Do Native File Format Demands Diminish Quality Products?

“Native File requests ultimately diminishes quality products”
“Case Study, why companies loose the competitive edge thru native file requests”
“Companies enduring swapping quality for native file formats”

You’ll be reading the above headlines in various CAD magazines by 2010 if not sooner. It’s a growing trend in the industry that many companies request native file formats so they can edit the outsourced designs in house and keep documentation control “clean” “easy”, and “editable”.

Is this request nurturing a company that ultimately swaps quality for ease of documentation? I believe it is.

Operating a product design firm since 1989 our primary function is as an outsourced design resource for many organizations both large and small. In recent years we have added a division that provides 3D CAD software reseller sales and services. I will keep the application confidential since I did not intend this article to be an advertisement; merely a perception of a trend forming that can be dangerous if not evaluated further. Having the rare opportunity to see both sides of the fence allows us various insights into trends that develop in the industry.

Our extended business model has been developed and streamlined over the years to allow freelancers, internal design staff, and other firms to collaborate on various projects as needed. In order for this process to work fluently we needed a design tool that would allow us to accept 3D files from various CAD applications. In addition, provide the ability to continue to edit them as tough created natively and utilize them to their fullest capabilities in the most expeditious manner. So after extensive research we standardized on a product that met all these requirements in 1998 after a long and arduous evaluation. It was this product that we now are a reseller for. This allowed us tremendous flexibility since we could get 3D cad files in virtually any format from an extensive talent pool regardless of what application was being used and continue to edit them as though they were created natively regardless of the history trees.

This process promotes the ability to get the best talent to perform the best work in whatever their application happens to be ultimately allowing us to provide the best quality services and products to our clients.

Recently, there has been a trend forming, and requests from clients to provide designs in native file formats has been on the rise. Well for us, this is a growing concern since we have clients utilizing just about every conceivable CAD application. We run the gamut from low-end to high end CAD applications that our clients have internally. This presents a problem we are currently looking to get under control. Up until now, we had no problems with our clients accepting our 3D CAD data regardless of their software, our current software continues to allow us to provide formats compatible to there internal software. Now clients are demanding more and more native formats for various reasons:

  • Maintain history-structure to maintain the editable from internal design staff. (Which is debatable)?
  • Have the warm feeling that all there engineering documentation is on one format.

These are the two main reasons given to us when asked.

So, this trend worries me, not as a reseller of a CAD application but as a design firm that has to maintain the requests from its clients. So what do we do?

  • Go purchase a license of every CAD application in existence, along with all the ancillary support and training fees.
  • Do we only accept projects from clients utilizing our internal software thus reducing our gross sales?
  • Do we continue the impossible task of mating application to talent?

All the above are tremendous financial burdens that would choke even the largest of design firms.

All this for what? Does the client really gain an advantage from requesting native file formats? In my opinion they are actually doing themselves and mankind a disservice. This seemly simple request appears to be harmless on the surface, but I feel it is very dangerous when the hood is lifted. I feel this can ultimately lead to the downfall of an organization. The by-product of these requests that seemingly appear to be harmless are;

  • They will loose their competitive edge.
  • Degrade the quality of their products (because of setting the task on the application expert and not the process expert)
  • Decrease the ability to incorporate innovation into new products (Since most leading applications do not allow for progressive conceptual design phase and thus reducing the number of design iterations that can be evaluated)
  • ncur increases in outsourcing fees. Thus not meeting already tight budgets
  • Miss already tight deadlines
  • Increase the risk of rework and poor workmanship

And this list goes on any time you sacrifice quality. This is because now they are setting themselves up to degrade the quality of services and the amount of innovation applied to a project ultimately loosing the competitive advantage over their closest competitors. In addition, the client will ultimately have to pay higher fees because we now have to offset the increased overhead costs associated needed to meet this demand.

I think CEO’s of companies need to sit down and speak to their respective VP of Engineering and investigate the mandate more in-depth and take a harder look at this mandate: A need to re-evaluate if the requirement for native formats is urgently needed or ultimately just a ‘shoot from the hip’ request.

Thank you

Review Article
  • Excellent comments! November 17, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Dave'
    I agree 100%, Tom. I often hear that "We bought this CAD software because the majority of customers we deal with use it." Although I, too, dealt with customers, machine shops, and second-party vendors who have asked for a certain native file or two, I have never noticed a trend regarding a problem because of the type of file I sent. In fact, I have sent many types of files(mostly IGES, X_T, SAT, and STEP) to these people and never once received a call back, telling me that the generic file "didn't work".
    The act of demanding native files does and will stifle creativity - kinda like asking a left-handed .400 batter to bat righty - not a good idea if your goal is winning!
    Let's face it, no single MCAD software will ever mimic Microsoft and "dominate the world". My advice to those who are on a mission to force everyone to use what they use for no other reason than for their own convenience - wake up and smell the coffee!


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  • Simply Yes November 17, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Tim McLellan'
    Having been in this business for quite some time it continues to amaze me that any company is moving down this path. Sadly I believe it is lack of knowledge of the cost and complexity of CAD today. Unfortunately Engineering VPs continue to view CAD as drafting rather than an integral part of the product development system.

    If you ask yourself is CAD in your critical path for product development the odds are the answer is yes. Therefore the easy answer is to get everyone to deliver data in my native format. However, the ultimate issue will be cost as outlined in the editorial above.

    Until some large OEM drive their product development from a neutral file type, or even better, a light weight file format (U3D, JT, Product View, XVL3D, etc.) no one wins. Just as the industry went through a big change to solid modeling it now needs to go one step further and move to a neutral format.

    Any knowledgeable person working with today's modern CAD tools knows working on someone else’s model can be painful. It requires highly technical skills in the tool of choice and more importantly an expert knowledge in that specific product. Do you want someone familiar with automotive frames/chassis making changes to a fuel tank model created by an expert in fuel tanks? I wrote an article a few years back which I had gotten a quote from a design house which said something to the effect (paraphrasing), “I told the OEM (Large Automotive Company) I could do the job twice as fast and at less cost in another tool and they ignored it and paid the higher price”. If you get a chance take a look at the article at (3.7MB PDF).

    Innovation is not going to come from native CAD formats but rather from Companies with processes, methodologies, techniques, and most importantly expertise in their own product development.


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  • As Deep Throat said, "Follow the money." November 16, 2005
    Reviewed by 'Buzz Smith'
    Having been an application engineer on the software side of the business (both with resellers and software companies) and now an end-user, I agree whole-heartedly that the demand for "native" CAD is preposterous for reasons given in the article. I would add one other: 3D solid modeling is an intimate process. Have you ever tried to make a MAJOR modification to someone else's design? I have complained about laziness, lack of understanding of the software, and just the plain stupidity of the original designer many times when attempting this task. So what if I give you a file in your native format??? Are you really going to spend the time understanding the how and why the part was modeled the way it was, or go back to the original designer and have them make the change?

    However, I doubt the Vice-President of Engineering is the source of the problem (much less understands it). So, who is driving this?

    Most major industries/companies have selected their design platform of choice and the software manufacturers know the chance of changing this selection is slim to none. In the past, the CAD companies relied on their reseller channel to handle the "riff-raff" of small to mid-sized companies because the software manufacturer didn't deem them worthy of their sales effort. Many resellers cropped up to address this large market, but could only pursue each small company independently. The cost of this sales approach was very high, but when features-based solid modelers cost $20,000 per seat and up, the resellers were more than happy to go after that business. Now, a very powerful CAD system can be had for less than $5000.

    Over the years the reseller channel has diminished for several reasons, not the least of which is the decreasing price of the product they sell. Customized demonstrations, benchmarks and long-term sales efforts are simply not feasible when the potential payback to the reseller is so small. The software manufacturers, however, must keep bringing in more customers. Hmmm.... How can we get a lot of new customers without having to convince each one individually? How can we keep the smaller CAD companies from growing into strong competitiors?

    I've got it!

    Have our customers (i.e. the large OEMs) force the CAD decision on their suppliers! Genius! The marketing person who thought up that plan is probably retired on some Caribbean island now.

    The VP of Engineering probably has never sat down to use a modern CAD tool and just can't understand the issues involved as intimately as we, the end users, can. The result of this poor decision to standardize causes downstream vendors to end up buying multiple CAD systems, just to keep their options open. But we all know, no one person can be an expert at all of them. Daily, I use Catia V4 and V5, Pro/Engineer 2001 and Wildfire, MasterCAM and SolidWorks. I have seen many files that won't translate between these platforms (usually due to poor modeling techniques) so I feel the pain the larger companies are trying to avoid.

    If this native-CAD trend continues, supplier companies will have to select the industry they want to compete within, in order to use the tool with which they are most skilled, so that they provide the most valuable service. Reduced competition will result in higher prices for the larger companies. Already, we are seeing ads for systems that claim to be able to read and write foreign formats natively. This may be an end-run around the native-CAD decision, but I doubt this will ever be done efficiently or successfully, because the larger, more established CAD companies won't allow it.

    How do we all go native-CAD? Easy. When the major CAD suppliers have wiped out their smaller competitiors with this decree and then duke it out for final primacy. The Armageddon of the CAD wars.

    Or maybe not.

    It's just a sales ploy.

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