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The Revolution is coming. Are you ready?

Many Engineering managers fondly recall the days of drafting boards and slide rules, but have embraced the concept and obvious benefits of desktop engineering solutions. The late 1990’s were quite revolutionary, and many businesses underwent drastic changes to their design and engineering processes.

Of course, change often comes with discomfort. Gartner research best describes these technology shifts using their Hype Cycle model. Initially, something sounds like a great idea and people get really excited about it. But the challenges and realities of implementing this new paradigm dampen the original enthusiasm. However, the idea is still a good one, and the people dedicated to making it happen trudge through the trenches and it reaches mainstream adoption to become the new normal. Geoffrey Moore described a similar mode in the challenges of selling revolutionary technology into mainstream markets in his book “Crossing the Chasm”.

Image courtesy of Beyond PLM

Using the Gartner model, Cloud-based CAD likely falls into the dreaded “Trough of disillusionment” according to the 2014 Gartner Hype cycle, and rightly so.

Dassault Systèmes’ SOLIDWORKS made a lot of noise about cloud-based CAD in 2010 and again in 2011, and then in 2012, and recently launched a new Cloud version of CAD at SOLIDWORKS World 2017.

In the meantime, Autodesk released their cloud-based CAD, called Fusion 360, in 2012, making them clearly the first-to-market with a viable product. Fusion 360 modeling is based on the historically popular and powerful T-Splines technology. And much like historical CAD systems, Fusion 360 started with basic functionality but gets more and more capable every year. In fact, when Autodesk acquired Manufacturing Delcam and HSMWorks (which was architected with cloud CAM in mind), the idea of rapid and affordable CAD to CAM on the cloud was well within reach. If you have not downloaded Fusion 360 yet, you should really consider going to the Autodesk web site today. Fusion 360 is currently free to small businesses, students, and “tinkerers”. Fusion 360 is easy for anyone who has used CAD or for anyone that has not. Even kids are able to quickly and easily learn it. One 11-year-old child of a Razorleaf team member designed and 3D printed an entire chess set with Fusion 360. And as my son is learning CAD this summer, Fusion 360 is the obvious choice.

As Autodesk developed Fusion 360, the founders of SOLIDWORKS saw the impending revolution and decided to get the band back together. The company’s namesake product, called Onshape, launched around the same time as Fusion 360. Obviously, the market really believes in them and the product’s potential as the Onshape team has collected $169 Million USD in venture capital. During its Beta Testing phase, Onshape offered the product for free to single users. As the product was released, free users were limited to five “private” documents. Needless to say, this step angered many of their early tinkering base. Along with the rest of the marketspace, the Onshape product continues to evolve as the pressure to return on that huge VC investment increases.

The writing is on the wall. The major CAD vendors (and Wall Street venture capitalists) continue to invest heavily in cloud-based CAD as the obvious next step. When the time comes, will your company have a plan? Young people enter college these days having rarely used a desktop computer. And any desktop computers that these youngsters use, simply access their Google Drive, dropbox and Office 360 accounts. This new generation will soon comprise the changing face of the engineering workforce. And these new resources will expect real time collaboration and tools they can use anywhere. Are you ready?

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