Collaboration was always in the focus of engineering software. Started earlier with CAD and product data management, software vendors tried to create an environment where engineers can easy collaborate and share information about design. The boundary of collaboration never been limited to engineering department. You might remember “extended enterprise collaboration” stories back in 2000s. That was probably first attempt to provide an easy way to share information among engineering and other teams. In my view, early collaboration software provided by CAD and PLM vendors had two main diseases – complexity of user interface (or how we call it these days – user experience) and complexity of computer infrastructure needed to be installed and maintained by IT departments.
The situation is going to change these days. User interface is clearly getting in focus of development teams. Most of CAD and PLM companies are recognizing the importance of smooth user experience. The demand of users set by public web giants such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and not by old-school enterprise software vendors. Cloud technologies are going to simplify IT jobs and provide new generation of IT infrastructure.
So, design collaboration space is getting hot. Established CAD vendors and newcomer start-up companies are trying to innovate by providing new environments and collaboration philosophies. I picked up 3 companies that in my view can provide a good example of the future CAD cloud design collaborative environment – Autodesk, GrabCAD and Solidworks.
Autodesk introduced Tech preview of new Autodesk 360 product. Core77 blog article Autodesk 360 Tech preview: it’s like Facebook for designers provides a very good coverage and screen shots. Here is the passage summarized what Autodesk 360 does:
The company has created a Facebook-like interface for projects and design teams; collaborators log on to a cleanly-designed dashboard page containing “all of the data, projects, people, tasks, discussions, activities, issues and alerts that are associated with design or architecture projects that they are working on.” Clicking on a project, for instance, is like clicking on someone’s Facebook wall; you get a linear view of all developments concerning that project, with your fellow collaborators’ updates taking the place of comments. People can upload relevant files as updates, and anyone with access can view any file, regardless of whether it’s an Autodesk format or not. (This includes non-design data, like spreadsheets and such.) And yes, Autodesk 360 can also be used from your phone or tablet, just as with Facebook.
GrabCAD Workbench (Partners Space)
GrabCAD is a newcomer in CAD collaboration space. Started as a space for engineers to collaborate few years ago (funny enough, it was mentioned many times as a “Facebook for engineers”), these days GrabCAD is moving fast to become CAD collaboration solution provider with their GrabCAD Workbench product. GrabCAD blog – Why GrabCAD created a next-generation release process? can give you some insight on GrabCAD strategy and philosophy. Here is what I captured:
GrabCAD started as a way for engineers to collaborate on engineering projects. Over time, we engineered the secure system GrabCAD Workbench first for external collaboration, then, with CPD, for PDM-style internal collaboration. Unlike PLM systems, which mostly started as CAD-centric data management tools, we have approached the problem by first understanding the social and business problems our customers need to solve. This unique perspective caused us to partition the private engineering workspace from special “Partner Spaces” that make sharing such data secure and foolproof. While the engineering team is working away, each partner has access to the version released to them. The Partner Space also contains a limited and more appropriate set of tools for external collaboration, so the partner sees only what they need to.
SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (Dashboard)
Last week at SolidWorks World 2014 in San Diego, Dassault SolidWorks made an announcement about new product SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual (SWMC). The product was long awaited and raised lots of discussion and controversy in blogosphere and CAD press. My single best link to follow different opinions about SWMC is SolidSmack’s article – What we found out about SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual and Future of SolidWorks. Another good reference is Graphic Speak article – The business case for SolidWorks Mechanical Conceptual. What captured my attention in SWMC announcement is introduction of so called – 3DEXPERIENCE 3D Space. Here is how it was explained by Graphic Speak:
Mechanical Conceptual introduces a new way of sharing data that’s integral to the 3D Experience Platform. Called the 3D Dashboard, it functions like the Windows Explorer for SolidWorks or any other desktop application. All models are saved to the dashboard in a so-called workspace that can be shared with co-workers or customers. The dashboard is accessible by a Web browser. Clients who don’t have Mechanical Conceptual can simply log in to view models
What is my conclusion? Customers have huge demand to improve collaboration. People are expecting collaboration should be as easy as sharing your photos on Facebook. However, complexity of design environment is much higher than sharing photos. This is a clear challenge for all vendors regardless on their status and experience. The simplicity is the hardest thing to deliver. However, it is not all about future of collaboration. In my view, cost will become the next important challenge. Who will be able to provide the best combination of features, user experience and cost will probably lead future CAD collaboration space in the cloud. Just my thoughts…