CAD solutions are among manufacturers’ most vital product development tools. They allow designers to generate detailed models, simulate and analyze product behaviors and performance, and produce essential engineering documentation. But for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the manufacturing sector, maintaining the IT infrastructure required to support on-premises CAD solutions can be a challenge. In fact, many such companies may find the cost of doing so prohibitive. 

On-Premises CAD Solutions Require Extensive IT Support

The on-premises CAD solutions manufacturers have traditionally relied upon to design and develop their products can place a significant burden on the organization’s IT infrastructure. This burden comes in the form of expanding hardware requirements, labor-intensive software updates and maintenance, and accessibility limitations. 

On-premises CAD solutions must be installed on individual physical workstations, which must possess significant amounts of processing power. IT teams must then maintain the software on a machine-by-machine basis to avoid compatibility issues as new versions are released. In addition, CAD solutions cannot be accessed virtually. This makes providing access to external stakeholders and those who work remotely—a demographic that is larger than ever in a post-pandemic world—all but impossible.

Many small and medium-sized manufacturers lack the resources necessary to provide the ongoing support on-premises CAD solutions require. Cloud-based CAD solutions, on the other hand, can help manufacturing SMBs reduce their IT infrastructure requirements while also providing them with numerous additional cost-reducing, work-enhancing benefits.

Cloud-Based CAD Offers Vital Flexibility

Cloud-based CAD solutions provide manufacturing SMBs with numerous advantages over on-premises versions. Increased flexibility is one such advantage. Because users can access cloud-based solutions via a web browser, teams can work remotely from their device of choice. As a result, companies can reduce hardware purchase and upgrade costs without losing computing power or functionality. This ease of accessibility also makes it easier to share models and discuss product design decisions with vendors, clients, and other external partners.

Because cloud-based CAD solutions don’t require onsite installation or specialized hardware, they don’t need the kind of consistent oversight IT teams must often devote to on-premises solutions. In addition, cloud-based software automatically receives and applies updates via the internet, which eliminates a time-intensive process for IT departments and ensures that users always have the most up-to-date version. These solutions are also often feature extensive, easy-to-access tutorials and simplified interfaces, which reduce the amount of training IT teams must provide. 

The flexibility and ease of access cloud-based solutions can also help manufacturing SMBs improve recruitment and retention. In a labor market defined by the increased prevalence of remote work, organizations that use cloud-based tools are better positioned to source talent from around the world.

Cloud-Based Solutions Lower IT Costs and Boost Productivity

In addition to offering greater flexibility than on-premises CAD, cloud-based CAD solutions can also sharply reduce manufacturing SMBs’ up-front costs and increase their ROI. Because cloud-based solutions don’t require major hardware installations or other IT infrastructure spending, their up-front costs can be as little as one-third the expense of on-premises options. 

Cloud-based CAD solutions also help companies avoid the problem of spending on tools and services they don’t need. Manufacturers can customize the number of licenses and login credentials issued for each program to ensure they only pay for services they require. These solutions are also available in a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model, which allows companies to license programs on a month-to-month or yearly basis. This subscription-style approach allows smaller companies to scale their technology as new initiatives and projects arise. 

Cloud-based solutions don’t just reduce up-front technology costs. They increase productivity levels by granting employees the freedom to connect and work from anywhere. Users can also leverage the computing power of the cloud to capture and process important data, which allows them to solve problems more quickly without putting significant strain on existing hardware. As a result, SMBs see a greater return on investment (ROI) from cloud-based CAD solutions than from traditional on-premises options.

Fueling Collaboration With Cloud-Based CAD

Cloud-based CAD solutions offer manufacturing SMBs another advantage over their on-premises counterparts in the form of improved cross-functional collaboration. Collaboration between domains is essential when designing any complex product, and the earlier in the process teams can begin coordinating their work, the more efficient the design process becomes. 

Many cloud-based CAD solutions can streamline collaboration by maintaining a revision history that allows stakeholders to trace the design’s evolution over time. This makes it easy to follow design issues back to the source and correct the design before a prototype is ever built, thereby reducing costs. Many cloud-based solutions have added capabilities akin to those found in product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, such as centralized communication hubs, where stakeholders throughout the organization can view models and discuss project details with colleagues.

Cloud-based CAD solutions also aid collaboration by employing simplified file formats that make model revisions and file sharing easier than with on-premises CAD. That capability is especially critical for working with external partners, who may use different CAD solutions. When these solutions lack interoperability, the challenges of sharing and collaborating on designs can create friction that slows projects’ progress. 


Today’s small and medium-sized manufacturers must seek out every advantage to remain competitive with larger, more well-established companies. They cannot afford to depend on on-premises CAD solutions that lack flexibility, place an excessive burden on their IT infrastructure, require heavy up-front investment, and limit their teams’ collaborative potential. Cloud-based CAD solutions, however, provide an attractive alternative. These solutions are easily accessible, place significantly less strain on IT departments, reduce costs, and simplify cross-functional collaboration, making them a better fit for smaller, less resource-rich companies.

Manufacturing SMBs seeking to lower costs and improve productivity should investigate the limitations of their existing CAD solutions and explore cloud-based solutions to determine which best fits their needs. Conferences and webinars about CAD software development and cloud technologies in engineering can prove invaluable in this process.