There’s always a story behind the data.

Sometimes, it smacks you in the face its so obvious. Other times, it hides, like it doesn’t want to see the light of day. But if you look long enough, you uncover it. Either way, I find that there’s almost always some kind of compelling story in research data. That’s the case with the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability study. I’ve delved into it, looking at crosstabs, filtered views and segmentation cohorts. It wasn’t easy, but finally I found a story worth telling.

In this post, I cover the interrelationship between volume of design data exchanged with the issues, actions and technology adopted by different organizations.

Volume, Volume, Volume

When I published the 2013 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Report in May, I definitely felt a sense of accomplishment. The study quantified some of the real cost of interoperability. It showed how quickly companies were adopting Model-Based Enterprise initiatives, especially in the Aerospace & Defense industry. It showed that 2D drawings were still widely prevalent.

I felt good about it. I wasn’t, however, satisfied.

So, I went looking in the data. Primarily, I was looking for cuts or segments or filters that showed some differentiation across the findings. Many turned up moot. But one in particular turned up very interesting: the volume of design data exchanged.

Volume of Design Data Exchange

Of course, this does make sense. Organizations flooded with a lot more files will experience more issues than organizations than hardly receive any files.

So what exact differences were there across these groups? Let’s take a look.

Pain. Some hindrances. But mostly pain.

I’ll let the statistics tell most of the story.

Design Data Exchange Problems

Organizations exchanging over 500 CAD files per month experience these issues at roughly at twice the rate of organizations exchanging less than 50 CAD files per month. And it make sense. A single inbound CAD files with geometry that blows up can cause a major disruption. When development projects get behind, executives usually throw more bodies at the problem after hours, wreaking havoc on current work. Project schedules still get delayed. Some uncaught errors proceed downstream, because of translation errors directly or because engineers were distracted with other translation problems. The same thing occurs when CAD files mucked up because of translation error get to testing and prototyping.

Boom. Crash. Bang.

Taking Action

Engineering executives, of course, don’t just stand idly by while CAD interoperability chaos is induced. These issues represent some serious risks to the continuity of development projects. And executives take action to mitigate those risks.

Design Data Exchange Practices

For me, these findings in aggregate tell me one thing: executives running organizations that exchange a lot of design data realize there are some serious problems in their organization. Just look at how much more frequently they have put measures in place to mitigate these risks.

At a lower level, however, the rationale behind these actions make sense. Tagging an effort as an official initiative not only includes some special activities to address a problem, it lets everyone know leadership is serious about the problem. Defining and documenting a specific sequence of actions, in the form of processes and procedures, means executives are trying to take human variations out of the equation. The two actions on the right, being handed down a requirement to create design data in specific software, and then passing that same requirement down to suppliers, is an attempt to eliminate translation errors by exchanging natively created design data instead of neutral formats.

One other thought: do you think organizations exchanging less than 50 files a month are feeling much pain at all? Not really.

Technology to the Rescue?

Today, almost every organization needs some technology to help. And this case is no different. Take a look.

Technologies Used to Work On Design Data

Organizations that exchange a lot more CAD files are much more likely to use specialized translation software and services. They are also a little more likely to use Direct Modeling capabilities as well. All of these can help. And Direct Modeling in particular promises new ways to fix and edit translated CAD files. However, keep in mind that changes in the industry are on the horizon. Some CAD applications are incorporating the ability to open CAD models in their native formats. That should make a dent in this problem as well.


  • This post shares findings from the 3D Collaboration and Interoperability study. Specifically, it shows that the issues experienced, actions taken and technology in use with respect to CAD interoperability varies quite a bit depending on the volume of design data exchanged with external organizations.
  • In general, organizations exchanging more than 500 files per month are roughly twice as likely to miss project milestones, encounter  increased ECOs and conduct extra rounds of prototyping and testing as organizations exchanging less than 50 files per month.
  • High exchange organizations are much more like to take actions to mitigate these problems by tagging interoperability as a formal initiative, document formal processes and procedures as well as experience and pass on CAD standardization.
  • High exchange organizations are also more likely to utilize translation software and services as well as use Direct Modeling approaches.

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.