Once upon a time, we printed drawings and other related document and took them with us to design reviews and other meetings. That time is in the past for most of the companies I know. Although, it is not a very unusual to see people caring notepads, most of CAD models and other engineering drawings are zipped and stored somewhere. Here is a question – where?
Where to store CAD and other related engineering files? Documents, specs, PDF, spreadsheets, etc? For many years, engineers stored files on their desktops or on a network drive in a company commonly called “Z: drive” in order not to conflict with other drive letters.
CAD and PLM vendors are promoting their software as a universal place to store engineering files, manage revisions and access this information for reviews and other purposes. The results are somewhere mixed. Although nobody is arguing with the value of data management, in fact, nobody likes it so much.
Cloud storage is becoming a disruptive force for engineers. Once engineers discovered how easy to share our photos using Dropbox and other cloud storage services, the immediate question is how to do the same for CAD files. CAD files are not as simple as photos. It is not easy to drop CAD files into Dropbox. I shared my thoughts about 3 challenges to develop cloud storage and collaboration tool for engineers last year, which contains also links to other articles debating value of specialized CAD collaboration software vs Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and others.
Solidsmack article Why SolidWorks Users Use Onshape Instead of Dropbox made me think again about cloud storage for engineers. It reminded me my earlier article – Onshape quietly developed Google Drive for CAD.
It brings an interesting comparison with arguments why Onshape is the best place to store CAD files.
The article made me think about what should be the right strategy to store and share engineering files? At the time most of engineers in your company are already using Dropbox, the decision about engineering file storage is important. It is about IP and location of data. It is critical for distributed team work. It is needed to make projects go on schedule. Here are 4 things you might consider as elements of your cloud storage strategy in a modern digital world.
1- Master record storage. This is should be a place where released engineering information is located. You can decide what is the right infrastructure based on your company specific needs, security, regulation and other rules. It can be managed by internal IT or cloud storage company. The only important thing is to use it for all released files.
2- Work-in-progress storage. This is a place where engineers and other team members can store information for current on-going projects. It should be easy to access for all team members. Engineering and manufacturing is distributed these days and efficient access to engineering files is critical for project success.
3- Self-destroyed messages and storage. This is can be an interesting option to share files for a short period of time. We often use public cloud storage for that and later can forget about it. Self-destroyed storage can be a way to share information fast, but keep it under control in a long term.
4- Link to storage. All storage infrastructure should provide an easy way to reference data in other applications – emails, collaboration software, project management tools, etc. It will allow to link to the right data and not to copy data between different applications.
What is my conclusion? Engineering and manufacturing is distributed these days. People are not necessarily working at the same place. To store and share engineering files is very important. Companies should think about how strategically choose a combination of tools and technologies to preserve IP and not to slow down communication and collaboration between engineers and teams. Just my thoughts…
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Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of openBoM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain.