Will switching CAD tools kill your CAE ROI?

Is your company planning to switch CAD platforms in the next 5 years?

“Oh no, we’d never do that, too much legacy data.”
“We’ve already dumped a lot of cash into this horse… we’ll keep riding it.”
“What we have works. It would cost too much to re-train everyone.”
“Never in a million years.”

Really? What if you get bought out by a larger competitor? What if you supply components to a major customer that suddenly moves from Unigraphics to Catia? What if your brand-spanking-new Director of Engineering hates Pro/Engineer and decides to make a name for himself by bringing in SolidWorks?

Happens every day.

What’s all this got to do with upfront CAE?
Nothing… if you do it right.

Upfront CAE is meant to empower frontline, multi-tasking, non-specialist Engineers to reduce the cost & time associated with physical prototyping & lab testing. Solid CAD integration is the the most important upfront CAE software feature required to enable good ol’ Joe Engineer down that path.

Joe already knows his CAD tool inside and out. He can make SolidWorks dance and sing. Most of the time spent with any upfront CAE product (as opposed to a traditional PhD level specialist CAE tool) is in getting a good 3D, representative model on the screen. Joe already knows how to do that! There is zero learning curve for that CAE “modeling” phase.

CAE software developers deal with this CAD integration requirement in 1 of 2 ways:

1) Externally link to the native CAD geometry.
2) Embed the entire CAE user interface within the CAD tool.

At first glance, you might think an “embedded” approach makes more sense.
In fact, it brings major limitations and risks to the table:

  • The CAE vendor spends more effort “keeping up” with new CAD revisions.
  • New CAD releases often break the older revision of an embedded CAE tool.
  • Many “user experience” compromises are made to wedge the CAE functionality into the existing CAD user interface.
  • The rigid CAD environment limits innovative CAE software development.
  • If your company moves to a new CAD platform, your CAE users are hosed.

Desktop Engineering featured a great article on this topic:
Beyond Labels to User Experience, Bob Cramblitt, May 2007

If you wake up one morning facing a wholesale shift from SolidWorks to Unigraphics, you may discover an unexpected headache surrounding your CAE implementation.

If your current CAE toolset is embedded within SolidWorks, you’ll likely have to retrain all your users in the use of new CAE tools that work with Unigraphics.

The new CAE software/training costs are not the worst part:

Your users will have their hands full learning a new CAD tool.
Everything else will be secondary.

It’s quite likely that all CAE work will stop completely during the CAD transition. Guys will go back to building & testing prototypes in the lab. It might be a year before you can reinstate upfront CAE methods.

On the other hand, a more CAD-agnostic, “integrated” CAE solution gets reinstated with very little time or effort after the CAD transition. Your engineers already know this CAE tool inside & out. They only need to learn the new CAD tool.