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Uptake of CAD technology still lagging

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ALTHOUGH the uptake of 3D CAD started over a decade ago, many designers in the manufacturing industry still need convincing of the technology’s merits.

Lynn Allen, a US-based veteran CAD expert with Autodesk, is at a loss to understand why users delay the move. “The advantages of 3D are huge. You can do all different types of analysis. You can do error and interference checking, and reduce your time to market.

“By virtual prototyping, you make sure everything fits before you create the expensive, time-consuming physical prototype. There are so many advantages of moving to 3D, but users still need convincing,” she told Manufacturers Monthly on her recent visit to Australia.

One problem, Allen suggests, is that users are comfortable with their present systems. “There’s some fear that if they move to another product, they are not going to understand it.”

She says many AutoCAD users use the 3D element in AutoCAD and think they are there. “That’s not true. As AutoCAD is difficult to use in 3D, users view the 3D world as being like that….very primitive and long to do.

“Then when I show them Inventor, which is based on new technology, they see how it can be done faster in 3D than 2D. Converting from 2D to 3D is far easier than many think,” Allen said.

Manoj Pandit, application sales engineer with Autodesk, describes 2D as just a bunch of dots, lines and circles. “However with 3D, users can also put their design into it and create a solid model. Add some tolerances and you can emulate if there are any interferences.

“You can do this much earlier in the design stage. Rather than making a prototype to check if it will withstand a particular stress,” Pandit said.

However, Pandit admits there is always going to be a role for 2D, and Paul Gantz, MD of Intercad, agrees. “There are some applications that I would advise remain that way. There is a lot of activity out there that is patently suitable for 2D,”Gantz told Manufacturers Monthly.

“There is nothing wrong with mix and match. You can do your modelling in 3D when it needs to be, and keep some other activities in 2D.

“The move from 2D to 3D is well on its way. A wave that started some 7 to 10 years ago. We are now probably at the 60% conversion mark.” While explaining each company is different, Gantz believes a 80-20% mix would not be too far from the perfect ratio.”

Data management

When it comes to using the information in 3D CAD systems further up the value chain, such as MRP or ERP, Allen says there are companies doing that, but she suspects not many.

“Very few companies are using data management, beyond Windows Explorer! For those who have worked with them in the past, PLM programs have been painful and expensive, and sometimes never get fully implemented.” However she admits they are now far more user friendly.

Rather than PLM, Allen highlighted a “low stress” data management program, Vault, which comes with all Autodesk’s manufacturing programs. “It helps users to get used to the initial concept of protecting their data and making sure people don’t over-write their data. It keeps track of different versions, while at the same time it is not intrusive.

“Once people start to use it they see all the benefits of data management programs,” Allen said.

Gantz agrees, saying manufacturers should be taking more advantage of the CAD data they have in their system further up the value chain. “This is an enivitable trend.”

At present, Gantz says the mid level PDM (product data management) is expanding and is happening. “By default everyone needs to manage their engineering data, and they do.”

“However, the high level part of PDM reminds me of the early days of CAD. It’s a very complex product today.

“The technology is still in its infancy. It is expensive to buy, and double that for implementation. At this stage it’s only for large organisations.

“However the trend is there and it will happen. At the moment it’s a product looking for a market. But someone is going to come up with a new mousetrap for PDM, the same way as CAD did a decade or so ago. But when, who knows?”

“Every design office has a huge load of pure engineering data, models, parts, how they are assembled, their manufacturing properties. Not only under their own roof, but often spread all around the world, especially if they are a larger manufacturer.

“Users need to have some computer based technology to keep track of what’s there, and to be able to ask where it was used.”

While Gantz has seen a steady flow of Australian manufacturers moving their production facilities to low cost labour countries like China, while keeping the design element here, he is now seeing the tide turn to some extent.

“The lure of cheap production sucked in a lot of people. They rushed into China because it was cheap. Then they found the quality was in proportion to the price. Meaning if you want good quality, then you must pay roughly the same as Australia. Then they have the problem of logistics and the chance of loosing their IP,” Gantz said.

Autodesk 02 9844 8000.

Intercad 02 9454 4444.

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