Data Management

Onshape improves data management with a cloud-based, single source of truth, eliminating the need for add-on PDM systems

Leading companies are seeking to transform their product data management capabilities to accelerate time to market.

The Challenge of File-Based CAD


Today, file-based CAD users struggle with the challenge of version control of design files. Leading companies are seeking to transform their product data management capabilities to accelerate time to market. 

At its core, file-based CAD was based on the premise of one user working on a single master design file. In many ways, this simply replicated the existing thinking that guided the original paper-and-pen design process. Collaboration was not a key consideration in the original development of file-based CAD, so consequently many challenges remain for multiple users who wish to work together. In order to share a project with a colleague, a 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 often results in version control issues where key ideas or critical design elements can be lost or overwritten by accident.

PDM/PLM System Challenges

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, including:

  • 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.

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.

Designers and Engineers are Frustrated with PDM/PLM

visual graphic for statistic

According to The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2020, the industry’s frustration with current PDM/PLM technology is loud and clear. The report found that more than 50% of file-based PDM/PLM users believe the systems slow down their overall design process.

bar graph of survey results

In The State of Product Development and Hardware Design 2020, a survey of over 900 engineering professionals worldwide, data management emerged as a significant problem. In fact, more than 4 out of 5 product development professionals report having trouble accessing the correct product design or even finding it in the first place. Working on the wrong version of a design can lead to costly manufacturing errors, frustrating rework, wasted materials and possible liability issues. But it’s also stolen time that could have been devoted to the next project. Not being able to locate the design is equally frustrating and unproductive.

The Solution: The cloud-based Onshape platform with built-in CAD, Data management and analytics

Onshape eliminates the challenges of traditional file-based CAD and add-on PDM/PLM systems.

In addition to unhindered access, cloud-based CAD enables teams to work together better, period. Onshape 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 versions of the same design document, risking costly manufacturing errors and unrecoverable lost time.

Onshape’s single source of truth 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 built into Onshape, such as Branching and Merging, allow teams to take more creative risks without having to recreate their main design.

Relying on a single source of truth, Onshape facilitates quick and streamlined feedback between the core design 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. No longer are teams held hostage to the delays and inaccuracies of missed emails and lost attachments. And because users can run Onshape from any web-connected device, there’s no longer a need for expensive, dedicated CAD workstations to access product designs.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of working from a single source of truth is peace of mind. Onshape’s comprehensive Edit History tracks who made what design change and when, empowering the team to instantly revert back to any earlier stage of the CAD model if desired. With unlimited “undo” and “redo” built into the system, users can rest assured that their work will never be overwritten or lost.

The cloud-based Onshape platform provides a single source of truth, ensuring that all users have access to the exact same version of always up-to-date data. This enables teams to improve the product development process in the following ways

  • Core Design Team – Empowering designers and engineers to collaborate without version control headaches (a cloud-based single source of truth). Teams are sharing design ideas, refining concepts and driving innovation.

  • Internal Stakeholders – Optimizing product development efficiency with fast, convenient reviews and approvals of product designs by internal company stakeholders including operations, sales, and marketing.

  • External Partners and Customers – Enabling rapid, efficient and secure sharing of data with trusted external manufacturing partners and customers to eliminate misunderstandings and accelerate time to market

Ready to Get Started?

Customer Experience

How the DHL Product Development Team Drives Change From the Digital to the Physical World

Top 5 Onshape Features for Streamlining Design Data Management

Onshape’s unique cloud database architecture delivers an unprecedented level of freedom for CAD users – including anywhere, anytime access and the ability for multiple people to simultaneously work together on the same design with the confidence they are always working on the latest version.  Here are several key Onshape features that help teams streamline the management of data.

Approval workflow example in Onshape

1. Release Management & Approval Workflow

Release management and approval workflow capabilities optimize efficiency and ensure faster time to market.  With traditional, file-based CAD, the process of creating releases comes with inordinate data challenges including locating, validating, organizing and archiving hundreds – and sometimes even thousands – of individual design files.  In contrast, Onshapes’ cloud-based architecture means the release process takes just minutes instead of hours. Engineers can go back and reference all the contents of any release at any time. Users can create a proposed release for any combination of parts, assemblies, configurations and other assets as a single release.  And best of all, users can continue working, even while a release candidate is created and being approved.

Analytics Dashboard in Onshape

2. Real-Time Analytics

Real-time analytics provide a comprehensive overview of project data with easy-to-read tables and charts that enable users to review all design activity, review document access and manage projects and resources better. The Activity Overview dashboard gives a comprehensive overview of data by employees or external suppliers. With Onshape, managers can understand the hours spent per project, identity bottlenecks and help allocate resources better.  By turning data into insight the feature lets managers make more informed decisions and allocate the appropriate resources to improve operational efficiency and accelerate time to market.

History log display in Onshape

3. Comprehensive Edit History

Onshape’s unlimited “undo” and “redo,” lets users move forward or backward to any stage in the editing process. Closely related to Branching and Merging, Edit History provides a comprehensive list of all changes made to the design document.  WIth it, users can now work together making edits and revisions without fear of losing earlier work. With an audit trail that is never erased, edit history allows users can work confidently with the assurance that they can always revert to an earlier design if needed at any time. 

Restore button in Onshape

4. Restore (Infinite Undo)

Related to comprehensive Edit History, the Restore feature enables users to essentially go back in time and undo any design change. With legacy file-based CAD systems are accustomed to being limited to only a finite number of steps they can “undo.”  This ability to undo any error allows users to take creative risks with the confidence that they can be reversed later. With the Restore function in Onshape, designers and engineers can work unconstrained, pushing the envelope on novel approaches with the confidence that they can return to any prior stage of the design anytime

Comparison display in Onshape

5. Compare

An important aspect of product design and data management is the challenge of understanding what changes have occurred in a given design over time. Onshape’s Compare feature allows users to quickly and easily see these changes through both a written list and visual references.  Users can compare changes between versions, workspaces or even moments in the Edit History of a part or assembly. Users can see not only the changes in the graphics, but also the specific differences in the CAD features used between the two versions being compared.

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