3 challenges to develop cloud storage and collaboration tools for engineers

November 6, 2015


For the last few years, we’ve seen a number of attempts to develop specialized CAD data collaboration tools by leveraging cloud technologies. GrabCAD was probably the most successful one. More than one million engineers joined GrabCAD. In addition, before acquisition by Stratasys, GrabCAD developed cloud PDM tool – Workbench. Few years ago, I had a chance to discuss CAD collaboration topic with Hardi Meybaum, founder and CEO of GrabCAD. You can catch up on my discussion with him here. Few other small and large vendors jumped to the engineering collaboration domain. You can read more about it in my last year blog – The path towards ubiquitous CAD cloud drive.

Things are changing fast in cloud development these days. One of them, cost of cloud storage is going to be zero very soon. It appears as a problem for vendors planned to leverage cloud collaboration. The competition is getting tough and they are thinking how to develop ways to differentiate solutions. Dropbox is a good example. Started as a pure consumer tool, it is actively moving into business domain. My attention was caught by Techcrunch article – Dropbox lays out an updated enterprise playbook. Navigate here to read more. Here is my favorite passage:

And the biggest tool the company unveiled was an enterprise tool set called Dropbox Enterprise, which includes some additional tools above its Dropbox business product. It’s essentially giving IT managers more tools to onboard employees to a corporate Dropbox account and have visibility into their collaboration processes, and also gives those managers a dedicated customer service representative.

The competition is very much heating up in this space. Both Box and Dropbox have to basically sell their services not as a bucket of storage, but as a set of powerful collaboration tools that sit on top of that service.

So, Dropbox, Box and other cloud storage and collaboration vendors will push to deliver tools on top of their cloud storage platforms. At the same time, these vendors will invest into additional security and other technologies to convince business customers to use their services. Box platform is another example – How Box platform will compete with PLM vendors.

This trend made me think about challenges that can experience large and small vendors developing special "dropbox for engineers".

1- Engineers in companies are already using Dropbox, Google Drive or similar tools. So, tools from CAD vendors and startups will have to become an additional tool, while portion of data is already managed by Dropbox-like tools.

2- The interplay and integration between specialized engineering collaboration tools and Dropbox can be a challenge and an additional level of complication. Who wants to think about syncing files between Dropbox and other collaboration tool?

3- Cost of CAD collaboration tools is relatively high, so the barrier for engineers and very small companies can be too high and value proposition too small to use them.

What is my conclusion? Cloud storage providers have to bring more business value to justify their cost and compete in the environment where "cloud storage" becomes a commodity. It will create a problem for all engineering cloud collaboration tools. The barrier to entry is high and companies are already using cloud collaboration tools from Google, Dropbox, Box and other companies. It is hard to convince a company to use multiple cloud storage collaboration tools. So, the only opportunity to CAD and PLM providers I can see is to develop specialized business functions to justify their existence. An alternative to integrate with products provided by Dropbox, Box and others. Tough choice. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of kibsri at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is there a need for “real time” collaboration between engineers?

October 20, 2015


Technology is moving forward. The last wave of the development in cloud and mobile technologies, data management and collaboration created a tremendous opportunity to change the way people think and work together. It can impact company processes strategically as well as a unlock a potential to innovate differently. It applies to internal organizational processes as well as collaboration between organizations, partners and individuals.

HYPERBEAST interview with Nike CEO Mark Parker – Details in Collaboration can give you a broad perspective on how large manufacturing organization can leverage collaboration to empower innovation in various aspects of product development. I captured the following passages highlighting the value of collaboration:

Collaboration takes people from different worlds to places they might not have gone on their own. Of course, it invites new ideas from the outside, but it also accelerates your own thinking. In my experience, when the right creatives connect, it can be like setting off a chemical reaction. I find that incredibly stimulating and potentially very powerful.

Collaboration among individuals, brands, and industries will only continue to accelerate as technology facilitates and enables greater connection in real time from anywhere in the world. It’s why we’re experiencing such an unprecedented pace of innovation in every aspect of our lives. It’s clear to me that if all the ingredients are right, collaboration can help shape your vision of the future and get you there faster.

At the same time, I found interesting a negative notion of “prescriptive” collaboration.

How can a collaboration go wrong? One way a collaboration can go wrong is if your connection is inauthentic or overly prescriptive. Our collaborations aren’t transactions. They are relationships – ones that have been built over months or years before they even come to fruition. You really have to be passionate about the same parts of the universe for any partnership to work.

So, where is a border between collaborative empowerment and prescriptive collaboration? How to translate it into real practice, software applications and functions. For the last few years, CAD and PLM vendors made significant investment into the development of collaborative features in new and existing applications.

Here are few examples of collaborative functions enabled in Autodesk Fusion360, Aras Visual Collaboration and Onshape. If you have other examples, please share with me in comments.

Autodesk Fusion360 Live preview

Aras Innovator Visual Collaboration

Onshape collaboration

At the same time, I can hear some skeptical voices about the fact in real life collaboration might be not as important as it presented in CAD and PLM applications. In a nutshell, the logic of these comments is narrowed to the fact engineers are not really want to work together and most of work is done separately.

How does it come together with a broader vision of collaboration? What is a right level of collaboration engineers and other people in organizations are demanding in modern manufacturing environment? What is a real need and what is a marketing gimmick? These are questions I’m always asking engineers in manufacturing companies as well as software vendors.

What is my conclusion? Collaboration can empower organizations and people. In my view, it applies to engineers too. However, it is sometimes hard to find a fine line between collaboration that empower people and some prescriptive “collaboration processes” and activities that lock people down to a specific functions. How to that? It is a challenge for CAD and PLM vendors are facing today. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of nirots at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


How to close collaboration gaps in CAD and PDM

September 10, 2015


We don’t have to share the same room to work together these days. Business are discovering globalization option following customers across the globe, skilled workforce, capital and supply chain option. In such environment, it is an imperative goal to develop reliable collaboration option.

There are many technologies these day that can support global teams with variety of collaborative options. However, with all respect to technologies and products, our ability to correlate the work with do on everyday basis with other people in the team is not following the demand for collaboration.

How can we better connect our business output with the work teams and individuals are doing in different offices and locations? Conference calls, video conferences, webcasts, instant messages, social tools. All these tools are supposed to help, but in fact very often these tools are one of the biggest productivity drains. After all, fancy collaborative tools are becoming an expensive and inefficient “file share” servers and most of our effort is how to keep these complex shares in sync between teams and locations. When it fails, companies are creating new data silos to help people to coordinate their work.

There are many examples of how CAD and PLM tools are solving collaboration problems in design, engineering and manufacturing. I just want to bring two that just came to me yesterday.

I captured my first example at Siemens PLM Analyst Event in Boston. Siemens PLM and Teamcenter has big plans to develop variety of tools to support supplier participation in high-value business processes. My human translation – Teamcenter will help organizations and people to collaborate.


The following example of Design Data Exchange shows specifically how portion of data can be retrieved and shared for collaboration with a supplier. Rules are supporting automatic data retrieval from Teamcenter.


This is not very unique process. The devil is in details and the way data can be extracted and shared in the context of work done by other people at the same time is critical. I hope to learn more about that later today.

My second example comes from the blog post about new feature developed by Onshape (a new software outfit founded by Jon Hirschtick and few other members of early Solidworks team). The fundamental premises of Onshape cloud CAD tool is support online collaboration between people working on the same design.The design teams spread across the room or across the world can collaborate on the same CAD model at the same time. You can learn more about Onshape collaboration functionality here. The last Onshape functionality – Onshape Teams allows to share information with a group of people and simplify the process of sharing.



What is my conclusion? You can get around using different tools to collaborate by sharing information between users and groups. What seems to me important is to be able to manage information boundary for collaboration. You can do it using variety of technologies on premise or cloud. However, the most important thing is to create a real time collaborative context. It can be tricky. To get data export / import and exchange information can be relatively easy, but it won’t help you to collaborate on the same piece of data at the same time. To support real time collaborative context can be a potential gap. By developing technologies to support it we enable a greater level of collaboration efficiency in the future. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why “collaborative change” can challenge PLM platforms?

August 27, 2015


The only permanent thing in life is change. The same is very true for engineering projects. We are changing things all the time. New products are introduced as a modifications of existing ones. Customers are demanding improvements. Mistakes can happen. There are many situations when change is required.

Teamcenter blog introduced an interesting classification of changes in the article – The Future of Change Management. One of the issues mentioned in this classification caught my special attention and it is related to concurrent or collaboration. Here is the passage explaining specific "collaborative change":

Since products can have many interdependencies, it is not always good to stay isolated. Engineers must be able to coordinate their changes. Change systems will support several types of collaboration. If changes are tightly coupled, they will have the ability to work on the same branch, always seeing the latest working versions of content in that branch.

In other cases, more ad-hoc collaboration is needed. An engineer is working on a change when the system identifies that some reference content (maybe a connected component) has an open change. The engineer will be able to pull the contents of that change into the current working context to ensure there are no conflicts.

There is also need to share working content among several changes. Engineers will be able ‘promote’ their working content into a sharable space, where other users may access all shared content. This can be used for virtual reviews, where the latest working content of the product or a system must be integrated.

Collaboration is such an interesting word. We apply it to some many situations and it comes in so many flavors. The technologies for collaboration developed intensively for the last few years and it was driven by multiple factors. One of them is the demand for more connected application behavior – our life is getting more connected. We are applying modern web and social network behavior in our business scenarios. At the same time engineering and manufacturing business is demanding better collaboration between silos – engineering, manufacturing and supply chain to improve product cost and quality.

It made me think about some potential challenges for PLM platform in supporting highly demanded collaborative scenarios. A traditional data management approach assumed data locking that prevented data from being changed by more than one users. It is an efficient technique, but it potentially can result in not very pleasant user experience or limitation on how people can address changes collaboratively. Many applications in such situations are ending up with brutal "synchronization" buttons or similar behaviors.

Another complexity aspect is related to notifications. We like to be notified about changes. Notification is a challenge for many PLM developers trying to make it user friendly. However, in a highly collaborative environment, notifications can become a nightmare of users. Who wants to get thousands of notifications every day?

What is my conclusion? Business environment is demanding higher level of collaboration and coordination. It can improve business workflows, product quality and lower product cost. At the same time, it can create new challenges to PLM platforms that historically designed to work in a transactional way and can be not ready to support new collaborative application nature. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Visual Design Collaboration: Bundle vs Unbundle?

August 20, 2015


Collaboration in is an interesting topic. Whether you are a 3-person team or a 10,000 person OEM manufacturing company, some of the same rules for successful collaboration apply. The more you share what you know the more value it creates. To understand specific personal or use case context is absolutely critical to successful collaboration regardless on what technology you may use.

The rules of collaboration are changing these days. New collaborative technologies coming from web, mobile and social network experience are coming to disrupt what traditionally considered as a good collaboration practice. In the past, we used an old “mom test” for collaboration software – collaborative application should be easy enough for my Mom to use it (she is smart and well educated, but she didn’t grew up with computers). That was probably a good idea back in 1995 when desktop computers and Windows disrupted office environment.

Fast forward into 2015, many rules established by desktop computers where broken by web and mobile products. The disruption in a workspace is coming from younger generation. The Content Strategist Blog brings an interesting comparison of how differently Milleninals, GenX and Boomers are consume content. They same rules apply to collaboration. If the old “Mom test” spoke about simplicity that Mom can get, the new rules my trigger a question about what collaboration style new generation of people can get. Maybe it is a question how to bring SnapChat type of collaboration into design process?

All together made me think about what is the optimal strategy for design collaboration that will better address the needs users in engineering and manufacturing scaling from needs of individual makers to large OEM manufacturing shops.

Traditional design collaboration approach is going around 3D design. Most of the tools developed by CAD and PLM vendors for the last 10-15 basically created a way for users to access 3D product representation with additional set of functions like redline, comments, etc. The core complexity of these tools related to seamless access of diverse set of information – 3D, 2D, specification documents and contextual information coming from data management tools. These bundling made it complex to develop and use.

Unbundling is an interesting business strategy used in many application domains these days. Read my earlier blog about that – The future unbundling strategies in CAD / PLM. The potential of unbundled services can be significant. Existing bundles are complex and inefficient. People don’t use all functionality and look for something simple and easy to grasp. However, unbundle can be hard. Read my Why unbundle 3D is hard for PLM vendors? As much as people are valuing simplicity and ease of use today, vertical integration remains a very important thing for many companies.

Last year I started a discussion about PLM tools, bundles and platform. Since then, few new interesting products and came to the market that pursue the value of design collaboration – I should mention two cloud CAD products Onshape and Autodesk Fusion 360. Also, I have to mention engineering communication and collaboration tools provided by GrabCAD. However, I want to bring to examples today to show two distinct approaches in development of design collaboration products – bundle vs. unbundle.

The first one is Visual Collaboration product Aras Corp. introduced in the last version of Aras Innovator. Navigate to the following link to read more. In the following video you can get a full demo of visual collaboration fully integrated with PLM product. The approach taken by Aras to bring visual collaboration to all users is absolutely valuable. Everyone in an organization can collaborate in the 2D/3D and any other design context.

My second example came from new startup company founded by ex-Facebook product designers – Wake.io. Read more about Wake.io story on TechCrunch – Designers Ditch Perfectionism For Instant Feedback With Wake. The idea to solve a problem of collaboration in a community of product designers made them think about product that capture and share a very simple design collaboration process. The following video can give you an idea of that about:

What is my conclusion? Both bundling and unbundling approaches have pros and cons. Vertical integration is important, but simplicity and capturing a specific design workflow without overwhelming users with additional information can be valuable too. In my view, unbundling is trending. This is the way to create new products solving painful problems. The same collaboration problems engineers and other people are experiencing when designing products can be applied to other places as well. An example of Wake.io is a hint to CAD and PLM companies to think where future disruption can come from. The same way Slack disrupted existing collaborative approaches practiced by companies today, new products like Wake.io can disrupt future of 3D and engineering collaboration. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit GrabCAD



Onshape quietly developed “Google Drive for CAD”

May 11, 2015


Cloud storage and CAD files. This topic always created lot of controversy and questions. File sizes, speed, security, CAD formats and viewing. At the same time, the need to collaborate and share files is obvious. In my early blog – PLM Cloud Concerns and Dropbox Reality for Engineers 3 years ago, you can find some interesting statistics about how engineers are using Dropbox services. I don’t have updated numbers, but my hunch that usage of public cloud storage services is not decreasing.

GrabCAD was probably the first widely adopted CAD storage and share service. I debated usage of specialized CAD storage and collaboration service – 3 pros and cons to have a special CAD file sharing tool. You can find some more comments in my chat with Hardi Meybaum of GrabCAD.

Onshape cloud storage and collaboration

I’ve been watching recording of . It is a bit long, but if you have time, watch it. Here is a skimmed version with my comments .

Onshape developed a platform that allows users to store, view and collaborate with CAD files. It allows to export and import files, manage revisions, view and edit models and drawings. The list of export and import file formats is not comprehensive yet, but in my view can easy cover the needs of many small and mid size manufacturing shops.

There are 4 main scenarios explained in the webinar – 1/ use Onshape as cloud storage tool; 2/ vendor collaboration; 3/ design review; 4/ access for people with no CAD (viewer). Slides below can be give you some additional explanations.


There are few interesting things that are not obvious in my view if you think about Onshape as CAD tool only.

You can upload and store any type of files to Onshape. Embedded browser viewer is available and you can see them online (you need to convert file into Onshape geometry for viewing). The ability to share and comment on files inside of browser brings “social element” into collaboration. Revisions will help you to keep baselines of files shared with subcontractors.

Onshape’s pricing model can support collaboration. I guess, as soon as somebody with paid Onshape license will share file with you (via email), it will give a free access after registration steps.

What products Onshape is competing with?

Onshape is clearly not the only vendor to support collaboration and storage of CAD files. I just want to mention few of them. I mostly focus on public cloud tools. I’m sure missed few tools, so please feel free to add them in the comments to the blog post.

[Update: 11-May 2015] As expected, I’m getting comments about tools I forgot to mention in this section. So, I’m re-arranging the list. It is alphabetical and will be expanded. Watch for updates…

Autodesk A360 is a cloud project collaboration tool that can support different CAD formats, viewing and collaboration. Navigate here to learn more.

GrabCAD (even after acquisition by Stratasys) is around and after GrabCAD announced Workbench is free, it can be an attractive option too.

Kenesto is an outfit that recently announced the availability of “Kenesto Drive” – cloud tool that can help you to collaborate on CAD files instead of using shared network drive. I’ve been sharing my thoughts about Kenesto here. You can get more info here.

TeamPlatform is a tool that was acquired by 3DSystem. More info is here. It can give you a set of viewing and collaboration capabilities with CAD files.

What is my conclusion? The think I like the most with Onshape is simplicity. The ability to follow Google Drive or Dropbox scenario of File download, Save As, Translate and browser (URL) based model is something you can appreciate if you are doing a lot of work online. Onshape feature set is limited and it is not clear how fast it will grow. It can be a good opportunity to discover what Onshape can give you, but you should consider Onshape beta status. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Will cloud CAD inherit data interoperability problem?

March 3, 2015


Cloud and CAD are probably getting to the point where it starts become a real thing. Autodesk Fusion360, Onshape, SolidWork Industrial design. It is likely to absorb some PDM functionality to make collaboration, branching, revisions and other data management tasks easier. Cloud CAD means no files, so engineers have nothing to mess with… Life is getting more Googley if you read John McEleney Onshape blog.

However, here is the thing… What if (for some crazy reason, which is easy to imagine when you deal with engineers :)), customer will decide to do a work with two cloud CAD systems? It is not unusual to see multiple desktop CAD systems in engineering organizations, so why cloud CAD will be any different.

In my yesterday blog – Cloud CAD infrastructure is getting more PDM-ish, I draw the picture of cloud CAD/PDM bundle helping us to collaborate and manage revisions. Now how two cloud CAD systems will work together? I’ve been trying to bring my cloud imagination and thought about Google Docs and Office 365 services co-existence. Actually, it is not very nice story- I can easy get my files distributed between my Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive accounts. So, what if my parts will be stored on Google Drive and Assembly on Dropbox? Not sure I will like it…

Similar problem in PLM world created many debates and issues. Do you remember Dassault CATIA V6 story, which required ENOVIA backend to run it? It made few customers unhappy when they discovered that they need to run two PDM/PLM systems. I can see some similarity with multiple CAD/PDM cloud bundles co-existence and interoperability.

What is my conclusion? How engineers will collaborate using multiple CAD cloud software? Cloud technology is great, but it looks like cannot magically resolve some old fundamental problems of multiple systems, collaboration and interoperability. I wish cloud CAD / PDM vendors will think about it upfront before customers will find themselves in the middle of messy CAD / import/export/migrate data scenarios. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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