Why are we still waiting?
Tom Shelley looks at some of the barriers to collaborative engineering and system integration and suggests ways in which these may be overcome
In fifteen years, progress towards full collaborative engineering and CAD/CAM integration in the majority of companies has been lamentably slow and, in too many cases, has still not got there.
The big automotive and aerospace companies are there, because they have had to be, otherwise today's complicated cars and aeroplanes assembled from components and sub systems from a multitude of suppliers would never drive or fly.
This leaves a great many companies which still make only partial use of the capabilities of the systems they have paid good money for, leaving them vulnerable to destruction by competitors who have got their act together and are more efficient.
Chris Stephenson of Oracle, in a recent presentation, said that one of the big barriers to full integration was setting up a company wide system using "A kit instead of a suite". If a system is set up with software supplied by different vendors, or not integrally designed to work together, he said, "There is then a danger of different packages no longer talking to each other when new versions are brought out, or only being able to communicate in one direction." With a business system, he was able to argue that such problems could largely be solved by putting all the data on an Oracle database.
Users of Microsoft Word and Excel will be aware of the problems caused when somebody upgrades their Microsoft Office suite and, unless they remember to save files in older versions, they start to create files which users of earlier versions are completely unable to read.
If CAD and CAM software is being upgraded, it really needs to be across the board, with attention paid to everyone, including suppliers and sub contractors, who need to have access to the same data. Provided attention is paid to this problem (before it becomes a problem) there is no reason while the smallest companies cannot obtain maximum advantage. Any good company system should have only one current version of their design at any one time, and be able to make all or part of this available to whoever inside or outside the company who would benefit the company by having direct access.
An example of appropriate thinking by a vendor is Solid Edge Version 10, announced in the UK on June 13th 2001. This provides a built-in Parasolid-to-ACIS bi-directional translator, to improve interoperability with ACIS based software. V10 also includes new healing technology that automatically finds and corrects faults and inconsistencies in imported 3D CAD data. To address needs in the automotive and aerospace supply chain, V10 enhances Solid Edge's interoperability with Unigraphics, UGS's high end CAD system. Solid Edge can now directly open multi body Unigraphics files that remain dynamically associative with the Unigraphics model. The software also includes several new capabilities to further enhance AutoCAD data translation capabilities. OLE objects such as Microsoft Excel and Word files placed as embedded or linked documents in Solid Edge can be saved to AutoCAD formats.
The announcement of V10 closely followed a press release from Algor, dated May 30th 2001, to the effect that it was announcing upgrades to its InCAD technology for finite element analysis that enabled full analysis of complex models created in Solid Edge Version 9. The release continued, "Algor's upgrades show its continued commitment to maintain an active partner relationship with Solid Edge and provide Solid Edge users with the highest levels of utility for both their CAD and FEA investments", said Bill McClure, director of the Solid Edge line of business at UGS. "The integration now possible with Algor's InCAD products enables Solid Edge users to directly capture their models created in our Weldment Environment with Algor."
We hope the Algor software works equally well with Version 10 but we would not bank on it. In common with many users of software, Findlay Media (Eureka's publishing house) has a policy of usually using the next to latest software release, but not quite the very latest one. This brings you your magazine on time every month and ensures reliable delivery of all the other services we offer. Next to latest usually has most of the bugs ironed out, including the ones involved in data transfer and interoperability. Latest versions we prefer to leave to others to pilot. Engineering users can make their choice, either going for tried and tested or all latest bells and whistles. Either way, integration and interoperability is crucial.
Data exchange software takes flight
Specialist software was needed to assist the collaborative design of a major aircraft project.
Jet engine maker, Pratt & Whitney, experienced problems when exchanging data for a digital mock-up. During the product development process, one of their customers was using CADDS5 and EPD Connect for integrating and assembling components while Pratt & Whitney engineers were using Unigraphics.
Pratt & Whitney CAD-System Analyst, David Yamarik said, "Components were sent individually and due to the incompatibility, the entire mock-up had to be re-assembled, one part at a time into a single file. We requested that our customer send the EPD Connect file, which outlined component placement, and then utilised Theorem's Data eXchange Navigator to recreate the entire assembly. We also isolated components that failed to translate, and that resulted in faster problem resolution. With the automated translation process and improved problem interrogation on this particular program, we reduced overall translation time by 50%".
Locate production problems before finalising design
Delmia says that by using all modules in Delmia Process Engineering, a user is able to create a complete virtual factory and validate the process before the product design is finalised.
All modules are based on a Product, Process and Resource model stored in a single database. A Process and Resource Planning module is used to generate a process graph of the sequence of operations and automatically drive a manufacturing concept. A Standard Time Measurement module delivers a detailed process description for both manual and semi-automated manufacturing processes. A Product Evaluation module enables the user to filter specific product configurations and evaluate the cost of the proposed production plan against target costings. Finally, a Layout Planning module allows the efficient design and optimisation of manual and automated work cells and lines.
CAD software built with integration at its core
VX, unlike most CAD software, is built round a proprietary kernel with CAM built in from the start. Manufacturing planning and CNC machining routines are an integral part of the modelling engine and this ensures complete synchronisation between design and manufacturing. Its CAD strength is its combined 3D solid and surface modelling capabilities. In Version 5, this includes the ability to allow users to decide how much attraction or 'gravity' to apply to problem curves, and to allow up to hundreds of variations in filleting through a single command. The software automatically creates difficult parting lines as well as cooling channels, face vents, electrode placements and inserts, and checks for interference with part, mould cavity and cooling elements. On the initial design collaboration side, the software includes manual and automatic healing of imported solid models; and direct import/translation of Pro/Engineer, CATIA and Parasolid files. Systems using the Parasolid kernel include UGS, Solid Edge and SolidWorks. Prices are £4,000 for the CAD module or £10,000 for everything.
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