I’ve been meeting with CAD users for years – it’s what I do for fun – and when I ask them what their biggest problems are, there’s one question that keeps popping up. It’s “Where’s the latest version?

Why are they asking where the latest version of their work is? Because usually CAD data is edited by multiple people in multiple places.

And there’s lots of CAD data (large assemblies in particular) and in traditional CAD, there’s lots of files. You save a version, make some changes and rename the file. Copies are emailed to colleagues and get copied everywhere. There’s never really a way to know if you truly have the latest version.

If you’re using traditional file-based CAD, your world likely looks like the lefthand side of the picture above. Congested. Chaotic. Confusing.

In this file jungle, how do engineers and designers pinpoint which version is the most recently updated version?

Some rely on naming conventions like Part1-v1, Part1-v2, etc. and then settle on a “final” name when they’re done. Something like “Assembly4-Final.” Until a last minute change needs to be made and then what do you call it? The “Assembly4-Final-Really-Final”?

The Problems With File-Based Parts & Assemblies

Changing the names of files as their content changes is an instinctive thing to do. But in traditional CAD, it can cause big problems because file names are used as references.

With file-based CAD, if you are making an assembly with two parts, that’s three files. And they all live on your hard drive. You might have iPhone-Stand-Assembly and iPhone-Stand-Base and iPhone-Stand-Holder. If you want to change the name of one of the part files, you can’t just do it. If you do, the assembly is not going to know what’s happening. Traditional CAD relies on file names to establish critical relationships between parts and assemblies.

Without even realizing it, you could mess up a relationship.

Now that relationship might not be worth as much as the ones with your friends and family, but no one likes to waste time. Nobody likes broken assemblies.

Here’s another problem: Your co-worker may have linked to that renamed part. Maybe she loves your stand but wants a different base. You didn’t tell her about the new version of the stand file so she unknowingly breaks her assembly. It’s a nightmare. You can unintentionally mess up other people’s work.

Why Product Data Management (PDM) Systems Let You Down

As a safeguard against this problem, some companies use elaborate, expensive PDM systems that require you to check in and check out files like they are in a library or bank vault. By allowing only one person to work in a file at a time, the PDM system is meant to prevent people from overwriting each other’s work.

But even if you use a centralized vault, all you can find is the latest data that is in the vault – there’s no way to know if someone has a copy outside of it. Maybe they’ve followed procedure with the PDM system and put a lock on the file. Or maybe they haven’t.

If they have checked out the file, you have to wonder if they’ve changed it since they checked out. If they have changed it, that’s the latest version. Is the PDM system up to date? Nobody knows because the PDM vault doesn’t update in real time. It only updates when people think about updating it.

PDM systems are also expensive and take a lot of work to set up and maintain. PDM servers, software, backups, licenses, and training all take time and money. And if you have off-site or mobile users on your design team, PDM systems get even more complicated – if they can even work at all for multiple sites.

Unfortunately, we hear about these headaches all the time. I can’t stop thinking about one engineer who told me he was so frustrated with a co-worker who didn’t return his CAD file to the vault, that he physically blocked the guy’s car from leaving the company parking lot. The co-worker was about to go on vacation while the file was still checked out, which would prevent any further work being done during his absence.

Here’s another example. During Onshape CEO John McEleney’s recent product tour of the Asia-Pacific region, he met the CEO of a drone manufacturing company in Singapore. The CEO needed immediate access to a client’s project on a Saturday night and had to drive to the office to access it. When he arrived, he found 8 versions of the design and downloaded the wrong one. Ruined Saturday night. Client’s problem unsolved.

Knowing which version of your work is the latest one shouldn’t be a guessing game.

How Onshape Solves the Latest Version Problem

In Onshape, you make a couple of parts and you assemble them. If you want to rename Part1 to “iPhone-Stand-Base” and Part2 to “iPhone-Stand-Holder,” you just do that. It’s not going to break anything. And the whole assembly is saved as one unit.

Because CAD data in Onshape is never copied as files, but rather is stored in one central database in the cloud, it updates in real time as your team members edit.

With Onshape, it’s easy to find the latest version because there’s only one place to look for it.

And there’s no need for any PDM system servers, installs, licenses or backups -- all of Onshape’s version control is built-in. Multi-site users and mobile users work effortlessly from anywhere in the world.

That’s the power of Onshape. The “Where’s the Latest Version?” problem is no longer a problem.