The MultiCAD Challenge

May 11, 2007
Top performers pursue an "insulated" approach.

To mangle an old saying: No manufacturing firm is an island. It relies on suppliers, customers and partners to get the job done. If it's a global manufacturer, the extended network is likely even larger.

The same holds true most of the time when it comes to product development efforts, and therein lies the challenge. Not every supplier, customer and partner uses the same computer-aided design (CAD) tools or delivers design data in the same CAD format. Mandating a standard is not an option for many; as one manufacturing executive points out, his company is not a large enough customer of any supplier to demand a format change.

So what's a manufacturer faced with this dilemma to do? Research firm Aberdeen Group has some answers, having recently examined how firms handle design data that are received in multiple CAD formats.

What Aberdeen found is that the best-in-class manufacturers -- identified as leaders across five engineering product development-related metrics -- were far more likely than others to pursue an insulated product development approach with their customers (67%) and suppliers (78%). An insulated approach means that while they themselves design in one CAD format, these firms can and do deliver data in many formats.

Who Outsources Design Translation And Re-creation?
Among OEMs
Best-in-class 70%
Industry Average 56%
Laggard 41%
Among Suppliers
Best-in-class 50%
Industry Average 65%
Laggard 50%
Among Contract Manufacturers
Best-in-class 50%
Industry Average 88%
Laggard 100%

Source: Aberdeen Group

Interestingly, when it comes to converting design data between formats, top-performing original equipment manufacturers are more likely than average (76% vs. 56%) to outsource design translation and re-creation, while for best-in-class suppliers and contract manufacturers, the opposite holds true.

Among firms that do not outsource such services, Aberdeen research indicates that the translation tool most frequently used is the existing CAD tool interface, with little difference in usage rates among the best performers (65%) and worst performers (60%).

Some firms also have developed in-house translation applications, including 48% of the top performers that don't outsource (versus an industry average of 36%). A larger disparity arises when it comes to third-party translation applications -- which are specifically designed to translate data among formats -- but again it's the top performers who are deploying such applications more broadly.

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About the Author

Jill Jusko

Bio: Jill Jusko is executive editor for IndustryWeek. She has been writing about manufacturing operations leadership for more than 20 years. Her coverage spotlights companies that are in pursuit of world-class results in quality, productivity, cost and other benchmarks by implementing the latest continuous improvement and lean/Six-Sigma strategies. Jill also coordinates IndustryWeek’s Best Plants Awards Program, which annually salutes the leading manufacturing facilities in North America.

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