Creo to Open Native CAD Files: A Promise Finally Fulfilled

October 28th, 2011 started with such promise.

There I was, sitting in this cavernous castle in the middle of Boston at the super secretive event that PTC was hosting. I sat through a skit that was… well… I guess the word interesting is most appropriate. But there was Jim Heppelman up on stage talking about serious industry problems that included:

  • The fact that 3D parametric modeling was hard to use. But Direct Modeling wasn’t powerful enough. The extremes were too simple or highly sophisticated.
  • There was too much technology lock-in, constraining the ability of organizations to switch between 3D tools.
  • The complexity of modeling thousands of product configurations is too high for CAD. People just cross their fingers and hope for the best.
  • Interoperability between 3D CAD applications is minimal, which means you can’t work seamlessly with a colleague or supplier that leverages a different kind of software.

So there I was, nodding emphatically, as Heppelman spoke about these issues. Then, he started talking about how PTC was going to solve these interoperability issues. He stated that their own apps would work on one data structure, allowing roles with various skills and knowledge to still view and manipulate a single set of geometry through one suite of CAD tools.

That’s when my nodding stopped and my internal monologue started. 

“C’mon! That won’t help engineers trying to work on Solidworks, CATIA, NX, Solid Edge, Inventor or any other CAD format! You need to exchange design data better with other CAD applications, not just the myriad of smaller apps within the Creo suite! Why… don’t… I… they… dagnabbit!”

Well, I guess I should have been more patient. About 30 months more patient.


On Monday, June 10th 2013, PTC announced their intention to include the ability for Creo 3.0 to open 3D models that are in various native formats. Creo 3.0 is planned to be released in the first half of 2014.

Capabilities Provided

OK. So what exactly will Creo be able to do here? Here’s the run down.

  • Creo 3.0 will be able to open 3D models in native NX, CATIA, Solidworks, SE, JT and Fusion formats.
  • Opening such native formats will not create intermediary files nor create new Creo files for NX, CATIA and Solidworks models. Work is being invested to do the same for Solid Edge, JT and Fusion formats.
  • Once opened, those 3D models can be inserted into an assembly and dropped onto a drawing.
  • When such 3D models are changed in their native CAD applications, the changes are propagated into the Creo environment. So a Solidworks part changed in Solidworks will update a Creo drawing made from that Solidworks part. A NX part modified in NX will update a Creo assembly that utilizes that NX part.
  • Such 3D models can also be modified with Creo Direct capabilities, enabling users to push, pull and drag the geometry in the model. Such modifications, accompanied with a warning, will break the ability to update that 3D model from its native CAD application. In these cases, the user then performs a ‘Save As’ action to create a Creo part. Scenarios like adding PMI, which do not modify geometry but add new information, has not been determined with respect to breaking such associativity as of yet.

 Well, all that’s pretty straightforward. Let’s talk implications.

Commentary and Analysis

Is this a big deal? My answer couldn’t be more emphatic. It’s a BIG yes.

Why? Well, in my most recently published The State of 3D Collaboration and Interoperability Market Report, design data exchange and interoperability is highly problematic.

  • 42% of respondents exchange over 100 design files per month. 16% exchange more than 1000.
  • 49% of engineers spend over 4 hours a week fixing design data. That’s half a day a week.
  • 50% of engineers work late or on the weekends as a result. 32% of organizations miss project deadlines. 29% order incorrect parts.

So yeah, design data exchange is an extremely wasteful activity.

So what are the implications because of Creo’s planned interoperability capabilities? It’s simple. If it works as planned, most of that time that engineers waste fixing design data should go away. No joke. Read in a native file. Modify with Creo Direct to represent what’s needed. Move on to something far more valuable than fixing surfaces and rebuilding with features.

Now, what are the implications for the market? Aha. The rationale from PTC executives is that this capability addresses one of the major objections they encounter when trying to displace competitive CAD offerings. The new stance for those organizations is that you can keep all of your legacy data in the formats in which they were originally designed. Just read them in and reuse them, and perhaps even modifying them into new parts, as necessary. Run all your new projects on Creo. Viola. All wrapped up nice with a bow on top.

However, switching CAD applications is never quite so easy. Designers and engineers love their CAD tools. Rumors of change are often met with rebellion and scorn. PTC, if this capability works as described, has flatly addressed interoperability needs. But I don’t expect a stampede to PTC’s standard. Change is a painful and laborious effort, be it with model-based enterprise initiatives, new change processes, simulation driven design or even a simple change in CAD applications.

Summary and Questions


  • On Monday, June 10th 2013, PTC announced their intention to include the ability for Creo 3.0 to open 3D models that are in various native formats.
  • The planned capability includes opening native NX, CATIA, Solidworks, SE, JT and Fusion 3D models.
  • Such models can be inserted into an assembly and dropped onto a drawing. Changes in the native CAD application update Creo assemblies and drawings.
  • Modifications to such models in Creo break the associativity to the native CAD application. Such models then need to be ‘Saved As’ a new Creo part.
  • Design data exchange and interoperability is a major pain point. 49% of engineers spend over 4 hours a day fixing such issues.
  • This capability promises to eliminate much of that wasted effort, giving engineers their time back to invest in design.
  • I found this announcement to be pleasantly surprising. Kudos to PTC for taking on a nasty and longstanding issue. They deserve the praise. 

Those are my thoughts. What are yours? If it works as described, is this valuable? Where are the pitfalls? What benefit could it provide. Sound off!

Take care. Talk soon. And thanks for reading.