Does Your Engineering Department Work in a Multi-CAD Environment?

Regardless of your industry, chances are most players in your supply chain use CAD systems. Which is great! Technology is a beautiful thing. However, as with my Dell not being compatible with your Mac, most of these companies use different and incompatible CAD systems. Even other departments or divisions within your own organization might use different design software, whether they’re down the hall or across the globe. And trying to exchange data between different CAD systems causes errors, disorganization, inefficiencies, redundancies and wasted time and money. Any of these issues can cause the need to recreate CAD files, which will most likely create problems in translation and accuracy of data. The unfortunate fact is that 48% of engineering departments work in a multi-CAD environment.

multi cad engineering team

CAD datasets differ in size, scale, and amount of detail. They can characterize massive amounts of information about the design of a jet engine or the intricacies of circuit board production.  But what happens when you have to deal with multiple CAD systems?

Multi cad: Does your company work within a single CAD system or multiple systems?Most engineering teams build their strategy around CAD tools that work best for their product designs and allow them to communicate with their audience. However, when teams grow due to expansion, mergers with other companies or changes in customer specifications, your team may be working with multiple CAD systems.

Most teams realize there is a loss in productivity when a CAD system is unable to efficiently exchange data and make use of critical information with other systems. Which significantly increases the likelihood of inaccuracy or the result of recreating existing CAD models in different formats, creating redundant files of the same product, and sometimes with slightly different configurations. These real life scenarios only serve to put undue burdens on design teams and cause their companies a loss in efficiency, resulting in an increase of operating expenses. A consequence that does not sit well with CFOs.


Standard for the Exchange of Product Data (STEP) – A One Size Does Not Fit all Acronym

STEP model data is meant to support a complete and unambiguous description of industrial products throughout their life cycle, independently of any operating system or CAD software. Yet it is not enough when using multiple CAD systems because individual systems read and write in different formats, and the accuracy of their internal exchange of data along with that of external partners and customers is essential. The method of exchanging data focuses primarily on geometric information of the CAD data. Yet it also requires the exchange of metadata, design knowledge, part tolerance, manufacturing information and assembly structure. If design engineers are not able to use native formats, some design functions and other critical data will be lost, creating unnecessary or nonessential work resulting in expensive errors downstream.


Why STEP does not Support Multi-CAD Environments

STEP is an ISO standard neutral 3D CAD file format. Once a STEP file is written it needs to be translated from its native file to the ISO 10303 database and is then intended to pass data between CAD programs. However, it can be like having the average 5th grader translate German to Mandarin -when everything becomes lost in translation – leading to missing data, development of inaccurate or wrong parts, causing delays in production and damaged relationships between the company, its suppliers, and customers. Which is not surprising, as with any translation the odds of problems occurring due to inaccurate data becomes exponentially higher the more data that is being transferred and the more complex the geometry. Therefore, though STEP has its place, it is not the solution in multi-CAD environments.

  • STEP can cause problems for interdisciplinary teams. It’s good for easy exchange of information, but data can be lost, even information that may be the most obvious such as placement of threads on a fitting or the correct location of holes in a flange.
  • Problems arise when importing STEP files due to incompatibility.
  • The bill of materials generated for the system can be missing the necessary purchasing information such as order number, the supplier, or accurate descriptor, making the BOM worthless.
  • STEP’s lack of compatibility in a multi-CAD environment causes costly errors due to missing engineering data.
  • The centroid cannot be accurately determined due to incorrect or missing data.


The biggest pitfall is that data often gets lost or corrupted during translation to STEP. When a customer provides a STEP file for your CAD program to read, it performs another translation of the data from the native ISO 10303 database. This presents a second opportunity for erroneous data to be introduced into the file and opening the door for costly errors.


Combining MCAD and ECAD Data

Both mechanical (MCAD) and electrical (ECAD) CAD data about products is integral to many engineers’ daily life. The ability to have both data sets available from a single comprehensive source in the standardized ECLASS ADVANCED format is a game changer. Digital product data can be kept up to date and ready to use by both mechanical and electrical engineers without the painstaking and time consuming process of consulting multiple sources.


Having multiple independent CAD data pools opens the door for redundancy, multiple creations of the same part and parts being procured several times in different ways, which all leads to higher procurement and inventory carrying costs. This only compounds the unnecessary additional effort, time and money that go into maintaining multiple systems. And every CAD system has its own separate data pool, which can cause duplicate data or worse – duplicate data in different languages, describing the same item in multiple ways. Is it a Captive Flange – Code 62 (Drilled Holes), or an SAE Captive Flange – Code 62 (Drilled Holes) or a Captive Flange Clamp – Drilled Holes – Code 62 or Code 62 Captive Flange – Drilled Thru Holes? Four common ways to describe the same part.

Efficient engineering teams depend on tools that enable the development, modification, and optimization of the design process for several reasons:

  • To cleanup or organize existing engineering datasets.
  • Indexing of parts for use across multiple teams or sites.
  • To index parts in multiple formats.
  • For leveraging search functions to find parts faster. Including internal parts, industry standard parts, and COTS parts.
  • As with all of the above, PARTsolutions allows teams to search and source COTS components from thousands of suppliers.
    1. The system allows components to be configurable and downloaded in over 100 native formats.
    2. Parts can be indexed and checked into the PLM or vault system, so the entire team has visibility and access.  This is vital for teams with multiple CAD systems.


As Joseph Lewin puts it in his article on Industry 4.0: “Much design intent is lost when translating from a native CAD format to a neutral CAD format. This is why it is vital to create a strategy whereby engineers use native CAD formats, or where CAD is translated properly by CAD translation software, as much as possible. Neutral CAD formats like STEP were created for long-term archival and are still best suited for that purpose because they don’t preserve vital design intent information.” Yet vital design intent data allows design engineers to see behind the curtain of the design of a 3D CAD model, revealing the why, how and understanding of the data. When different CAD models are introduced into an organization’s ecosystem it’s imperative to have software that will accurately translate the data and allow the otherwise incompatible systems to talk to each other without data degradation. It provides the exchange of critical information to external teams, other team members throughout your organization, procurement, and manufacturing.

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Adam Beck

Director of Marketing at CADENAS PARTsolutions | A Marketing graduate from the Miami University, Farmer School of Business in Oxford Ohio, Adam has years of experience in marketing and design for a variety of industries.