In a well-attended 8:00 am panel session at the Spring 2003 meeting of the CATIA Operators Exchange (COE), moderator Dave Burdick asked the audience how many were using CATIA version five in production. About 20 percent of those present raised their hands. The response seemed low.
Dassault Systèmes announced the first release of CATIA version five exactly five years ago. COE attracts some of Dassault Systèmes’ most dedicated customers. In a recent survey by CATIA Digital Digest, 83 percent of those responding had attended nine or more COE meetings. Many participants are from large aerospace and automotive industry customers that have used IBM-branded CAD/CAM systems for 20 years. Why have relatively few adopted the new software?
Comments from three customers on the panel, Jeff Schiesser of Cessna Aircraft, Nate Nalven of Northrop Grumman, and Dave Mleczko of Tower Automotive Corporation, shed light on this question. Mleczko says functional inadequacy is not what’s preventing his company from converting to V5 en masse. Tower supplies complex stampings and modular subassemblies to US automobile manufacturers. Vehicle frame and suspension components are some of the company’s specialties. Mleczko says Tower uses CATIA version five to prepare customer proposals because the company’s lead designers can complete their work 20 percent faster with V5 than with its predecessor, CATIA version four. With designer costs ranging between $50 and $75 per hour, savings are enough to justify the cost of upgrading to V5, he said.
The reason Tower isn’t doing all its CATIA work with version five is that its customers won’t accept V5 models. Until IBM’s largest customers make the move to V5, suppliers, even relatively large ones, must stay with the older CATIA.
Panelists and members of the audience who spoke agreed that the weak worldwide economy was impeding upgrade plans. There are costs associated with converting from CATIA version four to five. These include direct training costs; lost productivity while workers develop expertise at using the new software; rewriting of corporate procedures, standards, and custom software to suit the new CATIA; and hardware upgrades. For large users, CATIA V5 software costs are about the same as version four.
Top managers of IBM’s customers are demanding that these costs be offset by increased productivity. Unfortunately, CAD/CAM systems rarely improve productivity immediately. It generally takes time for customers to build a library of existing parts, subassemblies, templates, and little programs (macros) that enable CAD systems to achieve their full productivity. It is difficult for managers to estimate the productivity gains they will achieve from upgrading to version five. Even though the software enables some classes of models and drawings to be made much more quickly than CATIA version four, productivity can be impeded in the short term by bugs and users’ lack of familiarity with the new software’s functions.
Justifying technology upgrades isn’t hard when a company’s business is growing and it is faced with the need to hire more workers. When sales are flat or falling, however, the only way to raise productivity is to reduce employment. Severance costs are high and most managers are loath to implement new systems and then fire workers displaced by them.
When business recovers, more companies are likely to shift to version five. Unfortunately, 70 percent of CATIA customers are in the automobile and aircraft industries, according to company presentations. These industries are suffering from a worldwide glut of capacity that isn’t likely to be utilized soon.