File-based 3D CAD was a huge technological breakthrough in the 1980s, but lately, the software just feels like a game of Whac-A-Mole. Problem after problem keeps popping up – even after you thought you drove it back into the ground for good.

In today's collaborative work environment, wildly flailing around trying to hit all the “CAD software moles” is not as amusing as the carnival game. 

So what do you do when your CAD software crashes, your assembly breaks, or you’re hopelessly behind schedule on a design project – not because of any lack of effort, time investment, or skill, but due to persistent software flaws outside your control?

In fact, according to The State of Product Development and Hardware Design Report 2023-2024, users of CAD software reported losing, on average, 7.1 hours of work a week due to CAD and PDM product issues.  

Do you just grin and bear it?  Create a workaround? Bang your head against the keyboard?

Here are the top four things that engineers dislike about their CAD system.

1. Crashes and Data Loss 

File-based CAD is extremely vulnerable to software crashes and data loss. 

Why does traditional CAD software crash so often? Because CAD is very complex. Compared to almost any other type of commercial software, there are more mathematical calculations going on in the background, and more load on the computer's memory and resources. 

There are an infinite number of unique combinations of CAD operations users can take, resulting in unique parts and assemblies. That’s why CAD software is so notoriously difficult to test and fix: Every crash scenario is, more often than not, one-of-a-kind and therefore difficult to reproduce. 

Some desktop CAD users report crashing several times a day, some several times a week, resulting in almost a whole day’s worth of lost productivity. But no matter how often it happens, having to take two steps backward and recreate your work is a hard pill to swallow.

stock image of whac-a-mole

2. Troubleshooting Broken Assembly Links 

As their products increase in both scale and complexity, many file-based CAD users often find themselves dealing with broken assembly links on a daily basis

The arduous task of quickly identifying and addressing broken assembly links can be a headache for all parties involved. One of the most common causes of broken links is an incorrect part location or path name in the assembly. If files are moved or renamed, the link can be broken. 

Even with a Product Data Management (PDM) system, users can easily be overwhelmed with large amounts of data and complicated assembly and feature dependencies. 

As such, users often spend a large amount of time and resources attempting to identify and resolve the underlying issues, with no guarantee of success. 

3. Poor Collaboration Features 

One of the major drawbacks of file-based CAD systems is the lack of efficient collaboration features.

File-based CAD systems are not designed to handle large datasets. Many CAD systems are created with the expectation that only one user will be working on a project at any given time, so they don't have the tools and features needed to efficiently collaborate with multi-user teams. 

In a file-based CAD, users create and edit files stored on their own local hard drive. In order to work with others, users must manually share the CAD file, making a copy and sending it back and forth by email or via a file-sharing site like Dropbox or Google Drive. Changes made by one user will not update in the file copies of other users, which can create confusion and delays.

Software incompatibility is also a major issue when it comes to collaboration. Different CAD programs often use different file formats that are not always compatible with one another. The inability to open or work with a team member's file prohibits users from making necessary modifications to the project, which can cause teams to miss critical deadlines. In addition, even if collaboration partners are using the same CAD system, they may be on different software versions, potentially causing other delays.

Stock image of whac-a-mole

4. External, Add-on PDM Systems

In file-based CAD, designers must manually maintain an organized library of documents, drawings, and components, which is both time-consuming and inefficient. 

Manual library maintenance increases the risk of human error. Poor data management can negatively affect collaboration between members of a team or organization. When data is not properly organized, stored, or labeled, it becomes difficult to access the information needed to work together on projects. If multiple versions of the same document are in circulation, it can be hard to know which version is the most up-to-date, leading to confusion and delays.

Consequently, many companies today rely on PDM software for version control. While add-on PDM systems promise an easy and fast way to compare, organize, and manage the design data within a CAD system, they often present problems when the system needs to be scaled to a large number of users. 

In some cases, not all users of the CAD system may have access to the PDM system, which can result in duplicate files, versioning problems, and workflow bottlenecks. File-based PDM also relies on rigid file check-in and check-out processes to ensure that multiple users are not overwriting each other’s work. 

These protocols force serial workflows instead of concurrent collaboration, slowing down the entire product development cycle. Furthermore, stitching a PDM system into a CAD file structure can require significant setup and administration time, cost, and expertise. 

Maybe It’s Time for a Change

Transitioning to a cloud-native CAD platform is a great option for those who have grown weary of the limitations of file-based CAD, which causes wasted time. Cloud-native CAD offers simplified user experiences, cost-effective scalability, and improved collaboration capabilities.

With the help of cloud technologies, CAD users are no longer held back by broken assembly links or the risk of losing data due to manual file management processes. Users of cloud-native CAD can be confident that their data is always up-to-date and secure, allowing them to collaborate more efficiently with manufacturers and external suppliers in real-time. 

Your product development platform should make your job easier, not add more obstacles or “software moles” to get in your way. Cloud-native CAD with built-in PDM gives you the ability to bring ideas to life without the worry of manually organizing your files on a local hard drive. Say goodbye to the hassles of outdated file-based software and focus more on what matters most – your designs!

Bring the Power of Cloud
to your Business.

With Onshape, your teams get a secure, scalable,
capability-rich product development platform
delivered as a reliable service in the cloud.