TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. - The Big Three automakers and key suppliers are deep into AutoSTEP, a pilot project that will allow computer systems to communicate. But D. Craig Winn, Chrysler Corp.'s general manager for Jeep platform engineering, said Chrysler is devoted to its Catia system, one of many popular computer-aided design systems used by engineers. Winn was adamant: To work effectively with Chrysler designers and engineers, suppliers better be working with Catia as well.
Differing CAD systems do not communicate very well with one another. Automakers and suppliers routinely exchange product data and graphics by computer, and the only way to do it accurately is to exchange that data using the same CAD systems.
There are translators, but such software does not always work well, resulting in an incomplete transfer of information. That can be disastrous when electronically exchanging drawings of critical parts.
AutoSTEP, however, was introduced last year to the industry by the Automotive Industry Action Group. Through AutoSTEP, automakers and first- and second-tier suppliers attempt to use a new international standard, a method by which different computer systems can communicate.
STEP stands for the Standard for the Exchange of Product model data. In essence, STEP provides a common language to describe a product to be shared by different computer systems.
Chrysler is involved in the AutoSTEP project to determine whether STEP can work within the automotive supply chain. Chrysler's Richard Caste, manager of engineering systems development, said suppliers who are forced to purchase multiple CAD systems to satisfy their many automotive customers pass that cost on to the automakers in the form of higher prices for the components designed and manufactured.
Ray Schaffart, a director of Advance Vehicle Technology at Ford Motor Co., said many in the industry are disappointed in the slow pace in the development of STEP technology.
However, Schaffart said, ``You can't just pick a [computer] system and ride that horse for 25 years.