3 use cases for branching in CAD data management

3 use cases for branching in CAD data management

Yesterday, my attention was caught by Develop3D article  – Data management related tools. Al Dean is sharing his thoughts about new data management features in CAD / PDM – branching. Although some old PDM systems supported branching for revisions and lifecycle, it was not a very popular feature because integration with design system was never a perfect. New integrated data management open new possibility to support branching in design. This feature that can be found in new cloud design tools – Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360. Read the article and draw your opinion. According to Al Dean, branches are introducing new way to design.

A Branch and Merge approach differs in that you can start with the same 0.1 version but at any point you can split the development process to explore options, variants or new ideas. This is called branching. Essentially, you split development into the main branch and have offshoots that are part of the project, but are progressed independently.

While in the software world, this is comparatively easy to do (you’re working with text), there’s a little more complexity involved in design, particularly when you consider that a product is, in the vast majority of cases, made up of multiple parts and subassemblies.

The article made me think more about data management, branching and about how I’ve seen customers using such complex feature.

Data management is exploring new ways to support collaboration and design options. One of them is related to designing options. In the past PDM systems supported branches, but usually these options weren’t very sophisticated and rarely used by engineers because of poor integration with CAD systems. New CAD data management, especially cloud CAD data management, and integration of PDM inside of CAD system open new ways to support design variation and not only liner design changes.

The inspiration to develop brunching support is coming from software configuration management tools. Among all of them GitHub is the one of them. Check the following link to get an idea of branching workflow.

The following 2 screenshots can show you support provided by Onshape and Autodesk Fusion360:

Al’s article made me think about what are possible use cases for branching data management support.  I can summary ways I’ve seen engineers and companies are using branching support into 3 main use cases:

1. Design alternatives branch and merge. This is the main use cases and in most of the cases the way branch and merge is introduced by CAD vendors. The complexity of merge is one of the main challenges.

2. Parallel design. I found many situations when branches were used without merges. Several practical examples can support such use case – parallel development, configurations and options. In all these options branches are used as a logical organization of data. After development is done branches are not merged. One of them can be continued for the future development.

3. Process workflow. I found this use case a bit unusual, but very interesting. Think about branch and changes as steps in design workflow. In such a case, when you have a complex product developed by multiple contractors, you can use multiple branches as a way to split and manage work by these contractors. Branches will be a way to organize this work and follow specific procedures.

What is my conclusion? New advanced data management such as branching and merging can open new possibility to improve design process from the standpoint of data organizations as well as supporting distributed teams. In the past PDM was separated from CAD systems. Cloud CAD systems are opening new ways to improve design and make data management seamless. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

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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. My opinion can be unintentionally biased

Picture credit isicad.ru article


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