Connecting with Product Data

Storing CAD geometry in databases is a breakthrough in several respects.

Autodesk has sponsored this post.

It is possible to hear a word so often that it seems to lose all meaning. This may have happened with “data,” a word that has been raining down on us for quite some time. Years ago, we heard “data is the new oil,” and since then the downpour has not stopped. The concept of data—its ubiquity, its incessant demand for attention, the sheer volume of the data itself coming from sensors in every product and every building—feels like sensory overload.

So, let’s confine our discussion to data as it relates to the design engineer. At its heart, our data is design geometry, or geometric data. Renaming CAD files as “data” is about more than trying to force a new term onto an old concept, as is the fashion. Modern CAD programs store geometry in a database, unlike traditional programs that store geometry as CAD files.

It is perhaps hard to imagine how the points, lines and arcs, all the way up to the B-rep solid models, can be stored in relational databases. They are objects in space, after all, each point only containing X, Y, Z data with relationships between them that define the shapes.

Storing CAD geometry in databases is a breakthrough in several respects, the most important of which may be the access of a design by multiple parties simultaneously.

I can hear you asking, “Why would I want to have my design accessed by anyone, much less everyone?”

We understand you may have previously worked, happy and solitary, on a design. You would save it on your computer and upon finishing, email it down the line—or if you were somewhat more sophisticated, check it into the company’s vault or PLM system.

That was a world that existed before remote manufacturing and distributed teams, some of them offshore. The exit of the lone designer was hastened by the pandemic, where everyone—including design team members who counted on working next to each other—left their offices and began working from home.

Lucky for us, applications and technologies were emerging to help. Zoom, now as common a term as Google or data, may have been novel before the pandemic but became a necessity during it. Collaboration, already built into modern CAD systems, also went from novelty to necessity.

The age-old method of keeping designs locally and sharing copies went from accepted convention to a pain in the ass—or as it became known by more polite detractors, silos of information. With all the copies of a design flying around, you didn’t know who had the most recent one or the correct one. Confusion was the order of many a design review.

The answer was on the cloud and in what came to be known as “a single source of truth,” a beautiful phrase that is simply hard to argue against. Who in their right mind can argue against truth?

With all its purity and simplicity, however, implementing a single source of truth—such as in a product design database—will still raise some important questions.  How does one keep IP safe from competitors, for example? How do you present the data in such a way that every person in your organization can understand it? You know not everyone needs to see every nut or bolt, every wire, of your intricate design. Your CEO may want the big picture, while the simulation team will need to overlook details, or “defeature” your model. The manufacturing team will need to convert your CAD data into CAM data.

Software vendors not only create applications that can access common data, but the more advanced vendors also offer software tools that enable users to create custom applications to access that data. One of these is Autodesk Forge, a cloud-based development platform that opens up access to design data through APIs (application programming Interfaces). With Forge, you can unlock and share data from all manner of Autodesk software models (AutoCAD, Revit, Fusion 360 and more)—enabling better, faster collaboration between teams.

See more about Autodesk’s Forge here: