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CAD Model Formats – an Update on New Developments

This blog post extends, but doesn’t replace, earlier detailed discussions we’ve previously published on this blog and site. For convenience links to those are collected below:

This post is an update on new developments in CAD model formats.

This month Autodesk and Siemens announced a new strategic interoperability agreement.

It is “aimed at helping manufacturers decrease the costs associated with incompatibility among product development software applications and avoid potential data integrity problems.” The software companies recognize that many manufacturers “operate in environments consisting of various solutions from different CAD software vendors … internally between departments or externally with partners and supply chains.” Both companies will share file format toolkit technology and exchange end-user software applications to enable their CAD and PLM solutions to share data files.

Here’s our take for industrial suppliers, in 3 points:

1. It is good and pertinent news for CAD users that interoperability with native CAD files is continuing to improve across CAD systems.CAD Part Downloads save designers time - the quickest way to a CAD model is to download it!

Obviously this agreement will significantly improve the interoperability between Autodesk and Siemens CAD and PLM products (e.g. NX, SolidEdge, Teamcenter). This agreement follows similar arrangements between Autodesk and other big CAD companies; Autodesk-PTC interoperability agreement in 2007, Autodesk-Bentley interoperability announcement in 2008. We’ve written about the PTC interoperability with other CAD vendors before. Interestingly we note that this leaves just Dassault Systemes as the only main CAD company holdout – even their own Catia and Solidworks software don’t exchange native data yet!

2. For industrial suppliers (manufacturers and distributors) who offer downloadable CAD models of their products online there are two less obvious benefits.

There are two sides to the CAD format question. Firstly the format in which your models are built and maintained and secondly the format or formats in which they are available to CAD users for download.

  • Your CAD models (of you products) should be built in a format that leaves you free to use them in any CAD system or any CAD download system. Just as you don’t want to be constrained or locked into any one vendor’s CAD system so you should not let yourself be locked into any one CAD Download vendor’s system. You should always choose that your models be built in a top commercially available CAD system. This Autodesk/Siemens agreement broadens your choices and further prevents your models being locked into a proprietary CAD format that restricts your ability to change vendors in the future. The point to be wary of is that some CAD download solution vendors still create models in their own proprietary CAD systems and in CAD formats which no other CAD system reads. So when you select a CAD Download vendor ensure you have access to your master CAD models (which may be parametric) using your current CAD system or any one you may choose in the future!
  • The CAD models your customers download – We’ve said it before but the reality is that CAD formats really don’t matter any more because all the major CAD systems import and export a wide variety of formats including their own proprietary (also called ‘native’) formats, other CAD vendors proprietary formats (for example, see Chad Jackson’s Creo-to-Open-Native-CAD-Files-A-Promise-Finally-Fulfilled) and industry standard exchange formats (such as STEP or IGES). This new Autodesk/Siemens agreement will simply broaden the number of CAD systems that can exchange native as well as exchange CAD formats.

3. The answer to the question, “Do CAD download file formats matter” remains YES and NO!

  • YES, the CAD format used to build and maintain your master CAD models matters – today you can and should choose an OPEN rather than a CLOSED solution that doesn’t lock you to any one vendor.
  • NO, the CAD format for importing CAD models into new designs doesn’t matter any more – they can all work and the majority of users are capable of using many of them.

Let us know what you think by commenting below, calling or clicking either button below – especially if you want to include product CAD model viewing and/or downloads in your 2016 website and content marketing.



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