CAD data is a core and one of the most fundamental parts of every manufacturing design. It all starts and dies from how your product looks and feels. In the past, 3D CAD was most focused on mechanical elements of design. Today, CAD systems are meshing into a complex conglomerate of data about shape, assembly, simulation and many other aspects of product design. Thinking even more broadly, CAD files are representing a significant part of engineering and product knowledge.
Despite overall significance, many manufacturing companies and engineering organization are missing the point of CAD files management. It is not unusual to hear that 60-70% of companies manage CAD files on shared network drives. Engineering.com article – The Risks of Manually Managing CAD Files speaks about what is a danger of keeping your CAD files not managed. The following passage makes it very clear:
Perhaps the most common way to manage CAD files is on a shared drive with a directory structure and file naming conventions. That can work in some situations, but it carries significant risks and limitations. "It was easy when it was just me, but when we added a second person it was difficult to have the same file structure," recalls Andy Homyk, the lead mechanical engineer at medical device company HemoSonics. "It was hard to get updates from his computer onto mine and ensure I had the right revision."
These manual approaches are better than nothing, but in all but the simplest scenarios lead to errors. As complexity and number of engineers increase, unmanaged approaches fall apart. Relying on individuals to consistently follow manual rules eventually leads to problems. This approach frequently results in the errors discussed earlier, specifically overwriting each other’s work, using the wrong version of a file, multiple people working on the same file, and lost productivity.
Article references e-Book written by Jim Brown of Tech-Clarity with more detailed discussion about how to choose write level of available CAD file management solution – from keeping CAD files on shared drives and up to full PDM system. Jim mentioned possible solution in between, which is CAD file sharing on the cloud. The article and e-book made me think about potential trajectories of future CAD file management solutions.
1- Cloud File Systems.
Quite a few companies these days are trying to virtualize file system and make transparent between on-premise and cloud storage. If it turns into reliable, fast and cost effective solution, engineers can just use this cloud file system to save files. I can see a good opportunity for cloud file systems to support revision history. So, it is almost PDM and these companies can start eating PDM lunch.
2- PDM with cloud file storage
The complexity of CAD data can make option #1 not very reliable. In that case, we can see a next turn in the evolution of existing PDM system – turn them to the cloud via IaaS and / or cloud hosting. Technologically, these solutions can be very similar to any existing PDM system. It might require some tuning to work with low latency and cloud file storage. But underlining idea will remain the same.
3- Engineering data platforms
This is one of the most interesting trajectory for me. Somebody would like to re-think the way engineering data (include CAD data) stored and managed in the cloud. The process of re-thinking can touch also technological aspects (databases and storage) as well as logical and functional aspects related to collaborative design and engineering and more.
What is my conclusion? One of the biggest challenges these days is how to leverage cloud system advantages on top of massive amount of CAD files. Every engineering organization is struggling to find an efficient solution to manage engineering data accumulated on desktops and network drives. Security, cost and scale – these are three most important elements every manufacturing company will be assessing to find an appropriate CAD file management solution. Just my thoughts…