CADKEY or Catia?
Boeing’s Billion-Dollar 3D CAD Mistake!

By Joe Brouwer - Boeing trained Design Draftsman and 3D CAD/CAM Dealer

"All problems start with a solution process, that leads to a better process, that leads to a better process and on and on, with each advancement providing a more productive solution. Unless something gets in the way that stops the advancement of this process by putting in a much less productive process based on politics or vested interest. This is a story of how politics and vested interest made a decision that caused Boeing to make a Billion-dollar 3D CAD mistake."

Update 5-23-18

Boeing's move to MBE, using PMI as the engineering deliverable has put them on a path they may not be able to recover. This idiotic solution is still looking for the problem that caused it. But what is worse, is Boeing has given this costly process, legitimacy in many industries!


Update 9-13-17

As I ponder on this article I realize that this decision by Boeing alone delayed the industry at least 12 years from effectively moving 3D CAD to the PC. This caused an untold amount of incompatibility in the 3D CAD industry. This set the path for the dated and complex Pro/e (Creo) design system to become the de facto system, creating more incompatibility. Sadly, this system was adopted by the PLM gurus, who thought they could digitalize a system based on engineering documents causing a huge data management mess.

Boeing 747 Flight Deck 1986

I already had 4 years of 3D CAD experience on Computervision CADDS 4 when I took a contract at Boeing Everett 747 flight deck in 1986. It was a drafting job on the board, which bummed me out, but the Seattle area was my home and it was great to get back. I just had a new son and missed the family.

The 1980's - 3D CAD - The Beginning

The group had 3 seats of Catia 2. They mostly provided loft lines for the board draftsman to use for reference. I don’t think the Catia users did any design. Like Computervision CADDS 4, Catia 2 was a 3D wireframe system. The Catia 2 operators were prima donna draftsman. They ran these systems, easily costing well over a $100,000 each, 8 hours a day. Cost effective??

On my other contracts we were actually designing on Computervision CADDS 4. Most companies had at least two shifts and a few had 3 to make these systems cost effective. These systems weren’t cheap. You had to buy a minimum of 3 seats for $750,000. It came with a mainframe computer in a tempature controled room, three terminals, a Versatec plotter, 250 meg removable hard drive, backup tape system and a control counsel. As I think of this, only those with government contracts had more than 3 seats.

Most of the companies moved all of their draftsman to CADDS 4. 3D CAD was in the realm of the draftsman in those days because 3D CAD engineering deliverable was still the blueprint. These were not drawings. We designed in 3D and created our engineering documentation from placing instances of the model in different views and detailing them and adding other annotation to the industry drawing standards.  This was Computervision's claim to fame: CADDS (Computervision Automated Design and Drafting System).  Most 3D CAD users are familiar with this process today. The days of the drawing were gone. In truth, this was also Pro/e sales point when released, "Faster Drawings". The effective use of the 3D models as a pattern didn't show up for years and the PDF at the turn of the century.

The Death of the Drawing

These prints were copied and handled just like vellum or mylar drawings, but more than likely released as microfiche for the larger companies. The only thing different was when a change was necessary it would be done on CADDS 4.

At Boeing there was no way a contractor was getting close to the Catia 2 system. I would moan and groan about being on the board. Suddenly a fellow said “There is a PC based 3D CAD system on those two Compaqs in that room”. I already was in the world of PCs. I even had some experience on AutoCAD. It was on my Compaq luggable with a tiny amber monitor. But I was already a 3D CAD mechanical designer and was not interested in a badly designed architectural electronic drafting package.

So, I headed toward the computers. The product was CADKEY. It was very much like CADDS 4. It had an easy to use GUI, much better than CADDS 4 with its “dig” (digitizer) pen, tablet and keyboard input. CADKEY also had a colored monitor which was a $25,000 option on CADDS 4. After 2 weeks of lunch hours I talked management letting me take on a project.

An engineer and I proceeded to design the 747 first observer’s workstation. We got the outer mold loft lines for the station lines we were going to be mounting the station from Catia in IGES.

IGES worked very well between the products. It is quite surprising that that level of compatibility was programed into the programs at this level of introduction of 3D CAD. Later I had the same success with Computervision CADDS 4.

The project went incredibly well and management was hugely impressed. They started ordering seats of CADKEY by the dozens. We had a list of those who were waiting anxiously to get the next seats. We had an ongoing list of enhancement requests that we would send to CADKEY that they would implement as soon as they could

The word started spreading. Other groups would stop by to coordinate and we would give them a demonstration.

We would send HP formatted files to the print department. Nope, no plotters in the drafting room. So, we had to wait a couple of days for our prints to be reviewed for errors, maybe a better design and to check.  CADKEY at that time had no documentation module, but full drafting capabilities in the 2D/3D model mode. We would copy the different views and place them on the same level (which we had 256) and detail them. We would put in a border. We always designed and detailed in full size and request the print shop to scale the print. This offered some very interesting problems.

I was not sure how Catia 2 worked. But by this time, we had 25 seats of CADKEY and still only 3 seats of Catia, mostly being used for structural frame and OML support delivered to support the CADKEY users.

I was put in charge of training. It was easy, all were experienced Boeing draftsman, contractors and board engineers that took to CADKEY like fish to water. Soon all the engineering documentation was going out of CADKEY. It was funny, we promoted the users to play games like solitaire to familiarize themselves with this new world of the PC.

All you want to know about 3D CAD training!

But not all was good. Computers had been expanding in all industry based on the mainframe computer. The computer groups were gaining power. BCS (Boeing Computer Services) power soon surpassed engineering. Mainframes and workstations were in the realm of BCS, but not these newfangled PCs (Personal Computers). BCS soon found that it could not control these PC's. They were not called Personal for nothing. BCS hated CADKEY. We could load it, configure it, licensed it (dongle), maintain it without any input from BCS, Ah, but Catia 2 was totally under their control.

Boeing could have led the world into PC based 3D CAD.
Just a small point – Catia did not show up on the PC for another 12 years.

BCS allowed no programming outside BCS. CADKEY had CADL (CAD Advanced Design Language) like LISP in AutoCAD would allow the user to do simple programming steps. It could also be used to copy and import models into different CADKEY files. BCS wanted to remove this integrated function so no one could program. They were completely out of touch with what was needed and required and quite insane.

They would walk into the group like the Gestapo ready to punish anyone that would defy them.  There were many battles that occurred. The Boeing draftsmen are not the most congenial bunch. They knew their stuff and knew when they being fed BS. It became a battle ground. CADKEY was soon hated by BCS and I am sure they swore they would get rid of it.

There were a couple of us who saw the light and decided to create a business selling CADKEY. We all invested in a $3,000.00 286 computer, who would trust a newfangled 386, CADKEY $3,500.00 and a $2,500.00 19 inch monitor. This was a huge investment for a couple of draftsman, $9000.00. These were seasoned Boeing lead draftsmen and one engineer. We saw the productivity increases. It truly was a no brainer. I found out very soon Boeing employees make horrible businessmen. 40 hours was their maximum work week. All had hobbies and getting into a business just didn’t fit their life style. More about this later.

I was performing well beyond my job title and decided to be paid for it, after all I was a job shopper. They offered me a dollar. My rate: $20.00. I took a $15.00 cut to get home. Well, out went my resume and I got a job with Square D in Lincoln, NE. I will tell you the only thing good about Lincoln was the people, because besides corn fields there is nothing there.

They had Computervision CADDS 4 monochrome screens. I was already spoiled by a contract at Solar Turbines in San Diego where they converted to colored monitors. I quickly brought out my incredible CADKEY system and showed them how I could easily outperform their CADDS 4 using IGES, this was all 2D/3D wireframe. Remember the Boeing fellows. Well they just didn’t want to be part of the business. So, I started my company TECH-NET and sold Square D three CADKEY systems, I think it was the color monitors that sold them. The 3 full systems were only $10,000 more than a single color monitor for CV. But this sale put me in the PC and PC based 3D CAD business.

In 1988 I came back home to the Seattle area and established TECH-NET. We were a CADKEY Dealer. This was also the beginning of wide use of the PC. We were selling hardware and software like crazy. Networking was not included with the MCDOS software so we had quite an operation going.

Being well experienced with the interoperability between CADKEY and Catia 2 at Boeing I started selling CADKEY to every Boeing supplier. CADKEY was the only effective PC based 3D CAD system on the market. I was not the Boeing CADKEY dealer. If I was things might have been different.

Boeing had 1500 seats of CADKEY in the commercial division. How in the world did they justify replacing them with Catia 2? This was still pre-1990. Catia just moved to IBM Unix workstations. What was the big benefit that was worth approximately $50,000 to $60,000 per seat more?

To make this move stranger, all Boeing employees had a PC. All communications were now on the PC. Why in the world would they add the complexity of a Unix system?

All the CADKEY PCs were on the same network providing and receiving the same information. By 1988 CADKEY had an integrated documentation module called the layout mode and 1989 Fastsurf, an intermediate surfacing package, that easily matched Catia 3 at the time. This was also the time Windows was becoming widely accepted. Remember, if many of you can, the PC started with the MS-DOS system. CADKEY ran on DOS and I had to take CADKEY kicking and screaming into the Age of Windows. I remember how we had dual releases for CADKEY 7. Windows or DOS. I was an edlin (edit line) programming king.  An inside joke for very few people.

So, it is 1989, CADKEY and Catia 3 were equally capable. I am just assuming this since I never even looked at Catia 3 user interface or its basic 3D CAD system. Boeing Flight Deck had 45 CADKEY seats and I am sure were all designing and creating prints. They even got rid of one of the Catia 3 stations, I was in close contact with those folks. Made many close friends. I will not even tell you about my going away party. Whew!! I was still supporting many of them with CADKEY even though I was not the dealer.

I was having monthly user group meetings. We had huge seminars presented by CADKEY. We were flying. Many Boeing engineers, designers and draftsman would be in attendance. The NW was in the 3D CAD world.

What would make Boeing opt to use Catia 3 over a more productive, cost effective, easily maintained and PC Based 3D CAD system? It was not over night. I was not in the know about the relationship with CADKEY and Boeing. But there was a push for Catia. I really don’t even remember what happened. The standard engineering deliverable was the print. It wasn’t until free form surfacing showed up did the 3D model become of value with PC based 3 axis CNC programs, like Smart CAM, MasterCAM, SurfCAM and others when the IGES model become part of the engineering deliverable.

Let’s just use the 1500 number of CADKEY seats that had to be replaced. I know this was a slow process that moved into the early 1990’s.

Let’s say a CADKEY station cost Boeing $7,000.00 with the software, PC and 19-inch CRT monitor (perfect station). Like I said before, all Boeing employees had PCs anyway. The CADKEY PC system offered much more than just a 3D CAD system it offered a door to the PC world, word processing, spread sheets, scheduling system software, what we all have now was mostly all there then. Nope, no internet, but Boeing had a great internal networking system.

Boeing opted to spend, let’s make it cheap, and just charge 10 times the price to $70,000 per seat. But remember these were Unix seats and needed a staff of Unix experts to maintain them. We know they had a minimum staff of PC experts to maintain them. Now they doubled the IT staff required.

Ah, maybe that answers the CADKEY or Catia question.

Who benefited by this move? Surely not engineering. They were happy with CADKEY and the PC. Remember I was one of them for a couple of years. In fact, I still was doing consulting for Boeing and many of my clients. My CADKEY training classes were full of Boeing draftsman and design engineers.

The only group that would benefit by this move was BCS (Boeing Computer Services) and, of course, Dassault. Trust me they were in charge and hugely influential.

So, what did this move cost the company just using the 1500 seats. Don't forget to include all of the logistics!


But that was just the beginning of the huge costs of this decision.


I am sorry but I must do an aside here at this time and introduce Pro/e. It plays a huge part later in this drama.

All of the high-end systems were playing with solids. Mostly Boolean operations. Both Computervision and Catia has some sort of solid model functionality.

But something showed up in the market place in 1988 that set 3D CAD on a path that would not only increase the cost of engineering for Boeing but the complete industry.

Can you guess?

PTC (Parametric Technology Corporation) came out with a solid modeling package called Pro/Engineer.

31 Years of 3D CAD Incompatibility

Now, Pro/e was the first, as far as I know, 3D CAD system that had solid modeling designed from the ground up. It was delivered on a Unix workstation that were now available at a high, yet not out of reach, price as compared to Computervision CADDS 4 and Catia 3.

It was a very convoluted system that used a strangely devised history of features based on child/parent relationships. You could design and all the design steps were available. You could also program features and assemblies and create family of parts based on these programs.

Parametric Modeling Finally Defined

I have to say it was a miracle. It was very, very clever.

But while it was very innovative it was incredibly flawed. It had a separate part, assembly and drawing formats. I am sure the thought was to be able to relate parts to each other and create constraints between parts. Change one thing and all affected parts change. Great idea. Of course, none of these fellows were engineering types. I used to laugh as I was explained this concept.

You have a control cable running down the keel of an airplane and the cable moved and all clearance holes in each frame associated to that cable would also move.

Was I the only one that ever met Mr. Murphy?

Of course, it took much more time to design anything. Many engineers had to become programmers. You would design the parts then insert them into the assembly. All parts were associated to the assembly. 100 parts, 100 associations to maintain. Hello is Mr. Murphy there? So, of course, PDM became a nightmare. No, no PDM was not (Part Document Management) this became (Product Data Management) hmm who would come up with that term? Ah, enter the InfoTechs, yes, the IT folks now were called in to maintain these associated “Pieces of Data” The simple document control of the past was now in the hands of the IT folks defining PDM systems for the 3D CAD users. Which of course now had to understand data management. Mr. Murphy was having a field day, laughing and thinking how could he make it worse.

Yes, he made it worse!!

Enter PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) this was an advanced PDM system that was to handle complete projects. Was it designed by engineers, draftsman and document control experts? Oh no, none of those folks had the academic credentials or applicable Infotech knowledge considered necessary to reinvent this new wheel.

The Death of PLM?

Have I missed something???

Oh, yes we still had the print to worry about. No, no they were not drawings. But remember Pro/e engineering deliverable was still these associated information documents, still called drawings? It would continue to be so until the turn of the century. Yes, there was .dxf. But it was not truly a standard. No program would import the .dxf correctly, and of course, it would change with ever version of AutoCAD.

As for using the model for manufacturing, it started with IGES which first were in 3D wireframe, then in a surface format, of course, moving to solids in the mid 1990’s. IGES released a solid model translation but soon was replaced with the new, more robust, STEP translator.

Good God, even lowly CADKEY that was developed by engineers had IGES and STEP. It was just too obvious. But the CADKEY developers were much, much smarter, they actually included the documentation in the same file as the 3D modeled part and assy.

The Integrated Drawing in 3D CAD

It is a bit confusing, you had to have documentation. CNC was in its infancy at the time of the release of Pro/e. Oh, believe me, I will get into that later.

Ah, the associated separate drawing was a misnomer for sure, since we didn’t draw anything anymore caused huge problems for PDM and PLM. Now you had the 3D modeled part and an associated document to maintain. Hmmm this is even more than a bit confusing. Do you know even today the 3D modeled part doesn’t include the information that there may be an associated drawing? Impossible you say? Bring up your favorite Solidworks part.

I will not go into the complex operation of Pro/e. It was incredibly unique and there was nothing that could compete. I bet the demos were incredible as compare to what?? Nothing. Computervision and Catia were still struggling with Boolean solids. PTC promised to reduce drawing time of 90% one fellow told me. Of course, designing in Pro/e was and still is torturous.

The Pro/e salesman could walk in to these large companies, set up the Unix system and give them a demonstration. Can you imagine how much more simple as compared to the huge networked Computervision or Catia systems that were only wireframe at the time?

Pro/e was a Miracle.

Okay, Okay… that is enough about Pro/e for now. I will leave you with one horribly devastating fact. All PLM is based on the Pro/e paradigm of separate parts, assemblies and documentation. Didn’t anyone think of making the CAD system more data friendly??? Nope, none were engineers or draftsman who applied this mess of convoluted processes.

Back to CADKEY and Catia

We will now move to 1991 and CADKEY and Catia 3. Life was good, engineering was getting done. A few new things showed up stereolithography (STL) and CNC programming. We were now designing with surfacing to provide both of those technologies with functional formatted data.

I remember doing a job for Spacelabs. In CADKEY they wanted to get one of these new stereolithography parts made. They gave me a 3D wireframe plastic part with no draft. Designers rarely designed with draft in those days. In 3D wireframe it was difficult. Imagine the spherical shapes (blends or fillets). They wanted me to add the draft, now that we had 3D parts and could surface the model for STL. I told them 55 hours. They said it didn’t take that long to design. I said than you should have designed it with draft. I did the job.

Just a funny aside! A year later I got a similar job. Yes, they came back to me. But this time CADKEY had solids. 15 hours. Yes, solids were much, much more productive.

Solid Modeling shows up on the PC.

In 1995 solid modeling showed up everywhere. Both Parasolid (UGS) and ACIS solid modeling kernels became available.  Suddenly many PC based 3D CAD programs started popping up, Solidworks, Trispectives, CorelCAD, TurboCAD and a few more.

The 1990's - 3D CAD/CAM Moves to the PC!!

CADKEY had a 3D solid modeling module called FastSolids from the creator of Fastsurf, Robert White, show up. After one seminar, I was getting orders for the beta release. All my customers were ready to move to solid modeling.

FastSolid was a Boolean system based on ACIS, where you would add or subtract shapes to do your design. This was nothing like the history of Pro/e. While it was totally functional you could not really edit the features.

I was also looking at many of the other new products coming out. One being Trispectives. It was also an ACIS system that could pass solid models back and forth to FastSolids. But it was a graphic design package with rendering and animation and a unique drag and drop shapes from a catalog. It was incredible combination. We did presentations with transparent shapes, labels and animation that would rival the systems of today.

The engineering world had changed. Solid modeling was instantly king. Of course, we still used 2D/3D wireframe and surfacing to support it.

Catia 4 was released. It provided solid modeling. It was a Boolean system like CADKEY. The Boeing suppliers were now getting solid model from Boeing still in IGES and then in STEP. Every Boeing supplier moved to CNC. We sold Surfcam at the time. We were right in the midst of the action and transition.

Nothing changed with engineering documentation by adding Solids to the process. Yes, solid modeling increases productivity across the board. They still were creating full prints, now called by the Boeing draftsman the “flat file”, but now included was a usable 3D model.

All was good!!

I remember calling one of the groups at Boeing. I had about 85 active seats still in the commercial division. I called to promote more CADKEY. BCS was not quite as worried about CADKEY since it had all official engineering in Catia. The fellow asked me: “Does it have history based modeling?” I thought why is he asking that. I said “Why would you want history modeling, Boolean is much faster and easier”. He answered “Oh, we have to have history base solid modeling”.

I was selling CADKEY like crazy. Remember Trispectives? Well, they were bought by a company that sold CoCreate (Now Creo Direct) and they in the midst of creating IronCAD. CoCreate was a Boolean only system like CADKEY and Catia. But IronCAD had history and they added the Boolean operation. But at this time, they moved into direct editing. Ah, the difference please.

Boolean Design

This system was based on adding and subtracting shapes. It was based on sketches and had extrude, revolve, sweep and loft commands. You could add fillets. But there was no recognition of these features. You wanted to change a hole you deleted the old one and put in a new one.

Direct Edit

Much like Boolean Design but adds feature recognition. You can recognize and actually edit the hole or blend. Today the direct edit functionality is very powerful. It is much, much more flexible than history based only design.

I was shown Solidwork and offered a dealership. I looked at it, chuckled and said “Who would use or buy this piece of crap”. How was I to know that Dassault was ready to buy Solidworks for $310,000,000 in stock. Why would they do such a thing? Solidworks was a horrible Pro/e knock off and only had 6000 seat which most were academic. Oh, yeah, Catia 5 was right around the corner. More on that later.

It was 1998 I was now selling both CADKEY and IronCAD.

These were not trivial programs.

CADKEY was moving right along. They added a parametric or history based module. Called creatively “CADKEY Parametric”. This was the industry’s first true hybrid 3D CAD modeler.

It had 2D/3D wireframe, full free form surfacing, direct edit solid modeling and now history based parametric solid modeling “ALL IN ONE INTEGRATED PACKAGE”. Remember you could do your parts, assembly and drawings in one file.

CADKEY became the world’s first fully functional 3D Hybrid modeler. We gave a presentation to Boeing commercial in Everett the Boeing folks were drooling. So, what happened here? I will explain later. Today, that mantle is held by ZW3D.

IronCAD has a single model environment and the only package with truly integrated history and direct editing. I started selling both packages. IronCAD is the fastest conceptual design program and I was moving a few CADKEY users. But its lack of surfacing limited the sales.

2000 – Catia 5

Remember I said that selecting Catia over CADKEY cost Boeing millions of dollars. That did not stop over the next 12 or 13 years. If I didn’t come along and provide CADKEY to all the Boeing suppliers would someone else had? I don’t know. But I was in the middle providing the interoperability with Boeing and their suppliers. Like I said Catia 4 was not available to even the large suppliers. If it wasn’t for this CADKEY compatible solution, the use of Catia would have cost much, much more. I am sure Boeing was oblivious to this fact.

Danger, Will Robinson!!

One day I got a call from a Boeing Supplier. He said: “Joe, Boeing is not supplying drawings anymore.” Boeing had moved to Catia 5 without any notice to the supplier. They were now delivering the information in a bizarre inaccessible 3D format. They did not know what to do.

With Catia 5 now available on the PC many had to buy a seat. Dassault also provided Enovia. An expensive and very convoluted Catia 5 viewer.

I really am not sure what they were delivering for an engineering deliverable. The PMI (Product Manufacturing Information) was being developed. This is basically a 3D drawing. All of the engineering information was to be included in a single native file in 3D space. You needed a Catia 5 or Enovia seat to view it.

PMI vs AID (Associated Information Document

Back to Pro/e and the separate part, assembly and drawing.

Well, Catia 5 was basically a Pro/e clone. I always wondered why they bought Solidworks and the complete development staff. PMI is nothing more than a poor effort to aid with document control now call PDM (Product Data Management). This was now being pushed by an effort to make the model the engineering authority instead of the documentation. This is called MBE (Model Based Enterprise) using MBD (Model Based Design) using the native PMI as the engineering deliverable.

The suppliers were up in arms. But Boeing decide that they would move to this system and now Dassault Catia 5 PLM was the basis of their engineering system. The engineering system is the basis of the company operation. This move affected all corporate operations.

In this decision, I am not sure how it came down, but Boeing decided they did not need the Drafting Group or Document Control Group and now depended on Dassault’s PLM system to manage the complete engineering process. As for the draftsman, 3D CAD really doesn’t have a place for them (more on this later). An engineer can do it all. Now they are, what I call, the 3D CAD engineer.

How CADKEY could have eliminated the need for PLM, MBE and PMI?

CADKEY is a true single model environment. You could easily design your parts, assemblies and sub-assemblies in one file. Also you could do your drawings in the same file.

With the drawing included with the part or assembly: would they have needed to go to a complex convoluted PLM system that tried to use the native system in the form of a PMI to simplify PDM?

Probably not. We would still be working with a much more manageable 3D model and the associated integrated documentation. It was funny as Catia 5 and this PLM system was being released and they were trying to solve the problem with maintaining the separate print, Adobe released the PDF, easily solving the separate print problem and leaving the engineering documentation in stone delivered outside the native CAD system.

If Boeing would have chosen CADKEY the following situation would have never occurred. With the support of Boeing, CADKEY could have reached a level of productivity that Boeing does not see today or ever will see in the future.

Catia 4 to Catia 5 Fiasco!

Now for the life of me, a Boeing trained draftsman, a person that was trained by and worked for the most incredible engineering company on the planet, with the most incredible engineering and manufacturing standards, why would Boeing make this obviously not thought through decision.

Boeing was not alone on this decision. Airbus also made this move, but with no CADKEY option.

Why was this decision made in this fashion. It was being made by BCS and the Infotechs that had no ability or applicable knowledge to differentiate between the relative importance's! Yes, they are still in charge!

Catia 4 and Catia 5 could not read the others files.

The 777 was designed in Catia 3, but now all airplanes were being modified with Catia 4 with the introduction in 1994.

It was incredible. There were no translators provided by Dassault!!!

Catia 4 was bad enough. It could only import/export IGES and STEP. Wait a minute, Catia 5 could only import/export IGES and STEP!

We all heard the story about the electronic cable bundles for the Airbus 380 not fitting due to the attempted mixing of the two system.

I will not go into the cost of this horribly devastating not thought through decision.

Can any of you PC based 3D CAD users imagine this. You would have thought there would have been at least forward compatibility.

Why in the world would they call it Catia 5. I was not compatible at all with Catia 4. Why not a completely new name. It is like a bunch of amateurs are in charge at Dassault, Boeing, Airbus and any other Catia 4 users that fell into this trap.

Sadly, this mess is still going on today.

Update 2-20-19

Catia 6 was released in 2009 and not adopted by any of the Catia 5 major users. Today, Dassault is pushing the 3DExperience, I cannot imagine the cost involved with this move!

Back to CADKEY

At the turn of the century, the folks at CADKEY decided to duplicate the package in a new programing language. I will not go into that fiasco but what came out of it was KeyCreator. This is now a fully functional hybrid modeler. Sadly, the incredible history based parametric capabilities were never to be included.

I replaced many of the CADKEY in Boeing with KeyCreator. Due to the bumpy introduction of KeyCreator I had lost quite a few seats of CADKEY.

But KeyCreator still was the best support system for both Catia 4 and Catia 5. Soon native translators to all of the popular packages started showing up on the PC based products. Both KeyCreator and IronCAD could import Pro/e, Solidwork, Inventor and UG native files. But even better they could import and export native Catia 4 and Catia 5 files.

Again, Joe to the rescue. I convinced the commercial division to buy a seat of KeyCreator to convert Catia 5, Solidworks, Pro/e, UG, Inventor and all of the standard formats to Catia 4. The fellow in charge looked like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. He was working hours and hours bringing in native files and converting them to Catia 4. Why? Of course, you wouldn’t ask.

Catia 4 could only handle a 34 meg file!!!

Yes, he would bring in the files, edit them in KeyCreator by reducing the size and save them as Catia 4 files. He was hugely successful.

Next question??

Why didn’t every group buy a seat of KeyCreator to do their own translations?

Boeing had a translation group. Every request took a minimum of two weeks. I showed the group manager directly importing a Solidworks and a Catia 5 file into KeyCreator and IronCAD and create a Catia 4 file.

Catia 4.5 = The Catia incompatibility Solution

Again, politics won! This guy had a bit of power and was not going to let it go. Can you imagine how many suppliers Boeing has that use different CAD systems and had to supply 3D models? Galley, seats, instrumentation, electronics, etc. Everything came through this guy. His complete group would have been eliminated. I think Boeing is still using this process.

Cost to Boeing? Unimaginable.

“I have worked with Boeing and Catia for over 30 years. Dassault is responsible for keeping Boeing one of the most ignorant and isolated manufacturing companies. Their lack of interoperability is beyond belief.”

The above was a quote from one of my other articles.

I continue to work with Boeing suppliers. To this day Boeing is still having problems with communicating with the suppliers.

Back to PMI

In 2007 PMI was becoming a problem. Adobe released a package, Acrobat 3D. I was involved with this package. It would read a Catia 5 file with PMI and let you view the PMI and import the part as a STEP.

It was getting huge support by Boeing. Suddenly Adobe discontinued it. They sold it to another company that is still providing it today. I never understood it. A cheap way to view the PMI. Today, you have to search for it, virtually no marketing. After all of these years there has no standards set for this PMI format. How could there be one? They are based on the different CAD systems native file. Just keeping up with the different releases would create chaos.

I can only assume that this would have cut into the control and profits of Dassault. I am sure that they advised Boeing it would not be in their best interest.

Boeing now demands that the supplier can read the native Catia file and do a validation of the part to assure it is the same as the part going into the CNC. This is an extremely expensive time consuming convoluted process. But remember the 3D model is now the authority and Catia 5 puts out some of the more corrupt parts in the industry.

Compare and Validation Programs?
Band-Aids for Self-Inflicted Wounds!

Corrupt 3D CAD Parts

I do sell ZW3D and it imports PMI from Creo, NX, Catia and Solidworks. So, if you need to have access to PMI please feel free to give me a call.

Free PMI Importer?

That about brings us up to the present. Nothing has changed at Boeing and I suppose Airbus for years. But engineering costing them a fortune. Why?

Is Catia 5 the Worst 3D CAD System in the World?

You be the judge!

The Worst to Best 3D CAD Systems Expanded!

I can tell you after 30 years of selling a variety of 3D CAD systems, and competing against many others, that Catia 5 is the worst CAD system in the world. It is devastating for Boeing, Airbus or any large engineering company that has a large turnover of engineers.

Why, Joe?

Catia 5 is just one of today’s popular programs that are nothing more than Pro/e (Creo) clones. It is a history based only design package. It is not conducive for effective fast design. Now a smaller company with a stable staff may tolerate a history only based system, a large engineering firm with a high turn over of 3D CAD engineers cannot afford the horrible overhead with this type of system.

I have many opinions on history and direct edit. I promote IronCAD and ZW3D that have integrated direct editing. While I love history for conceptual design I will sometimes completely blow my history and continue to work with a mixture of history and direct edit.

Very large engineering companies should have robust integrated direct editing available. Even better have fully functional integrated hybrid modeling, including 2D/3D wire frame, free form surfacing and history/direct edit solid modeling.

The Ultimate 3D CAD System

The only constant in engineering is change!

Next Generation 3D CAD Technology Applied!

While there are a few features like helical shapes that cannot be edited, I would say 95% of the parts could be directly edited with today’s direct edit only or those that have both history and integrated direct edit programs. Imagine how much easier that would be for an engineer not familiar with a part to be productive? Imagine the time that is being taken by a new engineer now responsible to change the model figuring out how the model was made and how to make the changes. History only systems demand a high level of intelligence and experience to be productive.

Is 3D CAD Productivity an Oxymoron?

I have an article where I introduce Streamline Sketching and Feature Based Modeling that can increase modeling productivity even in the most Solidwork-ish systems.

3D Modeling Techniques Defined

Dassault released a package called Solidworks Conceptual Design. It was based on the Catia modeling kernel. It really is not completely compatible with basic Solidworks any more than any other package. This is a package that allows you to design in a single model environment using both direct edit and history. No documentation module.

Welcome aboard Solidworks Rewritten!

But for the life of me, I do not understand why they didn’t release this to the Catia 5 community and relieve some of the pain of the history based only program. It is based on the Catia modeling kernel!! How could this be overlooked?

One Boeing fellow told me a story of a Catia 5 operator that had to learn Catia 4. His opinion: Catia 4 was a better design system. What?? And CADKEY was much, much better than Catia 4.

Boeing today

Now the draftsmen are gone. The engineers are producing minimized PMI. Murphy is running rampant through Boeing engineering on the design side. They are making suppliers jump through hoop after hoop making all the parts more expensive.

Dassault's PLM and Infotech gurus are now running the show!

The Boeing draftsman were worker bees. They kept everything in line. They made sure the documentation was complete and correct. They released and maintained the documentation. This was no easy feat as the engineers are now are finding out.

The Death of the Draftsman or “Where has all the talent gone?”

Now, I really must agree that there is no need for the draftsman anymore. But we have a new position. The 3D CAD engineer. In the past, most of the grunt and sometimes sophisticated design was done by the draftsman.

Educating the New 3D CAD Engineer - 2015

Was the move to Catia 5 the cause? Not totally, this is inevitable with any 3D CAD system. CADKEY with the integrated drawings may have put the draftsman in a different light. But PMI sort of took all the emphasis off completely detailing the parts and resulted in short cutting engineering with devastating results.

Engineering's only purpose is to make available concise, complete
and unambiguous documentation to  manufacturing.

The engineers do not have a good design and documentation system in place with good checking procedures. I have been told that Boeing has set up a Produciblity Group to review the released engineering. I don’t know what happens if they find the part cannot be made or there are errors. Yes, I have had more than one supplier tell me they had to tell Boeing a part could not be made.

I always thought the PMI was created to have only one document. But now I am told Boeing has a minimum of 2 more documents that travel with it.

All just to replace the simple drawing, which today is not even a drawing but an easily created associated information document made by detailing placed instances of the part.

So, there you go. I can tell you that Boeing has spent billions and is still spending millions trying to make Catia 5 and its PLM/MBE/PMI system work.

Here is a comment by an experience 3D CAD engineer that is forced to use this flawed MBE/MBD/PMI system.

"The big problem is, any failure will be blamed on the responsible engineers and not an unworkable system. MBE is already being backstopped by drawings in many organizations that are forced to use MBE, but the drawings are frequently not in the release control process because they are not the "primary" data driving fabrication. A fine mess."

Why MBE/MBD/PMI Will Fail I

Why MBE/MBD/PMI Will Fail Part II

PLM/MBE/PMI Absurdity!!

Engineering Documentation Today!


1. Document Control

Please read these articles. I wrote them purposely before writing this article.

Standard Cloud Based
Engineering Document Control

Standard Cloud Based
Engineering Document Control Part II

We move back to creating completely detailed associated information documents (drawings). No, we don’t need to go to the standards of yesteryear, since we now include the 3D model as a comparison. But the second check provided by completely detailing the part quickly exposes errors or a better design. It also provides a much quicker and easier review of the document. The Onshape concept is basically a bucket where you can upload and store any form of documentation including a live 3D view of the model. This truly is the perfect solution. No special software, just an OnShape like cloud based document control program, a web browser and an Apple or PC.

Checking, Design Review, Manufacturing and Data Extraction!

We move Document Control out of engineering and into a group that is responsible for making sure that the information it up to date and readily available.

It is Impossible to Use the Native CAD File as the Engineering Deliverable!

To use this concept, Boeing can easily continue using Catia 5. Just start doing complete associated information documents (drawings) and converting them to a PDF. Get the engineering deliverable out of native Catia 5 system. Dassault also should work to create a stable 3D model that can guarantee the integrity of the part and can safely be exported as a step and not be corrupt. Having so many different 3D CAD systems available has limited the interoperability. Sadly, the major CAD companies have a vested interest in this not working. If they did we would move to the most cost effective standard solution.

The 3D model cannot be used as the part authority!

There can be huge problems with the 3D model.

Corrupt 3D CAD Parts

Can the 3D Model Be Used as the Design Authority?

2. More Cost Effective and Productive Software

There are very few programs that have the parts, assemblies and drawings in one file.

Could Boeing move back to one of these systems?

The truth is that it would be better than continuing the path they are on with Catia 5.

Yes, you would still have to work with Catia 4 and Catia 5 parts. But these programs read and write both Catia 4 and 5 native files.

ZW3D is the solution that would fit this bill. It is history based and would need a very short learning curve. I do have to mention IronCad as a supporting design package. Its level of 3D solid modeling productivity cannot be overlooked.

The Single model environment option

This is by far the most productive design environment. You design your assemblies in one file. This is a must for conceptual design, no need for PDM in the design stage. Allows all parts to be in one file until the time for engineering release.

3D CAD Single Model Design Environment

The Integrated Drawing

This is where the door is closed on the data management problem. Your drawing is part of your part or assembly file. You can do assemblies and release all of your part out of a single file. Think of how that would solve the internal PDM, The uniqueness of the associated information document (drawing) is the only thing blocking complete CAD interoperablity. It would be great if we could develop a standard for the drawings as compared to the 3D model. Being able to export both the model and the drawing in an associated format.

Integrated Direct Edit Functionality

Integrated direct edit functionality allows direct editing to be part of the design process offering incredible flexibility. Now need for extensive design intent when starting a part. Functional direct edit opens the option to work with any other CAD systems solid models.

Hybrid 3D Modeling

This is where all 3D CAD systems are trying to go. Sadly, they have to really be designed as hybrid modelers from the ground up. Clumsy add-on modules will never provide the smooth integrated operation, compared to programs like ZW3D Standard.

ZW3D CATIA 5 Replacement Advantage

ZW3D can import the PMI of the Catia 5 file. Then create a document inside the file. It can also import/export Catia 4 and 5 files.

Free PMI Importer?

I am a Boeing trained draftsman with 53 years of experience, and I believe from what I have seen the minimized PMI is not sufficient as a format for engineering documentation.

I still believe a completely detailed AID (drawing) is required. If not for a complete unambiguous description to manufacturing, then a second check by the designer for errors or a better design. A completely defined associated information document (drawing) provided in a PDF format is also good for easy review and checking. The lack of these functions is adding to the cost of engineering in errors and slipped schedules. In my own engineering, when I detail the parts, I always find an error. That is with decades of form, fit and function design and drafting experience.


It is time for a disruption not only with Boeing and its relationship with Catia 5 but the complete industries relationship with any of these Pro/e Clones that are stealing our precious engineering time. Catia is not the only culprit in this crime.

As I said in the beginning we got here step by step as the problem arose. But it is time to reevaluate today’s 3D CAD solutions.

PTC with Pro/e (Creo) offered a promise of associated parametric design. Sadly, that promise was never established. The efforts to implement it has added hours to the engineering design and delivery process. With PLM, they tried to increase the lost productivity with some very costly Band-Aids.

Evan Yares describes the problem of parametric design very clearly in this article which is first of a series focused on this problem.

The failed promise of parametric CAD

It is interesting that the smaller companies are very productive with 3D CAD including TECH-NET. Their engineering deliverable is the model and a detailed drawing in the form of a PDF. I suppose not having an Infotech staff keeps things relatively simple.

Engineering didn’t need computers. We designed the 747 or 767 without them and in less time than they did the 787.

3D CAD and the 757

We need to establish a standard, equal to what we had in the past.

It is time to put engineering back in charge of engineering!

I have to tell you all, designing parts and the maintenance of those parts is a very simple process. You design the parts, deliver complete and unambiguous documentation to manufacturing, take delivery of the parts and assemble. Then archive the engineering documentation hopefully never to be seen again.
It surely isn't rocket science!

Part Design Defined

The Assembly Defined

Shouldn’t the results of the computerization of engineering be a more simplified process and incredible productivity increases?

Go ahead!! Try to answer that question!!

TECH-NET Engineering Services!

We sell and support IronCAD and ZW3D Products and
provide engineering services throughout the USA and Canada!

Why TECH-NET Sells IronCAD and ZW3D

For more information or to download IronCAD or ZW3D

With 53 years of experience in engineering, 17 years in manual board design as a contract engineer, 33 years in 3D CAD sales, support, training and providing engineering services, we have a high level of understanding of today's 3D CAD engineering world. For many it is in chaos. If you are having problems or just interested in this subject please feel free to call and we can discuss them. There are so many simpler solutions available that will save you time and money.

My First 17 Years or "How did we do it without 3D CAD!"

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Joe Brouwer