CAD and the Cloud

Cloud based software has become a focus as many companies prefer the SaaS (Software as a Service) model. The model comes with steady revenues and data control by the provider (harder to switch), but what is the value to the customer?

  • automatic updates
  • disaster recovery
  • lower up-front capital costs
  • bandwidth flexibility
  • increased collaboration
  • increased security

Those points are debatable for any organization. If shifting an existing software to a cloud version without evaluating new possibilities the cloud provides, then adoption is likely to be less than stellar.Here are features the cloud can provide that regular software can’t:

  1. Insight from shared data
  2. Increased functionality that isn’t possible on basic hardware

Before further discussion, let’s look at an example.

Let’s start with the idea of a voice-activated, artificial intelligence CAD tool.

Imagine a group of people in a room planning out a new product, a pair of garden shears. There is an industrial designer named Dieter Rams, an engineer named Nikola Tesla, and a marketer named Mark Eter.

The meeting starts with Mark, laying out the goals and information based on market research:

Mark Eter

“The price point is $25, it has to be able to withstand 100 lb of grip pressure and a drop from 12′ high. They will be sold to Home Depot, and will have to sit along those 4 pictured garden shears I emailed yesterday. Let’s hear some ideas”

Dieter Rams

“I have a concept in mind.”

The CAD tool creates a new folder, and starts a file named “Concept 1”.

Dieter starts sketching out a concept on his touch screen laptop in his CAD tool. While sketching, Dieter proclaims,

Dieter Rams

“Good design must make a tool useful, so these shears need to help someone be better at trimming their plants. I’m picturing a measuring tape that pulls out of one of the handles, so that people who want to keep their plants trimmed at specific lengths can quickly measure, then cut. This will require making the bottom handle much bigger and bulkier than the top, but I think it will still look good.”

As he finishes his comment, he has free formed sketched the basic parts and shares it with everybody.

Mechanical Engineer

The engineer shares his thoughts,

“I don’t think this concept will be easy to manufacture. While the design makes the bottom bulkier, it doesn’t provide enough room for a round spool of measuring tape due to the wall thickness that will be necessary. Let’s start a second concept by starting with a copy of this.”

The software picks up his words, makes a file called “Concept #2” and includes the same sketch.

Mechanical Engineer

He points to the bottom leg, and the sketch and says,

“Can we erase that portion on bottom, and redraw a more circular bump?”

Dieter does so in response. The design now works more functionally, but doesn’t look great any more.

Mark Eter

“I’m concerned.”

Mechanical Engineer

“It will fit our price point.”

Dieter Rams

“But it’s ugly. No one will want it.”

Mechanical Engineer

“Perhaps we’re thinking in shapes that lend themselves better to injection molding, let’s think about handle shapes that can be extruded.”

Mark Eter

“That may be great from an aesthetic view too, because the competitors all have a similar look. This will differentiate us.”

Dieter Rams

“Alright, let’s start concept #3.”

Hearing this, the software, creates a new file named “Concept #3”

Dieter Rams

“Let’s start with the main leg sketches from Concept #1”

The software copies these from Concept #1 to Concept #3.

Dieter Rams

“Now let’s extrude them to a depth of 1/2”, says Dieter.

The software picks up on that and extrudes them to the proper depth. The design is taking shape.

Mechanical Engineer

“What if we had holes or squares removed from those extruded handles for weight and material savings?”

The software creates a hole pattern in the handle as a starting point and creates holes in concept #3 and square cuts in a new concept #4.

Mark Eter

“How do we think we’re doing with all the concepts? Can we look at them all at once?”

The software responds by throwing up a split screen of the 4 concepts that are being worked on.

Let’s break from our example for the moment. The above scenario is only some of the capability that would be possibly by combining AI with CAD.

Since people have different voices, or choose different words for commands, shared data collection allows for the software to learn and adapt using AI algorithms, along with some human interpretation where things fall short. The net benefit is that the software continues to improve and adapt for customers as a result of the shared information that wouldn’t be possible on the proper scale without the cloud.

To pull off this type of software, quick, powerful processing must happen, and that is enabled through infrastructure and equipment that wouldn’t be worth the cost of replicating at each customer facility making it ideal for the cloud.

For the last 6 years, I’ve heard how cloud computing is the future of CAD from the software producers. Based on hundreds of customer conversations I’ve had, 250 last year alone, the customer base isn’t convinced if all they get is the same functionality, with less administration.

It’s time to provide something new, and that something is CAD powered with AI.

Value Proposition for End User

  • Software behaves as an additional worker and increases efficiency
  • Keeps files managed automatically
  • Allows direct interaction from the customer without knowledge of software
  • Allows the user to focus on the concept rather than the clicks

Value Proposition for Developer

  • Removes end user need to be familiar with the tool due to natural language operation (easier adoption/switching tools)
  • Allows better understanding of customer usage and desired features based on recorded commands
  • Remarkable functionality worth users sharing (marketing)
  • Customers that switch CAD tools for this functionality can have a multiplier effect if their supply chain also switches

Competitive Advantage

  • Hard to replicate quickly due to complexity, 1st mover will be ahead of market.
  • First person to get users benefits from AI learning ahead of other companies and as a result, making it hard for competitors to catch up.
  • Catches people attention as a new revolution and lends itself to social sharing (network effect).

How to develop this idea further

This idea has different value and implementation depending on the company that wants to investigate the opportunity and its impact on their product portfolio further. I’ve done a lot of thinking about the topic and want to explore the idea deeper together, I believe for any major CAD company, it could mean a growth of 10+% in the bottom line going forward due to increased product sales, capturing competitive accounts seeking the functionality, and shifting customers to the cloud.

I would like to work with you to develop a project and implementation plan. Contact me at to start the conversation and schedule a time to talk.

-Brandon Donnelly