When possible, choose a 3D CAD system that’s popular in your industry and supplier community. This choice will eliminate the need to translate files from one system to another. Translation takes time and sometimes introduces errors.
There are basically three methods of transferring data from one CAD system to another.
- Direct CAD system export/import
- Direct 3rd party translators.
- Intermediate data exchange formats
Some CAD systems can directly read and/or write other CAD formats, simply by using file open and file save as options. As most CAD file formats are not open, this option is usually limited to either systems owned by the same company.
A number of companies specialise in CAD data translation software, providing software that can read one system and write the information in another CAD system format. These systems have their own proprietary intermediate format some of which will allow reviewing the data during translation.
Some of these translators work stand-alone while others require one or both of the CAD packages installed on the translation machine as they use code (APIs) from these systems to read/write the data.
Finally, a common method of translation is via an intermediary format. Some formats are defined by standards organisations while others, although owned by a company, are widely used and are regarded as quasi industry standards. It is becoming increasingly common for companies owning these quasi industry standards to further their use by openly publishing them.
CAD suppliers should support STEP, IGES, VDA, and IDF. Evaluate the tools for repairing damage to imported shapes, how easy they are to use, and how well they work. If your firm must translate many files from several brands of CAD systems, check out the direct translators available with each CAD system and also those from third parties that specialise in translation software.
Don’t limit your evaluation of data exchange capabilities to product geometry. Find out how convenient it is to import or export file properties and bills of materials. Exchanging CAD files with customers or suppliers can save thousands of hours and weeks of schedule time compared with the cost of redrawing them interactively.