Many of you remember the early years of CAD when a simple design change could be a day destroyer; forcing you to have to recreate the model or go back and update multiple views of a drawing. Parametric or feature-based CAD systems changed all of that. With these powerfully automated 3D CAD systems, the task of making changes was greatly simplified by the fact that a design change could be propagated throughout the design or assembly, updating all associated parts to reflect that change.
There is little doubt that today’s 3D CAD systems have come a long way since their humble beginnings. In fact, most are quite capable at the tasks at hand and can help engineers and designers to get their jobs done in a fairly efficient manner. Despite all this progress, there are still things that make engineers repeatedly bang their heads on their desks in frustration. There are still shortcomings that create bottlenecks in product development; things that can bring progress to a screeching halt.
The reality is that users have a somewhat of a love-hate relationship with their CAD software. These fairly sophisticated tools are what enables them to accomplish their jobs on a daily basis; to evolve and vet ideas, create 3D models, virtually test those models and ultimately build products. Unfortunately there are still inherent weaknesses in all CAD systems that continue to torture users.
The writers at SolidSmack surveyed their readers back in the fall to get a better understand of the types of things that still frustrate users when it comes down to their CAD systems. The resulting blog, The Most Annoying Thing in CAD: Survey is definitely one worth reading and one that will resonate with many engineers so I felt it was worth sharing some of the key takeaways.
First off a disclaimer: SolidSmack is a SolidWorks training resource so most of the responses to their survey (2/3) were SolidWorks users, with a sprinkling of other CAD systems (Rhino, NX, Solid Edge, AutoCAD, CATIA, etc.). While the majority of respondents were SolidWorks users, most of these complaints are not specific to that system and most likely would apply to other systems as well. With that said, let’s get to Adam OHern’s synopsis of the results of the survey.
The Top 5 Most Annoying Things in CAD
1. Getting 3D data from one CAD app to another
Right out of the gate, this one came as a bit of a shock. Sure, file transfer is irritating, but the most annoying thing in CAD? Surprisingly, this one comes out as the clear winner for causing users to want to “gouge out [their] eyeballs in a raging fury.” This is clearly a serious pain point for CAD users and should be pretty obvious to anyone who’s ever done real-world design in a multi-CAD environment. It sucks.
Are CAD companies actively trying to make it easier to translate files between CAD systems? They say “yes,” but I’m not so sure. Most of the big PLM players have some form of bill-of-rights like “Codex” of openness, swearing their never-ending commitment to interoperability. Some even give the topic plenty of public lip service, with STEP getting lots of love in recent years, and most systems–at least on paper–reading the native file formats of their peers.
STEP support is nice in theory, but it’s extremely limited in its usefulness, and surprisingly error-prone. Sure, it gets (most of) the raw geometry from A to B, but we lose all design intent, associativity, assembly relationships, and boat loads of metadata in the process. It also has a tendency to fail, producing strange geometry errors, inverted surface trims, and tolerance problems–so much so that I know a surprising number of people who prefer old IGES files simply because they seem to be more reliably accurate in many cases. Native format importers have the same problems, but more so in my experience. I find that the promise of interoperability almost always comes with more fine print than actual content.
2. Creating physical simulations of working parts and assemblies
Again, a dark horse. And again, I suppose it should be obvious to anyone who does a lot of simulation. Are CAD companies actively trying to make simulation easier? Well, this isn’t my area, but from an outsider’s perspective I’d say yes and no.
Simulation is obviously a big area for R&D in the MCAD space, but I’ve yet to see anyone release–-or even talk about releasing–-a product aimed at making the process easier for non-specialist users. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that simulation is complex by nature, and that making the tools easier to use will yield less benefit than focusing on features and performance for power users.
3. Sharing files with collaborators
Wow, another data transfer topic in the top three. Noticing a trend? Shoving data around between collaborators is a royal pain in the posterior. Four of the survey participants claim to “keep a cheese grater at my desk specifically to mutilate my own elbows whenever file sharing comes up.” It’s a jungle out there, folks.
Are CAD companies actively trying to make sharing between collaborators easier? This one’s a clear-cut “absolutely”: cloud this, social that, collaboration, etc. But if everybody’s working in their various clouds with PTC mobile apps, 3DExperience, PLM360, GrabCAD, and on and on, how does that make sharing files easier? Sorry, but that sounds like a nightmare.
So while “sharing files with collaborators” is probably the single most ballyhooed feature of basically every Cloudy new release, I’m not sure that these tools actually address the root problem. To be frank, it’s always been easy to share files with collaborators who use the same tools and techniques as you do. That’s really not a big deal. Where things get difficult is sharing in a heterogeneous design environment, and that’s something that the Cloud has not yet addressed.
4. Making late-stage changes.
Ahhhh, and now we come to something expected. Consensus agrees, in other words, that this is a big problem, even if it’s not the kind that makes me “feel like inserting my finger-nublings into my ribcage and ripping the beating heart from the depths of my bosom.”
Given that this one’s been a big topic of debate in the CAD world for many years now, it’s not surprising that the much-discussed failure of the “promise of parametric” is a sticking point for users. The fact is that while many kinds of design changes can be anticipated and built into a model, many simply cannot. Furthermore, I would argue that the “promise of direct modeling” is equally unfulfilled. No matter how many fancy direct modeling tools you have in your arsenal, making changes to CAD models is massively annoying, and often involves rebuilding from scratch.
So are CAD companies actively trying to make it easier to make big, sweeping design changes on the fly? Well, given how much energy has been put into direct modeling features–particularly on the Siemens end of things–it should be pretty obvious that CAD companies at least recognize the issue and want to find solutions that alleviate the suffering. That said, it’s clear that the problem has yet to be solved.
What’s more, I don’t have much faith that it can be solved: rework will always be annoying by nature, at least so long as we work in the current operator-driven CAD paradigm. It won’t be long before the concept of literally defining actual geometry in a CAD environment seems as cumbersome as carving your designs in stone, however. Instead, we will define input and output parameters, performance metrics, materials, and manufacturing methods, and the geometry itself will be algorithmically generated to solve for those inputs. Then and only then will the annoyance of rework become a thing of the past.
5. Sharing files with clients
Arguably this survey shows that three of the top five most annoying things in CAD have to do with sharing data. Are CAD companies trying to solve this problem? Yes, absolutely. And this is an area where I genuinely believe that cloud services will actually make significant progress. Since client deliverables require much less interoperability than does active collaboration, the tools being proposed by… well… everybody, should work quite well.
“But I can’t work in the cloud. XYZ Manufacturer doesn’t allow it for security reasons.” That’s true for now, but that will change. And in the meantime, sharing data will continue to be difficult, and XYZ Manufacturer will become increasingly isolated until it changes its ways.
We’ll be waiting to see if SolidSmack does a follow-up to this survey. In the meantime, are there any other shortcomings of CAD that drive you batty? We’d love to hear your comments; share below.
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