How to transform old CAD-PDM integration paradigms

How to transform old CAD-PDM integration paradigms


Integration of CAD and PDM is a field with long history of battles, innovation and failures for the last 15-20 years. You can hardly undervalue the importance of integration between CAD and data management tools. For some time in the past CAD and PDM were separate systems. Engineers had to switch from CAD to PDM to perform specific tasks related to data management functions. To integrate PDM tools inside CAD was one of the greatest ideas of 1990s, which improved significantly what we call today “user experience”.

However, the complexity of data management interfaces was always something that made engineers uncomfortable. Another innovative approach that was introduced in the field of integration between CAD and PDM was to embed PDM tools into File Explorer user interface. One of the companies that did it back in 2000s was Conisio (later SolidWorks Enterprise PDM). The idea got lot of traction and allowed to engineers to work with a familiar file based interface while in fact using PDM tools.

People are hard. Especially, when it comes to adopting of new paradigms. Dassault System blog SOLIDWORKS and PLM: No Fear Required brings an interesting perspective on integration between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks.

3DEXPERIENCE platform offers a fresh approach to this problem. Recognizing that our existing Enterprise PDM solution has been greatly accepted by the design community, the same R&D group has designed a new product that offers the usability of EPDM but actually stores the data in a broader and more capable PLM solution. The result is the SOLIDWORKS Collaborative Innovation Connector, a product that works and acts much like a workgroup solution would but gives the designer just enough access to the PLM functionality to innovate their processes beyond what they can do today in a PDM environment.

The following video is one of the confirmation for that. You can see how ENOVIA PLM traditional web interface is morphing to provide File-Explorer user experience for SolidWorks users. What I found specifically interesting is that you can hardly distinguish between ENOVIA PLM and SolidWorks EPDM, which has very similar user experience for both file explorer and SolidWorks UI.


The video about ENOVIA SolidWorks integration made me think about what can be a new PDM paradigm as we move forward into cloud future. I’d like to bring few references to new products and companies in that space – GrabCAD, Autodesk Fusion360 and Onshape.


At recent Autodesk University in Las Vegas, Autodesk CEO Carl Bass presented the evolution of Fusion360 and its connection with cloud services such as Autodesk A360. According to Carl Bass, you can think about Fusion is a GitHub for engineers. Combined with A360, Fusion is a full digital re-imagination of how designers and engineers will collaborate – online and social. What is important to understand is that A360 provides data and collaboration backbone for Fusion360, so engineers are not facing file-based operations like in traditional desktop CAD tools.



Onshape is a new company re-imagining CAD for Google era. Large group of Onshape founding team is coming from SolidWorks. Last week, Onshape started to blog. One of the things I captured from Onshape blog is their claim to rethink PDM role and appearance for cloud CAD. You can read some of my thoughts here – Future CAD won’t require PDM. Here is quote from Onshape blog:


We tried with traditional PDM, but fundamentally the architecture of copying files around, to and from servers and desktops, is just not a good basis for solving version control and collaboration problems. We think we have a better way to solve the problems, and no PDM system is needed.” Mac, Windows, phone or tablet. No PDM system needed. The files stay in one place. Different UI look. Now those sound like interesting and wonderful things. We’ll continue to anxiously anticipate what they have planned and what you have to say about it.


GrabCAD workbench is another system that introducing a different experience by merging cloud and file-based data management operations. GrabCAD didn’t develop CAD system as it was predicted by some CAD industry insiders. However, GrabCAD Workbench is a PDM system on the cloud that can remind you some elements of Dropbox combined with CAD viewer and ability to control file revisions.


What is my conclusion? Existing paradigms are hard to change. In my view, engineers are one of the most innovative groups of people. However, when it comes to their own tools, engineers are very conservative. You can easy expect the following vision for data management from an engineer – “I want to work with my designs (files), please leave me alone and stop selling me PDM tools”. However, here is the thing – collaboration can make a difference. The integration of data management and collaboration can provide a significant advantage to engineers in a modern mobile and distributed environment. This is a key thing, in my view. Cloud and mobile collaboration will change CAD /PDM integration paradigm in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



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  • Hi Oleg,

    very interesting article about new CAD integration paradigms. I fully agree with you that these modern mobile and more visual orientated tools will be more and more in use. But in my experience engineers ask for that and do not keep the old file orientated systems. In most cases the design and product development department drives that kind of innovation.


  • beyondplm

    Hi Christoph. thanks for you comment! I’m not sure got you comment about “ask for that”. Actually, one of concerns I can see is a conservative engineering organizations that have hard time to change the way they work. Don’t you think so?

  • Hi Oleg, thanks for your reply. In my experience most of the engineering organizations were more progressive and not so conservative and asked for modern tool support. File orientated “old-fashioned” tools do not draw young engineers from the woodwork. 😉 And the skills shortage for engineers forces organizations to update toolset to the modern world.

  • beyondplm

    Christoph, you are right- young generation of people is clearly looking away from file-oriented work. Agree 100%

  • Troy H

    Agreed. File based systems and folder based interfaces are like warm blankets. They are just there to make us comfortable. I, for one, don’t care where it is stored or how it is stored, as long as I can find and access it in the quickest way possible.

    The transition from knowing *where* to find things (via folder based navigation) to knowing *how* to find things (parameter based searching) is something that I think is being driven by a younger generation that lives with powerful search engines. The change can even be seen in Windows. Moving from the start menu to the metro UI gives the opportunity to push the start button and start typing a program name rather than navigating to a folder within the start menu.

  • beyondplm

    Hi Troy, thanks for your comment! I agree with you – younger generation is more comfortable with search (google-like) tools rather than files/folders. The problem is CAD desktop tools- all these tools are oriented on Files/Folders. My hunch, new tools are going to solve it and will provide “native” cloud representation of the information.

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