Why Dropbox Doesn’t Work as Version Control for CAD: Unveiling the Benefits and Limitations

September 12, 2023

In the early days of a hardware company, many teams will leverage accessible and familiar tools to manage CAD data - with Dropbox being one of the more popular options. For smaller teams, that setup may provide enough of a foundation for them to start designing. However, as we’ve seen across many companies, hardware teams will eventually grow out of the bootstrapped phase and will need a systematic approach to track and control changes made to designs, ensure data integrity, and enable collaboration across hardware teams. While Dropbox is an intuitive file-storage platform, it falls short as a comprehensive version control system for CAD. In this article, we will explore:

  1. The benefits of using Dropbox
  2. Highlight the fundamental differences between Dropbox and dedicated product data management (PDM) systems
  3. Discuss the limitations of Dropbox for version control
  4. Emphasize the importance of choosing the right PDM system, and
  5. Offer considerations when finding a solution for effective data management.

Benefits of Using Dropbox and Other General Cloud Storage Platforms

One of the key advantages of using Dropbox is its ease of use and accessibility across devices. It provides a user-friendly interface and allows users to access their files from virtually anywhere. Additionally, Dropbox offers seamless local file synchronization and sharing capabilities, making it easy to set up and collaborate with team members. The collaboration features, such as basic file commenting and real-time editing (on supported documents), further enhance productivity and streamline workflow within a shared workspace.

Key Differences Between Dropbox and a PDM System

While Dropbox excels at file sharing and collaboration, it lacks several essential features of a dedicated PDM system.

  1. A PDM system is designed specifically for comprehensive version control for CAD and data management.
  2. It also offers features such as checking out and checking in files, allowing users to control access to designs, preventing conflicts, and ensuring version control.
  3. Structured data organization, revision history, and traceability are also inherent to a PDM system, providing a clear view of the evolution of files and enabling effective collaboration and decision-making.

Limitations of Dropbox as a Version Control System for CAD

Despite its user-friendliness and collaboration features, Dropbox has limitations when used as a version control system.

  1. One major limitation is its inability to handle complex file dependencies and associations.
  2. It lacks the capability to define and manage relationships between assemblies and parts, which is crucial for most hardware teams.
  3. Moreover, Dropbox's versioning capabilities are not as robust as those offered by CAD specific version control systems. Viewing previous revisions and managing historic changes are not inbuilt into the system, preventing the ability to rollback changes and analyze development efforts.
  4. The limited metadata management of Dropbox also poses a challenge, as it becomes difficult to understand the information around the data, especially in projects involving a large number of files with complex design and manufacturing details.
  5. Finally, Dropbox's security measures may not be sufficient for organizations dealing with sensitive data, as there is a risk of unauthorized access or data loss. In many instances, some Dropbox based approaches may not suffice ITAR requirements.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Version Control System

Selecting a suitable version control system is crucial, particularly for hardware teams dealing with complex data management requirements. Considering the limitations of Dropbox, it becomes evident that a dedicated PDM system or another specialized version control tool is necessary to ensure efficient collaboration, data integrity, and comprehensive version control for CAD.

Consider the following when thinking about your team’s version control system:

  1. Do you have assemblies with parts? PDM systems that understand parent/child relationships are important to surface up areas of impact around design changes
  2. Are multiple engineers working on the same system or sub-system? A check out and check in process will enable engineers to confidently work on their designs without the concern of their files getting overwritten
  3. Will you need to review older versions and rollback designs? Consider a PDM system that captures historic versions and allows you to easily rollback to a previous version
  4. Does everyone in the team have access to quickly view and review designs? Cloud based solutions, like Bild, allow users to render and markup designs directly on a browser - no more need to extraneous CAD licenses
  5. Are you managing more than just files? Modern PDM systems will pair the information with the design data, allowing teams to connect and manage metadata such as part numbers, suppliers, materials, quantity on hand, manufacturing state, etc

If you answered yes to all the questions above, and are looking for a PDM system, check out Bild. Mention this article during your conversation with a team member for an exclusive benefit!