Study Finds Continuing CAD Interoperability Issues

The 2006 Kubotek USA Interoperability Survey finds continued and growing challenges for manufacturers working to get products to market quickly due to problems in the design-to-manufacturing processes, including the use of legacy data and disparate CAD systems.

The 2006 CAD Interoperability Survey is Kubotek's latest installment in an ongoing study of key issues that hamper productivity and therefore reduce efficiency in the design and manufacturing workplace. More than 2,800 CAD managers and users responded to the survey.

Kubotek has long known that interoperability issues have historically reduced the effectiveness with which designers and engineers can create, edit and import/export their models. The 2006 CAD Interoperability Survey Results shed light on the actual process employed by different CAD users and on the factors that hinder their productivity.

Kubotek found that fully 43 percent of those using history-based CAD systems need to rebuild 3D models from scratch more than 50 percent of the time in order to complete a design task because it cannot be done using the original 3D model file. A growing number, 19 percent of those surveyed, are employing alternative direct modeling tools to avoid costly and time-consuming rebuilding of models.

The following are some highlights of the survey's findings:
  • 50 percent of all respondents indicated that they had to redesign a new part or tool from existing or received 3D CAD models on a weekly or even more frequent basis.
  • 84 percent of the more than 1000 respondents using a history-based CAD system to open a file and complete a redesign indicated that they need to rework original feature trees. Of that group, 66 percent indicate that they do so at least 50 percent of the time.
  • 43 percent of all respondents indicated that they use the originating 3D CAD system (the system the model was generated in) less than half the time to make subsequent edits to the model.
  • 44 percent of respondents indicated that they receive or send two or more CAD files on a monthly basis which were different than their preferred CAD file type.
  • 37 percent of the respondents replied that they receive or send files created from four or more non-preferred CAD file types on a monthly basis.
"As global competition heats up and manufacturing timeframes get squeezed it's no surprise that the vast majority of designers are reusing pre-existing models," notes Bob Bean, chief operating officer of Kubotek USA. "That in turn creates challenges for downstream manufacturers to get critical information needed to build parts. It is common to receive a model from a customer, supplier, or even a fellow employee that was created using a CAD tool that differs from the user's preferred tool. Unfortunately, the imported model frequently has problems that must be worked around."

In addition to providing a general overview of the industry, the survey also provides interesting vertical segment data and gives CAD/CAM users a deeper understanding of the issues which may limit their performance. The complete survey results are available at

Kubotek is a pioneer in the area of CAD interoperability. The annual survey continues to shed light on the complex issues of the design-to-manufacture process. With that critical information, Kubotek continually refines its products and services to assist all phases of product development in order to overcome interoperability problems. For example, Kubotek recently announced advancements in model simplification technology which can be used to produce compact, precise and high-fidelity design models using either legacy or imported CAD model data. The company also sponsors events where the industry can explore, understand and resolve these issues.

This year's survey results are just one way CAD design professionals can understand how to reduce the inefficiency resulting from interoperability issues and curtail the need to rebuild imported CAD models from scratch.

by Jeffrey Rowe, Editor

This study and its findings should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone who deals with exchanging CAD files on any level. Here it is late 2006 and we are still locked in a quagmire of CAD file formats and the myriad problems they force us to deal with. This problem that never seems to go away, or even get any better, continues to run up billions of dollars a year because of incompatible and just plain corrupt data.

This isn't all bad, however. If you're involved with data translation software or services, the good times continue to roll, and will continue to do so for quite some time to come. But the dreams coming true and good fortune for some cannot compare to the nightmares and misfortune of the masses when it comes to living with data incompatibilities on a daily basis that are huge drains on time, money, productivity, and innovation. Some vendors are, however, are trying to do their part to rectify this mess, but more about that later.

This discussion always comes back to standards that much of the rest of the technological world has worked for and supported for a long time. Why doesn't the CAD industry have better enforced and supported standards and "open sources? Well, to certain extent it does have its own standards, such as IGES and STEP, for transfer of design file information from one software package to another. But I have to ask you, how many IGES or STEP files have you imported with complex surfaces that you didn't have to perform at least one of the following operations (depending on what software package you're using) - analyze, repair, knit, stitch, blend, smooth, stretch, etc? In my experience, very few, if any, complex IGES or STEP files came across as perfect geometric entities. Some have been so bad that they were literally used for tracing with sketches for recreating the model - virtually starting from scratch - not exactly an optimized workflow. I know I'm not alone in this sentiment of frustration, either.

Don't forget, too, that the number of files stored using the IGES and STEP standard formats is vastly outnumbered by those stored in proprietary formats that number as many as there are CAD vendors. Even today, probably the most notable (and notorious) is still the DWG file format used by Autodesk's AutoCAD - a constantly moving data format target if there ever was one. This is getting away from the point, though, and the inevitable, who owns design data, and I'm not going there right now, although I have a strong opinion that it is the end users who created it who should ultimately own it. That's the charter of organizations like the Open Design Alliance, though, so you might want to check them out.

This is the second time around for the Kubotek-sponsored survey and I'm impressed with the number of respondents they were able to garner. Just like last year's study, there's still a lot of people having a lot of problems with the interoperability of CAD data. There are a few bright spots, but by and large, there's still a huge amount of work to do. For its part, I have to applaud Kubotek for conducting the survey and reporting the results. The company has also introduced a new simplification technology that is integrated into its KeyCreator and REALyze products that it says has enhanced model repair capabilities.

Surfaces and solid faces exported from various CAD programs are frequently represented as generic spline surfaces. Kubotek's simplification technology analyzes these spline surfaces and, as appropriate, re-classifies them into higher analytic forms such as planar, cylindrical, and toroidal. These analytic forms can then be used directly by Kubotek's KeyCreator and REALyze to make use of the faces for features and geometry editing.

Analytic faces are advantageous because they can expedite modeling operations while producing much smaller files. The Kubotek technology also re-intersects surfaces to remove certain tolerant edge conditions as it detects and automatically merges redundant faces and edges. Once the quality of the model has been improved and the size reduced, the improved model can be transferred using the ACIS SAT or Parasolid file formats to other CAD/CAM programs that support the higher analytic face forms. Theoretically, this route could potentially produce a higher quality and fidelity model in its exported form than, say, IGES or STEP, but I'd have to see it for myself to say with any degree of certainty. In any case, it's a different take on an age-old problem.

So, it's no secret that this problematic interoperability thing is not going away any time soon, and only promises to get more complicated and expensive as time goes on. That's a shame, because we all have better things to do than begrudgingly accept imported data, too often in a sorry state, and try and fix it before we can actually use it.

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Review Article
  • October 09, 2008
    Reviewed by 'Robert'
    I get the impression that Jeff Rowe thinks this study is about engineers strugling with 3Dfiles from foreign systems. In fact the study points out that its even as much strugle on naitive modells.
    This points out the drawbacks of constraints driven 3D-CADsystems.
    Those systems wants you to figure out in the begining when you start to modell, hove you want to change you modell at a later time. This is called "Design Intent".

      One person found this review helpful.

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