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CAD Data Exchange

CAD data exchange is a set of protocols which defines how different CAD/CAM/CAE/etc. software packages can exchange CAD data. An example of such exchange is a company which produced a specification of a mechanical part in CAD package transferring this CAD design to a manufacturing company which will need to use it to program manufacturing machinery.

There are three methods on how CAD data could be exchanged. They are neutral file exchange, direct model translation and third-party translators. All of these methods are described below in more details.

Neutral File Exchange

Neutral file exchange method utilizes intermediary file format which is not specific to any of the CAD systems. To use this method source CAD package should have a translator which can convert internal CAD code to a neutral one and target CAD package should have translator code which can convert neutral code to an internal target CAD code.


Initial Graphics Exchange Specification (IGES) is a CAD data exchange file format originally published in January 1980 by United States National Bureau of Standards. IGES file format became widely adopted by commercial and government entities. Many older specifications are stored in IGES format to make sure that data could be read even if original software which was used to create CAD model is no longer available.


STEP or ISO 10303 or “Standard for the Exchange of Product model data” is a newer standard designed for exchange of product manufacturing data. The goal of the STEP exchange format was to describe a product and its manufacturing lifecycle independent of any specific software or hardware system.

Direct Model Translation

Direct model translation is a CAD data exchange method when one CAD format is directly translated into another. Typically, this is done by a CAD software which can process and import files by other CAD systems. The problem with direct model translation is that only certain translations are available, they may have certain limitations and all data is stored in proprietary formats which can become outdated after some time.

Third-party Translators

Third-party translators are CAD format converters written by independent software vendors. Frequently these translators are available as toolkits which are licensed by CAD software vendors.

CAD Exchange Formats
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Extension Details
AutoCAD Drawing File Format
  • application/acad
  • application/x-acad
  • application/autocad_dwg
  • image/x-dwg
  • application/dwg
  • application/x-dwg
  • application/x-autocad
  • image/vnd.dwg
  • drawing/dwg
Opens with
  • Autodesk AutoCAD
  • DWG TrueView
  • Autodesk Online Viewer

Japanese Translation