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By Jeffery Heimgartner, June 20, 2013
When it comes to working with engineering documents created with software from more than one CAD vendor, I can think of a few reasons how companies can end up facing this dilemma. Let's first look at a few examples of how multi-CAD environments could come about.
Company Acquisitions. Say company A uses Autodesk Inventor, as well as the AutoCAD portion of an Autodesk Design Suite. They buy company B, which has been using SolidWorks from Dassault Systemes. Post-acquisition, the CAD manager at company A ends up supporting many file types created by multiple CAD programs: AutoCAD .dwg and .dwf files, Inventor .ipt, .iam, and .idw files, SolidWorks .sldprt, .sldasm, and .slddrw file, and the various eDrawings formats, such as .eprt, .edrw, and .easm.
Managing these dissimilar CAD data types becomes overwhelming for designers and managers - especially when the manufacturing folks chime in, saying they need a database of .dxf and .STEP files to be managed for their CNC (computer numerically controlled) equipment. At this point, simple file management through Windows Explorer becomes impossible.
Project Collaboration. When several firms collaborate on a project, then the designers and contractors are bound to be working with different CAD packages. For instance, consulting engineering firm C provides CAD design services to a municipality that requires drawings to be submitted as native AutoCAD .dwg files. Then the consulting firm lands a contract with different city that requires submittals in native MicroStation .dgn files. Company C now has to manage and track AutoCAD and MicroStation files, even if they don’t necessarily own either of the CAD programs.
Local Conditions. As a final example, there is the tier-one automotive suppliers industry, where I worked in Detroit using Autodesk Inventor and AutoCAD. The company’s Ohio office, however, struggled to find the talent locally to operate Inventor workstations. Since Ohio is SolidWorks country, it wasn’t before long, that seats of SolidWorks began popping up. In Ohio, the CAD system of choice by local CAD operators was SolidWorks, and so our seats of Inventor seats became idle, to be used only for legacy projects. (The accompanying AutoCAD Mechanical and Electrical seats did stay active.) Our firm was faced with working with AutoCAD, AutoCAD with proxy objects, Inventor, and SolidWorks files.
Given these scenarios, you should probably think twice before adopting just any EDMS (engineering document management system) or PLM (product lifecycle management) solution. In particular, I recommend you avoid incorporating EDMS/PLM from a specific CAD software company, because it could leave you with reduced options when it comes to managing and tracking engineering files from competing CAD software.
Instead, I find it makes more sense to implement EDMS from a neutral vendor, such as the Synergis Software, the developers of Adept engineering document management system. As software from a neutral third-party developer, Adept easily manages, tracks, controls, and views multiple CAD formats in a single system.
After seeing Adept at work, I found that Adept manages engineering documents from Inventor, AutoCAD, SolidWorks, and MicroStation simultaneously (see figure 1). Let me describe for you how Adept works with each of these packages.
Figure 1: Adept reads, displays, and writes to files in several proprietary formats
With AutoCAD, Adept integrates itself into the user interface and manages native AutoCAD files, including related xref and image attachments. Through this "seamless" integration into AutoCAD and AutoCAD-based systems, Adept allows users to take advantage of automated workflows, revision control, attributes and links, xrefs and reference file relationships, and more – all from within the CAD application.
As an example of its sophistication, Adept supports bidirectional attribute linking. It allows users to drive attribute updates from Adept’s "data cards" down into the CAD drawings, in single or batch mode.
In Inventor, Adept integrates as a Task Pane, as shown left in figure 2. The Adept Task Pane gives users the ability to check files in and out of the vault, find files and references, and so on - all without exiting the CAD application.
Figure 2: Adept’s Task Pane integration with Inventor
Here is another example of Adept’s sophistication. When using a dual screen monitor setup with Inventor, it’s easy to separate the display of the CAD application from the EDMS application. The Adept Library Card (on the far right side of the right monitor in figure 3) is where users edit and view files and associated data fields. I found it pretty impressive.
Figure 3: AutoCAD (left) and Adept’s Task Pane integration with Inventor (right) on a dual screen monitor setup
Inventor's iProperties can be extracted by Adept and is something that can be done in batch mode. I find this ideal for when initially populating a database with files after implementation. It also came in useful after an acquisition, when we needed to load files from company B into our corporate database.
Adept also integrates with SolidWorks, providing functions similar to those mentioned for AutoCAD and Inventor: central document access, collaboration, visualization, integration, control, and administration.
The document management functions of Adept are integrated into the SolidWorks graphical application in two ways. First, there is the Adept Task Pane displayed on the right side within the standard SolidWorks task pane; it is accessible like the SolidWorks Design Library tab. With the Adept Task Pane, users can search, check in and check out drawings, replace components, and so on, all without leaving SolidWorks (see figure 4).
Figure 4: The Adept Task Pane is seamlessly integrated into SolidWorks, as shown on the right. The Adept Relationship tree appears on left side of the screen
The second integration in SolidWorks is the Adept Relationship Tree. It appears in the same location as the Feature Manager or Assembly Browser (Figure 4.)). Icons next to file names in Adept's Relationship Tree notify users of the current status of each file. Tooltips are displayed by hovering over the file to get a textual description of the file status, such as who owns the file and whether it is available for editing.
As an example of Adept’s sophistication, custom properties are extracted from SolidWorks automatically, including properties specific to summary and configuration. Relationship management extends beyond assembly models, because Adept can track relationships in derived parts, in-context parts, split parts, toolbox parts, and drawings.
A host of other favorite document management features are included with Adept, including find and re-use existing designs, property linking, file relationship management, and collaboration with workflow routing.
No review of Adept EDMS is complete without a mention of AutoVue, the file viewer integrated in Adept using technology licensed from Oracle. I feel that a key component to Synergis Software’s multi-CAD strategy is the tight integration with AutoVue. It’s what enables Adept users to view native 2D and 3D files from AutoCAD, Inventor, SolidWorks, MicroStation, and a breathtaking 450 other formats.
AutoVue kicks in with hefty functions that go beyond viewing: users can measure, markup, and compare 2D drawings; and for 3D models users can interrogate models by measuring surface areas, angles, minimum distances between parts, as well as compare models and explode views. Users can even dynamically explode assemblies and save scenes, which is ideal for illustrations (see figure 5).
Figure 5: AutoVue displaying a partially exploded 3D model in transparent mode
With AutoVue, users can section models and assemblies and then save the section edges out as separate files. Other functions include creating and exporting bills of material, and calculating mass properties, such as centers of gravity and moments of inertia. I found that these functions can be carried out with my 3D mouse as the input device.
I was glad to see that Adept can be configured to generate .pdf files of current revisions of drawings. It does this during the check in of 2D files, and works with all CAD systems. Looking to the future, I wonder how CAD-neutral software companies like Synergis Software will deal with CAD vendors like Dassault Systems; in V6, they are moving away from file-based storage and instead store all elements in a single database. To understand the extent of this concern, I spoke with Todd Cummings, vice president of Research and Development for Synergis Software:
Looking forward, the issue is not in which database the design-elements are stored, but far more importantly the value our solution continues to add to the lifecycle of our clients’ products and projects. Our customers require sophisticated collaboration and business process automation tools that connect colleagues and stakeholders across the globe, inside and outside the firewall. They require real-time access to their data from anywhere so that they can make informed, accurate and rapid business decisions. They comply with a myriad of design and data integrity standards and industry-specific processes subject to rigorous audits.
For these reasons and many others, our clients require choice. They understand that their data belongs to them and that they, not their CAD vendor, are responsible for the success of their business – which extends far beyond storing CAD designs. Although storing and managing CAD data is an important aspect of any PDM/PLM solution, it is a commodity capability: The value of an excellent PDM/PLM solution remains in connecting people working together in ways that are meaningful to one another and to the business.
I liked the response, as I have always been leery of a single CAD company keen to take over a customer’s enterprise with their own engineering document management software. As I came up through the VAR channel, I have some insider knowledge of this thinking. We were taught to sell the one PDM solution offered by the OEM, because he who owns the data owns the account.
The bottom line is that with Adept and AutoVue design firms can save on their budgets by not investing in additional license of (expensive) CAD packages to view, markup, compare, and print native CAD files. Synergis designed Adept that so that customer files and folder structures are left untampered. Their multi-CAD approach to files allows them to coexist with multi-CAD firms harmoniously.
|Jeffrey Heimgartner has over 20 years of industry experience. He manages Advanced Technical Services for CapStone’s CAD division. He has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Technology with an emphasis in CAD from Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska. More...|