Design control issues can be a common problem in manufacturing companies. These problems can arise when multiple versions of a design are created and then used without coordination. This can lead to confusion and wasted time and resources. A single source of truth for designs can help to eliminate these control issues. The problem of organizing a single source of truth for design information (eg. CAD data) is around since the early beginning of CAD system creation saving design data in files. For many years CAD Files is a source of PDM nightmares. For the last decade, CAD vendors were working to figure out the best solution to fix CAD file problems. Projects such as CATIA V6, Onshape, Autodesk Fusion360, and a few others were changing the nature of file management. At the same time, cloud file management technologies were developed to fix the problem without changing CAD systems.
Here is a problem in a nutshell. All PDM technologies are fundamentally separate from a “vault” and “workspaces” used by each user. In such a way the data is secured in the value, but check-out/in from and to workspaces when needed. In such a way, users are never operating on the same files, and user operations are needed to check in and resolve conflicts. The picture below gives you an idea of the problem.
Product Data Management and New Cloud Tools
The use of cloud-based software created an opportunity to solve design data management and product lifecycle management problems to manage design data and engineering data in a better way. These technologies created a new type of product data management tool to manage the design and other product-related data using new CAD tools or create a new data management platform to manage files.
The fundamental of these can make this possible by providing everyone with access to the latest version of the design. This can help to ensure that everyone is working with the same information and that designs are consistent across all departments.
In my article today I’d like to talk about three possible options to solve the problem of product data management to control design data in a better way:
- Native Cloud – Eliminating CAD files
- Cloud Based – Seamless control of files using a CAD system
- Cloud File Management
The first option was about how to replace CAD files with data management (eg. database or cloud-based platform). In such a way PDM software won’t be needed because the CAD system and PDM software will become unseparated and CAD tools will provide a solution for version control and revision control.
The second option is a hybrid in which a CAD system is capable to work with files, but uses a cloud-based backend to manage product data and perform other data management functions providing data for engineers and other external users that don’t require access to CAD files (eg. downstream BOM data in the supply chain, enhance collaboration, etc.).
The last, third option, was focusing on how to fix the problem of file management used by CAD systems in a way, which can be not dependent on CAD systems and to let CAD systems be used in a natural way.
Native Cloud CAD
One of the best examples of a CAD system that stopped using files to manage design data is Onshape. Founded by a team of industry veterans led by Jon Hirschtick, Onshape create a new cloud technology platform using NoSQL databases and a cloud-based geometrical kernel combined in a multi-tenant data management platform embedding data management functions into CAD functions. PDM functions are part of Onshape functionality, the work is done directly from a browser, and data is managed by Onshape.
Onshape’s article A Single Source of Truth: Eliminating Version Control Issues with the Cloud gives you an idea of how Onshape fixed product lifecycle management and product data management problems.
In contrast, a cloud-based product development platform enables teams to work together better, period. It allows multiple designers and engineers to simultaneously work together on the same product design. CAD users are no longer faced with the challenge of managing multiple versions of the same design document, risking costly manufacturing errors and unrecoverable lost time.
Working off that single source of truth, cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) design platforms facilitate quick and streamlined feedback between the core engineering team and non-CAD users across the organization (such as Sales, Marketing or Customer Success) – or with outside clients or partners. To solicit feedback on a CAD model, users need only to share a permission-based web link. Stakeholders can more easily participate in time-sensitive design reviews and approvals.
Cloud-based CAD systems
Autodesk Fusion360 is an example of a technology and platform (including Autodesk Forge) that is capable to combine file data management functions into a CAD system. Although Fusion360 still gives you an option to get access to the Fusion360 design file, Autodesk is giving you a seamless way to manage data using the Autodesk Forge platform where users can access design data and other related product information in a seamless way.
All in circles article is a good review of all Autodesk Fusion 360 data management and collaboration functions. Check this out.
Fusion 360’s workspace functions as a central project management hub, providing a space for the documentation, drawings, and other assets to intermingle. Equally important with a data-sharing hub is the regulation of how that data is shared and the protection of personal and company data across collaborative lines.
The most basic first step of data management is determining who can view what. Those familiar with the software-API realm may be familiar with role-based access control (RBAC), and similar principles apply within Fusion 360. Essentially, a user’s organizational role will influence what can be seen and edited. In Fusion 360, although everyone is working on the same team, there are many reasons to have teams with their own discrete spaces where they can operate autonomously as smaller groups.
Projects may be set as Open, Closed, or Secret. Additionally, contributors can easily generate shareable links for individual assets, à la Google Drive. Fusion 360 aims to make file sharing more accessible across teams and organizations alike. A variety of included file formats makes this possible.
The following video gives you an idea about Fusion 360 data management and collaboration functions.
Cloud file management and Cloud PDM software
The last, but not the least option to solve design data management problems in CAD is to use different techniques to manage files. Many CAD vendors attempted to improve their PDM systems by hosting the same PDM technologies and products (eg. Solidworks PDM) in the cloud. While it sounds like a legitimate option, these products were never designed to organize a single source of truth for the data.
An example of a solution is OpenBOM Drive providing a way to manage files in a seamless way using cloud-based technologies. The data management platform is used to seamlessly manage all file versions and to provide seamless access to the files.
Check the following article – Rethinking Design Collaboration and PDM with Online OpenBOM Drive Services. Instead of copy files between the Drive server and local folders, Drive is a system that seamlessly provides an access to centralized storage and allows everyone to work on the same file. An automatic or manual locking system allows users to lock files (check-out) and release the lock (check-in), which creates a file version.
Watch the video to check how it works.
OpenBOM Drive services provide a way for engineers to manage files and stay connected with all information and changes in a seamless way. Drive functionality doesn’t require engineers to perform tedious manual copy and check-out/in operations, to ensure that files are copied from a central location to a local folder to perform their design work. Instead, OpenBOM Drive provides a seamless way to keep data in sync and support real-time collaboration.
What is my conclusion?
Product data management is a painful problem. As companies are looking at how to create scalable product lifecycle management solutions, the question of managing product data for all CAD tools, organizing revision control, and sharing detailed information and data with all engineers and non CAD users is becoming critical. The options I described above are not mutually exclusive and can be used by companies together. While the migration of companies to new cloud-native CAD tools is undergoing, the industry will stay with existing file-based CAD platforms for a long time. Therefore a combination of cloud CAD tools and modern cloud file management (cloud PDM software) can create a way to optimize CAD data management and BOM data management in the way to support business needs.
For companies, asking what tool to use, I recommend checking out multiple technologies and, instead of focusing on what is the best tool, focusing on data management. In the 21st century, data is more important than tools. Think about how to organize data management and ensure the data is in the middle of your solution to manage a single source of truth. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing a digital cloud-native PLM platform that manages product data and connects manufacturers, construction companies, and their supply chain networks. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.