduced in CAD, forward data compliance will help to resolve the problem of long data storage. This is a very important topic for many industries, especially regulated ones. Some of them are required to keep data for 50-60 years. Today 2D is the ultimate way to do so (because it just work). Future may be different.

What is my summary today? The future Mike observed, sounds very disruptive for today’s CAD vendors. It can present a significant shift in business models and competitive landscape. In my view, it can generate the biggest change in CAD vendor’s landscape. What about PLM role? The presentation wasn’t specifically about PLM, but provided some hunches about what can happen to PLM too. Next time, I will think about how PLM fits in the Mike’s future of CAD.

Best, Oleg



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  • Oleg: “Whatever you’ll do in 3D will depend on the software you use. Whatever you are making in 2D can stay forever.”

    Sorry, boss. It does not work that way. There are billions of 2D drawings that are stored in DWG files which are as proprietary as any other MCAD format.

    What will stay forever is 2D drawings drawn by hand using a pencil on paper. Rest everything is all up in the air. 😉

  • Christine Longwell

    There is no doubt that 3D will be exclusively used in the future. Our culture is quickly loosing the ability to even read a 2D print. I think we can look forward to Quality inspection and CAM programs that render 2D drawings unnecessary.

    The question I have is why isn’t Digital Mock Up more pervasive now? The technology is there, the need is obvious, but companies still struggle to do everything inside of their chosen CAD package.

    “Can I build a cement plant inside SolidWorks?“
    “Wel…Yes, but would you really want to?”

    I think there is something to be said for consistency in the User Interface, and a relationship with a technology provider. No matter how many excellent, best in class tools you build, the challenge is still going to be getting them into the hands of the customer. CAD companies have a leg up in that they can leverage their existing reseller channels.

    There seems to be a “Build it and they will come” attitude about great engineering technology. The reality of it is that the internet has provided a wealth of misinformation that is going to have to sort itself out.

    (I also seriously disagree that pencil drawings are forever 😉

  • Deelip, Thanks for your comment! When I think about 2D, I see the well-known drawings. Engineers worked with them for 100s years. 2D CAD systems just moved into an electronic format. Even if this is a vendor-specific format, it still the same well-understood drawing. In the end, it is just lines. You can edit them as lines.
    However, the situation is different in 3D. When you make 3D model, in feature based CAD, you will need this CAD get access to these models. To make a change is not so obvious step as adding a line to 2D drawing.
    Best, Oleg

  • DJ

    So, the logical conclusion is to create a 2D print of the 3D solid model which now live “forever”…

  • DJ

    oh and I forgot one other item, you also want that 2D drawing to be saved in raster format, not vector and there you go now it as “forever” as it can be but you have also have reduced it to the lowest common denominator…

  • Oleg,

    Mike said that MCAD vendors lock data in proprietary formats and by saying that 2D is forever, he is suggesting that 2D vendors are not doing the same thing, which is far from true. DWG is as proprietary and encrypted as any other MCAD proprietary format.

    If you need a MCAD system to edit a 3D file in a proprietary format, you will need the original 2D CAD system to edit a 2D file in a proprietary format. Its the same thing. It does not matter if the file contain 2D lines, 3D Breps or 4D mangoes.

  • DJ, My point is not to save 2D in a raster format. However, ANY engineer can make a change in ANY 2D drawing, independently from tool. It means “always works” for me. This is not true for 3D system where you will be very dependent on a system you used to create this model. Btw, I think, the majority of manufacturing are still converting drawings into a raster format when they want to keep them for a long period of time. Thanks for your comments! Best, Oleg

  • Deelip, Oh… I love 4D mangoes :)… I hope Mike will comment on that. However, my take is that 2D is a lower common denominator for engineers that need to make a change in comparison to 3D. In 3D, you’ll need to find with feature translation. If you are getting 2D drawing, you are in front of “lines”. Does it make sense? Best, Oleg

  • Oleg,

    I think we are talking about two different things here. You are saying that once you are able to open a 2D drawing in a CAD system you can then make changes easily. I am hung up on the part of not being able to open the drawing to begin with, which I believe is what Mike was referring to when he made that statement of MCAD vendors locking data in proprietary formats. Or maybe I understood him wrong.

  • Christine, Thank you for your comment! 3D CAD and tools are very cool (!), but they still provide a challenge for users in comparison to 2D world. It can be easy confirmed what is that %% of customers that work exclusively in 3D (I don’t have URL handy, but I think the number is about 20-25%). And this is after 20 years since PTC went to mainstream with their feature based parametric stuff. The almost catholic marriage with CAD tools is one of the reasons, in my view, 3D is still not in the mainstream in comparison to 2D. And yes! 2D is not forever…. Best, Oleg

  • Deelip, My take is that in 3D you are dependent on how a model designed in source CAD system (features, etc.). When you move to another CAD (or newer version), your model can crack. It hardly can happen in 2D… But, you are right. 2D formats like DWG are also proprietary like 3D stuff. Best, Oleg

  • 4 & 5 are the most important in my mind.

    Supply chains are getting bigger, not smaller.

    “CAD” work will be outsourced all over the virtual world just like every other aspect of business.

    Seems silly and backward to try and plug that dam.

  • Jeff, thank you for commenting! I agree, this can be a big deal for suppliers. Today they are either enforced to work in a specific CAD system of OEM choice or dance around multiple OEMs with their systems. best, Oleg

  • Michael Reitman

    Not sure whether it is Mike’s view or your interpretation of it, but I feel possible conflict between 4 – 5,6 – 7.
    Especially, considering that design intent is NOT just geometry and topology. If engineer cannot preserve the intent that certain geometry is mirrored from another – such model becomes corrupted, although looks like correct snapshot. All kinds of engineering conditions that must be part of design. Crank-and-shaft model is useless of cannot update its placement when crank becomes longer.
    So geometry is great but often there is more in CAD data.

    If CAD tools have built-in intelligence (that allows capturing design intent) and on the other hand data is interchangeable and can be used between different appilcations – does it mean that they all implement intelligence the same way and can also persist / communicate this intelligent data along with geometry?

    Using just geometry (STEP, IGES) for communication is possible and widely used today. But it has not liberated CAD data from vendors so far.
    It seems something more is needed…

  • Ken

    The liberation of 3D data is on the horizon. Look at tools like SpaceClaim and Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology. They are able to edit parts brought in from other tools almost as easily as if they had been created natively. I see this trend continuing, but what I really think that’s needed is a universal file format that is not owned by any one vendor and has the capacity for containing all the data needed for “inteligent” models. Of course it goes farther than that with the fact that every 3D tool under the sun (and most 2D tools) use associative links between files. So really we have to go back farther to needing a common method for creating references to files and the data within the files. I think this now starts to get us into that PLM discussion when we think about maintaining links between files that naturally go through lifecycle states and therefore need confgiuration management.

  • Michael, Thanks for commenting! I hope Mike will be able to comment too on what you said. I agree, feature-based systems used to keep a certain design intent. However, despite that, an ability to liberate the subset of CAD data, make it independent and persistent between different CAD systems can provide a tremendous value for organization and industry. In my view, it should be different from STEP and IGES that we have today. CAD intelligence needs to be based on geometry and topology and not on the feature-based modeling. So, this is kind of bottom-up approach. Best, Oleg

  • Ken, thanks for your comment! I agree, tools like SpaceClaim, SolidEdge and some others can provide some directions into the future of compatibility. On the other side, I tend disagree with the idea of universal format, since it reminds me all previous standard-related activities. In my view, standards are expensive and cannot be translated into business needs in the case they applied top-down. Somebody (possible vendors) needs to pay this “standard tax” and they doesn’t make sense for a single vendor. I see a better way in application of “intelligent tools” and not “intelligent models”. The development of intelligent tool, has a potential to be transformed into bottom-up standards development. Best, Oleg

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  • 3D CAD will the future be total automatic?

  • Lamar, not sure understand what do you mean by “automatic 3D CAD”… clarify?

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