Are copies of your proprietary designs on multiple computers in multiple locations – with partners, manufacturers, vendors and suppliers? Do you have an inadvertent leakage problem without even knowing it?

Odds are extremely high that both your answers are a screaming “YES!”

As John Rousseau, who leads the Operations team here at Onshape, puts it, here’s one scenario where you could confidently say you have no security problem:

“Keeping your data on a desktop machine in a physically secure room with no network connection, no other users, and no other software (except a traditional CAD package) would be very secure,” he writes. “However, it’s also not very realistic, and it’s not the way most CAD users work today.”

The way the most security-savvy companies control data today is they put physical fences around their offices and virtual fences with firewalls and other cyber-safeguards. So how do people communicate and share proprietary information inside their company and with outside partners and suppliers?

The Way Engineers Share Work Today

All of the existing CAD systems today are file-based systems. Here are the most common ways that CAD users share things right now:

  • Email files
  • Put them in elaborate Product Data Management (PDM) systems, which require CAD users to check out files from “the vault”
  • Put them on an FTP site
  • Use a storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive

Let’s look at what happens with email. First of all, email is not so secure because it is going over the public Internet. So I send my supplier a part for them to make a mold for that part. When the supplier gets my message in their inbox, I have no idea if their security protocols match my security protocols. They may not have the same firewalls as I do. So I have no idea how easily somebody can hack into their system and access their email.

So your office may follow very tight practices and be at the forefront of data security – but your partners may not be. Now that you’ve emailed them, they have a copy of your design in their email server (Copy 1). You literally have no idea what they have done with that file. They may simply download it to their local computer (Copy 2). Or they may forward it to another one of their email accounts (Copy 3). Maybe they send it off to another computer or co-worker (Copy 4). Or they may copy it over on a thumb drive (Copy 5) to bring home.

Your 3D CAD model already has five clones and it’s not even time for lunch yet.

Everytime you share a traditional CAD file, you inadvertently create uncontrolled copies of your IP.

Copies of your IP multiply like rabbits and once they are out in the wild, you have no idea where they live or who has access to them.

You have no way to trace what happened to your intellectual property.

These same unintended scenarios play out no matter whether you use email, an FTP site, PDM or Dropbox. It’s not email’s fault or Dropbox’s fault. It’s much more of a function of you using a file-based approach – anytime you share, it means copies, copies, copies – versus a database-driven approach.

A CAD System That Makes No Copies

Let’s contrast this chaos with how a modern CAD system should work. Let’s say your data resides in the cloud under your control. You can share that information to any number of people, but you can assign different levels of privilege rights. You can allow people just to view it. Or view and comment, or you can give them full editing rights.

That’s what Onshape brings to the table.


When you are done working together on a project, you can remove any of those permissions. You can’t do that when you send an email. The only thing you can do is say, “Please delete the file.” Guess what? They might say, “Yeah, I deleted it,” but maybe they still have a copy they didn’t even realize exists.

Copies also create version control problems. Perhaps you’ve even experienced this when collaborating on a Word document with a co-worker. You’re emailing versions back and forth and you keep renaming the files so you know which one is the latest version. Within no time, your desktop may look like this:

Regardless of how faithful you are to your naming conventions, having multiple versions of the truth creates unnecessary confusion and wasted time for design teams.

In the word processing world, Google solved the version control problem with Google Docs, allowing everyone to instantly access the latest version without muddling through past editions – while neatly archiving every incremental change.

Onshape does the same thing for the design process. Because your CAD system and your CAD data live in the same central place in the cloud, you’ll always only have one version of the truth. And controlling who has access to that truth dramatically increases the odds that your company secrets will stay secrets.