By Kyle Herring
Kyle Herring is the Marketing Manger, Anark Corp.
Industry leaders in the CAD world will gather in May for the 2008 3D Collaboration & Interoperability Conference with an agenda that sounds vaguely similar to political nominating committees. In both politics and engineering software, there are those who are hungry for change. As difficult as overcoming partisanship in Washington may be for the next President, finding solutions to the interoperability problems that continue to hinder the world of 3D may prove to be even tougher.
David Prawel of Longview Advisors Inc., the organizers of the annual event, puts it this way: “3D software has grown into an indispensable tool in all corners of industry — design, simulation, gaming, web communication, and manufacturing — and continues to evolve and bring us new improvements. The one issue that holds the technology from its full potential is interoperability.”
3D varieties of commercial CAD are only about two decades old. Improvements in modeling come in swift high-tech waves, but any efficiencies are neutralized when data are exchanged company-to-company, or department-to-department because of different 3D platforms and formats. The multilingual situation creates drag on the process, which can be measured in dollars. A National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) report estimated that inadequate interoperability costs American industries as much as $15.8 billion per year.
A 2007 survey of engineering organizations by CADCAMNet charted various aspects of how 3D data is used in the business world. One interesting finding was that interoperability issues are universal: every respondent dealt with different file types to some extent on a weekly basis.
“The issue is not just about software,” says Prawel, “it’s about people. A world-class organization needs people to be able to collaborate and communicate effectively across the globe. They certainly can’t do that if they can’t share project data.”
Translation software like Anark Core can allow manual update of a file, including hole removal, parts removal or a change to tessellation that can both protect trade secrets and create smaller file sizes, depending on the needs of the recipient.
As the uses of 3D data become more versatile and valuable to many more business applications, the interoperability issue grows even more complex. Take a typical design scenario: a machine
assembly created using one CAD system, for example, SolidWorks. The engineers do not design all the parts, however; they specify many parts from their supply chain, even more may be supplied by a program partner, contracted for a specialized system. The Tier I supplier uses another CAD system, like Pro/ENGINEER, the program partner uses a third, say CATIA. This three-legged project might be considered the ‘classic’ interoperability challenge, the one where in years past, engineers set up three different work stations, each with different modeling software.
The recent developments of “lightweight” 3D data further confuse things. Now the 3D shapes can be lifted from their memory-heavy CAD origins and emailed around the world. These lightweight models are freed from the engineering department, to be used in production planning, online simulations, technical documentation, brochures and advertising. 3D is rapidly expanding out of the technical realm and moving into communicative and artistic re-use, and therein lies another set of format and data management choices — and potential interoperability snags.
Issues in 3D interoperability, then, are multiplying, rather than resolving. Attendees to the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Conference are there to address these issues, offering solutions as much as they are there to learn new techniques in the short term to mitigate the problems within their own particular business process.
Anark Core Server is a scalable server system for high-volume, high-change environments. It allows translation automation of CAD geometry throughout the enterprise, supply chain, and support organizations.
How will 3D CAD smooth out the disconnects that come with incomplete interoperability? For a long-term solution, some in the industry long for some sort of universal standard in format, so that one day, 3D models will be as interchangeable as light bulbs.
Besides several different neutral formats like IGES and STEP already in use, the likelihood of a single universal standard is slim. It would require either cross-competitor cooperation, something as hard to do as getting political parties to agree. Since computing applications evolve so quickly, by the time a format is settled upon, a new wave of technological advancements might make it obsolete.
A universal platform can also come about naturally, through market forces, as one player proves itself dominant over a long period (e.g. a ubiquitous operating system like Microsoft Windows makes it an economic necessity for commonly used applications to be Windows-compatible). For 3D CAD, with all its diverse specialties, this is occurring within some niche markets. But overall, a candidate for universal 3D use is slow to emerge as the frontrunner.
One alternative solution for interoperability is automation. As modeling capabilities have vastly improved over the last decade, translation or transformation technology has also made huge strides, providing faster processing and more reliable translations.
One example of how such technology is coming of age involves use of a software “Translator” to meet complex interoperability needs. One example, the Anark Core Platform, delivers an easy to use and automated system that transforms technical 3D CAD data into usable 3D forms for myriad engineering and data-exchange applications. This type of system also provides a lightweight format appropriate for 3D publishing uses such as product visualization and simulation. That same automated system allows specific features to be removed from the 3D models prior to sharing, so that intellectual property can be protected, or if the recipient simply does not need that level of information. Most important, this is a tool that has been shaped by customer demands to provide both highly accurate B-rep translations to-and-from CAD modelers, as well as lightweight formats for downstream use including Collada, VRML, X3D, and Autodesk DWF formats.
Anark Core Workstation is part of a translation package that produces transformed, use-appropriate CAD geometry for supply chain and support applications throughout the enterprise.
Translation/transformation packages allow easy changes to existing CAD models, such as the progressive tessellation shown in these three versions of the same rudder control box for use in the aerospace industry.
Separating the total needs of engineering IT into modelers and translators allows each type of software vendor to focus on providing the best technology, and allows users to operate
without the slowdowns and headaches of incompatibility. With automated translation technology, they are also able to take on a wider range of clientele, serve them faster, and promise deliverables in the customer’s desired format.
But translator automation as the interconnecting bridge between companies also provides the industry with stopgap solutions for new, unforeseen problems. For example, now that 3D CAD geometry is freed from the engineer’s hard drive, it also means that proprietary design information is potentially flowing everywhere. Translator software can provide the management tools needed for other communication problems that emerge in the future.
Lockheed, DoD Speakers to Keynote Interoperability Conference 2008
Keynote speaker Dr. Mike Jahadi of Lockheed Martin Aeronautics will kick off this year’s conference, discussing global integration and management of 21st century fighter aircraft. Kevin Borek, PLM Lead at the Pentagon, will address the general assembly on Friday with his presentation on Product Lifecycle Management from the perspective of the Department of
Defense (DoD). This year’s event takes place in Denver, Colorado, May 15-16, 2008
This 4th annual industry conference brings together industry leaders who discuss the issues and barriers to sharing and working with 3D product data. The event brings together attendees from automotive, aerospace, heavy equipment, electronics, and other discrete manufacturing industries, along with representatives from government and the defense community. Attendees have a diverse choice of breakout sessions and open-panel discussions, moderated by industry experts. General themes will cover:
• Product Lifecycle Collaboration & Interoperability.
• Collaboration & Interoperability Technology.
• Standardization in Collaboration & Interoperability.
• Data Migration & Legacy Data Management.
Other experts offering 3D collaboration and interoperability insights include Don Richardson, director of the Manufacturing Industry Unit at Microsoft; Dr. Nathan Hartman, professor at Purdue University; Nate Nalven, PLM Technical Fellow of Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems; Terry Partridge, CAD Manager at Cummins Engine; and Richard Zuray, PLM
Technical Principal at Boeing.
:: Design World ::
Filed Under: 3D CAD, Software