Increasingly, the growing investments in three-dimensional computer-aided design (3-D CAD) signal a new emphasis on gaining competitiveness via wider use of engineering data. As a result, information that was once held captive by the design function is now utilized corporate-wide.
"That has quickly led to 3-D CAD leadership by the automotive and aerospace companies," says Alain Houard, Dassault Systmes' vice president for Catia. In both automotive and aerospace the transition from 2-D CAD to 3-D is virtually complete, adds Dassault's Ove Schuett, vice president PLM business transformation sales.
However, for all of manufacturing, the transition to 3-D CAD is still incomplete, with perhaps a penetration of 50%-60% overall, notes John MacKrell, senior consultant with consulting firm CIMdata. But the transition continues with most new product programs invariably being designed in 3-D. In addition startups typically begin operation with a competitive 3-D design strategy.
Increasingly companies regard 3-D CAD as essential for a modern manufacturing organization, notes Glen McMinn, president of Delcam North America. He says 3-D CAD can provide a huge advantage over competitors still working in 2-D. "These advantages include visualizing the initial part design, quickly handling design changes, creating part prototypes and [empowering] tight connections with manufacturing."
Adds Michael Campbell, senior vice president of product management at PTC, "At the highest level, what 3-D CAD provides is an opportunity for the industrial designers to realize a higher level of confidence in their designs earlier in the process. It essentially allows for the creation of a virtual prototype with simulated product assembly. The end result is a better product in a fraction of the time previously required."
"Evolving a strategy towards 3-D CAD can really become a question of survival," emphasizes Houard. As supporting evidence he describes the 3-D CAD benefits that accrue to a manufacturer of athletic footwear: "For that California-based manufacturer, we demonstrated how, by transitioning to 3-D CAD, we could reduce what was a five-week design process to just two days -- including physical prototypes." He explains that the 2-D process included sending the 2-D drawings offshore -- to Korea -- to reduce the cost of producing physical models. "Now it's accomplished faster and better at the shoe manufacturer's facility -- no need to rely on cheap offshore labor," Houard adds.
A major challenge for established 2-D users comes when a new company, using 3-D CAD, enters their market space. Houard emphasizes that transitioning to 3-D should be considered as just the first step of a technology roadmap tailored to maximize benefits across the corporation. He adds that for manufacturers willing to push the technology envelope, 3-D CAD offers access to such competitive tools as product lifecycle management (PLM). That leads to further exploitation of the design information throughout the organization. For example, going to 3-D CAD benefits collaboration by eliminating the functional silos' that are traditional to engineering and manufacturing.
Those collaboration benefits are emphasized in the latest CAD offerings from the PLM vendors. NX 5 from Siemens PLM is an example cited by Tony Affuso, chairman, CEO and president. The marriage of technologies inside NX 5, Affuso believes, will help increase a manufacturer's ability to leverage knowledge across the business. "That's why it is core to our PLM vision," he says.
Another example of a seamless integration of 3-D CAD and PLM is evident in PTC's January 2008 release of ProEngineer 4.0. PTC's Campbell says the design objectives include tools for data and process management and a focus on usability that facilitates collaboration in a PLM environment.
"The downstream use of 3-D CAD data in the analysis and manufacturing arenas can bring significant competitive advantages," adds Schuett. He describes how Boeing, a Dassault customer, won a contract to refurbish the interiors of C-130 transports, a plane originally designed in 2-D by Lockheed Martin. "To win the contract, Boeing created easy-to-understand 3-D instructions that cut labor costs."
Designing in 3-D also diminishes part interference problems -- a characteristic that effectively enables Boeing to globally distribute the manufacturing of 787 subassemblies to Asia and Europe and then perform final assembly at Everett, Wash. In addition 3-D data is easier for production floor employees to interpret.
To start the transition Schuett recommends seeking vendor and consulting help to develop the best forward strategy. Simply carrying over existing 2-D processes won't maximize the benefits, he warns.