Beyond ECAD-MCAD Collaboration

Lionel Grealou CAx Innovation PLM 3 minutes

Complex products and services

Most complex products are both mechanical and electrical, with the balance rapidly increasingly moving towards innovative electrical engineering as new product and service differentiation. Competitive product development requires robust collaboration between multiple domains, including the tight integration of electrical hardware and software development with traditional mechanical design and enterprise processes.

Innovations in connectivity applications, mobility, wearable technologies and telematics are bringing in new design thinking to connected vehicle services. These trends bring new requirements to some of the most traditional manufacturing industries, such in the the transportation sector. These translates in three major shifts:

  1. Shift from product to service
  2. Shift from mechanical to electrical innovation
  3. Shift from hardware to software

These trends reinforce the need for more robust integration between Electronic-CAD (ECAD) and Mechanical-CAD (MCAD). It goes beyond the basic need for ECAD-MCAD data alignment, technology and engineering collaboration (also referred as ‘mechatronics‘).

The integration of mechanics and electronics has led to a hybrid discipline known as mechatronics.

ECAD is not new and goes back a long way since the introduction of electronics in products in the manufacturing industries. Equally, the transfer of data between ECAD and MCAD communities is not new. However, there has been (and somewhat still is) a major disconnected between the ECAD and MCAD domains, limiting collaboration due to poor data integration strategies and tools. Moreover, during the past three decades, traditional manufacturing industries have focused on mechanical related engineering data and enterprise data, building on early successes of MCAD, Product Data Management (PDM) and other enterprise IT tools.

Towards ECAD-MCAD integration

Broadly speaking, ECAD-MCAD collaboration extends as far as end-to-end enterprise capability integration across a range of business capabilities: requirements, materials, Bills of Materials (BoM), product configuration, engineering standards, release and change management, supply chain integration, software management, connected vehicle and the Internet of Things (IoT). Nevertheless, it is important to understand what differs from ECAD and MCAD data structures to appreciate the integration requirements and challenges:

  • Information models differ between ECAD and MCAD; traditional PDM/PLM data models align by default with exploded MCAD structures.
  • ECAD data is based on file package with multiple ‘black box‘ elements which are not exposed in PLM or do not align with its native data model; this represents a challenge in terms of data traceability at the relevant level of granularity.
  • At each phase, the product design requires relevant output documentation for the entire system or subsystem, including 3D Printed Circuit Board (PCB) and rigid-flex elements, including fit, form and function properties, space reservation and clearance information.

Traditionally, data exchange mechanism have been defined between ECAD and MCAD to transfer positioning information, material, lengths, space reservation, mechanical properties, weight, cost, supplier information, etc.

Future ECAD-MCAD integration requirements

Even today, there is still the need for a more seamless integration of the electrical and software domains within the entire scope of the Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)platform, beyond multi-CAD, CAE and BOM-CAx data alignment. This translates into a full integration of ECAD and Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) with PLM and the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) backbone, enabling real-time update visibility, data associativity tracking, history control, robust data branching and change control across the extended enterprise. This span across the entire New Product Introduction (NPI), from concept planning to maintenance and service.

This can be summarised into 24 high level business requirements which command the future of ECAD-MCAD integration and alignment to robust ALM-PLM-ERP enterprise foundations:

Effective ECAD-MCAD integration require more than attribute or document data exchange, but a whole new integrated logical data model with a systems engineering approach:

  • Visualise and identify issues within an integrated 3D platform hub, with a view to fix them at source where the related data is mastered.
  • Move away from incremental change to integrated change management and simultaneous engineering across ECAD and MCAD environments.
  • Continuously synchronise results between ECAD and MCAD to avoid costly re-spins due to mismatch in design data, and trace the decision process throughout the entire design process; with a view to shorten iteration cycles between mechanical and electrical product development processes.
  • Implement a combination of on-demand user-driven and automated system-driven data alignment mechanisms, via synchronous and asynchronous communication protocols using transaction-based enterprise interfaces.

In addition to the ECAD question, there is also a key question about the role of ALM vs PLM, should they complement each other, should they be kept separately, should they be harmonised or integrated as they serve different purposes (…).

What are your thoughts?

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on 15 November 2016.

About the Author

Lionel Grealou


Lionel Grealou, a.k.a. Lio, helps original equipment manufacturers transform, develop, and implement their digital transformation strategies—driving organizational change, data continuity and process improvement, managing the lifecycle of things across enterprise platforms, from PDM to PLM, ERP, MES, PIM, CRM, or BIM. Beyond consulting roles, Lio held leadership positions across industries, with both established OEMs and start-ups, covering the extended innovation lifecycle scope, from research and development, to engineering, discrete and process manufacturing, procurement, finance, supply chain, operations, program management, quality, compliance, marketing, etc.

You may also like: