How much does it cost to manage CAD data?

How much does it cost to manage CAD data?


CAD files. Everyone who is dealing with design and engineering is familiar with this type of data. Large files, many dependencies, hard to store, share, change. That was the place where originally Product Data Management – PDM was born (if you long enough in this industry you might remember EDM or TDM acronyms too). Until very recently, PDM tools were hard to install, configure and use. Engineers didn’t like them and tried to avoid it as much as possible.

There are some good news on the horizon. CAD and PLM vendors are recognizing the need to release engineers from PDM pain and focusing on how to improve it from both user experience and license cost. If you recall one of my earlier blogs this year, I was talking about some interesting changes in PDM licensing from GrabCAD and SolidWorks – The future of free PDM.

Recent announcement from Autodesk about changes in Fusion360 packaging is not directly related to PDM. In a nutshell, it was about moving bunch of premium Fusion360 features into standard package with subscription price $25/month. At the same time, Fusion360 is providing PDM functionality and it is part of the subscription license which cost you 25$/month. Navigate here to learn more.

Another my post “Onshape quietly developed Google Drive for CAD” will give you a perspective from another cloud CAD disruptor – Onshape. A set of CAD data management (PDM) functionality is part of Onshape product. The subscription has free option as well as  $100/month option. Navigate here to learn more.

It made me think about how much are we going to pay to manage and share CAD files in a near future?

The more “traditional” CAD / PDM approach is bundling CAD data management and integration functions into PDM/ PLM products. It forms a group of relatively expensive CAD data management tools. Navigate the following links to see examples –  Aras CAD data management, Autodesk Vault, ENOVIA CAD data management, SolidWorks Enterprise PDM, SolidEdge SPSiemens TeamCenter PDM, Windchill PDM Link. The license cost and TCO is not always obvious and transparent (not very different from many examples of on premise enterprise software). At the same time, the functionality of these packages are often goes much beyond just managing revisions and sharing CAD files.

Another group of vendors and products are formed by new “cloud products” that can give you an option to manage and share CAD data. All of them are subscription based. For some of them, PDM is an integral part of a bigger product.  There are products with free subscription option under some conditions. Here is the list of vendors – Autodesk Fusion360, Autodesk A360, GrabCAD Workbench, Onshape, Kenesto Drive, Team Platform. I’m sure missed some of new cloud outfits, so please let me know about new cool names to be added.

What is my conclusion? I can see a strong trend for making CAD data management ubiquitous and near free is a reality we might face very soon. Cloud CAD vendors will lead this trend because PDM is an fundamental part of cloud CAD delivery mechanism. It will take trajectory of cost for CAD data management and collaboration to zero. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



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  • PLM has a horrible misnomer. It is impossible to manage “CAD Data” but relatively easy to manage “Engineering Documentation”. There has always been a cost to handle the engineering documentation, this is nothing new. But the “deliverable” was the drawing which was very easy to manage. But today there is a confusion with the native CAD information used by engineering and the documentation needed to be delivered directly to the affected groups such as Document Control, purchasing, manufacturing and planning. Then there are associated groups that use the documentation such as Tech Pubs, marketing, sales, etc.

    What would a deliverable consist of today. We need the 3D model and any documentation that would go with it “or” any documentation and the 3D model to go with it. It truly is shocking that PTC did not incorporate a “Bucket” in the beginning that would have included all the pertinent engineering information and made available in an easy to use single source or deliverable.

    Today they are trying to trying to solve the single deliverable problem with MBE’s (Model Based Enterprise) totally unusable PMI (Product and Manufacturing Information). The current CAD vendors are spending millions trying to create compatibility with this unworkable system.

    The complete PLM and MBE system needs to be scrapped and started over from scratch. We do not need the IT folks in the process, actually we need to find a few seasoned draftsmen to advise. Today we have a form of this “bucket” with Onshape. We have to realize that each part stands on its own and always has.

    For those that do not understand what I am saying. Take a look at a completed single part drawing that includes the complete definition of the part and any pertinent manufacturing information. It was created to not have any questions, it truly stood alone. I can take a drawing of the past and complete understand the design intent and easily recreate it. Then look at the incredibly convoluted PLM and MBE solution to replace it. I have heard PLM
    experts call the drawing archaic without any understanding of what purpose it served.

  • beyondplm

    Joe, thanks for sharing your thoughts! I can see your points. It sounds to me that you are blaming PLM vendors for trying to change the way organization works and brining unusable methods and tools. To defend them, I can only say that this is always a problem when you try to develop new methods, tools and experience. The technology is changing the way we work and communicate. So, maybe something should come and replace old fashion drawings. Unfortunately, sometimes it requires a generation to change. There is a possibility that “drawing generation” will go and will be replaced by cloud / mobile folks? Just my thoughts… Best, Oleg

  • I do not blame PLM vendors, I am saying IT data managers can not do the job. They seem to have no understanding at all of the engineering document control process.

    That is the problem, the drawing is not old fashion. Having a drawing does not have anything to do with the “cloud” or being “mobile” which seem like buzz words used to avoid the real problem. It is just a document that more clearly defines the part or assembly. They are very easy to create. Nothing more than adding dimensions and annotation to the 3D model on an electronic sheet, this is more correctly called detailing. Onshape will soon have detailing capabilities, sadly, called a drawing mode instead of a documentation mode.

    You think I am old fashion? I have been in engineering for 50 years, I have been in 3D CAD since 1982. I have created thousands of 3D designs.
    TECH-NET has provided 3D CAD/CAM software, support and training in the NW since 1987. We have provided virtually every Boeing supplier with PC based 3D CAD to be compatible with Boeings workstation based Catia 3/4 in the beginning. Today, of course, we struggle with corrupt parts coming out of Catia 5.

    So Oleg, tell me your experience. Have you ever done a 3D design, completely detailed the part, checked it, released it to manufacturing and been there at first assembly?? If you haven’t, take a few courses in drafting and design. Take some time to learn CAD with Onshape, drafting is more than creating a drawing it is the design process itself.

    Drafting – “The systematic representation and dimensional specification of mechanical and architectural structures”

    I have seen work that is being delivered to manufacturing by companies that would have never even been released in the past. Boeing has given its engineering over to Dassault and the failed PLM and MBE system. Dassault is responsible for keeping Boeing one of the most ignorant and isolated manufacturing companies. Their lack of interoperability is beyond belief.

    Do you know what completely detailing a part provides? Manufacturing
    is not my main focus it is the design engineer. Yes, even in engineering circles they think the drawing is “old fashion”. But let me tell you what it provides.

    1. It offers a very detailed second look at the design for errors or maybe a better design

    2. It provides review and checking in an easy to use format

    3. If a part is difficult to detail it is equally or more difficult to manufacture.

    The Death of the Drawing

    The Death of the Draftsman or “Where has all the talent gone?”

    Why those that are not engineering personnel making “any” decisions
    about engineering is completely beyond me. Engineering is much more than Document Control! It is time for engineering to take back control of

  • Take a look at my Onshape article. I show one of my projects with the 3D assembly and detailed documents uploaded to Onshape. All of which is in the “Cloud” and “Mobile”.

    Onshape! A View from the Clouds

  • beyondplm

    Joe, thanks for sharing the link on your article about Onshape. I share your opinion about ease of use and collaboration with Onshape. This is a very critical aspect and it never been so easy to collaborate. Cloud CAD solved a basic PDM functionality – revision, changes and collaboration and this is what is great about both Onshape and Fusion360 (which also has PDM functionality embedded)

  • beyondplm


    thank you for sharing your thoughts! Also, thank you for sharing links to other articles. I’m sure blog readers will appreciate that. I can clearly see you passion, experience and opinion.

    Historically, PLM was first introduced to engineering departments as an extended vision for CAD data management. It is not bad if some aspects of PLM will be managed by IT, since it is clearly must be a service for a whole organization and beyond. Today, with extension of mobile services and demand for better security, it becomes even more obvious. Even so, there are aspects of PLM that clearly can must be handled by engineers and specific engineering IT.

    My experience is in software for engineering and manufacturing for the last 20 years). I was trained as an engineer and even it was many years ago, but I still remember how make drawings on paper with pencil :).

    Btw, I agree – Onshape is a great instrument for anybody to learn about design. As far as I know, drawing modules will be available soon on Onshape.

    Best, Oleg

  • “IT” is a support organization and its product should work as such and not be seen or concerned with by the user. The engineer puts in a number and out jumps the part. What could be easier?

    Part engineering documents should stand on their own and assemblies do not even have to be associated. They aren’t in the “real” world. The parts get delivered, the planning department creates a process and they get assembled. It is like a “Kit” from Ikea. If you want to understand the failure of PLM/MBE talk to
    Boeing’s planning department. Why doesn’t CAD emulate the “real” world?

    Associated or referenced parts are overrated. It really only makes any sense at all in the beginning of the design process. It can become a hindrance in document control later as parts are released to the other support departments and manufacturing. Could we be stuck in a process that doesn’t work?

    We do not create drawings today. Like I have said it is a misnomer. I get in trouble with many that do not understand this. There are those that have never created a drawing, manual or electronic. I, personally, have only played with Autocad in the very beginning, 1985? I was already in the 3D Computervision world generating
    detailed documents directly from the 3D model. Yes, what we create today may look like drawings but they are not. This is a very important point that has been completely overlooked.

    “IT” “think” they understand the process but they have not been trained in the basics of the engineering process. I am sorry but putting a pencil to piece of paper hardly qualifies one to manage thousands of engineering documents, making sure they are correct and that they include all of the pertinent information in a standard format that allows manufacturing to easily duplicate and make the

    “IT” is like, the CPA, he/she knows the numbers but most have no clue on the operations of a successful business. We should joke about “IT” (PLM expert) being in charge as we do when they put the CPA in as a CEO. Both are completely unprepared to handle
    the job.

    Sadly, I have to throw much of engineering management into that crowd. Engineering management has allowed it to get to this level. Boeing eliminated the Drafting Group and the Document Control with the promise of Dassualt’s that PLM and its ugly step child MBE could handle the job. They did not ask drafting, this complete process was in the realm of drafting. Drafting is now gone never to be replaced.

    Here is a quote from Matthew Sawtell an associate on Linkedin on the elimination of the draftsman.

    Funny thing is that Matthew has a Master’s Degree in Computer Science and is working as a Draftsman.

    “Hm… Can anyone show a better example of what happens when an apprentice based profession is dumped into ‘formal education’ format, without any sort of a transition plan? Sure, the allure of cutting costs is appealing to those that view the world a ‘fiscal quarter at a time’ – but for those that have committed to a company by way of bonds or other long term commitments – it can be terrifying.”

    Many may think one man cannot change the system. But I have been beating the “Direct Edit” drum since 1998 and now all of the major CAD programs have that available, except for Catia 5.

    Was it me?? Maybe.

    Are Solidworks Users Stupid?

    Here is another article which is a bit more than just some information on CAD programs but the basic philosophy of CAD.

    The Worst to Best CAD System and Why!%20-1.html

    Yes, I am passionate about this. I can only remind you:

    Intelligence – The ability to differentiate between relative importances.

  • Sometimes I think I have some basics so ingrained in this subject that I assume all in this industry have them.

    A couple of years ago I watched as a CNC programmer was looking through a list of parts in Autodesk Inventor “Vault”.

    This shows a basic misunderstanding of the concept of the Vault as it relates to engineer documents. We rarely went to the vault, only if we were going to modify the original documents. We went to the Blue Print Counter, then later the Microfiche for the released engineering documentation.

    Now you should see the difference between the native CAD data that should be in the “Vault” and the released engineering documentation that should be in a place easily accessible by the support or associated departments. This is just so simple.