Issue: Volume: 23 Issue: 12 (December 2000)

CAD Versus Collaboration

Back in February in this column I noted that a new wave of design software—created expressly for Web-based collaboration—was about to fundamentally change the face of the CAD industry. Now, looking at events over the past year, it appears that this observation has turned out to be grossly understated. The face of CAD has not only changed, it seems to have completely dissolved into Web-based “solutions” from vendors hoping to tap the power of the Internet

A number of industry observers have also noted a radical shift. In fact, some experts, such as Wayne Collier, president of the engineering, manufacturing, and design consulting group at D. H. Brown Associates, are making even bolder pronouncements. "There is no CAD industry anymore," Collier contends. "There is an industry of total product delivery, and anybody who doesn't get that is going to be history in three years."

Speaking at the D. H. Brown Implementation Road Map 2000 Conference-held in conjunction with the International Manufacturing Enterprise Technology (IMET) Expo this past October-Collier explained that the goal for manufacturing enterprises is no longer simply to make engineers more productive in their own space. Rather, it's about using Internet-based architectures to make sure that anyone in the product-delivery supply chain can add value at any step in the traditional engineering process. Indeed, he says, the supply chain will be nothing less than "the foundation of wealth creation over the next decade, at least." (For an excerpt of Collier's presentation, visit the Computer Graphics World Web site at

Merrill Lynch vice president Jay Vleeschhouwer agrees. "The industry formerly known as CAD/CAM/CAE [which he now calls mechanical design automation] is in dramatic transition," he says. "We are moving from an age of information creation and capture to one of information leveraging." As a result, vendors are reinventing themselves to extend their capabilities beyond design automation by adopting collaborative product-development technologies. Examples of products addressing this new challenge, he notes, are PTC's Windchill, SDRC's Metaphase, Dassault Systemes' Enovia, and Autodesk's iDesign.

There are countless other examples of new products and services designed to meet the demand for collaboration. At the IMET Expo, for example, a host of Web-based design tools were introduced, including new CAD application service provider (ASP) features from Alibre and CollabWare and enhanced business-to-business/e-commerce platforms from Ariba, Ingenuus, and PlanetCAD.

But are reports of CAD's death greatly exaggerated? I believe so. Leveraging information for Internet-based collaboration is a laudable goal, but CAD is still central to the process. In fact, more individual CAD work is being performed than ever before; it's just that a greater percentage of it is being done by lower-tier suppliers.

What's more, along with this increased usage is an ever growing need for better CAD software. While it's easy to understand why traditional CAD vendors have their eyes on the extended enterprise, they should not abandon efforts to enhance the performance of individual CAD designers, just as designers should not refrain from pressing vendors to improve their tools.

Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief