Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration? That was the question Jim Brown addresses a brand new e-book over at Tech-Clarity. I had the pleasure of speaking with Jim on the phone to discuss how modern CAD collaboration tools are dramatically improving the work flow of small service firms like Zalaco, and providing better value to the clients we serve.

To read an overview of the e-book, head over to Tech-Clarity. If you’d like to download a copy of the book, you’ll need to head over to GrabCAD and fill out a registration form.

Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration?

Can small engineering and design firms afford CAD collaboration?

The CAD  Data Problem

If you’re trying to figure out how to manage CAD data you need to solve two problems:

  1. Data Backup: Needs to be (almost) real time and invisible to the user.
  2. CAD Specific Issues: Versioning, Revision Control, and Collaboration

Ok, so item #2 is more than one problem. Fortunately, any system designed for CAD data should handle those out of the box. Unfortunately, real time (or regular) data backup is not something that meshes well with a good CAD data system.

Product Data Management (PDM) systems built for CAD work on a “check in” basis. They typically save every single version a user ever checks in.  These officially checked in versions become the basis of collaboratively working on the same assembly in CAD.  If a bunch of users were just working out of the same network drive, you’d perpetually be stepping on each others toes and overwriting each others files.

However, in the real world, we do a lot of work we don’t want to check into the official system for a myriad of reasons. As a result, we need to know that all of that “in work” data is safe and backed up somewhere. For this purpose, a traditional data back up system works just fine.

My Solution

My two pronged solution is incredibly powerful yet exceedingly simple.

  1. DropBox provides real time backup of everything I do.
  2. GrabCAD Workbench gets the official “updates” that I need to maintain version control on, share with a client, or mark as an official revision.

As a single user, they play together nicely. DropBox and GrabCAD are syncing the same directories without significant issue. However, this is a single user environment and sure it would wreak havoc if two users were doing the same thing with the same file sets

So that’s that! I love consulting on CAD Data and PDM issues, and I love the challenge of getting data into the cloud, so please feel free to contact me if I can be of service!