“When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  

This quote, sometimes dubbed the “Law of the Instrument” and alternatively attributed to satirist Mark Twain in the 1800s or to psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1960s, highlights the very human behavior of approaching various problems with a single familiar (or available) tool. 

The phrase sums up what has been called a “cognitive bias” toward using what is familiar, an over-reliance on a single easily accessible tool for every task no matter how different the challenge. For the layperson, and particularly the weekend DIYer, the message is intuitively clear. Anyone confronted with a protruding screwhead in their project who is carrying only a hammer, and not a screwdriver, knows the visceral temptation to take a satisfying swing.   

This theme is particularly relevant to the collaboration challenge facing designers and engineers in modern CAD design. Indeed, for many users of file-based CAD, email could well be the hammer that is used to collaborate with colleagues instead of more appropriate tools for the job, like those found in cloud-based CAD. 

Everyday users of legacy, file-based CAD design files are forced to default to lengthy email messages to collaborate and communicate about designs with their colleagues. The accepted behavior is to write up a long, often confusing email and then append a design file and hit “send.” Because it is not the right tool for the job, the email approach inevitably produces delays and confusion – the opposite of collaboration. 

Fundamentally, the blame for blocked collaboration often lies with the available tool.  File-based CAD, developed decades ago as a digital version of the paper-and-pen design process, simply was not made to enable effective collaboration.  

Email itself was also not designed for real-time collaboration, but rather asynchronous communication. While clearly faster than the Pony Express, the US Post Office, or a bike messenger, it was never meant for the immediate back-and-forth communication you might experience on Slack.

With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some of Onshape’s most productive collaboration tools for engineers to accelerate their product design processes. Instead of just a hammer, it makes sense to dig into a toolbox of precise instruments. 

1. Simultaneous Collaboration 

Unlike file-based CAD solutions which were never designed for collaboration, cloud-based Onshape enables true, real-time collaboration. Multiple engineers can simultaneously work on the same 3D model at the same time, and from any location. In addition, whenever one team member makes a design change, everyone else on the team can instantly see it. This alleviates the inevitable follow-up and confusion that occurs over serial email communication. 

From a process standpoint, simultaneous collaboration also delivers significant efficiency benefits. The feature eliminates the sometimes lengthy delays and misunderstandings that can arise while using file-based CAD. Users no longer need to send copies of files or exchange lengthy emails back and forth, instead working together instantly on one single source of truth.

For users seeking to truly understand one another, simultaneous access, viewing and editing allows designers and engineers to work in parallel and consider more alternative perspectives. Now users can ask and answer questions, share feedback and resolve issues in real time. The result?  Improved creativity and designs.

2. Branching and Merging

Onshape’s Branching and Merging feature allows teams to more efficiently explore alternative design ideas by independently pursuing experimental “branches” of a core design, with the ability to later merge the best elements from two or more ideas together.

The feature encourages creative risks by allowing users to return to the original main design at any time – or any previous stage of an experimental branch with the click of a mouse. The convenient and intuitive feature lets teams build iterations on designs without worrying about overwriting their original work. With this capability, teams can easily work on different parts of a design, explore new design ideas or carry out engineering change orders at the same time, without affecting each other's work.

By allowing users to see where their new ideas branch off the original design, users can instantly return to an earlier stage of a project if needed. Branches can be easily compared to check for conflicts and merged together to converge on the best design, allowing engineers the freedom to explore all possible solutions in parallel. Unique to Onshape, this feature eliminates the manual, cumbersome and time-consuming work to “re-create” a new third design when engineers with two great design elements want to combine their ideas. 

3. Follow Mode 

When engineers wish to discuss elements of a design with team members, Onshape’s Follow Mode feature enables multiple users at various locations to easily follow the leader in real time for live design reviews, demonstrations and training sessions.  Follow Mode lets users share information and engage with their internal or external teams as if they were in the same room together. 

Follow Mode lets participants see geometry selections, view rotations and model changes as they happen, making it easy for users to follow along and add suggestions using Onshape's built-in live commenting tools.  

4. Edit History  

As any designer can tell you, the creative process is seldom linear. The journey to a great design often requires experimentation, iteration and multiple starts and stops. With unlimited “undo” and “redo,” users can easily move forward or backward to any stage in the editing process. Closely related to Branching and Merging, the Edit History feature provides a comprehensive list of all changes made to the design document.  

The feature enhances team collaboration by letting members work together and make edits and revisions without fear or concern of losing earlier work. With clear visibility into all design changes, users can review, modify and undo edits as needed. The Edit History’s audit trail is unalterable and is never erased, offering a reassuring always-available documentation of the life of a design project. Users can now design more boldly, take more chances and try new ideas – all with the confidence that they can easily go back to an earlier version if needed. 

5. Live Comments 

Onshape’s Live Comments feature allows users to share feedback in real time in a shared Document. Teammates can share comments with specific individuals or the entire team. Users can view each other's comments, leave replies and receive email notifications when a new comment is made. Because users (with appropriate permissions) can make comments and mentions anywhere in the design document, colleagues no longer need to wait for serial clarifications via email or IM to address stakeholder input. 

The intuitive and easy-view nature of the “flyout” in this Onshape application allows users to view comments at a glance and ensures that they are up-to-date on the latest feedback – eliminating the frustrating delays associated with traditional email feedback. Live Comments adds an overall “chat like” feel to the feedback process, improving efficiency and eliminating ambiguity. 

The Takeaway: Onshape is the Right Tool for CAD Collaboration

Unlike with the “one size fits all” hammer approach of file-based CAD, users of Onshape’s cloud product development platform have an array of precise and exact tools for team collaboration. 

Used together, these powerful features are helping transform the way that designers and engineers communicate with each other to achieve more innovative designs and accelerate time to market.

Get Your Copy of “The New Collaboration” 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 this eBook, you’ll be introduced to a brand new class of real-time CAD collaboration and sharing tools, engineering productivity features made possible only by a cloud database architecture.

Cloud-based CAD and data management are no longer a nice-to-have technology, but a must-have technology. Download your copy of “The New Collaboration: A Guide to Transforming Product Design” today and find out why!