Are CAD Users Finally Ready for Cloud?

A new PTC/Onshape survey finds cloud-based CAD gaining traction with users of cloud-native platforms reporting higher satisfaction.

A new PTC/Onshape survey finds cloud-based CAD gaining traction with users of cloud-native platforms reporting higher satisfaction.

Native-cloud CAD platforms like Onshape are starting to gain traction as they are able to solve long-standing headaches. Image Courtesy of Onshape/PTC


With promises like seamless version control, work-from-anywhere access, and improved team productivity, cloud-based CAD and PDM is finally gaining traction, according to a new survey from Onshape, a PTC company.

The 2023-2024 State of Product Development & Hardware Design survey found companies accelerating their migration to newer cloud product design tools—in the last three years, the number of mainstream users tapping newer cloud products almost doubled from 15.9% in 2022 to 28.3% in 2023. The uptick in cloud migration can be attributed to a wide variety of benefits as well as the reality that most major CAD vendors are transitioning their portfolios to the cloud in some fashion. There’s also the very real fact that engineering users are already working in cloud-based tools for the bulk of their enterprise computing and collaboration needs, and consequently, have similar expectations when it comes to their design software.

“After experiencing the flexibility, collaboration, and ease of use with SaaS solutions like Salesforce and Slack, designers expect the same capabilities from their core tools,” says Darren Henry, vice president, general operations at Onshape. “They believe they can avoid the headaches from crashes, inaccessible data, and IT maintenance of traditional installed CAD.”

With design teams increasingly dispersed across locations, having a single source of truth accessible anywhere is critical—another upside for using cloud-based CAD. Common headaches associated with traditional file-based CAD systems such as data overwrites, version confusion, and inaccessible files aren’t a factor with native cloud-based design platforms. In fact, the survey found that the three biggest challenges facing product design companies are reducing wasted time, improving design team communication, and adapting to more flexible working conditions—all scenarios cloud-based CAD solutions aim to address.

Overall, survey respondents gave high marks to teamwork and morale, but called out communication and operational efficiency as on-going challenges, indicating that company design processes and tools have room for improvement. Respondents also estimated they waste up to 7.1 hours a week on specific CAD and PDM product issues, including time spent locating the correct design data, dealing with software crashes, recreating lost work, and difficulties working remotely on design data. Not surprisingly, the Onshape survey found 23% of respondents anticipating changing CAD systems in the next five years.

Another key takeaway: The survey found design professionals using cloud-native CAD offerings reported greater satisfaction than those using hybrid-cloud or older desktop CAD products. Survey users lauded cloud-native CAD tools for their lack of crashes and data loss, higher reliability, accessibility to remote data, improved collaboration, and satisfaction with price/value. As a result, they were more likely to give native cloud platforms like Onshape higher net promotor scores (NPS).

“There is no check-in, check-out, and file locking, meaning virtually all the headaches of a file-based system are gone,” Henry says. “When you combine this pain relief with the new benefits not possible in traditional CAD, you see satisfaction soar.”

A full version of the survey is available here.

For an introduction to Onshape, watch this video.

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About the Author

Beth Stackpole's avatar
Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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