CAD/CAM/CAE systems

It is not always necessary to use the best available CAD/CAM/CAE system. More importance should be attached to selecting and using the functionality that fits the company's requirements. Whenever possible, user companies should avoid developing their own systems. Most of the CAD/CAM/CAE functions required by the average small- to medium-sized company are available in systems that can be purchased. The effort required to develop and maintain a CAD/CAM/CAE system is enormous, and user companies should concentrate their resources on using CAD/CAM/CAE to improve their products, and not on developing CAD/CAM/CAE software.

The most important requirements of the system are that it offers the functions required by the company, is reliable, and can be used by people within the company. The system should make use of relatively modern hardware and software technologies. If it uses out-of-date technology, one can expect the vendor to make major changes (probably disruptive) in the near future.

The product modeler used within the system should be capable of modeling the type of products that the company produces - which may sound obvious, but there is often a conflict of interest

For example, on the one hand, many people used to working with paper as a primary medium for geometry definition will want to continue using similar techniques (e.g., a 2D system). On the other hand, most products of companies involved in mechanical engineering are three-dimensional, and, in the future 3D modelers will be favored as they can handle more complete product information. The ideal solution is to use a system containing a range of compatible modelers meeting company requirements.

Major gains in productivity arise from reuse of computer-based product data in different application areas. Some applications will access data that is in the CAD/CAM/CAE database, others will need to transfer data in and out of the database. It is important that Application Programming Interfaces (API's) exist within the CAD/CAM/CAE system to allow a company to interface it to other systems. Another very useful feature of CAD/CAM/CAE systems allows a company to add its own, company-specific functions to the system. These functions are then available to users of the system in the same way as vendor-supplied functions.

Initially, great weight is placed on the availability of individual product definition functions within a CAD/CAM/CAE system. A little later, the focus switches to the ability of users to learn about the system and to use it on a day-to-day basis. Generally, it is only much later that the importance of good data management capabilities within the system is realized. When there is just a limited amount of data in the system and only fairly simple operations are being carried out on this data, data tends to be managed by its owners on an individual basis. As the amount of data within the system and the number of users increase, it becomes important to have available efficient methods of data inquiry and access.

Similarly, in time, an increasing amount of product data within the system is modified, or used in other products, and in the absence of good data management it becomes more difficult to maintain knowledge of the data status and relationships.

It is only too easy at system selection time to concentrate too much on short-term issues concerning initial system use. It should not be forgotten that the system will probably be in use by the company for at least ten years, and that product data built up using the system may need to be accessed 20 or 30 years later.

The need for a system that works well in the short term must be balanced with the requirement for a system that will be maintained and developed in the long term.

It is important that the users feel at home when working with the system. The user interface allows the user to work with the system. It should be easy to learn, easy to understand, and easy to use. A poor user interface can annoy users to the point at which they refuse to work with the system.

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Page last modified on February 11, 2000
Copyright 1999, 2000 by John Stark