Did you know that today a product can be designed with real-time inputs from designers across the globe, reducing product design time to a few days?
Target audience: Decision makers (CXOs/Directors) of manufacturing & allied firms, management consultants, business strategists, innovators, and curious people.
Reading time: 5-10 min.
Today, computer aided design (CAD) software helps engineers build 3D models of new products much faster than paper drafting, while providing many possibilities to simulate real world conditions.
The term CAD (computer-aided design) was coined by Douglas T. Ross. He is also known as the father of Automatically Programmed Tools (APT). APT is a high-level programming language developed in the 1950’s, used to drive numerical control machines or CNC machines—drills, lathes, mills, and 3D printers. The process of using a computer program to run a machine is also known as Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM).
The title “Father of CAD/CAM”—computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing usually refers to Patrick J. Hanratty. As per a study by the University of California in 2012, most industry analysts think—”About 70 percent of today’s 3-D mechanical CAD/CAM systems worldwide trace their roots back to Hanratty’s original code”. This was developed in the late 1950’s. Hanratty’s team also developed the magnetic ink character recognition (MICR) code and E-13B font during the mid-1950’s. It was adopted by the American Bankers Association in 1958 and became industry standard worldwide.
The technological advances (2000—present) that led to creation of reliable remote workspaces (high speed internet, cloud computing, SaaS, PaaS, web meetings), also helped collaborative product design become a reality.
Current & Future Trends:
As per Grand View Research, the global 3D CAD software market was valued at $9.46 billion in 2020. This value is expected to reach $15.77 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 6.6% over this forecast period (2021—2028). The largest market is North America, while the fastest growing market is Asia Pacific (APAC). As per McKinsey, the SaaS based CAD software market would grow 35% annually (base year 2020), and would represent about 20% of the total market within five years (2025).
Collaborative Future: Cloud-based CAD
Today’s CAD systems (local device based) can simulate most real-world conditions of incidents and failures (mechanical, electrical, thermal, etc.). This can help designers and engineers take a proactive approach to manufacture failproof products. These simulations require a lot of computing power—high-end workstations or laptops (powerful microprocessors and graphics engines). New technology trends like cloud computing and Broadband or 4G internet connections enable a smooth transition to CAD systems based on SaaS, PaaS, or Hybrid services.
Key Advantages of Cloud-based CAD Systems:
- Flexibility: Cloud based CAD systems are device agnostic. Such apps can be programmed to work on any operating system or computing devices—phones, tablets, laptops, and workstations. Designers and engineers can avoid huge upfront investments on high-end workstations or laptops to use CAD software.
- Price: These CAD systems can be offered with multiple subscription models to make advanced design software accessible to everyone. Pricing models can include—monthly subscriptions, floating licenses, modular pricing (pay for required modules), etc. This approach would reduce chances of piracy and democratize the CAD software market too.
- Collaboration: A big problem with workstation or laptop-based CAD systems (standalone license) and multiple project members is—‘being on the same page’. That is, all engineers and designers should access the same version of a given CAD model to ensure they resolve design issues in a timely manner. A cloud-based CAD system can easily resolve such communication issues with a superior file management system.
Potential Risks and Threats:
- Internet Access: The biggest challenge to use a cloud-based CAD software is internet connectivity. To have a seamless access to these SaaS based programs, the user should have a high-speed internet connection (broadband or 4G). Today’s CAD files are many MBs (megabytes) or GBs (gigabytes)—depending on the complexity of designs. To ensure work continuity, and minimize the impact of internet disruptions, a good option would be redundancies in high-speed internet connections.
- Security: Another major challenge that hinders widespread adoption of cloud-based CAD is security threats. Industrial espionage and ransomware attacks are a huge problem for firms in any sector. Storing confidential data and information about new projects on an offsite and 3rd party server (CAD service provider) is a huge risk. Due to security breaches at the servers of the CAD service provider, a client may miss out on launching a breakthrough product on time and capturing its associated market share. Such security breaches could also result in huge losses for the CAD service provider—reputation (bad press), litigations and liabilities, and revenues (potential business from clients). To avoid such a situation, a collaborative effort would be required by clients and cloud-based CAD software providers. For instance, all stakeholders (clients, vendors, service providers along the value chain) should ensure their networks and systems meet or exceed ISO/IEC 27001 Standards, with appropriate redundancies.
- Ecosystem: In general, when a firm decides to purchase a standalone CAD software, they map out their criteria for vendor selection based on their usage over the next few years (3-5 years). In case of the cloud-based CAD software, the market is still at a niche stage. That is, the vendors in this market may not have most features desired by a subset of clients (electrical products, mechanical products, etc.). This may also be coupled by appropriate recognition and referrals—market leader in the domains/segments required by clients. A design/manufacturing firm can protect themselves from such ecosystem issues by performing a thorough market research—available options of cloud-based CAD systems and their current design requirements (3-5 years).
To conclude, cloud-based CAD systems could add significant value to firms in their transition towards Industry 4.0. There are a few challenges in the mid-term (3-5 years), as this market is in a nascent stage—experiments and options are high but proven (robust) solutions are low. Another issue is the impact of security breaches (industrial espionage, ransomware attacks). Such problems can significantly impact the revenues of all players in the value chain. The biggest positive impact is democratization of CAD software—elimination of upfront costs—a high-end laptop/workstation and a leading CAD software (standalone license). Therefore, given the positive and negative factors, design and manufacturing firms should take a step-by-step approach towards cloud-based CAD systems. They can start with small/low-value design projects and slowly migrate towards these new systems.