Nobody is surprised by the amount of distributed work we do these days. The time when designers, engineers and manufacturing facilities were located at the same building are over. People are working everywhere and amount of communication between people and companies is growing. It drives the demand for better technologies and applications to access design and related data online using web and mobile interfaces.
Desktop Engineering article Remote Access to CAD without the Latency brings an interesting write up about how to simplify design CAD data access remotely. One of the key inhibitors to access design online and using mobile interface is related to size and complexity of CAD files.
The following passage give you some explanations why working with CAD files remotely is really painful.
Though CAD software and models save time and costs for designers and their teams, there are cases in which access to CAD can actually hinder the process from design to production. In particular, integrating mobile technology into the design process can be a tenuous experience, especially when dealing with large files and unreliable network connections.
For instance, the sheer size of CAD models can make it difficult to share files with team members in different locations or those using different devices, making collaboration a challenge. Additionally, bandwidth issues and network latency can hamper productivity when working with CAD files from remote locations, causing frustration and draining wide area network (WAN) resources. Moreover, managing the check-in/out process and version control of CAD files can impede progress and bloat storage resources.
Remote access to 3D CAD data (or files) is important and has lot of benefits.
Centrally managed, remote access also gives designers the ability to quickly edit and work on CAD files without downloading any files on physical devices, helping to manage version control issues and eliminate confusion. Leveraging HTML5 technology, designers can access CAD files within standard browsers, providing the flexibility to work in the field or from remote offices without compromising productivity.
It made me think about possible technological paths to make it happen. Although nobody can be surprised by remote access and browser based interfaces, the challenge is to align CAD design data flow with remote access scenarios.
I can see two technological trajectories for the future of mobile communication and remote access to CAD data.
1- Desktop virtualization. This path will take existing CAD software and infrastructure to the cloud and will allow to access it using browsers on laptops and mobile devices. This approach isn’t new, but pretty much straightforward and used by many companies. The main advantage of the approach is that it doesn’t require lot of changes in your CAD and design infrastructure. Your desktops are moving to the cloud and accessed remotely. However, a big disadvantage is the need to use existing CAD infrastructure. The last was developed for desktop and is not a very good fit to run in a distributed environment.
2- Browser based CAD systems. A relatively new approach became possible thanks for new technologies and modern browsers and mobile devices. This approach requires re-thinking of file-based paradigm. In such environment, CAD software runs on servers and also provides data management layer that hiding complexity of file-based data. In my view, it is a much better approach. In addition to proved remote CAD data access, this approach is going to eliminate the mess of file management and will provide an access to CAD data from various devices and applications. A potential disadvantage is maturity of of browser-based cloud CAD systems and lack of additional applications.
What is my conclusion? The importance of distributed design will lead to re-thinking of data management paradigms in CAD software. In my view, remote desktop and virtualization access is a good tactical solution. A better long term path is to eliminate files and replace it with data driven CAD software. However, in the domain of engineering and manufacturing software, “short term” can be a decade of even more. CAD software is extremely sticky and it probably will take some time until existing desktop CAD systems will be replaced by browser-based alternatives. 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.