Why using Dropbox, Github or Box for CAD sharing is a mistake

In the past couple of months, I've heard thought leaders talk about how companies should approach CAD sharing. Should companies use tools that solve one problem for a broad set of people? Or, should companies use a set of tools for one group of professionals or consumers.

Wrong tool for the job (Apple saw via http://www.on24.com)

This is an important question for CAD professionals to think about since more and more engineering and manufacturing companies are moving to SaaS tools. Do you want tools that are one-size-fits-all or tailored for your business? Technical companies, especially engineers and designers, need specialized solutions and this is why.

1) Your company has special data management needs.

Dropbox is a perfect example of a company that built a much-needed tool for all kinds of businesses. They are used by a lot of freelancers and small engineering teams. A cloud-based sharing tool is an easy way to get files outside your firewall. But, it’s a mistake for anyone working with CAD. My job is to speak with as many engineers as I can and they all say they don't like the tool for the work they do. Engineers and designers are forced to create complicated workarounds because Dropbox doesn’t sweat the small stuff like a CAD-specific tool would.

  • Don’t mess with my versions. Engineers want control over their files. They don't like that Dropbox always syncs files. Engineers want to share files when they are ready, not when they press CTRL + S. A company with a broad set of users doesn’t have the time to learn that versions are an intricate system for most product companies.
  • Don’t touch that assembly structure. Engineers also don't like that it's so easy to move a subfolder away from the main folder. Any CAD user knows that's going to break the assembly. Companies that focus on big picture solutions, can’t build the expertise needed to learn CAD quirks and requirements.

You would think that a company with a lot of money in the bank, like Dropbox, could implement these features very easily. But, the truth is, they never will. They have over 200M other users who use their tool for basic things like sharing pictures with friends and text documents with coworkers. They are not going to sacrifice their user experience to build more technical solutions for you.

2) Your company isn’t all about 3D printing.

Recently, GitHub announced that it's not just for software engineers anymore, they’re going to add a bit of hardware, too. They showed how to manage versions your STL files on their platform. Engineers know, you don't really use STL files unless you’re 3D printing or dumbing down your work to share outside your company. This is one response I got on Twitter about the announcement:


The best products are the ones that go above and beyond to build what is convenient for you, not the easiest thing to implement. Those products come from companies with a high level of empathy and extreme focus to build amazing product experience for a very specific kind of customer.

3) You need to get your job done efficiently.

Every company that builds physical products needs to get feedback from their customers. Every day, engineers share designs with customers through Box, Gmail, YouSendIt, etc. Since customers don’t have CAD software, that means you have to convert your native CAD files into a neutral version or use a free online CAD viewer just to send the data. Then, you waste even more time attaching screenshots with notes and scheduling a GotoMeeting session where you have to share your screen to really present your work in the best way.

That’s a lot of work and a lot of wasted time and energy.

Instead, SaaS cloud tools allow you to share your CAD design, even if your customers or manufacturers don’t have CAD software. A specialized CAD tool allows them to spin, section, measure, explode, and give you feedback where the CAD files are. They keep your design review process in one place, to save you time. It makes for a much better user experience for you and your clients.

4) The people that work in your company have different needs.

A couple of days ago Oleg wrote a blogpost, Is Salesforce.com Platform ready for PLM, about companies who need PLM adopting Salesforce and modifying its features to work for their CAD collaboration needs. He claimed that their platform, which has so many integrated apps and built-in communication features, like Yammer, might be good enough.

Maybe for some people, but not for professional engineers. Save Salesforce for your sales team. In the new SaaS world where there are better APIs, it's easier than ever to connect applications. Target the right tool for the job and make sure your engineers have exactly what they need. Integrating multiple apps just requires more coordination and management, but it’s worth it.

5) You deserve help with everything you do.

One of the best things about using tools from companies devoted to you and what you do, is that they depend on your success. Once they solve one of your problems, they’ll come back to you for feedback in order to build more things that help your team. This is not something that generalists can afford to do.

Companies like Veeva Systems, CRM for Life Sciences, have already proven that this is true. First, they built on top of the Salesforce platform. Then, they quickly iterated and built their own proprietary platform from the ground up with only Life Science professionals in mind. In just four years, they have become a leader for the Life Science vertical and eclipsed Salesforce and Oracle as a market share leader.

They continue to innovate for their customers by introducing other successful products like content management and marketing automation systems.

We are engineers building tools for engineers

At GrabCAD, we always think about how we can help our fellow engineers get their job done better. Our philosophy is to focus on the individual, we are all about saving time for each engineer that uses our tools. Every piece of feedback influences what we build.

In my last post, Why single BOM is not the answer for you, I explained that companies focused on individual workflows and people are going to create much better products for their customers and are ultimately going to succeed.

How is this reflected in the way GrabCAD has grown and evolved over the past three years? We started by helping engineers share CAD models, so they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel for every project. Then, we built this for them in a private, secure environment because they asked for a professional collaboration tool. Then, we created an API that brings their favorite apps together in one place, GrabCAD Workbench and Toolbox. We did this because they requested it. And trust me, we won’t stop there; we will continue to build features that help engineers design and build products faster.

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