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CAD Trends: Desktop vs Cloud

09 August 2016

Having introduced SOLIDWORKS to the UK 20 years ago, New Technology CADCAM believes the industry is on the cusp of another technology change with the onset of CAD in the Cloud. Chief executive Peter Teague looks at the demand for CAD in the Cloud and the launch of SOLIDWORKS XDesign

“SOLIDWORKS 3D CAD was launched 20 years ago at a technology change point when engineers and designers moved from servers to desktop PCs,” says New Technology CADCAM’s chief executive Peter Teague. “Now we are at the next technology discontinuity point where we are going back to the future and swapping our desktop workstations for mainframe computers and dumb terminals again. The only difference is that today we call it cloud computing but in principal it is still mainframe computing with the new advantage of any time, anywhere availability given the pervasive nature of wireless.”

Many of the big CAD operators including SOLIDWORKS, Autodesk and Onshape have pre-empted the trend for cloud solutions, but the current change to Cloud CAD offerings is still in its infancy. Onshape has 10,000 users but has yet to match the functionality of the more mature desktop products. Fusion 360 from Autodesk is emerging with new functionality all the time, while SOLIDWORKS’ highly anticipated full browser-based CAD product SOLIDWORKS XDesign is currently in beta, with the launch scheduled for 2017. 

It’s a given that cloud technology will power the future, (information technology consultants CGI estimate that 70-80 per cent of businesses will have the majority of their operations in the cloud within the next three years) but demand, says Peter, won’t happen overnight. 

“People are over-estimating the speed at which things will change,” he says.  “At New Technology CADCAM we aren’t yet seeing a lot of customer pull for cloud versions. What we do have is more willingness from customers wanting web demonstrations rather than face-to-face meetings.  This is a result of millennials now getting into a position of authority.  They are the cloud engineers of the future and are plugged into CAD in a different way from previous generations.  They embrace collaboration and see access to Wi-Fi as a basic human right."

How quickly we embrace CAD in the Cloud will depend on the speed at which these millennials become the decision-makers in our companies,” says Peter.

In the ‘cloud camp’, the benefits of being able to access, innovate, collaborate and even manufacture your 3D designs from anywhere in the world speak for themselves. Team collaboration within the design space is one of the main uses being touted for cloud solutions, according to David Land from design and engineering analysts Cambashi Marketing. Then there are the hardware costs. With an application that does all your processing in the cloud, you won’t need a £1,200 workstation to get into your CAD files, making the cloud model an attractive option for cash-strapped start-ups and educational channels. 

The primary concern for companies when considering moving to a cloud service is security – security over data and security of the right to use the solution compared to the perpetual right they enjoy with offline products. Despite 99 per cent of UK companies saying they have never experienced a security breach when using a cloud service, relinquishing data over the browser is still a big concern for 75 per cent of companies (ref The Cloud Industry Forum 2015). Other reasons for the cautious take up may include connectivity issues, too much collaboration and issues of file integration. 

Reasons for the cautious take up may include connectivity issues, too much collaboration and issues of file integration

“For many engineers, being on the road is par for the course,” says Peter. “95 per cent of the UK will have 4G access by 2020, which is plenty to access CAD products like SOLIDWORKS XDesign. But if you are spending a lot of time on aeroplanes or meeting suppliers in China and India then you can’t always guarantee a sensible internet connection. In this situation, a lot of CAD users will still value a desktop product that is portable and can be used any time without an online connection.”

At a recent customer focus group, New Technology CADCAM asked users how much emphasis they placed on collaborating. Yes they are collaborating all the time, they told us, but it can be too much of a good thing and can even slow down the design process. And then there is the issue of ease of transition. If you upload your 3D file from the office to the web application, will it still look the same and let you continue with your creative design and testing on the fly? Dassault Systemes, who own SOLIDWORKS, recognises these two distinct markets and is delivering flexibility to both.

Moving from internal beta test to a restricted public beta in the near future, SOLIDWORKS XDesign will offer a new design product that will run both storage and processing elements fully in the cloud accessed via a browser, with only the UI remaining on the device. Meanwhile SOLIDWORKS’ market-leading desktop CAD products will continue to develop with another feature rich release and new term licensing options, in addition to the existing perpetual licenses, in the autumn.

Peter explains, “SOLIDWORKS knows that the cloud isn’t for everybody—certainly not in the short to medium term—and so it’s responding to customer needs both for now and in the future. Right now everything is on the table.  SOLIDWORKS XDesign is a completely separate product and won’t be included in your subscription. It is yet to seen if you can use it seamlessly in tandem with your SOLIDWORKS desktop products. My advice for anyone interested would be to sign up for the beta now. As we move closer to a cloud offering, your feedback could drive not just functionality but also any future delivery and pricing decisions.”

Key Points

  • Cloud brings benefits of being able to access, innovate, collaborate and even manufacture 3D designs from anywhere in the world
  • The primary concern for companies considering moving to a cloud service is security over data and of the right to use the solution
  • SOLIDWORKS XDesign will run both storage and processing elements fully in the cloud, accessed via a browser