Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools

Cloud PDM hack with Google Drive and other tools


Earlier this week I talked about future of ubiquitous CAD cloud drives. My hunch CAD and other engineering software companies will be trying to use new cloud technologies to improve the way people collaborate on design. The question what tool to use for CAD file collaboration is not simple. I discussed it last year – Top 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool.

Engineering software vendors are trying to bring values such as collaborative viewing, redlining and even project collaboration. At the same time, companies focused on generic file sharing and collaboration are in a full swing to improve their mainstream solutions as well.

Some interesting news came from Google yesterday. Read Google blog post – Launch desktop applications from Google Drive in Chrome. The story is quite simple – Google is chasing Dropbox in the way how to make Google Drive even more transparent to work with desktop tools.

But here’s the catch: when it comes to browsers and installed applications working well together, they aren’t quite on the same page. To change that, today we’re launching a new extension for Chrome that lets you open files from Google Drive directly into a compatible application installed on your computer. This includes apps like advanced image and video editing software, accounting and tax programs, or 3D animation and design tools. So, no matter what you keep in Drive, using the web to access and manage files doesn’t mean you’re limited to using applications that only work in your browser.

Unfortunately, CAD files are not in the list of supported file types. I guess, it may change in the future. A transparent sync of files between cloud and local file storage can open a new opportunity and hack the way to simplify future cloud PDM solutions. Still, majority of tools used by engineers today are desktop tools.

One of the biggest challenge I can see here is speed of synchronization and work with multiple dependent files. It can create an opportunity for cloud PDM vendors to innovate. Some of these problems can be solved by software technologies – cloud PDM and Dropbox Streaming Sync. CAD vendors are looking how to innovate in cloud PDM as well. Example – Autodesk adds PDM functionality to PLM360. Alternatively, I can see some potential in hardware solutions to create virtual cloud file system. Here is one possible example of such solution – Panzura Global File System.

What is my conclusion? Cloud to desktop transparency is a big deal. There is no magic. If you want to use desktop tool you need to sync files. However, technology that can make it transparent can simplify user experience and make users unaware about actual location of files and the way files are going to be synchronized. It will allow to use existing CAD tools but and manage and collaborate using cloud. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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  • Kerry Lamb

    Very interesting thoughts. CAD files depending on the “design system” can be very dependent on each other with regards to “hard links” between files because of shared modeling elements or parametric design tables for standard part designs. I am unsure how many of the CAD design systems can really work in this kind of hack easily ? And many new generation PLM / CAD systems seem to be going in a direction where there are no files on the client workstation but rather the CAD information is stored only in a relational database.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Kerry, thanks for your comment!

    Yes, you are right – CAD data is very dependent. Assemblies, drawings, parts, etc. – this is a reality of every design system with very few exclusion. My guess is that Google Drive should establish some sort of sync of data into local disc system and apply some cache mechanism. WIth that assumption it might actually work. An alternative is to sync data based on the information about file relationships. The last one is the approach that used by almost every PDM system developed until now.

    The direction to store CAD data in relational database isn’t very new. CAD vendors have been trying to accomplished it time ago. According to my best knowledge, the only system that can do it in production today is CATIA V6. Dassault is claiming this feature as a new strategy for “Zero file”. New cloud CAD systems will be taking similar approach. You can dig and look on Autodesk Fusion360 as well as wait to see what OnShape will deliver (sooner than later).

    Best, Oleg

  • Luc

    For me it is quite restrictive to see PDM as a CAD files sharing, it is quite old school…

  • beyondplm

    Luc, the definition of PDM is clearly going beyond file sharing. Typically, it covers also issues related to security/access to file, revisions, viewing and design collaboration. In some companies people can consider some elements of BOM management. What is your take?

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