Why GrabCAD created a next-generation release process

When you share design information outside your own team, you try to make the exchange with your partners smooth. But we know that's easier said than done - wrong versions get sent, you rely on screenshots, communications get lost and so on. That's why we created a new way for you to collaborate with customers, suppliers and manufacturers.

workbench partner space

Version control is important, but difficult

Since the industrial revolution, mechanical engineers have been devising systems to keep track of who has what version of a document. As engineering documents shifted from paper to CAD, initially, their storage shifted from file cabinets to server closets, but the nomenclature and processes stayed the same. Electronic file distribution helped enable organizations to globalize manufacturing, but the tools to enable such collaboration have not kept up with the needs of most hardware companies and manufacturers.

In particular, the PLM systems designed to manage such data typically have limitations that prevent them from being used by the overwhelming majority of firms. Most PLM systems are only secure on private networks, so it can be a time-consuming IT exercise to add and remove partners. Adding partners, who might also supply competitors, to one’s private network requires contractual as well as technical discipline, and which only makes business sense for products with multi-year engineering cycles.

Sharing should be easy

Today’s engineers expect that adding a customer or manufacturing partner should be as easy as adding a friend on Facebook. Advanced Facebook users know that they can set up groups with different permissions: perhaps close friends get to see images anyone uploads, but co-workers only see a limited set of professionally relevant updates.

For engineering projects, it’s a similar problem, but with greater complexity.  The core engineering team needs to see unfiltered updates as soon as they are available, but manufacturing partners and customers should only see carefully reviewed, approved releases. Therefore your customers and partners will need to see different versions of a file as the “latest.”

The problem is further complicated if you need to maintain team confidentiality. Not all your engineers, collaborators, and partners should necessarily be aware of each other. For example, you might want to send a part to five different manufacturers for quoting, but you don’t want the manufacturers to know about each other. Similarly, if your customer is a major OEM, you might not want them to know the names of everybody on your engineering team, lest they try to hire your talent.

Start with collaboration, not with CAD

GrabCAD started as a way for engineers to collaborate on engineering projects. Over time, we engineered the secure system GrabCAD Workbench first for external collaboration, then, with CPD, for PDM-style internal collaboration. Unlike PLM systems, which mostly started as CAD-centric data management tools, we have approached the problem by first understanding the social and business problems our customers need to solve. This unique perspective caused us to partition the private engineering workspace from special “Partner Spaces” that make sharing such data secure and foolproof.

GrabCAD Workbench Partner Spaces

Here’s how it works:

First, let’s take a look at the version history for a part.  Notice that there are thirteen versions, V11 of which has been released as Rev A.  

While the engineering team is working away, each partner has access to the version released to them. Everybody on the internal team can see which partner has which version. For example, below, the waterjet vendor has Rev A of “side.SLDPRT:”

The Partner Space also contains a limited and more appropriate set of tools for external collaboration, so the partner sees only what they need to. The comment, pin, and sketch history is completely separate, so there’s no risk of cross-talk between partners.  If an engineering change is necessary, the partner space can be updated at any time, without the partner seeing the intermediate versions.

CPD makes communicating versions to partners easier

Our customers are telling us that Partner Spaces are one of the best features of CPD, because they don’t have to search through old emails or Dropbox folders to figure out what version which partners have. Not only can everyone keep track of exactly who has what, everyone can work in confidence that their systems are secure and that partners and internal users all have access to exactly the data they need.

Have you had a chance to release your files in a Partner Space?  Do you have any horror stories of what happened when someone worked off of the wrong version of a part?  Ideas how we can make Partner Spaces even better?  Let us know!