Cloud storage and file-sharing services like Google Drive and Dropbox are used by thousands of companies as both an automatic backup solution and an effective replacement for old-school collaboration techniques that rely on email and shared networks drives. The premise is simple: Whenever a file is changed and saved, it is automatically uploaded to the cloud, versioned, and propagated to every user who the file has been shared with. Everybody always has access to the latest version of the file.

In contrast, email may seem like an effective communication tool, but as soon as you start to email files around, there are already too many copies in circulation. Emailed files are difficult to manage, difficult to collaborate with, and it’s impossible to know if you ever have the latest version. Everybody then adds their own comments to the file you emailed out and hits reply-all.

If you’ve ever tried to consolidate the comments from 10 different people into a single Microsoft Word document, then you know what I mean.

Cloud collaboration tools like Microsoft Office 365 and Google Docs make this workflow much easier as they allow multiple users to edit the same documents at the same time – in much the same way as Onshape enables entire teams to collaborate on the same design projects. The cloud has undoubtedly revolutionized the way people do business.

However, cloud file-sharing services do not work so well with old file-based CAD systems. There’s no way to know if somebody else is editing their locally synced copy of the master CAD file. Two or more people could be editing the same CAD file and now the “last save wins.” The hours you may have spent editing an assembly are lost forever because somebody else, editing it at the same time, saved after you. The next time you open the assembly, everything looks completely different. This way of working ultimately causes the same duplicate file problems and manufacturing errors as email.

Onshape does not suffer the same fate because all your design data is stored in a database in the cloud. There is only one single source of truth. Sharing and collaborating is easy, design teams work in real-time and in parallel, and your data is protected with the highest levels of security.

For all these reasons and more, thousands of companies are embracing Onshape as their primary product development platform.

Working With Legacy CAD Files

Switching CAD systems may seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t need to be. You may be sitting on tens of thousands of CAD files that have been created over a number of years. Some of those files will represent current projects and product lines, some may be obsolete, but you need to be able to access any of them at any time.

Your first thought may be to import every CAD file you’ve ever made into Onshape, organize them into folders, and use Onshape’s search capabilities to quickly find what you’re looking for. That’s fine if you want to take the time to do that, but in reality, how many of your legacy parts (especially those from obsolete designs) will you actually use in current and future projects? Not as many as you might think. There seems little point in clogging up your Document listings with pages and pages of data that you’ll never use.

A more pragmatic approach is to import legacy CAD data as and when you need it. If you’ve already paid for your old CAD system outright, then one option would be to keep one or two licenses in the corner for your engineers to access when they need to resurrect an old design. Since Onshape runs in a web browser and doesn’t need to be installed anywhere, those CAD files can be imported directly from those workstations and made available immediately for the entire design team to use.

There’s one major flaw in that plan and this is where Drive and Dropbox come in. If you don’t have access to your old CAD system, for whatever reason, then getting hold of the files you need could be a problem. If you work in a remote office or those CAD workstations are in use, then you need to either wait your turn or ask somebody else to get the files for you.

Both of these options take too much time. However, if those files are made available through Drive or Dropbox, then any member of the design team can get the files they need when they need them.

By simply uploading your old CAD files to either Drive or Dropbox (or both), you can create a “live” archive of your entire back catalog. This enables anyone with permissions to quickly find any of your previous designs and, with a simple right-click, import them into Onshape on demand, from anywhere.

Once a file has been imported, it can then be placed into a shared folder inside Onshape to prevent duplicate imports by multiple users. This addresses the multi-user and remote-user access issues, but it also frees you from having to maintain a PDM server and, eventually, your old CAD system altogether. Cloud storage is not expensive, so this approach may even be cheaper in the long run.

Working With Non-CAD Files

Both Google Drive and Dropbox have desktop apps that enable local files to be synced with their respective cloud storage twin. This is great for sharing and collaborating using other types of files, especially those created with desktop applications such as Word or Excel – still widely used in the world of engineering. To prevent your entire CAD library from downloading onto every user’s computer, you can set certain folders to be “online” only. This setup allows quick and easy access to all of your old CAD data without filling up everybody’s hard drives.

One of the attributes of Onshape’s Documents and data management tools is the ability to store and manage any non-CAD data: images, videos, PDFs, any file at all. This includes the aforementioned Word and Excel files.

When working on design projects or Engineering Change Orders (ECO), it makes sense to include any specifications or other documentation inside the Onshape Document, so that it’s easy for both engineers and managers to find the information they need without having to look everywhere. The other big benefit is that any data uploaded into an Onshape Document can be versioned and revision controlled. Therefore, any information pertaining to a project or an ECO is versioned in sync with the CAD data, so there is no ambiguity and errors are drastically reduced.

In order to revision control a desktop file, it must first be uploaded into Onshape. With access to Drive or Dropbox directly from inside Onshape, you can be sure that you’re getting the very latest version with all the edits from all the project stakeholders. The original file is still in Drive or Dropbox and available for further editing, but the version of the file that is related to the current version of the design is now controlled by Onshape and available for the entire design team to review.

Accessing Onshape Design Data From an External File

You may decide that for some activities it’s actually better to work the other way around. For example, if you are creating a written report about a design project and wish to share that report in Drive or Dropbox, you can easily reference the design data in a specific version or revision of an Onshape Document.

Each Onshape version or revision uses a unique URL that can be included in a written document or anywhere else you may wish to use it. Anybody reading your report can simply click on the link and the correct version of the design will open in Onshape. They don’t need to install any software or be experts in CAD – the model or drawing opens in a web browser and the simplified view-only user interface makes it easy for non-CAD users to navigate around the design and find exactly the information they need.

Furthermore, Onshape’s comprehensive security measures prevent any unauthorized users from accessing your design data, so you must ensure that everybody shared into your report on Drive or Dropbox are also shared into your Onshape Document with at least view-only permissions.

However you decide to manage or migrate your data, Onshape’s integration with Google Drive and Dropbox gives you the flexibility you need to make the transition as seamless as possible.