Is CAD in the Cloud Truly Terrifying?
Chad Jackson posted on July 18, 2013 |

For the past three years, the CAD industry has been a really wild and fun ride.

The ball started rolling with broad acceptance of Direct Modeling. It's grown into a full blown peer of feature-based / parametric / history-based modeling. I think that technology has more maturing to complete, but its interesting that just about every CAD application out there now has some form of this capability.

The ball continued right along with 2D tools. We've finally seen this industry accept that, in some cases, 2D is a perfectly acceptable way to design products. It likely eventually evolves into 3D modeling. But 2D has a place in development. Again, today, most CAD applications offer some 2D design capabilities.

The ball then had a lot of momentum towards leveraging Cloud resources. And, well, in some places it stopped dead in its tracks. Some software providers are hurtling headlong down that path. Others don't deign to broach the topic. It's interesting that most technological progress the past few years quickly became commoditized, creating a level playing field in terms of capabilities. But CAD in the Cloud isn't one of them

Why Balk at CAD in the Cloud?

Well, much of the objection to advancing design capabilities into the cloud revolves around intellectual property protection. The central idea relies on the following line of thinking.

  • 3D models contain some intellectual property in the form of geometry of designs.
  • If stored in the Cloud, other companies could hack the system and download those 3D models.
  • Those companies could then tweak or directly manufacture parts and products from those 3D models.
  • Such companies with core competencies in manufacturing could actually beat the original company that created the 3D models to market.

But actually, that's not the only threat that exists here. Here's another line of thinking.

  • Some companies embed configuration intelligence into the feature history of these 3D models.
  • Companies stealing such 3D models would have the design rules and intent embedded in them.
  • The original designing company would then lose their competitive advantage which often takes years if not decades to develop.

Obviously, this casts a bad light on CAD in the Cloud.But here's where I have to be totally frank.

I saw its bullocks.

Such horror at CAD in the Cloud is either feigned or out-of-touch. Let me explain why.

Today's State of Design Data Security

Why do I cast doubt on such concerns? I have two specific reasons.

What is the Most Popular Means of Exchanging Design Data?

Anyone have a guess? Yes. It's what you think it is.


A total of 355 out of 506 respondents, tallying 70.2%, to the State of Collaboration and Interoperability Market Report stated they used email as a means to share design data with external parties. Fully 46% shared native files with customers and suppliers. 

So what the heck is going on here?

Well, this same report cites that 49% of engineers work late and on the weekends because of design data interoperability problems. So let me paint the picture for you. An engineer is finishing up a project at 10PM on a Friday night (or 5PM on a Saturday afternoon). They know there's a procedure to send sensitive data to suppliers, but the IT folks are not in the office (obviously). The suppliers must have the data tomorrow, or a major milestone in the project will be missed. That'll be a stern talk with the engineering director. What do you think the engineer's going to do?

Send the 3D model via email.

OK. I know. I know. The IT manager responsible for data security at that company never intended for this to happen. They defined detailed policies and procedures. They send notification emails and maybe held training classes. They've done almost everything they can do. Unfortunately, reality rules.

It. Isn't. Effective.

The Rise of Contractually Required Model-Based Deliverables

Here's proof point number 2.

Suppliers in a wide variety of industries can no longer simply deliver parts. They must hand over not just engineering drawings, but 3D models annotated with Product and Manufacturing Information (PMI). In fact, the same study found that 75% of 200 respondents that create Model-Based Deliverables are contractually required to do so. So instead of handing over an engineering drawing, these companies must hand over the 3D model that is fully documented for manufacturing.

The point here is that not only is a good portion of suppliers exchanging 2D engineering drawings with external parties, but are actually passing fully annotated 3D models. And while I didn't delve into this specific issue in this study, the implications of these two findings combined is that the most likely medium is email.


So riddle me this: is exchanging 3D models with PMI over email more secure than creating 3D models in the cloud?

That's the question running through my head as speakers at various conferences rail against CAD in the Cloud. And I just can't reconcile those arguments about the security risk of putting sensitive design data in the cloud against these findings.

Alright then. What say you? Rail against me. Tell me I'm right. Say you don't care. Let me know what you think. I think this is an important one.

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