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Real MCAD Data Exchange: Part 2

By David Prawel

In this second of a two-part series, we explore the business factors toconsider as you build a cost-effective MCAD interoperability strategy.Part 1 (April 2005) looked at the key technical factors.– DE Editors

World-class innovation and global competitiveness demand excellence incollaborative product design, change management, data reuse, andintegration of design, analysis, and manufacturing, all while keepingwaste to a minimum. These noble goals are affected by your ability toshare MCAD data, efficiently communicating ideas and productinformation so a consensus of minds can work together to innovate newproducts. It’s a key strategic asset squandered by tasks like repairingMCAD data.
When time is spent fixing bad MCAD data, the product’s cost goes up anddelivery is delayed. To make matters worse, poor interoperabilityprevents people from effectively working together.

A Hybrid Solution

The spectrum of possible approaches to MCAD interoperability can beviewed as a continuum with full automation at one end, and manual,model-by-model transaction at the other. The ideal strategy usuallyfalls somewhere in between and is different for each company, program,and product. You might therefore argue that a single, unifiedinteroperability strategy is an exercise in futility, but you’d bewrong. The best approach is a carefully considered hybrid of automationand, where automation fails, manual intervention.

That hybrid can be achieved when a company standardizes on a core setof processes and tools used for product development—a key component ofany strategy—and maintains the skills and relationships it needs to useand support these tools. It does that by assessing its strengths, usingdata-exchange automation tools where they work well, and formingpartnerships with experts who understand the company’s products andbusiness processes, and have the knowledge, experience, and contacts tosolve the special cases cost-effectively.

Striking the Right Balance

It’s important to note that many good tools are available to help withMCAD interoperability, but even relatively simple models almost alwaysexhibit small differences that prevent flawless automation. Inaddition, requirements and products change constantly. So, whichevertools you choose, additional expertise will probably be needed.

Vinay Wagle, vice president of sales and marketing at CADCAM-e, refersto this approach as the “core chore” strategy. When consideringinteroperability, Wagle notes that, “a company’s core strength is itsproduct development and its people. They know the core business, and todevelop sufficient expertise in interoperability can becounter-strategic.

The goal is to deliver maximum customer value. Consider the experienceyour team has in MCAD data exchange, understand the limitations, anddecide if you want to compensate with training or outside help. Use anestimated return on investment (ROI) as a guide in these assessments,and remember to consider opportunity cost. In other words, could yourpeople be innovating or otherwise adding customer value if they aren’ttrying to solve interoperability problems?

To understand how much automation to plan for and how much manualintervention might be required, consider data quality. Qualityrequirements can be assessed in very simple terms by considering theapplication or purpose of the data when it gets to the receiving end ofa transaction (see “Real MCAD Data Exchange: Part 1,” DE, April 2005).What will your business partner do with the resulting MCAD models afterthey are translated? If the models will only be used for quick visualconfirmation of design changes, then relatively low quality is probablyall you need. If, however, you are engaging in collaborative productdevelopment, all parties will need the highest level of qualitypossible.

“Another overlooked aspect of quality,” says Wolfgang Winstel, managingdirector at ProCAEss, “which may be the most important, is methodology.Not only must model accuracy and precision be good, but the model mustalso be designed correctly.”Methodology is becoming another important aspect of quality assuppliers are being required to deliver MCAD data according to customerdesign standards. 

Business Factors Affect the Right Strategy

To arrive at a balanced interoperability strategy, companies mustconsider several business factors: their level of influence in businessrelationships, the required level of security, product lifecycles, andROI.

Many projects live or die by e-mail, a relatively insecure but widelyused mode of data exchange. Small companies with tight IT budgetsdepend on e-mail to send and receive MCAD files. Companies with PDM/PLMsystems usually count on these systems for encryption and accessmanagement, which works as long as all suppliers are on the samesystem, but they rarely are. Furthermore, if the destinationapplication only has view and markup capability, using a PDM system isclearly overkill.

Lattice3D has developed a very interesting solution, a secure 3D formatthat can be shared and used for many 3D applications. Jeff Drust, vicepresident of business development and marketing explains, “Lots ofcommerce can take place without the burden of a full-blown PDM. We liketo promote ‘practical lifecycle management’ as our form of PLM, andgive practical solutions that do a single, important job well, like PDFfiles.”

ROI is Key

One of the more complex aspects of establishing an effective strategyis assessing ROI. While many factors affect the interoperabilityinvestments you’ll have to make, there are two typical approachesgenerally used to estimate ROI. The most common involves looking at aset of data files that might be exchanged and estimating a “typical”level of complexity and file size, then multiplying by the number offiles and at an hourly or daily rate. Sometimes this estimate is basedonly on file size. The bet in this approach is that the averages willwork out. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.
Good ROI estimates must take into account the expected quality of theresult, the intended application of the data, the expectations of thestakeholders, the complexity of the data, and the design intent.According to Wagle, of CADCAM-e, “The details make all the difference.”Using his approach, you would create a customized quality checklist foreach project, sampling random parts and studying in-depth checks ofcritical data, tolerances, and dimensions in the models. “Looking forwell-articulated papers and documentation will help gain additionalperspective on the business process, project goals, and the problem.”

Quality checks are an essential element of accurate ROI. Usequality-checking tools, such as CADporter from Elysium, and the MCADsystem itself, to assess the key aspects of the MCAD models. This takessome expertise, so be prepared to lean on a potential partner withexperience to help. Armed with this detailed insight about the data youexpect to exchange, the ROI calculation can be much more accurate.

No two ROI calculations are the same. Politics are often involved; forexample, some people like a particular tool or approach for emotionalreasons, so be sure to ask the right questions. And don’t assume thatgetting volume translation performed offshore means you’ll save money.This might work better for projects that are better suited toautomation, but more often than not, the complexities of data requiredirect contact between customer and supplier.

Winstel at ProCAEss takes a different approach to calculating ROI. “Weclassify the types of errors in a sample of CAD data files,” he says,”counting only problems caused by data quality and subsequent repairtime, not counting poor machining, etc. Then we assess the amount oftime spent on each class of problem.” Using this approach, one of itslarge automotive OEM customers validated a 5 million Euro savings inone year, for a single car program with 1,500 suppliers and 1,000models exchanged per day. He adds, “The savings get much bigger if youinclude follow-up problems and wasted time—easily seven to ten timesthis cost after subtracting direct costs for software tools,consulting, etc.”

Considering the factors outlined above will put you well on your waytoward creating a cost-effective strategy to make excellence ininteroperability a reality in your company.

David Prawel is founder and president of Longview Advisors Inc., a consulting firm providing insight and adviceto the manufacturing industry. You can contact him via e-mail by clicking here. Please reference “Real MCAD Data Exchange” in your message.

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