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The Case for Enterprise Visualization

CAD viewers are commonplace in engineering departments. In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an engineering team that does not use one or more to avoid unjustified and costly CAD seats while gaining the flexibility to work with various CAD formats.

But none has taken the step of spreading the many benefits of visualization to a wider audience across the enterprise. Which is why Actify has made Enterprise Visualization easy.

What is Enterprise Visualization?

Enterprise Visualization is the emerging practice of giving entire organizations the ability to view, interrogate, and annotate CAD information (as opposed to restricting some of these permissions to core engineers).

On our website, Enterprise Visualization also refers to the bundle of solutions Actify offers, specifically SpinFire Enterprise and CAD Publisher.

The history of CAD visualization

The evolution of Computer-Aided Design and the evolution of the computer industry are deeply entwined. Some of the earliest computer applications, dating from the late 1950s, reflected engineers’ dreams of replacing pen and paper with computerized engineering designs – strictly 2D, of course.

The need for better and more powerful CAD software drove the need for more potent and affordable computers, a major factor in the development of proprietary CAD hardware and software systems, followed by UNIX workstations, and then today’s powerful PC’s. The software could not have evolved without the hardware, and the hardware, with its exponential increase in power from ever smaller and cheaper electronics, could never have been designed and engineered without the software.

Along the way, pioneers led startling advances. Like the DAC system developed in 1957 by Dr. Patrick J. Hanratty (“the father of CAD”) for General Motors and IBM, and the work done by Dr. Ken Versprille at Computervision in the mid-70s to accurately model complex 3D surfaces.

Over the decades, CAD spurred the development of computer-aided engineering (CAE) and manufacturing (CAM) applications that complete a digital pathway from concept to production in every conceivable field of product development, engineering, architecture, and construction. Those earlier pioneers would be amazed at the power of the systems and technologies available to industry today.

In recent years, the CAD market has matured with several billion-dollar vendors consolidating and dominating the CAD, CAM, and CAE markets, and even swallowing up adjacent spaces, like Product Lifecycle Management (PLM). Companies like Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, PTC, and Siemens offer advanced products for every market niche. In response to market needs, these companies’ portfolios include very advanced products that require specialized knowledge and training to use. And despite long standing availability of vendor-neutral standards, like IGES and STEP, the major vendors adhere to their own proprietary file formats, which results in access being limited to users of their (very expensive) software.

The need for broader, easier, and affordable access to CAD information led inevitably to the rise of independent CAD viewers, pioneered by companies including Actify. CAD viewers introduced the concept of CAD visualization as distinct from design, where users interact with the design in various ways but cannot modify it.

CAD in the Automotive Industry

The automotive industry was one of the first to understand the transformative potential of computerization. Perhaps due to the industry’s sheer scale, it needed to progress beyond pen and paper, not just for design but also for inventory planning, and manufacturing management, and much more. But it is the focus on relentless improvement in performance and value through elevated design that is at the heart of the world’s largest and most complex manufacturing endeavor.

Today’s vehicles are assembled from tens of thousands of parts that are sourced from a vast global supply chain. This feat of coordination would not be possible without design software that carries the detailed specifications that ensure that all those parts line-up and fit together with precision when they reach the production line.

Of course, it is the auto makers, generally known as the Original Equipment Manufacturers or OEMs, who control and manage the overall design, and then share component information with the specific suppliers awarded supply contracts. Due to the scale of the task, the OEMs use some of the most advanced CAD products to develop engineering models for manufacturing. These include CATIA and SolidWorks from Dassault Systemes, Creo from PTC, and NX from Siemens. The design files created not only contain realistic 3D representations of parts, but they also contain metadata providing information on the materials, dimensions, tolerances, and more needed for manufacturing.

These are some of the most powerful – and expensive – software products ever developed, and because top-tier suppliers work with many different OEMs, they may be required to buy copies of each. So, it is easy to understand why Actify’s SpinFire, and other viewers are so popular with auto suppliers. Thanks to viewers, suppliers can control the number of CAD “seats” they acquire for collaboration with the OEMs and use viewers to give access to the designs, and the metadata maintained with them, to the broader audience that has no need to modify the design information.

 

The Common Limitations and Drawbacks of CAD Visualization

The major CAD products mentioned above are justifiably complex and expensive. They are designed for use by highly skilled and dedicated designers and engineers. CAD viewers provide easy access to all the information in CAD files, and should interpret them consistently and accurately, but that is not always the case.

Prohibitive pricing structure

The first problem is that viewers have traditionally been priced and sold the same way as CAD – by the seat. Why is this a limitation? Because each user needs to be individually justified. Currently, the question is, “why should this user have access?”—instead, it should be, “Why not?”

Rotating licenses

It also means acquisitions are often made on an individual basis leading to a variety of different viewers in use at the same company. And as companies control expenses by limiting the number of viewer seats, users wind up sharing access to a pool of licenses, creating a tracking and management headache as licenses are shifted from workstation to workstation.

Steep learning curves

Another problem is that CAD viewers often mimic the user interface of CAD products, which means there is a significant learning curve required. Viewers should be intuitive so that anyone can use them.

Engineers playing “Telephone”

Finally, with a plethora of incoming files and formats, and many consumers of design and engineering information across the organization, there is a need for an efficient and consistent way to process, translate, and distribute files. Too often, this task consumes valuable engineer resource time and creates an unneeded delay to information that is critical to on-time execution. And if translations are performed inconsistently it leads to errors being propagated to downstream departments and systems.

Actify solved these problems, and Enterprise Visualization was born

Actify pioneered the CAD viewer category with our SpinFire product family, and now we are reinventing how the industry approaches visualization.

We have always understood that access involves ease-of-use, so a SpinFire hallmark is an intuitive user interface that requires little or no training.

Then we realized that we could provide a means to automate the processing and distribution of CAD files. We developed CAD Publisher, a 24×7 automated attendant, that monitors incoming customer data packages and executes predefined custom workflows, called “pipelines,” to offload all the processing and distribution required. It is a digital publishing system for CAD information that is unique to Actify.

Next, we tackled the problem of juggling and managing viewer seats by switching to a new licensing model for SpinFire. Now SpinFire licensing is unlimited. Pricing is based on the size (number of people) in an organization – whether that’s a location, several locations, a division, or an entire enterprise.

Furthermore, SpinFire Enterprise makes SpinFire available to every employee—not just traditional users of CAD viewers. There are so many more people across the organization who can perform better, faster, and with greater insight if they have access to visualization.  And with SpinFire Enterprise, everyone is in, which means:

  • Sales has a tool for customer collaboration and markup.
  • Shop floor and quality teams can interrogate models to check dimensions and tolerances.
  • Marketing has access to generate 2D and 3D graphics.
  • Purchasing can ensure suppliers have accurate information and complete specs.
  • Executive meetings and presentations can delve deeper, faster.
  • You can even calculate how many items to pack per box for shipping!

With SpinFire Enterprise, your organization can standardize on one viewer, reducing administrative overhead as well as licensing and training costs. And with a single viewer, everyone in your organization can enjoy a consistent representation of CAD information.

It’s a company-wide solution that empowers you to communicate, collaborate and comprehend like never before—all in an affordable, easy-to-manage subscription.

The future is Enterprise Visualization

Today, there is intense pressure on manufacturers to do more with less, to execute faster, to increase the value and performance of products while reducing cost.

These are goals that can only be achieved by looking at the processes in play and the people involved and finding tangible ways to improve. Leveraging Actify products to become a visual enterprise is easy and affordable and yields immediate benefits.

For automotive suppliers, as stated in the Automotive Program Management Manifesto together with Actify’s new Automotive Program Management (APM) suite, Enterprise Visualization provides a purpose-built, evolving approach to adapting customers’ existing software investments to support their unique needs more effectively.

Make your organization a visual enterprise

With SpinFire Enterprise, you can empower your entire organization to access, interrogate, and share CAD information now. Contact us at Actify to speak with an expert about what Enterprise Visualization can do for you.