CAD File Sharing and Integration Challenges

by Oleg on October 15, 2013 · 6 comments

CAD-integration

My recent post about top pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tools drove some interesting conversation and controversy from Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can start here – Why using Dropbox, Github or Box for CAD sharing is a mistake, then go here – Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool and finally here – Debunking the cons to CAD file sharing tools. Hardi brings up the discussion about integration and invited me to speak about it in his twitter message: Look forward to hear your perspective about integration RT @olegshilovitsky: Interesting conversation about CAD files sharing with GrabCAD


Integration is a very loaded word when it comes to an enterprise organization. Back in 2009, I identified integration as The Biggest PLM challenge on the cloud . Debates about challenges of enterprise integrations are going well beyond the point of CAD File Sharing tools. Navigate here to read more – PLM and Enterprise Integration Game and PLM Integration Failures. However, let me get back to the CAD Files Sharing.

Why Integration is an issue for CAD files sharing?

I can see three main reasons why integration can become an issue for CAD File Sharing – CAD licenses, mobile devices and web access and publishing process. Let me speak about each of them separately.

1. CAD licenses. You don’t want to buy an extra CAD tool to view files. You expect special CAD Files Sharing tool to solve this problem. It is actually goes back to #1 benefit of special CAD file sharing tools – viewers. In the world of expensive CAD licenses it can be an issue and big benefit.

2. Mobile Devices. In a modern world, you don’t really want to be at your desk to get an access to CAD files you are sharing. You want to leverage mobile devices to get access to shared files. This problem cannot be solved by “just providing an access to the file” using generic tools like Dropbox, but need to have a special mobile application to view files. CAD vendors are providing their own apps, but you always can expect something better.

3. Publishing process. Even you consider to use generic cloud file sharing tools like Dropbox and/or others, you might face a problem of how to publish right files. The strategy to publish a whole working directory can be not an option for different reasons (for example security). The nature of CAD files to have lots of dependent files. Even simple AutoCAD file might have dependencies on XRefs. Advanced 3D modeling tools such as Autodesk Inventor, SolidWorks, and others are usually tend to provide a special tools to get CAD assembly or project extracted from the context and places in a separate place.

Complexity of CAD data integration

Traditionally CAD vendors were very protective with regards to other vendors and developers accessing proprietary CAD formats and libraries. If you are not a novice person in CAD business, I’m sure you pretty aware about that. You need to use sophisticated APIs in order to get data access as well as extract relevant information that can help you to publish right data online.

Integration beyond CAD Files publishing

Hardi is taking the conversation about integration much beyond something that consider related to CAD files publishing. In his final passage Hardi speaks about broader scope of integration challenges, migration to fully cloud based ecosystems and integration of cloud and non-cloud tools. This is a separate conversation and I hope to address it in one of my future posts.

What is my conclusion? CAD is a very specific data source. You can use mainstream file sharing cloud services to move CAD data around. However, in order to add viewing capabilities, get data on mobile and improve data sharing experience, you need to spend a great deal of integration effort. So, vertical vendors can provide value here. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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  • Nikolai Nyrkov

    I can add one more issue of usage universal tools like Dropbox (in context of (3)). There is a multi-usage of parts/assemblies. You can clone files – and obtain a troubles with changes. You can link files among your projects – and have a troubles with transfer your files to mfg plant.

  • beyondplm

    Nikolai, thanks for this comment! Actually, you are absolutely right. The requirements to work collaboratively on shared files is actually goes beyond basic file sharing, in my view. However, this is an obvious need. It is part of what I called “beyond CAD file publishing”. I hope to speak about it in one of my future posts. Best, Oleg

  • DenisMoraisX

    Integration has always been a challenge we have never really solved. I see the move to the cloud not really solving this at the moment however I am seeing signs that there is a potential we will be coming closer to solving it.

    In essence in the past we always relied on the client (for the most part) to handle integration between two products. This resulted in many companies doing the “same” (never exact but for argument sake close enough) integration with not so great results.

    I really see that the integration problem is going to be solved by vendors and not clients. If we look at other tools such as any news reader on our mobile device, the product is most likely integrated with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

    There are many other examples in the cloud ecosystem where vendors are integrating their products. Autodesk-AutoCAD & Google-Drive, box and Google-Docs, Autodesk-AutoCAD 360 & Evernote, etc. and even more of 3rd party vendors integrating multiple SaaS applications.

    Users expectations and needs have changed and the seamless integration is what they are asking for and in today’s environment I think they will get it. I know I would love the fact of using any storage repository (Dropbox, box, Drive, SkyDrive) I want, with the capability of using any document service (Google Docs, Office 365) I want, and any CAD (AutoCAD 360) I want.

    Do not get me wrong I think products such as GrabCAD has benefit but if the added benefit I get with just collaborating on CAD files does not exceed my need to be able to collaborate with Documents and CAD(at reduced capability from a tool specific for CAD) then the choice would be obvious.

    I guess I should also mention when I talked about a vendor solving the integration challenge it might not necessarily be the vendors which created the products but rather a 3rd party vendor which is using the API’s. This starts getting into the convergence of technologies/trends which is a discussion in itself.

    As you mentioned Integration is a loaded term and you will always get more opinions than people you asked, but the comfort we all can have is that we are probably all wrong, with some being more than others:).

  • beyondplm

    Integration is challenge. The demand it will be solved by vendors. The reality – the integration is really hard. The examples you mentioned are relatively simple. Most complicated requirement related to complex data transformation and structured changes that involving customers on more than one steps. The demand is huge, but the solution is not there yet… Best, oleg

  • DenisMoraisX

    I agree the solution is not there and it is a difficult problem. In terms of being hard, it is all relative with the tools, technology and views we have about the problem. Integration today is much easier than it was 15 years ago, but still very very difficult:(.

    My examples were simple to illustrate the concept and not by any means say that it is doable today, it was more food for thought.. Integration can and for the most part is much more complicated however I think when solving integration small, simple, value-add deliverables is the path to success.

  • beyondplm

    Denis, agree completely with what you said. Yes, integration is getting better, but still very hard.

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