A Guide to CAD Translation Formats


I was talking to a fellow at a large NW aircraft company about sharing CAD files with different companies. They are always confronted with what format to send or receive the parts or assemblies. If you are creating parts in small company that only does initial design and rarely use outside parts this is not a problem and most any good high or mid-range CAD system will do the job.  But if your are working with different systems, you either need to establish an import standard or have a product that can read, save and modify native files from the more popular products.

We are lucky to have the best History, Integrated Direct Edit and Hybrid modeling products available. All of our products can read any of the popular CAD packages indirectly or directly into one file. Yes, you can read the assemblies, including all the parts into one easy to use file, and modify them as if they were created in any of these products. Try that with a Pro/e Clone, it loads up your hard drive with all of the separate part files, which in most case can only be used for reference. With our CAD products we offer the most interoperable capabilities available. So let's take a look at the translation options. I will not go into the history of these file types, basically just tell you where they come from.

Which systems have the best interoperability? The Worst to Best CAD System and Why


Dxf/Dwg: Autodesk.

Dxf (Drawing exchange Format)/DWG (Autocad file extension) are basically the 2D translation standard. In the past Autocad was the 2D CAD king and thousands maybe millions of drawings were created, and other programs used this format to utilize that data. Today this is the format used to translate drawings between packages. All packages include this translator in their packages. It is quite surprising that there has not been a more universal replacement.

Dxf/Dwg also bring in 3D wireframe and solids. I have not used it much for that but I have brought in solids successfully.

IGES/.igs: National Bureau of Standards - The beginning of solids.

IGES (Initial Graphics Exchange Specification) was the first 2D/3D wireframe Translator. Years ago when working at Boeing we used this format to exchange wireframe between Catia and CADKEY. We could translate all Wireframe data. As it matured it could translate drawing, 2D/3D wireframe, surfaces and solids. Even though it has the ability to read and write solids, it is now used primarily to export and import surfaces. This package was used for years as the CNC, CAM or manufacturing standard. It is not the best translator in this world of solids. This package is included in all of our packages, but can be an expensive option for some other CAD packages.

STEP/.stp: ISO Technical Committee

ISO 10303 is an ISO standard for the computer-interpretable representation and exchange of industrial product data. Its official title is "Industrial automation systems and integration - Product data representation and exchange", known as "STEP" or "Standard for the Exchange of Product model data" This is basically the replacement for IGES, which I am sure they have stopped all development. We are hoping that STEP will be the future standard for all systems to import and export. Now with the industry moving to Explicit Modeling as the new standard we need a common translation format, including the PMI (Part Manufacturing Information) or Detail Drawing information. This would close the door on all the incompatibilities between CAD packages thereby reduce the incredible cost of being Lost in Translation. All of our products read and write STEP. All of the SOLID modeling packages both read and write STEP.

Now STEP is the real beginning of Solid Model Translation, even though it can be used to translate other data with all of the popular CAD packages. This format is the only to be used when work with companies that use the following programs.

As of this date Pro/E and Catia. Both of these programs only write out their solid models in this format. You export and import both parts and assemblies. I have read that Catia will be reading more standard formats and some native files from other popular CAD programs with V19. But for now use STEP.

ACIS/.sat: Dassault Systemes Spatial




This is the beginning of the solid modeling Kernels. KeyCreator, SpaceClaim and IRONCAD (also has Parasolids) are based on the ACIS modeling kernel. Autocad is also based on a customized version of ACIS. This product was the first PC based solid modeling kernel. It is very popular and can be written and read by all the mid range solid modeling systems. It should be used when working with companies that use the following programs.

KeyCreator, Ironcad, SpaceClaim, Inventor (Earlier Version) or any other CAD programs that are based on this system, should use this format for any translations. I have found that ACIS has provided better results than parasolid in a few cases. It is interesting when using IRONCAD, I have resolved a few translation problems by using IRONCAD/INOVATE when switching between the two solid modeling kernels. I have received a few models in parasolids and the solids were corrupt and came in as surfaces and could not be fixed.

Parasolid/.x_t: Siemens Software

This is other popular solid modeling Kernel. Solidworks and Solid Edge are based on Parasolids and it is the translator to use to when transferring data with these package. KeyCreator and IRONCAD include the parasolid translator, SpaceClaim offers it as an option. I have found mostly good results with Parasolids, but there have been a few very disturbing occasions that the model has failed to translate into a Parasolid based program. Since IRONCAD has both ACIS and Parasolid Kernels, we have had a chance to observe both Kernels strengths and weaknesses. Parasolid used to be the translator of choice but since Dessault has taken over ACIS it seems to be the more stable Kernel. This format should be the first choice when work with companies that use the following programs.

Solidworks and Solid Edge. This truly is the best format to use when exporting assemblies out of either of these programs. They will put the assembly in one file. As we have stated before all of our programs will import assemblies from these programs in one easy to use file.


Direct Native File Translation

The best translation is direct native file translation. Both of our product offer access to all the popular CAD programs plus all of the standard neutral formats. You can import a part/assembly and translate it to a different format or modify the parts or assemblies directly. The assemblies come into one file so you do not have to worry about tracking parts.

Reads Creo (Pro/e), NX, Solid Edge, Solidworks and Inventor
Reads/Writes Catia 4/5, JT

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