In the product development process, accelerating time-to-market is a critical consideration. Unfortunately, a longstanding challenge faced by teams is CAD version control for design files. For designers and engineers seeking to share their design concepts with one another, and also ensure timely review and approval by managers, the simple challenge of getting (and keeping) everyone on the same page is inordinately difficult.

The reason? Outdated technology. 

Today, many firms labor under the yoke of 30-year-old file-based CAD software, which essentially only digitized the existing processes of the original paper-and-pen design process. In the early days, a user would make their edits to the master file, which was then protected tightly under lock and key in a file drawer. Following this same approach, file-based CAD software requires users to make all edits to one file. Collaboration was simply not a key consideration in the original development of on-premise CAD. As a result, significant challenges exist for multiple users who wish to work together.

For instance, to share a project with a colleague today, a file-based CAD user must first make a copy of their design file and then distribute that file – often through email or a file-sharing service such as Dropbox – to one or more collaborators. Upon receiving their copy, the colleague must then find a way to share their edits or suggestions with the file owner, again via email or Dropbox.

This back-and-forth process is cumbersome and inefficient. As one can imagine, reviewing, consolidating and synthesizing feedback from multiple stakeholders can create an enormous administrative challenge. Unfortunately, this tedious process often results in CAD version control issues where key ideas can be missed or critical design elements can be lost or overwritten by accident.  

How Do File-Based PDM Systems Handle CAD Version Control?

To address the version control challenges of file-based CAD, some organizations have turned to adding on external Product Data Management (PDM) or Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) solutions. Unfortunately, these solutions often create different, equally vexing problems of their own. Overall, the cumbersome nature of these systems add significant administrative time to their workload. Users must “check in and check out” design files like a digitized library book. For designers and engineers focused on solving engineering challenges, additional process-related steps are an unwelcome addition to their task list.

Perhaps the greatest challenge posed by PDM/PLM systems is tied to the approach of their underlying technology. In serving as a gatekeeper to data, to the exclusion of user needs, the technology inevitably creates downtime. Users must bide their time, waiting for co-workers to finish their work on a design file and return it to the system, before they can be granted access.

This outdated approach to data management is representative of an earlier era in technology. The forced serial editing process really is more akin to the traditional waterfall-based product development methodology than today’s widely adopted agile approach to technology and product development. 

For file-based CAD users, the extra wait time is more than an annoying inconvenience. Tight project timelines are jeopardized and productivity is sacrificed as users must sit idly as they wait to access a needed file. It is not difficult to envision the damage that this antiquated data management approach has on employee morale. As users face the challenges of meeting ever-tighter deadlines, it is inevitable for tension and stress to build up between team members.

Cloud-Based Design Data Management Offers a Single Source of Truth

In contrast, a cloud-based product development platform enables teams to work together better, period. It allows multiple designers and engineers to simultaneously work together on the same product design. CAD users are no longer faced with the challenge of managing multiple CAD versions of the same design document, risking costly manufacturing errors and unrecoverable lost time.

The single source of truth provided by the cloud frees engineers to focus on improving the quality of their design work rather than overcoming administrative hassles. Working together on a common design document, users can see their colleagues’ ideas play out in real time and experiment with alternative concepts more readily. Key CAD collaboration features available in cloud-based solutions such as Branching and Merging, allow teams to take more creative risks without having to recreate their main design.

Working off that single source of truth, cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) design platforms facilitate quick and streamlined feedback between the core engineering team and non-CAD users across the organization (such as Sales, Marketing or Customer Success) – or with outside clients or partners. To solicit feedback on a CAD model, users need only to share a permission-based web link. Stakeholders can more easily participate in time-sensitive design reviews and approvals. 

In the cloud, engineering and manufacturing teams are no longer held hostage to the delays and inaccuracies of missed emails and lost attachments. And because users can run cloud-based solutions from any web-connected device, there’s no longer a need for expensive, dedicated CAD workstations to access product designs.

But perhaps the biggest benefit of working from a single source of truth is simple peace-of-mind for the user.  Cloud-based product development enables users to always know which aspects of their design were changed, when they were changed and who made those edits. Empowered with a comprehensive Edit History, teams can revert back to any earlier stage of their CAD model if needed.  

Cloud-based CAD and data management software gives product development teams the confidence to take more creative risks, knowing they can always quickly “undo” a mistake and that their work will never be overwritten or lost.

Get Your Copy of the “Beyond Data Management” eBook

Interested in learning more about how forward-thinking companies have benefited from switching to a cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) CAD platform? 

In Onshape’s eBook, “Beyond Data Management, How Engineering Leaders are Turning Data into Insights,” we explore how leading firms are rethinking data management in order to empower employees, streamline processes and ensure accelerated time to market.  

In this eBook, you’ll learn how on-premise CAD systems are slowing product development down – and how switching to a cloud-based platform can eliminate these time-killers. You will explore the following critical issues:

  • Access to Design Data – File-based CAD users are locked to individual computers and licenses. Cloud-native CAD enables access on any computer, tablet or phone. 

  • Version Control Errors – Multiple design file copies often lead to engineers accidentally working on the wrong version, which can result in costly manufacturing mistakes. Cloud-native CAD relies on one master 3D model as the single source of truth. 

  • PDM/PLM Administrative Headaches – The check-in and check-out process of file-based Product Data Management systems creates slow serial workflows. Cloud-native data management enables simultaneous collaboration.

  • Lack of Analytics/Visibility – Because file-based CAD users store their work on individual hardware, managers have no visibility into a project until formal design reviews. Cloud-native CAD enables 24/7 access to designs by critical stakeholders.

With the increasing need for remote collaboration tools for distributed teams, cloud-based CAD and data management are no longer a nice-to-have technology, but a business necessity.

Download your copy of “Beyond Data Management: How Engineering Leaders are Turning Data into Insights” today and get a headstart on your company’s digital transformation!