I’ve been catching up on reading during the past long weekend in U.S. GrabCAD article – The Need for Cloud-Based CAD Software caught my attention. The author, Len Williams works for designairspace – a software outfit selling cloud hosting service for CAD workstations.
My special attention was caught by the following passage:
CAD Providers Need to Give Customers What They Want. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of reasons CAD software providers are reluctant about the cloud. However, while some of their reasons are understandable, they ultimately need to listen to the market and give customers what they really want – anytime, flexible and remote access to CAD technology.
The passage sounds like a conclusion for the article – engineers want cloud CAD. While my technological inner voice was saying “Yes”, I wanted to get back to the opening point of the same article speaking current progress in cloud CAD:
Do you work with CAD at the office but wish you could use it online? You’re not alone. According to a 2017 survey, close to 40% of CAD users at architecture, engineering and construction companies were interested in using CAD over the cloud but could not for various reasons. Two years later, and still none of the major CAD vendors offer a complete cloud-based CAD solution. What’s behind this reluctance on the part of CAD providers to make their offerings available in the cloud?
The author quoted Steve Jobs’ passage – If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will. However, I’d like to share some of my (non-systematic) observations from talking to engineers for the last 3-4 years about cloud and CAD as well as reading multiple pieces of research, customer reports and articles.
1. Cloud CAD is the future. Have you seen “Free beer tomorrow” sign in a bar? The meaning of this sign is much greater than the possibility to drink for free. The word tomorrow connotes a hopeful and pleasant feeling of the future. Somehow tomorrow CAD will be on the cloud. I found engineers to be extremely conservative. Many of them told me – cloud CAD is the future. But not today. My current work is well organized and I don’t want to push myself too much in the future.
2. Race down to zero cost is limited. For several decades, part of CAD innovation was to provide 80/20 (80% of CAD functions for 20% of the cost). While there are tons of expensive CAD systems around, you can also find many options for affordable CAD packages. Cloud is not yet coming as another option to cut the cost of CAD and watching the trajectories of CAD vendors, I don’t think there is an interest to continue the race down to lower cost.
3. CAD Data management is hard. Everyone knows that PDM is a royal pain. Cloud CAD opportunity to simplify CAD data management is huge. I can see how data management simplification become a huge value proposition for cloud CAD platforms (eg. Onshape). At the same time, engineers are not united in their interest to fight data management problems. It is much easier to blame IT.
4. The need to have an expensive workstation. How many engineers are really interested to lower the cost of their workstations? I found this one is a bit tricky. It is such a great feeling to talk about latest hardware gears and how it helps to improve the design. I can see a sociological factor. Don’t be surprised by a correlation between a budget of a workstation and perception of how a person is important for an organization. So, who knows how many engineers will really like it.
5. Collaboration is not equal to the need to cloud CAD. Data sharing is one of the biggest value propositions behind cloud CAD systems. However, CAD data publishing tools are doing “almost good enough” job by making data available online and conservative CAD vendors making these tools free or very affordable on purpose, especially in the segment of tools vulnerable for cloud CAD adoption.
What is my conclusion? Cloud CAD is the future. I have no doubt about it. But to make this future to come, vendors should figure out a mix of business and technology innovation to break down the status quo of engineers that invested in current desktop CAD systems. Will it be a cost, functions, business workflows, quality or anything else… we don’t know it yet. But I’m sure, CAD industry is going to figure it out in coming years. Just my thoughts…
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.