Don’t Get Lost in Translation
For one large automotive supplier, Proficiency's interoperability solution hassimplified the way the company fills customer orders.
November 1, 2004
By Shawn Salliotte
When you’re a Tier 1 supplier of interior products for auto manufacturers, thecustomer’s original design is rarely, if ever, supplied in the MCAD format usedby your designers and engineers. In our case, design changes roll through likethe weather in New England. Recently, we had to choose between remastering eachmodel or investing in a translation program. It was easy to see that saving timewas a good choice, so we went shopping for an interoperability solution. Aftersome searching, we decided to try a pilot of Proficiency’s Collaboration Gatewayto see how it would work in our production environment.
Proficiency, located in Marlborough, Massachusetts, designed Collaboration Gatewayas a feature-based MCAD interoperability solution that lets designers and engineersshare designs while maintaining their features, sketches, dimensions, history,and all the metadata associated with those designs regardless of the MCAD format.This means an engineer can use the MCAD product he or she chooses and still maintainthe design intent when switching between two or more systems. The time and moneysaved by avoiding fixing and remastering models was one clear return on investmentfor our company. The pilot program showed that the software would pay for itselfin less than a year, making it an integral piece of software in the overall productlifecycle management architecture of our company, and probably in any companywith a multiCAD issue. The interface is simple and easy to use and we had thesoftware up and running in one day.
Proficiency’s UPR (Universal Product Representation) viewer lets you see extractedfeatures, history, constraints, dimensions, and sketches when going from one MCADsystem to another. Here, the assembly tree of this simple ball valve is open.
Proficiency’s solution is built around a technology called Universal ProductRepresentation (UPR). To quote Proficiency, the UPR can be thought of as a “supersetof mechanical CAD features, history, constraints, dimensions, and sketches foundin the major CAD systems today.”
What this superset of features allows is the mapping of a feature from MCAD systemA to the same feature in MCAD system B. For example, the UPR automatically mapsan extrude in Unigraphics with an extrude in Pro/E so you end up with a fullymodifiable feature even though it wasn’t created in your native MCAD package.This holds true for a variety of features.
For some, however, there isn’t a one-to-one correspondence between systems. Insuch cases the Collaboration Gateway will try to create the “parametric equivalent"of the original features, usually as a combination of features. Even if you comeacross features that cannot be mapped between two systems, Proficiency not onlygives you a boundary representation of the feature it couldn’t map, but it alsocreates an audit log (referred to as Job History) of that feature’s information.Additionally, a viewer lets you see the extracted information as stored in theUPR. This means you can quickly recreate the failed feature using a number ofmethods. To make a fillet, for example, the original fillet path, edges, radius,start, and end conditions as used in the source MCAD system are all provided.The only thing left to do is roll the fillet.
Users can look at information from both the source and the target file. Verificationof the entire feature tree can be performed without having to go into the MCADsystem.
The other two elements that make up Collaboration Gateway’s interoperabilityprogram are an Internet browser and Design Agents. One of the really nice thingsabout this software is that users only need access to an Internet browser to usethe product and share design intelligence. Collaboration Gateway requires no clientinstallation and uses standard Web protocols.
Design Agents work with MCAD applications to extract design intelligence. Itis important to note that you will need access to the different MCAD systems betweenwhich you plan to exchange data. In my situation, it was necessary to schedulethe translations after regular hours when we have extra MCAD licenses readilyavailable. The solution will need to use a license of each MCAD system involved;e.g., to translate a file from Unigraphics to Pro/E, both a Pro/E and a Unigraphicsseat would have to be accessible to the Collaboration Gateway. The actual translationis done behind the scenes, and you can look at the Job History report for anypertinent information regarding the translation itself.
During file exchanges, the physical properties of both the original and newlycreated model are recorded and compared to give the user instant feedback on thequality of the translation.
Inside the Job History, users can see information from both the source and thetarget file. Verification of the entire feature tree can be performed withouthaving to go into the CAD system. The Job History will also show the user theterminology used in the different MCAD systems and clearly illustrate what wasused in the source model and what type of feature was used in the target model.The next logical question would be how much the model has changed from MCAD systemA to MCAD system B. When dealing with tight tolerances, any change could be apotential for disaster, so knowing exactly what, if anything, changed during thetranslation is critical. Fortunately, extensive information is provided to helpverify the quality of the exchanged designs.
Collaboration Gateway provides reports to validate the quality of exchanged designs.During the exchange, physical properties are recorded for both the original modeland the newly created model and these values are compared, giving you instantfeedback on the quality of the translation. There is a user-defined thresholdvalue that will control the sensitivity of verification. If the threshold is exceeded,it is clearly indicated in the Job History, so that corrective action can be takenif necessary. In fact, parameters can be set to identify the specific featurethat caused the deviation, thus saving hours of hunting through history treestrying to figure out what caused the topological problem.
Getting what you need Without Giving 110%
Proficiency has helped us maintain our core competency with our native MCAD systemwhile seamlessly delivering required data to automotive OEMs. During our testrun, we learned a great deal about the product and discovered we didn’t need totranslate 100% of a model’s features. This was a 180-degree turnaround from ouroriginal ideas about data exchange. We originally thought that if we weren’t goingto get 100%, then we would stick it out and fix IGES and STEP files. Fortunately,Proficiency opened up a new door for us in both our design and our thinking.
What we found using the program in our production environment surprised us alittle and changed our view of translations. Our models have several hundred features,yet the most frequent change is the location and geometry of mounting tabs forour products. As the envelope we are forced to work within changes, mounting tabsmust be continually moved and modified to adapt to those changes. Fortunately,most mounting tabs are designed using standard techniques with no need for complexsurfaces or advanced features regardless of the authoring MCAD system. This meansthe translation of these features is flawless. If, for some reason, a featuredid not translate, we simply use the information in the Job History not only toexamine what happened but to fix it and verify those results.
Based on our results, our approach and attitude have changed in regard to translationsand what is needed. We know now that translating every single feature is not necessary.Since most of them translate well and all the feature information for the restis easily accessible, manual interaction with the model is straightforward andsimple.
For us, IGES, STEP, and other neutral files are history, thanks to CollaborationGateway. Proficiency enables companies to maintain core competencies in theirnative MCAD systems while alleviating any disadvantages that would normally beseen when using a system different than the one used by their customers.
Shawn Salliotte is a CAD administrator for a Tier 1 automotive supplier. Youcan reach him about this article via e-mail c/o [email protected].