Reinventing CAD – Where are we headed? – Part 3

September 13, 2016 4 Comments »



In this series of posts, I’ve laid out a few observations on some of the new trends in the CAD industry and where we might be heading as new platforms are developed for the future. You can catch Part 1 and Part 2 if you haven’t seen it already. Let’s dive into Part 3.

So Part 3 is going to take a glimpse into the future and what COULD BE a game changer for 3D CAD.  For years now, ever since desktop CAD was introduced on Windows in the mid nineties (SOLIDWORKS was one of the first to do so) processing power was limited to what the desktop computer was capable of.  Fast forward 20 years and things haven’t changed all that much in this area in mainstream CAD.  Most of the CAD users out there are still chained to the limits of the desktop (or laptop) computer.  Sure – processors, graphics cards, RAM, and data drives have jumped in speed by leaps and bounds, but the limits of the machine still remain in place.  Much of your CAD system’s performance is directly linked to how fast your machine can process the data.  Multi-threading has made its way into a few areas such as photo rendering, simulation, and a few aspects of file processing, but it really hasn’t been tapped into for bulk model processing operations.  Some might say that Windows itself stands in the way of more multi-threading capability, but I have a feeling that is just part of the reason we haven’t seen much progress in this area.

Imagine opening a large or extremely complex model and not having to wait very long for it to be ready for editing.  Imagine not having to employ all those all important Large Assembly techniques when your component count gets over 5,000+.  What if you could TRULY spread all those model calculations across a large number of processor cores?  I believe a truly hosted CAD solution is can make these thoughts a reality.

With some of its shortcomings (which I’ve mentioned in Part 1 & Part 2) aside, a hosted CAD solution truly has the potential to do this.  The reason?  There are no desktop processor limits.  The only limit becomes how efficiently the graphics updates can be ported to the display for the user.  Of the systems available today, Onshape seems to be the only solution that is truly capable of this.  Because all of the model storage AND processing is in the cloud, the system is in a position to take advantage of more processing power.  Is Onshape able to open ridiculously large assemblies in a matter of seconds yet?  No – but the potential is there.  Because their system was written from the beginning to be a hosted solution, they are certainly in a better position to have that capability in the future vs other CAD systems.

Let’s imagine for a moment that that “hosted” solution could be made available for an onsite/on premise installation?  That somewhat changes the game when it comes to some of the cloud security concerns.  Companies are much more comfortable with a software solution if it is behind their firewall.

If indeed SOLIDWORKS Xdesign ends up being a 100% hosted package, then they will also have the potential to open up more processing horsepower to the package.

Anyone remember the “SolidWorks in the Cloud” demonstration from SolidWorks World 2010?  Hard to believe that was over six years ago.  Processing power was one of the benefits touted.  Even if you couldn’t have your data on the public cloud, the thought of installing this package across an internal server cluster was intriguing to say the least.  If you look at what was shown in that presentation, much of that capability has become a reality today with Onshape.  If you would have told me then that six years later we still wouldn’t have a CAD solution that was capable of leveraging more processing power, frankly I wouldn’t have believed you.

So which CAD company is going to be the first to truly step up and leverage more processing power for model operations?  Only time will tell.

Till next time…..


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  • Corporal Willy

    I’m still leery about anything leaving the computer or company’s location to be stored and worked on in a remote location which could be on the other side of the world. Intellectual property rights could be compromised or even unavailable with an earthquake, huge storm, or even some sort of terrorist action. Yes I am stretching those points out but things like hacking do occur don’t they? One of my engineer friends told me about her fellow workers being sent home because of the non availability of the off premise “Cloud” server.
    Can we take this point or reason for the need of power computing a little further. Let me paint the scenario. A high tech company doing a mixed bag of Government and Private contracts where they have a large team of designers and engineers working on these different projects. The demand for more processing power is not always at 100% of the possible demand available but many times during the day there is a genuine need for such processing power. If the “Cloud” has such an excess of processing power why can’t that “Cloud” be brought down to earth and installed in a special room that has “Local” access? I am not talking about remote storage. That is my two cents worth.

  • Hey Richard,

    That’s exactly what I was referring to in the article when I spoke about the server on premise. Companies doing server based CAD “could” make the cloud based software available for on premise installations. Offsite “Cloud Servers” are not going to be for everyone. If it ever came around – It would likely be trailing once a good performance cloud server comes into the field.


  • Richard Williams

    I know you are too well rounded out as an Engineer and also very well experienced to not see the advantage of having a “Cloud Server” on premises. Here is a hypothetical question. How many times do you collaborate with someone on the other side of the world? Would that person be part of the company or just another designer or engineer you want input from? How many times does that happen. I can see it in the future when we start colonizing the Martian land scape. But right now there is a lot of attention being drawn to the “Cloud” computing for ease of just about everything. You are ahead of most others Ricky. You and I both see some holes in this “Cloud” thingy where the sun shines through. :) Take care my friend.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for the article.
    There is one big concept, that I feel, you missed in this posting. These days, hardware is not the limiting factor and truly neither is multi-threading. The real issue is that most of the CAD packages are still using history-based (linear) solving of data. You are not going to get multi-threading when you have to solve geometry in designated chucks and in a specific order. You have to get rid of history. Now, that should scare the crap out of the vast majority of CAD users! “What how can I design and be precise and ensure my design doesn’t update incorrectly?” Easy, because you told the system to only edit specific faces- so that’s what it does.
    Now, I am NOT advocating direct editing. Mainly because most people think they know what that terms means but when questioned they can’t explain it correctly. Now I am an advocate of synchronous technology! And here again, most people can’t explain that either. When you talked about new CAD I was hoping you were going to cover Solid Edge and synchronous technology. :-)