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The Problems With CAD Tools: Vendors Address User Pain Points

Collaborating and sharing data quickly is an attractive prospect for designers and engineers — it’s the “securely” part that worries many. “There is a major force that drives every company to increase the amount that it communicates with other people — that’s globalization,” explained McEleney. “Sure, security concerns are there, but they’re more of a speed bump than a road block.”

That speed bump, added McEleney, is simply a cost of doing business. “Yes, there are dangerous things lurking on the Internet. But the overall benefit of connectedness is far better,” he said. “Think about when PCs were standalone systems, and then there were local area networks. All of a sudden, you could connect them, and it was amazing. Take that a step further, and you’re connecting people to the world. Would anyone ever want to go back to standalone PCs? The answer is no, of course not.”

So how are CAD vendors balancing the risks and rewards of collaboration? Milliken explained that Alibre is using a peer-to-peer architecture that lets users connect with each other if an Internet connection is present. “The peer-to-peer architecture does not require collaboration or user data to exist on our servers. All collaboration happens point-topoint, directly between users, or entirely behind a corporate firewall, so security is not really a big issue for us.”

“Security concerns can hinder the adoption and implementation of Internet-based collaboration technologies if the customer is not aware of the security technologies supported by the collaboration solutions,” said Campbell. “Internet-based solutions have come a long way over the past few years to provide secure online sessions and secure data workspaces and repositories to address this issue. Further developments in digital rights management also will help decrease security concerns,” he added.

#3 Problem: More Features

As discussed already, CAD users are looking to vendors to provide them with an easy-to-use product that lets them do their job without many pain points. Often, that means more features. “Users are looking for feature enhancements in a number of areas to help them improve both their personal productivity as well as the overall engineering design process productivity,” said Campbell. “This includes analysis, data interoperability, manufacturing, electromechanical design, visualization, and digital rights management.”

Other features users are looking for include performance improvements and analysis capabilities. To enhance performance — and continue to improve ease of use — automated tasks are key, said McEleney. “When users look at a CAD system, they want more things to be automated. One of the great compliments we get about our product is that ‘it just works.’ It’s the idea of taking 90+% of what people want to do and making it fewer clicks and more intelligent — and making it less intimidating.”

Improving performance also is an important development area for UGS. According to Scholes, “To be able to work interactively with assemblies in excess of 100,000 parts, optimal performance is essential.” But, he added, “That is a very small part of the designer’s workflow. Of greater importance is the ability to navigate, manipulate, and document assemblies efficiently and effectively.”

According to Bean, Kubotek USA is adding more power to extract intelligence from geometry — any geometry. “The workflow we have implemented links real-time feature discovery and pattern recognition to our selection approach. This allows our suite of geometry creation and editing tools to apply feature intelligence throughout the system. Our philosophy is to put the intelligence in the tools, and not the CAD file,” he said.

Front-end and integrated analysis capabilities that are easy to use and understand are on the wish list for users as well. Rather than requiring an analyst to perform simulations and analyses using advanced, and often complicated, packages, CAD-integrated analysis functionality enables designers to do much of the analysis themselves.

That type of integrated capability has been met well by SolidWorks users, said McEleney. “There is no doubt that we’ve been driving the idea of mainstream design analysis with COSMOS. It’s been accepted incredibly well — even more than our original expectations.”

Alibre also has addressed the need for analysis with add-on toolboxes. “We continue to add more analysis and simulation capabilities, and also useful tools such as engineering calculations,” said Milliken. The company offers a fully integrated motion simulation add-on, and, as Milliken explained, “We also added an EngineersToolBox, providing all manner of common engineering calculations. We also bundle FEA software and CAM software.”

For 2007, CAD vendors are promising more enhancements to speed, ease of use, and products that support Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows Vista®, and they’ll continue to address the basic needs of their customers.

“Our job at the end of the day as a vendor is to help people design better products — better-looking products, higher functioning products, and more reliable products — all at a lower cost and faster,” stated McEleney. “One of the ways we can play our small part in that is by reducing the amount of CAD overhead — the amount of time wasted playing around with the system. That’s our goal. It’s easy to say, but hard to do,” he said. “We’ve made great progress in our industry, but we have a long way to go.”