JT Seeks Acceptance

Getting auto makers to agree on an industry-wide standard can be a challenging task.

Getting auto makers to agree on an industry-wide standard can be a challenging task. One just has to look at the failure of Covisint—which was supposed to revolutionize the way the industry dealt with suppliers—to see that good intentions don’t always equal success. When UGS PLM Solutions (www.ugs.com; Plano, TX) introduced the world to its JT lightweight CAD-neutral visual design file format, predictions were the auto industry would make JT its standard format for sharing CAD designs across all facets of the vehicle and component development process. The format was quickly adopted by General Motors, who began using JT (which reduces file size by as much as 90% compared to the source file for the CAD geometry) in 1998 for all of its product design functions. The idea behind JT is to allow third-party suppliers to view CAD models without needing to license the sources CAD system (see: http://www.autofieldguide.com/articles/030408.html).

Besides GM’s early support, JT also is becoming the CAD file format of choice at Ford Motor Co., which is expanding the use of JT files from product design and development, into product quality and manufacturing. “We use it heavily in the quality areas, doing statistical process analysis and process capacity analysis to determine what kind of tolerances we need to achieve on the piece parts to carry that through to the customer and achieve the correct gap and flush on body panels, for example,” says Dave Knapp, Principal Architect-Product Creation at Ford. “We’re also using JT as a way to develop assembly tooling. For example, we can bring the body panels in virtually, design the fixtures around them and share the fixtures back to team center manufacturing to support work cell simulation and analysis.” The automaker also envisions using JT for consumer applications, particularly for custom vehicle ordering, where the files can be shared directly with the manufacturing plant on a just-in-time basis, allowing the bill-of-materials, design and manufacturing communities to communicate seamlessly. But don’t look for Ford to require all of its suppliers to utilize JT as a sole file format in the near future. Knapp says a number of technical and business issues, including industry-wide adoption of JT by all OEs, need to be addressed before JT becomes ubiquitous. “A transition to a new format is complex for both us and our suppliers.”

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Sharing JT files across the business enterprise just became even easier, thanks to a partnership between Adobe Systems and UGS so that JT models can be published as PDF files and read by the more than 500 million copies of Acrobat Readers on desktops around the world. The use of PDF format enables OEs to place added security restrictions on the JT files, limiting access to modification of the documents, while preventing unauthorized persons for accessing files and copying to other computers, says Francios le Masne, senior marketing manager at Adobe. “With the addition of the Adobe Reader, we are now giving rules to the document itself. You can have on line and off line controls on the document, which provides added protection for intellectual property.” Christian Kelley, vice president of partner and platform marketing fir UGS, says an added benefit of the Adobe partnership and the widespread availability of Adobe Reader making it easier for OEs re-source on a more timely basis: “The key thing we find particularly in the auto industry is companies want to change partners quickly. They want to choose the best suppliers and the best partners at hand and that could change from job to job and Adobe allows us to do that because their software spans all types of industries.”

Not so fast, says Mark Hogan, President of Magna International. He remains skeptical the industry will adopt JT as the sole standard for sharing CAD data among suppliers and OEs: “The OEs have always talked about getting to a common language, but they could never agree on the solution. I’d be skeptical about any CAD company raising their hand and saying, ‘We’re moving to one standard as an industry.’” He points out that UGS will have to convince its competitors—including Autodesk, Dassault Systemes and PTC—to adopt JT for their files, which could turn out to be a trying task. During a seminar to tout the benefits of JT, a representative of a Tier 1 supplier in the audience expressed her concern about the possibility of automakers adopting JT as a sole file standard. The argument was suppliers would have to acquire additional software licenses from Adobe and other JT partners in order to take full advantage of modifying files shared using the format, which would add further cost burdens on an already stretched supply base. Meanwhile, other OEs that have invested millions of dollars on other CAD software formats will be unwilling to throw their investments out the window, meaning suppliers would still have to work on multiple file-sharing formats. The challenges to making JT standard fare in the industry are huge.—KMK