Next Stop: CAD on Cloud

With co-innovation taking center stage in the automotive industry, the need of the hour is to get engineers across the globe to collaborate and design together. CAD on cloud is what helps them bridge the gap.

The complexity of design and the need to customize products, coupled with the increasing need for engineers across different geographies to collaborate gave birth to a trend that’s redefining automotive manufacturing – CAD on cloud.
 
While processes changed, the tools supporting the processes haven’t. Many are still based on technology that was built 20 years ago. An estimated $8-$9 billion is spent on CAD and product design tools annually. The total market value of the top four companies in this space is close to $40 billion.
 
It’s a huge market, there’s no mistaking that, and yet, the tools that are being used by millions of engineers globally mostly run on  Windows desktops. There’s no leveraging of cloud, web, or mobile, or any new platform to help solve these problems.
 
Naysayers were quick to point out how cloud-based CAD is a mirage, and can never materialize, and they weren’t just spinning yarn. Issues with bandwidth, compatibility, security, and control are all very valid concerns. Companies, however, have been able to address these challenges, and the industry couldn’t be happier to welcome this change.
 
Abdul Majeed, partner at PwC, said that he believed CAD on cloud will be adopted at a faster rate in developed economies, when compared to developing ones. However, he added that he doesn’t see a challenge from the customer-acceptance point of view. “People are slightly concerned about security, regulations, and the ability to integrate with existing frameworks. But this concept will eventually come through in the automotive industry.”
 
 
Onshape, a cloud-based CAD company, anticipated this change, and put one CAD system and the data in the cloud, which could be accessed from any device, from any place in the world. This makes it the only company currently offering a full-cloud 3D CAD system.
 
John McEleney, co-founder and CEO of Onshape, was previously the CEO at SolidWorks, a noted name in the 3D CAD space.  Discussing the rationale behind the birth of Onshape, he said, “We saw the opportunity to say whether we can really change and deliver new tools for people to help them deal with the complexities of design and manufacturing processes.”
 
Similar to the platform shift from UNIX to Windows, there’s another major platform shift in the manufacturing and design space, and that is cloud, web, and mobile.
 
“The lesson we learnt from the past is to find the people who understand that the status quo is actually very dangerous for them – that they must look towards the future to help their overall design process. So, we look for early adopters and people who embrace cloud, web, and mobile, and build a coalition of support amongst that. We don’t focus on people who are technology-laggers. They’ll come in time,” said McEleney. 
 
What makes manufacturers skeptical about adopting new technologies
 
At the heart of it is the fact that when something works, they want to stick with it. Another reason being building a system that works on the cloud is really very hard. 
 
One of the primary concerns, of course, is security of the data. So, a public cloud may not be totally suitable for hosting design data. Secondly, CAD requires high end workstations, so you’d need very high computing power. Not all cloud providers may be able to offer such computing resources.
 
“What you need to consider, though, is that if you’re using the cloud, then collaboration becomes much easier, both within the company, and outside of it,” explained Sri Karumbati, CIO – Stumpp, Schuele & Somappa Springs. 
 
“Right now, there’s a lot of collaboration between companies across different geographies. So, my customer and I can work on the same CAD model. This gives us endless possibilities. In my opinion, if you add up all this, then the economics will be in favor of moving to the cloud,” he added. 
 
Karumbati also revealed that it’s only a matter of time before SSS Springs migrated its CAD applications to the cloud.
 
Majeed emphasized the need for OEMs to move fast. “If they do not evolve, or make technological advancements, a third party may jump in to displace them.” 
 
Being one of the early birds in the sortie, Hero MotoCorp moved its design data to the cloud over three years ago – at a time when most companies were still grappling with the concept of cloud-based CAD.

Discussing the growing acceptance of public clouds, Vijay Sethi, CIO at Hero MotoCorp said that cloud as a concept has matured a lot over the last few years. “There was this initial apprehension about cloud security. But to a large extent, companies whether large or small, have accepted the public cloud,” he said.

However, Sethi said that the industry hasn’t yet opened up to ‘trust falling’ when it comes to cloud adoption. “One thing a lot of companies haven’t yet touched is the R&D area, for instance PLM (product lifecycle management) and CAD or CATIA tools,” he added.

“One more trend that is gaining ground globally is collaboration. A lot of companies are collaborating with partners all across the globe for R&D. Now, when you’re partnering across the globe, the feature that helps you most is if your data is at a place where it can be accessed by everyone, and at all times. And this is where, the cloud plays a key role,” explained Sethi.

Today all companies want to innovate and have a faster development cycle. And for that, CAD on cloud is a fantastic solution.

Confronting security, bandwidth, and compatibility

One of the primary challenges is security. So, one has to take measures to ensure that data is secure, and this can be easily mitigated by building security layers.

The second hurdle is that the volume of data associated with CAD files is way more than other forms, such as text or email. "You need to ensure that your bandwidth availability is reasonably decent, because you shouldn’t be wasting time in only trying to access files,” observed Sethi.However, he believes there are features available today to ensure that only the relevant part of the data is transmitted between the server and the client. 

 

If you think about moving around monolithic CAD files, it does require a lot of bandwidth and storage.

Onshape, however, decided to look at things a little differently. Your CAD systems and your data is in the cloud. So, you wouldn’t be hogging up bandwidth synchronizing data – It’s always synchronized.

“So, you’re not always sending down huge amounts of data down the pipeline. What we’ve done ensures that you’re sending only a small amount of data back and forth. This makes the performance seem real-time, and gives you the impression of working on a desktop-based or a local application,” explained McEleney.

A lot of CAD work involves viewing, manipulation, and selection of design files. A lot of that is done at the local GPU. Once this is done, the data can be sent to the cloud very quickly. “And that’s what gives us the ability to work perfectly fine in an environment like an office Wi-Fi. As a matter of fact, if you can stream Netflix, you can run Onshape,” he added.

 Onshape, by not brute-forcing the data, and sending only what it needs to send, is able to overcome challenges posed by bandwidth.

What about compatibility with legacy systems and ownership?

“When we started this company, one of our first principles was that we needed to basically be able to plug in to the existing environment and work seamlessly. So, if somebody has investment in CATIA, or SolidWorks, or Autodesk, we plug in and work with all our data seamlessly,” said McEleney.

One of the principle requirements of the industry is the need to collaborate and co-innovate. In the current state, engineers use their CAD software and save files on their local drives. Now, when the need for sharing these files arises, they use e-mail.

But, people don’t necessarily realize how risky this system is. Because now, there’s a copy of the file on the e-mail server. This could give rise to multiple copies existing on various servers and drives.

The one thing you want to do to ensure security is to minimize the attack area. “With Onshape, you share a link, and essentially, it’s almost like we send the CAD system to you. The data doesn’t move, and every transaction can be tracked. We can monitor these transactions, and provide analytics on who accessed the files, and where,” said McEleney.

So now, you also have traceability, and you know who has accessed what file, and what modifications had been made.