Eliminate CAD Chaos Part 1: Consolidate Your Platforms

Written by: Dave Martin

Read Time: 4 min

Recently, it has become the norm for product development organizations to adopt and implement multiple CAD systems. There are plenty of legitimate reasons why your company may have become multi-CAD. For example, you might have acquired or been acquired by a company on a different platform. Or you’re a design house that supports both 2D architectural and 3D mechanical work.

However, I have also seen many bad reasons why companies maintain multiple CAD systems. Here are some of the worst:

  • A new manager demands a switch to their preferred tool.
  • A product team falls behind schedule, so they scapegoat their existing tool. They displace their current system but have to maintain legacy products in the previous system.
  • At a previous company, a team subcontracted design work to a company on a different tool and purchased a few seats. My team had to integrate that data into our product and Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) system. I reminded the team that the subcontractor works for us, not the other way around.

Maintaining a multi-CAD strategy can result in serious negative consequences for product development organizations. Let’s discuss seven of those consequences below.

7 Impacts of CAD Chaos

1. Increased costs

Each platform you have requires its own licenses and maintenance. Just like with home streaming services, these costs add up quickly. It’s easy to lose track of how much your company is paying for CAD. Having multiple tools reduces your profit margins.

2. Increased support staff

I was one of several CAD administrators at a well-known rocket company that used four different CAD tools. While most of us were experts in Creo, we also had an AutoCAD expert. We wanted to hire a CATIA person and someone for Inventor. That’s three extra hires because they relied on multiple CAD systems.

Additionally, each of those CAD systems requires its own training, standards, component libraries, and process development.

3. Inevitable rework

Some teams use multiple CAD systems on the same product. One tool might be used for surfacing and industrial design in the concept phase. This geometry is imported into a primary tool for detailed design, assemblies, and drawings. Another tool is used for simulation, and yet another for manufacturing.

These processes are inherently inefficient. These teams might rely on exporting and importing files in a neutral format. In my experience, something always gets lost in translation. Often, it becomes necessary to recreate those models in the other tool. This waste in rework delays schedule and time to market.

4. Impaired collaboration

I’ve used and supported multiple CAD systems in my career. Creating simple parts, assemblies, and drawings is similar in different parametric modelers. But once you get to any advanced processes, like top-down design, simulation, manufacturing, and routed systems, it’s like speaking different languages. Using different tools hurts the organization’s ability to work together on new products.

5. Error-prone processes

If you’re using multiple tools, you have most likely developed home-grown processes to allow these tools to work together. These processes often involve manual methods of updating CAD models in one system to changes in models from the other, leading to mistakes.

These manual processes rely on faulty communication methods. Emails get buried in the inbox. Quick blurbs on team messaging systems get missed. I’ve seen simulation teams waste weeks analyzing outdated models. Tooling and prototypes get built to the wrong versions. Machining the wrong model can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.

6. Missed opportunities

Manual, home-grown processes and teams with split skill bases prevent companies from exploring innovative new projects and staffing new projects with adequate resources.

7. Complex product configuration management

For the past couple years, I have been working in configuration management. In order to manage our vehicles, we develop a digital twin, the electronic analog of our physical product. The As Designed, As Built, and As Managed configurations allow us to “pull on the digital thread” and determine the exact state of our vehicles at any given time. This is hard enough when you’re managing hardware, software, and cable harnesses. Multiple CAD sources increases the complexity of this task.

Consolidation is the Solution

Just because your company has become multi-CAD doesn’t mean you have to accept this way of doing business if it hurts your budget, schedule, and products. Consolidating on a single CAD platform provides numerous benefits and eliminates the problems outlined above. Although getting into a multi-CAD situation is easier than getting out, achieving a standardized solution is well worth the effort. Stay tuned for Part 2, where you’ll learn the steps you can take toward CAD consolidation.

How and Why to Standardize Onto One CAD Platform

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Tags: CAD Creo Onshape Aerospace and Defense Automotive Electronics and High Tech Industrial Equipment Oil and Gas Software and Technology

About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at amazon.com. He can be reached at dmartin@creowindchill.com.

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.