CAD On The Cloud

The Future Of Manufacturing Engineering

Once upon a time, you needed to have every file or program you wanted on the local machine you worked on. It was such a great time to be alive. We even ran CAD programs on them. Manufacturing engineering was on a roll.

Fast forward a few years. We still use our computers, but a good chunk of our files and programs live elsewhere. They are accessible at any time and anywhere. The cloud is an increasingly preferred means to serve CAD software. Once again, manufacturing engineering appears prepared for the future.

Here’s the simple explanation of this seemingly complex idea: with the cloud, you don’t use your computational resources to carry out a task. Instead, you outsource your computing power to someone else. So you keep pictures on the cloud, do your rendering on the cloud, and even do CAD modeling on the cloud.

The cloud has its strengths and is diametrically opposite to local computing. Both consumers and industry continue to find value in cloud solutions, and several options exist in-between cloud computing and local solutions. There is a reason consumers swear by Amazon Web Services (AWS). The cloud provider reported a $17.4 billion-dollar revenue in 2017 alone.

Business Advantage and Jon Peddie Research revealed that many CAD users had not embraced cloud-based CAD yet. The shift has begun, though.Any serious CAD vendor has comprehensive plans for the cloud. The methods differ based on company objectives and other reasons. Customers have their have unique ideas concerning CAD-based workflows. One of the issues responsible for this inconsistency is inaccurate definitions of terminology.

CAD in the Cloud

Does CAD in the Cloud (CiC) refer to CAD work alone? Does the idea include remote computing where the respective servers sit on-premises? Is the entire workflow reliant on the cloud? Or is it a combination of cloud and desktop? Further probing makes things a bit
more complicated. Then, we need to wonder about analysis, project planning, collaboration, and even Product Lifecycle Management (PLM).

There are many benefits users can enjoy with CAD on the cloud. But this is a big problem for others.

The Business Advantage market research group and Jon Peddie Research collaborated on a report that combined a user-based survey with historical data and information from CAD vendors. Customer expectations and vendor plans are not in sync. There are many ways to use the cloud, and vendors have several approaches to it.

Customers appear to opt more for hybrid arrangements where CAD is available for both cloud and desktop, regarding CAD provisioned on the cloud. Users are concerned about their CAD data, getting trapped in the cloud, or even lost. Therefore, they want to ensure there is corresponding local data updated on their company desktop or servers. CAD vendors corroborate this research revelation.

Cloud-based workflows are in the early stages [especially] for professional applications, but they look everything like the future. Some are not suitable for full-time professional CAD workflows. Examples are Software as a Service (SaaS) as Salesforce uses, and browser-based access (which PTC, SolidWorks, and Bentley Systems use to varying degrees). The responses to the survey and additional research reveal there’s a whole gamut of thinking about the cloud and the various ways it may impact the individual business.

CAD customers guard their data jealously. Security matters to them, but more than that, they are not a monolithic group. Regardless of the product, there are groups of people and companies who are wary of making significant technology shifts. Most CAD workers are with small operations run by CAD users who double as IT managers. It is often challenging to implement a new solution or workflow if it is a lot of work keeping current technology up to date and running.

The cloud also presents a fighting chance for small companies. It helps them to scale and enables them to implement capabilities like PLM. These capabilities are traditionally something small companies would not dream of considering limited IT resources.

Defying Geography

CAD users in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa are more interested in CAD on the cloud than their North American and Asian counterparts. Take the gaming industry; for example, Asia is highly comfortable with cloud-based gaming. Such comfort may go beyond gaming, to the CAD industry also. Europe is another example of an early pioneer in building information modeling (BIM) and PLM and was early in introducing national requirements for data sharing and accountability.

The Business Advantage study mentioned above also reveals that workers in manufacturing have a higher probability of adding CAD on the Cloud capabilities to their workflow than those in other sectors. There are several reasons why this is. The manufacturing industry is more advanced in its use of CAD. Consider the shift to extensive data management (including Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)) for at least one full decade before the AEC industry. AEC almost always requires centralized data access, which makes it a perfect fit for the cloud.

There is also the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) for manufacture, manufactured products, industrial machinery., and more. Cloud network resources are necessary to make global networked communications possible.

The Coming Shift

The cloud is working hard to establish itself as a hospitable environment for design. It garners five stars for collaborations, design validation, and document management than design itself. The significant issues expressed by vendors include latency –an intermittent problem for cloud-based workflows. Some latency is excellent and may not be evident in data management, but it is going to be an unwelcome distraction for active design. It will even hinder collaboration.

By contrast, workflows in which data processing happens on the cloud, such as rendering and analysis, are not impacted by latency. Instead, people handoff data for processing while their machine can handle other work.

Some companies now offer exact cloud-based solutions while others are trying out cloud-based modules, without forcing any customer into the workflow. There are metered payment options, with some ambitious software like Vectorworks 2018 enable virtual reality (VR) walkthroughs. It also allows rendered panoramas and can process and host content in the cloud. OpenGL-enabled browser-based tools provide access to CAD resources.

Safety and Security on the Cloud

The rife incidences of data breaches appear to confirm public misgivings about cloud technologies and cloud-based applications. The argument rages about whether cloud-based workflows are safer than traditional methods. But, we are bold to point to the fact that most breaches did not occur in applications using cloud resources. These are examples such as SaaS (software-as-a-service) or servers-as-a-service. Instead, they occur in companies relying on traditional systems that are mostly out-of-date.

It is significant to note the wide variety of services offered through the cloud. Even when users say they will not migrate to CAD on the cloud, many of them are deploying PLM tools via the cloud. They might be delivering designs to the cloud for rendering, and it is best to use the infinite processing power available through the cloud. The reason is that graphics processing units (GPUs) are increasingly available, making the use of cloud-based tools an eventual fact than the fiction it seems to be now. Cloud-based tools also offer advanced capabilities such as generative design, machine learning, and analysis.

Customer Base and Pricing

CAD users and cloud tools both show substantial diversity, and CAD in the cloud is only a priority for CAD users. CAD vendors are going as far as tailoring their cloud-based products to the requirements and desires of their user base.

The primary CAD providers are continuing to expand their understanding of how their customers work and the best products for cloud use. Some have found that the cloud is allowing small companies to incorporate sophisticated capabilities such as CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), and analysis. The companies only need to turn on these services, often without involving external contractors or consultants.

Customers enjoy metered provisioning, allowing some CAD vendors to make that billing more accessible. The shift to newer base technologies sees implementation by cloud-based modules that do not thrust disruptive upgrades upon the customers.

Conclusion

The cloud is a significant turning point for the CAD industry and technology as a whole. The future of manufacturing engineering could depend on technologies that enhance collaboration and speed while ensuring superior product design and manufacturing procedures. With CAD on the cloud, this is in the future.

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