For organizations seeking to drive growth and stay competitive, product innovation is crucial.  

However, a critical and often overlooked element on the journey to innovative products is the role of data management. Today, designers and engineers seeking to achieve the next “great idea” often struggle with the basic challenges of accessing, sharing and collaborating on designs due to poor data management.  

The fact is that legacy file-based CAD and add-on PDM software simply wasn’t designed with the needs of today’s users in mind. The result is that designers and engineers often encounter significant barriers to productivity.  

Here are five common signs for engineering leaders to watch for that indicate better CAD and product data management (PDM) is required. 

Engineers Can’t Find Their Design Files

A basic prerequisite to inspired design is the ability for designers and engineers to access the design files they need.  

Unfortunately, all too often users face challenges just to get started on their projects. 

The data bears this out. The results of a global survey, The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2021, found fully 80% of designers and engineers are unable to access or locate the data they need.

In contrast to this core access challenge, users of solutions like cloud-native Onshape are able to quickly and easily access their design documents.  

Due to the cloud-native architecture, Onshape design documents are easy and intuitively found with a few clicks of a mouse. With Onshape, there are no hidden file-based CAD design files that require users to waste time looking for the last file used. As a result, workers are able to get working on their design documents and stay productive. 

SOPD 2021

Data Crashes, Lost Work & Low Morale 

Designers and engineers know that innovation requires deep work. Hours of staying “in the zone” and working diligently on a design idea or concept are often the minimum requirement for success.  

With file-based CAD users must routinely hit “CTRL+S” to back up their data files. If they don’t, they risk the loss of countless hours of design and engineering work.  

Unfortunately, all too often, users of file-based CAD dedicate these hours only to face a frozen display or a pop-up telling them that they have suffered a system crash and their hours of work are lost. This can be both demoralizing and a productivity killer. As shown in the graphic above, a survey of global users found that fully 71% were seeking to reduce the wasted time associated with work lost due to crashes and data loss.   

Unlike file-based CAD, cloud-native Onshape automatically ensures there are never system crashes, and never lost data.  

With the single-source of truth that the cloud-native architecture provides, every design document is always backed up to the cloud with no “CTRL+S” required by users.  

The unique architecture of the Onshape platform ensures that data is always available. With Onshape, users and teams can stay productive and never have to experience the heartbreak of lost data. 

Employees Can't Access Data When Remote 

Today, designers and engineers, like all employees, are increasingly seeking the freedom and flexibility of remote work. 

Leading experts note that the remote work trend is likely here to stay. Career site Ladders projects that 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, with that figure increasing through 2023.   

Unfortunately, at its core, file-based CAD is rooted in keeping data on-premise in an office-centric model. Today, most file-based CAD users are unable to consistently and reliably access their design data when they are remote.

Designers and engineers using file-based CAD must often resort to inelegant workarounds that include visiting their office to synch their workstation to the office server or setting up a VPN. Developed in an earlier time, file-based CAD simply doesn’t accommodate the need for data to be fully accessible when working remotely.

While file-based CAD is fundamentally office-centric, the cloud-native Onshape product development platform provides a single source of truth by giving workers the freedom and flexibility to access their data from anywhere and on any device. 

Now designers and engineers can access their design documents and stay productive. The anywhere access to data that Onshape provides means that designers and engineers can stay productive and innovate. 

One example of the growing need for remote access to data is seen with Onshape customer Oceangate. Because the firm already had been using Onshape, they were quickly and easily able to empower their employees to work remotely when the pandemic occurred. 

Oceangate’s Head of Engineering Dan Scoville notes that “from a work-from-home standpoint, Onshape was great because it was already all set up. When we decided to all go home, there was zero effort. Everybody had full access to their models, didn’t have to worry about if they brought their desktop home, none of that was a concern. If they had a computer, they could get on and run with it.”

Lack of Data Access Hurts Collaboration 

Sharing design data between team members is especially important at the early stage of the design process. It is at this stage that designers and engineers must work closely together to ensure that key assumptions are understood and shared. 

Unfortunately, file-based CAD isolates design data preventing users from viewing the same information at the same time. Users of file-based CAD find that they must resort to serial emails, lengthy commentary and explanations of comments and questions to review design data. The result can be misunderstandings, delays and confusion at the outset. 

In contrast to the challenges facing users of file-based CAD, designers and engineers using the Onshape product development platform can collaborate effortlessly by simultaneously accessing the same design document at the same time. Users can share input in real time and actually work together on the same design concept. 

With teams increasingly dispersed across the country or across the globe, this ability to work together in real time is increasingly important. With Onshape, individuals and teams can communicate better, stay aligned and stay productive. 

One Onshape customer who has experienced the challenges of dispersed teams using the same data is Delta Development. The firm specializes in designing and manufacturing lifesaving cooling and heating systems used in extreme environments for military applications. 

With Onshape, Delta Development enables engineers in locations ranging from Arizona to Michigan to Montana to collaborate simultaneously on the same 3D CAD model in the cloud. 

“The ability to do mechanical design reviews remotely has been critical for us,” says Robert Futch, CTO of Delta Development.

Siloed Data Prevents Alignment with Extended Teams

Another common challenge facing users of file-based CAD is the inability to easily share design data with other stakeholders in different departments or even external suppliers and manufacturers due to siloed data.  

Traditionally with file-based CAD, communication and collaboration with these extended teams have been cumbersome and difficult because design data remains trapped on a user workstation. It is not simply not easily shared with other stakeholders. 

Even within the same company, many departments such as operations, manufacturing or sales don’t have access to the expensive, dedicated workstations required to view CAD design data. As a result, emails with lengthy descriptions and 2D PDF drawings are made to suffice.  

The result is often bottlenecks that prevent teams from communicating effectively and advancing projects.

While outdated file-based CAD and PDM software require users to send design data files via email, Onshape lets users quickly and easily share design data with extended stakeholders via a secure web link. Recipients do not need any special dedicated hardware or software to view design documents.  

Stakeholders across the company or even external partners can simply click on a link and view the design document, review the content and provide needed input or actions.  As a result, workflows are faster and projects stay on track. One example of this is seen with Onshape customer Kichler Lighting, a leader in energy-efficient, fashion-forward residential lighting solutions. 

Mehul Gala, a former Sr. Product Development Engineer at Kichler, highlighted the challenge of seamlessly moving design data and communicating with external partners located across the globe.

“Our legacy systems were all file-based and were 2D. We were sending drawings back and forth with manufacturing partners all over the world. It was a cumbersome process that didn’t allow for very rich collaboration,” he says. “[With Onshape] there was a lot of opportunity just around the single source of truth to get all the key players on the same page.”

As engineering leaders seek to ensure that their firms meet aggressive deadlines to drive product innovation, the ability for teams to access, share and manage their design data has become increasingly important.  

In order to achieve ambitious innovation and quality goals in product development leaders are turning to cloud-native solutions like the Onshape product development platform.  

Onshape is providing designers, engineers and extended teams the access and collaboration that they need to ensure that their product development plans stay on track.

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