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Cloud based CAD software offers many of the capabilities of the traditional CAD software. The difference is that it provides cloud services through an application or it runs in a browser. The great thing about cloud CAD is that it offers more flexibility, yet still being affordable and secure. In this article, we are going to explain the mechanisms of cloud based CAD, the advantages and disadvantages of using this type of software, and share with you our top picks.
How Does Cloud Work?
The word “cloud” seems to be on everyone’s lips these days, as more data is transferred to the cloud. But what does it mean? Cloud computing means that data and programs are stored and accessed over the Internet, not the computer’s hard drive. Basically, cloud means Internet, the name itself being taken from the way the server farm infrastructure of the Web was presented as a fluffy cumulus cloud.
The cloud applies high-performance computing power to execute tens of trillions of computations per second.
There are two approaches to cloud based CAD. You can either use an existing desktop software and run it on virtualized servers, or rely on a CAD architecture specifically optimized for cloud. The optimal architecture for CAD programs would support scalability. This means breaking the software down into interoperable services that can run simultaneously on loosely-coupled systems (servers). Building a scalable cloud CAD system means starting from scratch, not working on an existing CAD program.
According to Business Advantage Group, a research organization based in the U.K., cloud based CAD software could gain a lot of ground in the next few years. This survey conducted in 2015 looked at key CAD trends for that specific year but also predicted future adaptation. Data showed how the percentage of companies using cloud CAD programs has jumped from 7% in 2014 to 8% in 2015. This may seem like an insignificant growth, but don’t be too quick to jump to such conclusions. About 19% of the respondents have also revealed their plan to adopt this technology within the next five years.
Why the interest in online CAD software? This is due to the fact that companies are excited by the concept of mobility. Furthermore, the fact that cloud software updates automatically acted as yet another convincing factor. These advantages have been emphasized by a number of 635 CAD users and decision makers from across the Globe that took part in the survey. Moreover, smaller companies that have not been surveyed, could also be turning to cloud CAD to cut costs involving licensing.
9 Key Benefits of Using Cloud CAD Software
As technology advances, more and more companies are turning towards online software. The same goes for computer-aided design companies. This slow but beneficiary transition for the design and engineering industry allows access to your work anytime and anywhere. We can’t deny the following advantages of using a cloud based CAD software:
1. Saves time
Traditional CAD software is slowing us down, which is why switching to cloud CAD can dramatically speed up your work process. You won’t have to set up CAD, something that takes both time and effort. There’s also no need for maintenance, as new features, bug fixes, and updates are being automatically added to the cloud.
You can also forget about designing serially. When working within a traditional CAD software, you have to wait your turn to access the file you and your team are working on. Who knows how long until you actually get to work on it, and then there’s always the fear of overwriting each other’s work. With cloud CAD, everyone works on the same database with no confusing copies of files. The data is constantly and seamlessly updated and any changes made by members of your team appear instantly.
Another way you can save time with cloud based CAD software is by eliminating the need to run back to the office when you need to review your work. Because with desktop-based CAD, you are tied to the computer that has the software license. Since you need to spend quite some time meeting with clients, having the option of working from another computer is vital. CAD in the cloud runs on any computer, laptop, tablet, or even smartphone. This gives you much more opportunities of presenting your portfolio or project updates to clients.
2. Lower Cost
The cost to obtain a cloud based CAD software is typically much lower than of a traditional CAD software. There are also no installation or maintenance costs involved with using a cloud software, so you get to save more than a few bucks on that as well. A cloud CAD program can go as low as one-third of the cost of a traditional software.
3. More Flexibility
This might possibly be the main characteristic of cloud computing. But we’re not only talking about being able to use your software of choice on any device, anywhere and everywhere. Flexibility is also offered through scalability. This means that the system can adapt and scale the changes in your workload. Through automatic provision or deprovision of resources, the level of resources is closely matched to your demands. This defining characteristic differentiates cloud from other computing models where the resources are delivered in blocks, more often with fixed capacities and in advance payment. Which brings us back to the costs, as with cloud based CAD software you only pay for the resources you use.
4. Increased productivity
Having CAD in the cloud means that you can get more work done. If you need to get urgent work done but cannot make it to the office, all you need to do is log in from any Web browser. The files and project you have been working on at the office will be right there as you left them. This obviously will increase your productivity, and also give you the flexibility of working from another environment.
5. Latest version
Using a cloud CAD software, you can rest assured that you are working on the latest, most advanced version of the program. The updates are automatically installed, without you having to configure anything. This way, your software will always be one step ahead of the offline CAD software.
6. Faster solving
With cloud software, the solving is performed on the producer’s servers, not your computer. Using fast servers and supercomputers, you can rest assured that the solver will run as quickly as possible. This too will increase your productivity and save up time, since you can work on your design without waiting for the solving to complete.
7. No clutter
As you have already learned, the program and your work files are stored on the software producer’s servers. Consequently, the data will in no way clutter your PC. This will obviously reduce the strain on your device and allow it to run at its maximum capabilities.
Lost, broken or stolen laptops and desktop computers are problems that cost businesses of all sizes a great deal of money. Yet we’re not only talking about the loss of an expensive device. The data you store inside it will be forever lost as well. Cloud based CAD software gives you greater security in case of such as disaster. Since your data will be stored in the cloud, you and your team are the only ones that can gain access to it. You can even remove the data from the lost or stolen devices so that it doesn’t get into the wrong hands.
9. Better licensing
Traditional CAD software is usually bought outright, which may be a problem for starting companies. Then there’s always the chance of deciding to go for another software after having already purchased one. Thankfully, with cloud based CAD software you have the option of signing up on a month-to-month basis. Furthermore, traditional software licensing can take up to a few weeks to organize. However, having CAD in the cloud means that you can simply checkout and login instantly.
Top 5 Cloud Based CAD Software Packs
Onshape prides on being the first and only fully-cloud online 3D modeler that allows teams to collaborate using both mobile and desktop devices. Onshape relies on the cloud and the user’s computer processor at the same time. Consequently, the software can produce real-time rendering of extremely complex CAD files. The program allows teams to share a file when creating a design. Furthermore, users can also view edits made by all members of the team in real time, thus ensuring an effective collaboration.
Those who choose Onshape can enjoy the benefit of doing CAD modeling on mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. Unlike the simpler 3D modeling tools that have been previously made available by other developers, Onshape for mobile use is a professional platform.
Let’s talk money now. You have two package plans. The Professional plan costs $100 per month, while the Free plan is…well, free. The Free plan also allows users to work on several projects and create a substantial amount of work. So, both the Professional and Free plans offer full CAD functionality.
2. Autodesk Fusion 360
Fusion 360 is a cloud based CAD software for collaborative product development. Combining fast and easy organic modeling with solid modeling, it allows users to make their designs manufacturable. It integrates CAD, CAM, and CAE capabilities that enable professionals to take their idea from concept to fabrication.
What gets people excited about Fusion 360? It’s free for students, hobbyists, and startups. Download the 30-day trial, then register for free use (startup or educational licensing).
Fusion 360 is also available for $25 per month when buying an annual subscription, or $40 on a month-to-month basis. Its competitive price made specialists agree that it may very well be the best CAD/CAM software for small businesses and hobbyists looking to do design and fabrication work.
3. CMS IntelliCAD PE
CMS IntelliCAD has a cloud based version too. Users can load and run CMS IntelliCAD PE straight from the Web. It offers full 2D illustration and 3D modeling, support for raster images and realistic rendering while still being highly affordable.
What differentiates this cloud cad design software from the others is the fact that it also offers a package that allows you to work offline. And there’s more: the product also comes with its own browser. Furthermore, users also have the option of storing their work locally on their hard drive, not just the cloud.
A one-year subscription for companies is available for $199.95. Additionally, you also have the CMS IntelliCAD PE for non-profit use that runs as low as $99.95 per year. Since license management is not required, simply signing in to the Web server is enough to run this online CAD program.
SculptGL is a free online CAD software created by a University of Montreal exchange student – Stephane Ginier. This 3D sculpting tool is browser-based and thus does not require software downloads and complicated installations. Users don’t even have to create an account. Moreover, it can be used on a Chromebook and other devices that have limited internal storage or memory.
Cool features include mesh shaders that give your design a transparent look, and the option of uploading a background to put your model in a more captivating environment. Users can also apply symmetry even after having started working on their model. This action will not automatically make the entire design symmetrical.
SculptGL lets you sculpt 3D designs, import and export the files in 3D printable formats, then share them on various portfolio websites. While this is a good program to learn sculpting on, it does not offer more professional features, such as hollowing or hole-making. For this reason, in order to make your work printable, you may need a second software, such as Blender.
Ok, this may not be a CAD program, but it can help you a lot. Frame is a tool that runs applications on powerful (cloud) servers. This way, you can free your OS and run whatever CAD software you own from anywhere you want. It’s the best way to get the mobility and flexibility that come with a cloud based CAD program while sticking to your traditional CAD software.
Frame can be accessed from a Windows device, Macbook, iPad, and even Chromebook. It does not require any plug-ins, and you can use pretty much any Web browser. However, for best performance, you are recommended to open it with Google Chrome.
If you’re wondering how long it takes to get a CAD application to run on Frame’s cloud, the answer is very little. For example, configuring Autodesk Revit to run on Frame tool no longer than 15 minutes. And you don’t have to change anything to the software – simply hop it on board.
Frame for Business starts as low as $12.99 per user per month and goes up to $27 per user per month.
What Are the Disadvantages of Cloud Computing?
There are obviously many reasons to hop on cloud in this day and age, but we can’t talk about advantages without also mentioning the cons. Here are a few aspects worth considering as a downside:
Clearly, your work will fully depend on having good Internet connectivity. No Internet equals zero access to your CAD programs, which also equals no work done. Not only this, but you will need a high speed Internet connection, especially when working with large data sets. Your design files are in the MBs range, often reaching GBs. Consequently, your performance will have a lot to lose when dealing with slow internet speed.
This may confuse you a bit since we’ve already placed security as an advantage. However, we should also consider something other than the loss of data. Since you will be storing your possibly sensitive data on the Internet, security is a big concern because of data breaches. This may occur via hacking, a discontented colleague or employee, or incautious login attempts. Whatever the reason, your CAD data can be compromised.
Nonetheless, many experts feel that small businesses are safer using cloud. This is due to the fact that cloud computing companies often offer a higher level of security than a small company can afford to implement on its own.
Within the niche desktop CAD software, it is virtually impossible not to find the perfect one to fit your needs. However, finding a cloud CAD software that meets all your expectations may prove to be an extremely hard task. And while it may be true that this inconvenience will change with the passing of time, we are currently experiencing a deficit in fully-cloud CAD software.
When working with offline software, we usually backup our work on the cloud. Yet for the reasons listed above, we are somewhat forced to back up our files on our hard drive or another non-cloud option. The irony is real, but it’s the only way to be fully covered in case of a data breach or no internet connectivity.
Using a cloud based CAD software comes with its advantages and disadvantages, but cloud computing has immense potential for countless business models. More and more CAD professionals are driving towards this new trend, and it’s no wonder it got everyone excited. As more platforms develop and the economy of scale grows, the costs will continue to fall, while the security standards can only improve. Expect this to happen, but also do a thorough research before purchasing any CAD software. Make sure the product you are planning to buy meets the standards you and your company are looking for.
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