CAD data management is an interesting topic. It was discussed so many times between software vendors, analysts, and customers. As long as I remember myself in the business of CAD, PDM, and PLM, the tools helping engineers to manage and fine CAD data were around. Software vendors actively promoted the value of PDM (CAD data management tools), analysts helped them to articulate and explain the value. And engineers hated most of these tools and voted against them as long as they can until the management of files and coordinated access to resources became an absolutely necessity.
I can bring many examples. Here is the one from Solidworks. Jim Brown from Tech-Clarity provides great explanations on how Solidworks’ benefits of CAD data management. Here is another example from PTC. I can find more. The value proposition is here for years, still, the adoption of CAD Data Management is not great. Engineers take it as a necessary evil. I captured the following picture from one of the whitepapers shows why PDM is needed.
The root cause of the problem is CAD files. They are hard to manage and control, they are messy and whatever PDM/PLM systems do, will make the solution hard to adopt, complex to use, and maintain. I wrote about it time ago in my article – CAD files: the root cause of PDM nightmares. Industry found a remedy for this problem – cloud CAD. Systems like PTC Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360 provides a much easier way to manage data by eliminating the need to have or by managing CAD files transparently.
So, does cloud CAD solve the problem? PDM is embedded in the CAD packages. It is true. From a business standpoint, there is no need to sell PDM anymore. It is part of the CAD package and included in the prices. Cloud/ SaaS CAD environments seem to provide everything needed. Actually it is not. There new old problem – data access. But they are taking new forms and require new solutions, in my view.
What is changing with cloud and SaaS for CAD data management?
Cloud data management technologies embedded in cloud CAD packages solves only part of the problem – CAD file management. The problem is shifting now into a very complex and fascinating space of cloud data management. After successfully placing design data in the cloud, the next problem from the picture above became much more urgent – difficulties to share data. Pay attention – not file, but data, which is now much more granular and hard to get.
Difficulties to share data is a common name of the problem, but the devil is in details. Because in the cloud/SaaS environment data is not a file you can send to somebody else. Data is granular, needs to accessed differently, transported, and consumed in different forms. What lived as an Excel export before, now would not work or will bring a whole complexity of Excel and spreadsheets we usually call Excel hell.
CAD data management beyond PDM vaults
In the cloud environment, SaaS applications should be able to provide a different approach for data access. Here are few important things to remember – access data in a granular form, get small chunks of data when you needed and what you needed, focus on real-time data and not on exports (otherwise, your system will have a chance to work on old data defeating the whole purpose of cloud data management), connect data silos. The last one is probably the biggest challenge because data is located in multiple places. Your spreadsheet with components cost is completely independent of CAD files and gives you a difficult time connecting dots. Extracting data from cloud CAD systems to perform analysis, cost rollups, and many other activities – this is just a small subset of tasks that will create enormous pain for everyday life.
At OpenBOM (disclaimer- I’m CEO and co-founder), I’ve been working with many engineers in small and large manufacturing companies and found the problem of CAD data consumption rising quickly after data is securely placed in cloud /SaaS CAD environments. I found this problem to be the same for a desktop CAD system. The value of data in CAD design is huge, but this data is hardly accessible and cannot be consumed in the downstream for planning, purchasing, and production. Check more here about how the problem can be solved.
What is my conclusion? Data is in the center these days. Both desktop and cloud CAD systems is a source of very valuable information. Cloud/SaaS CAD systems are changing the rules of the game by solving the problem of CAD File data management. But the data problem is not solved. It is actually becoming even become more critical because of the nature of the cloud CAD environment. The value of design data is huge. New cloud/SaaS data management systems and technologies will be able to provide seamless access to the data that can be granular and consumable downstream to maximize the value of the data and optimize design, production, and purchasing processes. 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.