Last week on cadjunkie we took a survey about data portability. You see, last month we asked the same crowd about The Most Annoying Things in CAD, and much to our surprise, it turned out that data portability was arguably the most infuriatingly pull-out-your-hair-by-the-handful stab-yourself-and-your-cubical-mate-in-the-eye frustrating. Really?

So we wanted to know: if data portability is so annoying, what format(s) are we talking about here? We asked what formats people use when sharing data with 1) collaborators, 2) clients, and 3) fabrication shops. The results were generally unsurprising, but lead to some interesting conclusions.

Granted, our sample size was much smaller this time, so a larger sample might tweak these numbers. That said, since these are pretty much what we would have expected anyway, we figure they’re just about right.

And, as always, we fully recognize that this is in no way a scientific study. Our questions are not always neutral, our sample sizes are relatively small, and our analysis is mainly done by monkeys. Enjoy with salt.


Like last time, we’re a heavily SolidWorks-heavy crew over at cadjunkie, mainly since we’re a SolidWorks training site (duh). But in the interest of disclosure, the sample was 36 people, 77% of whom are SolidWorks users, 4% of whom are Rhino users, and we had one or two of a couple of other things in there just to add that little extra flava’.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.01.30 PM

Sharing with Collaborators

In most offices your collaborators are probably using the same CAD system, so it would make sense to use a native file format. We were actually surprised to find that 20% of respondents are using STEP files to share with collaborators! Really? Sure, a couple of those people are probably our Rhino contingent, and for them a STEP file is 90% as good as a native file, given that 3dm files don’t carry much other than dumb geometry, and their collaborators are probably engineers using an MCAD system anyway. But what about the rest of them? Presumably they’re SolidWorks users, and why would a SolidWorks user need to STEP a model over to a collaborator? Intriguing.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.01.37 PM

Sharing with Clients

In this one we’d expect to see a lot of eDrawings, 2D or 3D PDF, etc, but frankly we didn’t. Two people said they use 3D PDF. Another two said they use eDrawings. The vast majority (13) cited STEP, and a half-dozen others use a native format.

Does that mean that formats like eDrawings have failed? I happen to think so, but that’s a topic for another post. Besides, the question was a bit unclear. Users might use eDrawings for client previews and review meetings, but then deliver a STEP file at the end of the project. This survey is unclear on that score.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.01.41 PM

Sharing with Fabricators

Here’s where things really start to even out. STEP is still the clear winner, but IGS, DXF, STL, and native formats are all within spittin’ range of one another. Not too surprising.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.01.45 PM

Will CAD in the Cloud be of help?

We also included a few questions about whether or not these users feel that cloudy solutions will solve their woes. There was a bit of optimism on the sharing-with-collaborators front, a bit less when sharing with clients, and an impressively bland “meh” for sharing with fab shops.

Starting with collaborators, it seems like most people think cloudy apps will be really useful. I agree.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.02.05 PM

In the sharing-with-clients area, however, there’s a strong contingent of people who don’t think it’ll matter much. For me this depends on the solution. Those who have 100% browser-based solutions will fair well here. Those who rely on installed apps, like F360 for example, will do less well.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.02.09 PM

Finally, it seems like people really don’t cloud solutions will help when sharing with Fab shops, and I tend to agree. Unless you’re working in an integrated environment with your own in-house shop, cloud solutions are unlikely to be of much help aside from making file transfer a bit simpler (no FTP required, etc).

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.02.12 PM

Oh, and by the way…

We also, on a lark, wondered how many of the respondents make heavy use of 2D. That would be important, since sharing 2D drawings with collaborators, clients, and fab shops is quite a different thing from trying to share 3D data.

Well, anyone who thinks 2D is dead… well, it’s not dead.

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.02.15 PM

Key takeaways

Like I said up front, nothing here is all that shocking, but it’s nice to have some solid data to back my assumptions–even if the sample size is fairly small. It seems like STEP is by far the favorite for sharing data, and perhaps even more so than I’d thought when sharing with collaborators.

It’s a shame that there is not yet a format in the mix that even attempts to carry design intent with it. Yes, it would be a tricky engineering problem–not to mention a sticky commercial problem in the notoriously-closed-off CAD world–but one that would be worth looking into.

And no, Bertrand, the SLDPRT format is not anything close to an industry standard.

Perhaps most importantly, if Josh Mings were an animal, consensus has it that he would probably be a Lemur. If not that, he’d be a Vampire Squid, a Field Mouse, or a Chinese Giant Salamander. Go Josh!

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 3.02.18 PM

What do you think? How do you share data? Will the cloud make that process easier? Why or why not?


Adam O'Hern is an industrial designer, designing products ranging from laptops to power tools, classroom toys to bathroom fixtures, and pro audio gear to guitar tuners. In 2008 he founded, and in 2010 co-founded EvD Media with Josh Mings of, and the two collaborate on the podcast.