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May 3

Comparison of Cloud-Based CAD Collaboration Services: TeamPlatform vs Autodesk 360

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May 3
Daniel Dobrzynski from CADdigest compares TeamPlatform and Autodesk 360 and explains their similarities and differences.  The full article appeared on CADdigest on May 2 and is reprinted here.

Comparison of Cloud-Based CAD Collaboration Services: TeamPlatform vs Autodesk 360

By Daniel Dobrzynski, May 2, 2013

This review aims to describe my experience in using TeamPlatform and Autodesk 360 with the aim of comparing two products highlighting their benefits, options and features, and build a more objective view of the main application fields of each. Both products have the same basic goal: to use cloud service as a collaboration tool, but differ greatly in their additional capabilities. Both TeamPlatform and Autodesk 360 provide a service for those who want to share and collaborate on projects containing product designs (engineering, architecture, concurrent design, etc.) with 3D CAD assemblies & parts, 2D CAD drawings, 2D/3D scans & meshes, different kinds of files as office documents, spreadsheets, presentations, PDF, videos, animations, etc., etc. Let’s start with a few words from their creators:

From Autodesk, Autodesk 360 is “a cloud computing platform that provides a broad set of features, cloud services, and products that can help you dramatically improve the way you design, visualize, simulate, and share your work with others anytime, anywhere…”

From TeamPlatform, their product’s goal is “to help people and companies work together much more easily and quickly than with conventional tools. This is a new way to connect businesses, effectively sharing and collaborating designs no matter the complexity or the CAD file, with the added of workflow tools that are fast to use and easy to set up…”

Workspace Comparison

Let’s now take a look at the common characteristic of TeamPlatform and Autodesk 360, with what I think is the primary mission of both products. I’m talking specifically here about sharing information within a team and with possible external partners, using virtual external storage servers, non-technically called “the cloud.” To be fair, I will test the no-charge level of each product.

Uploading and Organizing Documents with Autodesk 360

Uploading documents and organizing them online are extremely easy to use tasks that I found user friendly as they are regulated by an intuitive process I created an Autodesk account, and then logged into Autodesk 360 (see figure 1). On the home page, I can upload documents by a simple click on a button. If I am using Firefox or Chrome, I can drag and drop files from Windows Explorer into the browser. Uploaded documents are shown in Recent Activity area and listed on the Documents page. Whoever uploads a document becomes the owner of it.

Figure 1: Autodesk 360 home page showing the upload and share options; also available are training videos

The organization of the documents is by a folder and subfolder structure. Document Details and Folder Details pages display information about items, such as their size, versions, and recent activities. If I am the owner of a file, then the page also displays sharing controls (see figure 2.)

Figure 2: Document Details folder; the example shown here is an of a CATIA file

I found all these processes very easy to follow. For instance, a right click on a file gives me access to functions like Download, Move, Copy, and Delete or Restore. An option to create and manage categories and subcategories provides flexibility in organizing items, especially because I can apply multiple categories to each item.

Finally, I can add comments to files, and there is an effective version control system.

Uploading and Organizing Documents with TeamPlatform

TeamPlatform is based on the concept of workspaces, which, simply put, is a collection of files, folders, tasks, and comments, as well as settings that define people’s access to the documents. I found TeamPlatform’s workspaces great, a powerful and simple way to organize, manage, and collaborate on any type of project. In other words, workspaces are where people work.

After I log into TeamPlatform, I click on the Dashboard folder (see figure 3). This is a quick snapshot that shows me various types of information relevant to the project, such as Workspaces Update, Recent Discussions, Tasks To Do in project planning, Recent upload and download activity, and Recent Comments. It’s good for managers and others who want to see the most significant information in one shot.

Figure 3: TeamPlatform’s Dashboard giving an overview of recent files and activities

After creating a new workspace, I added a title and an optional description, along with those with whom I want share files by defining access permissions for anyone, all my team, or with specific accounts, email addresses, or entire groups. I saw the whole process for setting up online workspaces as an easy process, and a dynamic one with which I can quickly organize and work in partnerships on projects.

Figure 4: TeamPlatform showing a Workspace in list mode view

Everything I need to enable a project team is included in the workspace environment. (I will go deeper into this later.) For now, I want to expose you to some conceptual ideas to provide a more extensive picture of how it works. As the owner of the files, I am administrator and I can invite people, and define their access to the content with simple operations.

It is a sufficiently intuitive process that just about any level of user can add comments to nearly all workspace elements, such as Files, Pages, and Tasks. This allows anyone in the team to freely share ideas and request feedback on every detail of the project.

A powerful feature lets members create contextual hyperlinks between items. Users may organize a considerable amount of content easily, including documents, CAD data, and project tasks – allowing all files can be managed entirely inside TeamPlatform.

Members can comment almost anywhere; by default, comments and other actions send email notifications to all people. (This is customizable.) This function is useful for project tracking.

I can drag-and-drop to add folders and upload files or by synching them with DWM [desktop workspace manager]. It’s possible to view almost any file after uploading; see Viewing section for details. No matter the size of a file, it can be moved and copied freely between shared workspaces. Files can be visualized in most any Web browser meaning that no special software is required (Microsoft Internet Explorer must install a patch to view 3D). While this is a great value that TeamPlatform provides (performance, simplicity, and saving money), I want to talk about this more in the section on Viewing. Powerful file tools allowed me to store different versions, track downloads, navigate assemblies of CAD structures, show additional properties that can be customized (like part numbers, material details, and volumes), and personalize labels.

I want to pause here to talk a bit about a particular differentiator of TeamPlatform, its ability to create Pages for Write Together, Pack Files, and Publish to Outsiders. These are unique, powerful authoring tools to aggregate files, memos, images and videos, notes, links, and data. They can be used to define project trajectories, provide reference material, record meeting notes, and summarize major milestones. As if all this were not enough, Pages can be embedded with content from Web and other workspaces, publish each page to outsiders with various access permissions (e-mail unique URL without sharing the entire workspace) and track visits.

Sharing Documents with Autodesk 360

Autodesk 360 supports two kinds of sharing: private and public. Most documents can be shared using one of them. For example, as the document owner, I want to use private sharing to control which people, or connections, can access my items, as well as specify their level of access (such as only users with an Autodesk Account).

Access levels determine what connections can do with privately shared items. There are four levels: view only, download, upload a new version, and share with others. The exception is the Full access level which has no restrictions (see figure 5).

When sharing documents publicly, they can be accessed by anyone with the URL; it is not, however, discoverable by search engines. No Autodesk account is needed to view a public document. While viewers of public documents cannot see activities or other data, in the same way owners of the public documents have no knowledge of who has viewed them. To provide links to public documents, I can copy a URL from the clipboard, send an email with the link, or embed HTML code on a Web page.

Figure 5: Autodesk 360 sharing documents

Sharing Documents with TeamPlatform

In TeamPlatform, everything is so connected that I find it difficult to describe some functions separately without commenting on related items. This is the case for sharing documentation: several of the previous paragraphs touched the subject. Now, I will address this issue with greater depth.

Employing the concept I’ll call “right files to the right people,” I can share workspaces, files, pages, and discussion topics based on user accounts (see figure 6). In any project management software, as administrator I determine the sharing of files. What happens, however, when I want to share some data from a large set of documentation? For this, TeamPlatform provides a fast way to search for the right files easily because it indexes all custom properties stored by files.

Naturally, I can add or remove members; in addition, I can organize members and guests into groups (entire departments, groups, or teams) to generate invitations faster to workspaces or discussion posts. People shared in workspaces have full access to the workspace (download, upload, edit, and so on) but if I as administrator want to restrict some of them from editing the workspace, then I set it as read-only. This is a one directional workspace for guests, which allows them to search, view comments (but not make them), and download (but not upload) files. A restriction of read-only workspaces keeps guests from seeing other guests in the workspace. They get an invitation email in their inbox with a link that takes them directly to the read-only workspace. To stop sharing a workspace, I just need to remove a person’s name from the People list.

If the administrator(s) want to share Published Page just needs to select the “Public on the web” share option and anyone on the Internet can find and access to them with no sign-in required. To stop its access can be disabled public access, change its password or directly delete the page.

Figure 6: Example of Public Page sharing in TeamPlatform

Continuing my research into the variety of ways of sharing pages, I found an interesting one named “Anyone with the link.” This provides no sign-on access via a link, with options of imposing a expiry time (in days) and password protection.

Finally, if I set the status to “Private,” then the Page is not shared, and it can be accessed only through a workspace.

Well, at this stage of the review you are probably thinking that the range of sharing possibilities in TeamPlatform has no limits. So it seems, but there is one more: share discussions with selected persons.

Workspaces Comparison Conclusion

The differences between the two products are already so significant that I cannot wait until the final conclusion to report on them:

To this point, TeamPlatform prevails over Autodesk 360 because it has a much greater range of possibilities for displaying and ordering information, as well as having search filters in its Dashboard and Workspaces. When it comes to sharing, the gap becomes much wider due to the quantity and quality of options TeamPlatform offers, as well as the way in which it issues invitations and change notices to team members.

Viewing Documents

Viewing with Autodesk 360

When I click on a document in Autodesk 360, the View page opens, showing the contents inside the Web browser (see figures 7a and 7b). It provides viewing tools based on the file type, such DWF, DWG (AutoCAD), JPG (photographs), PDF (documents), MP4 (movies), RVT (Revit), OGV (video), and PNG (images). For some file types, such as DWG and JPG, I can edit them online. If the file cannot be displayed, then the Document Details page is displayed.

Figure 7a: Folder view organized by icons shows the availability for visualization of DWG and JPG

AutoCAD WS can view 3D models in 3D, but cannot edit them in 3D.

Figure 7b: Viewing a 3D DWF file

Some supported file types stored on Autodesk 360 can be edited online with Autodesk’s cloud-based services. For instance, DWG is edited using AutoCAD WS, which can apply common CAD functions, add annotations, and apply sharing (see figure 8).

 

Figure 8: Using AutoCAD WS to view and edit an DWG file

Although the Autodesk 360 viewing tools are good, they are limited certain types of files; in the case of CAD files, the selection is reduced to DWG and DWF. I observe that in this is because Autodesk focuses almost exclusively on its own users, and so the community of those who consider viewing documents on Autodesk’s cloud is reduced considerably.

Viewing with TeamPlatform

TeamPlatform’s 3D viewer provides high performance model viewing inside of Web browsers and supports a wide range of 3D formats without the need of an external 3D viewer (whether a 3rd party plug-in or built-in). This means that any workspace member – whether our engineers, partners or clients – has the opportunity to view native 3D formats, neutral 3D CAD, scan file, and 2D native or neutral files without any barrier (see figure 9).

These include the following 3D format, which I have chosen in no particular order: Dassault Systemes CATIA and SolidWorks, Siemens NX, Autodesk DWG and Inventor, and PTC PRO/E; neutral 3D CAD formats, such as IGES, STEP, Parasolid, STL, and DXF; and 3D scans and mesh formats like PLY and FLS.

Figure 9: TeamPlatform showing a CATIA assembly in view mode with annotations

TeamPlatform creates thumbnails of the 3D models automatically (see figure 10). This provide a metadata visual search tool that allow users to find CAD and 3D parts quickly, and then copy, move, or share files easily, without needing to download them.

Figure 10: TeamPlatform’s workspace shows thumbnails of the components of assemblies

What happens in case I need to search CAD assemblies? Here, TeamPlatform offers an advanced search tool: starting from a component, I execute a “Where Used” search, which links to assemblies and sub-assemblies used by the component (see figures 11a and 11b). The reverse is also possible, because every assembly provides a “Has Components” search to display sub-assemblies and components used by the assembly. I can jump immediately to an assembly tree with its model meta-data. There are further options, such as exporting the assembly components to a linked Excel spreadsheet, or packing the assembly structure in a ZIP file.

Figure 11a: TeamPlatform’s 3D viewer showing assembly components and model information
Figure 11b: TeamPlatform’s assembly tree browser

I could go on, for there are more visualization tools in TeamPlatform, but I do not want to overwhelm you. I’ll finish off with a quick review of some remaining points:

TeamPlatform displays the top (plan) view and full 3D views; views can be saved or screen captured. Models can be visualized using transparency, wireframe, lighting and show/hide controls on components and sub-assemblies; exploded view of assemblies and sub-assemblies (see figure 12). Measurements can be made from 3D data; markups and annotations can be applied to facilitate communication between collaborators; drawings can be shared for revision review, engineering or shop floor remarks. And direct download is available in STL format from CAD parts, assemblies, and sub-assemblies.

Figure 12: TeamPlatform’s exploded view of a CATIA assembly

I want to dedicate a special paragraph to TeamPlatform’s management of reverse engineering, inspection, and surfacing pipeline through the support of 3D scan and mesh formats (such as STL, PLY, OBJ, XRL, XOV, and Color) and it support of laser scans with top-down, planar, spherical, and full 3D views of FARO FLS and FWS point cloud files (see figure 13).

I checked – and I have to emphasize – the impressive support and easy handling of large 3D mesh files. They can be gigabytes, and even terabytes. This includes online previews, mark ups, and instant measurements directly on scans.

Figure 13: Full 3D visualization of point clouds online with TeamPlatform, including point rendering control (Image courtesy of TeamPlatform)

Viewing Comparison Conclusion

After analyzing in detail the visualization tools offered by Autodesk 360 and TeamPlatform, I found the difference very broad in the variety of options provided by TeamPlatform. In this category, TeamPlatform wins by a landslide.

For companies that base their services on multi-CAD file management, the visualization of 3D CAD data is primary. TeamPlatform better matches their need, because it offers a wide range of viewing possibilities of 3D native, neutral, and scan formats without needing additional viewers.

Just the savings in viewer licenses fees justifies a switch to TeamPlatform – together with the simplicity and practicality of interactive management of files within the same product. From experience, I know that it becomes prohibitive for small business and freelancers to spend so much each year in licensing and maintenance to keep current with the latest 3D CAD format changes.

With Autodesk 360’s focus on its own formats (plus image files), its viewing capability is far behind TeamPlatform.

Additional TeamPlatform Features

As I delved deeper into the functions of TeamPlatform, I found that it is more than a common FTP facility, or a file sharing tool, or a 3D viewer. Its added value is big differentiator from competitors: its ability to interact with 3D data and other documentation, together with the whole workflow capability and its collaboration tools.

Although I pointed out much in the previous sections, it was not enough to show all differentiating features TeamPlatform has to offer, so let me briefly overview other ones.

Additional Autodesk 360 Features

For subscription customers, Autodesk 360 offers a completely separate set of services from its collaboration tools, such as rendering, energy analysis and efficiency optimization, simulation (for Inventor only), structural analysis (for Revit only), and an infrastructure modeler.

Project Management and Task Scheduling

For project management, TeamPlatform provides Gantt charts that allow workspace administrators to set multiple dependencies among tasks, assign tasks to engineers, and mark milestones – entirely within the Web browser. It has a friendly interface for creating tasks and dependences, even for non-technical people (see figure 14).

To streamline and execute projects properly, engineers receive email notifications when new tasks are assigned or other dependent tasks are finished during the span of a project cycle. A very useful characteristic is that the project links can be included in a task, and so all related project files can be accessed instantly.

Figure 14: TeamPlatform showing an example of a Gantt chart for project management

Exporting Data to Excel

TeamPlatform allows filtered workspace data and 3D assembly organization lists to be exported to Excel. In addition, it can extract thumbnails and properties, as well direct dimensioning information from 3D native CAD files like volumes, surfaces, bounding limits, and units (see figure 15).

All this information can be combined using predefined Excel templates, which also contain formulas and macros for the purpose of generating bills of material (with data, assembly trees, thumbnails images, and so on). This that simplifies the automation of workflow process, reports, cost calculation, and quotations. Companies don’t need to spend much time (or even money) on developing a quoting system, because they can use available template pages that implement RFQ (Request For Quotation) Web pages, personalized with the company logo. Access can be restricted to permitted customers or internal users, who can upload 3D models and submit quotations.

Figure 15: TeamPlatform assembly data automatically exported to Excel

Tracking

For usage statistics, TeamPlatform can track downloads and visits by map location. This lets me control the duration of data exposure, or to trace who has been downloading or viewing files from my workspaces.

Application Programming Interface

Especially necessary for companies that need to integrate TeamPlatform into their desktop or cloud applications, there is an API.

Pricing

Both products offer a free level, which becomes a paid level depending on the functions you wish to add to your account.

TeamPlatform Services

TeamPlatform offers three levels of service, with straight-forward pricing. The difference between them is based only on the number of workspaces, guests, pages, and storage; all other functions are the same

  • Basic – free: unlimited team members, up to 10 workspaces, up to five guests up, and 1GB storage
  • Pro Team – $25 per member per month: unlimited projects, unlimited guests, and 50GB storage
  • Enterprise – custom agreements with companies (pricing is based primarily on the number of administrators, workspaces, and also storage space required): all unlimited

All levels allow us to invite guests to access the platform at no additional charge.

TeamPlatform offers an API for online or offline integration to many CAD, PDM, PLM, CRM [customer relationship management], SCM [supply chain management], and ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems, and even some dedicated company systems.

Autodesk 360 Cloud Services

Autodesk’s pricing for 360 is not straight forward, like TeamPlatform’s. It has a free level but then pricing involves credits, an indirect form of payment similar to what Microsoft used for XBox 360 but then abandoned. You pay per job executed by remote servers (a.k.a. the cloud). The basic level is free and includes the following:

  • Access to cloud services. Save, view, and edit drawing files using any Web browser or software for Android and iOS mobile devices.
  • Store 5GB of files free, with additional storage available with a subscription.
  • View and edit 2D and 3D design files through AutoCAD WS mobile apps, and 2D files using Autodesk 360 in Web browsers.
  • Share files with others: invite them to view, mark up, share, and download designs from their Web browser or mobile device; follows user comments with the activity stream.
  • Online rendering and simulation of 3D models.

Payment is variable, because it is based on an annual subscription fee as well as the ongoing purchase of “cloud units.”

An Autodesk Subscription is required with desktop software to access Autodesk 360 cloud-based services for rendering, optimization, and analysis (see additional features area) that includes a maximum of 25GB storage space per seat.

“Cloud units” measure how much cloud capacity is needed to perform compute-intensive tasks. For instance, it takes 5 cloud units to rendering a model online; an optimization run using Autodesk 360 Optimization for Inventor also costs 5 cloud units; to do Analysis Run using Autodesk 360 Structural Analysis for Revit costs 3 cloud units.

Subscribers receive a set number of cloud units included in their annual payment, according to the software licensed:

  • Stand-alone software – 100 credits annually, per seat
  • Premium suite – 250 credits
  • Ultimate suite – 500 credits

At this point, additional credits cannot be purchased. Autodesk notes that it can modify the deal according to the time, agreement, region, and so on.

Conclusion

After experiencing Autodesk 360 and TeamPlatform, I can say that both products are well implemented, easy to use, and similar in their basic application. If you need more than uploading and sharing 3D data and other documentation using a cloud service hosted on secure data centers managed according to strict policies and procedures, then either will do. For those having to deal with CAD files from various vendors, TeamPlatform is a clear winner. Autodesk 360 focuses on Autodesk’s proprietary formats, whereas TeamPlatform handles a variety of CAD formats.

I’m impressed at the level of functionality and meticulousness of TeamPlatform, perhaps a better competitor would have been Autodesk PLM 360, because it brings a lot more features for the lifecycle – though it still lacks viewing capabilities. Also, Autodesk PLM360 is three times more expensive than TeamPlatform.

TeamPlatform exceeds Autodesk 360 by providing much more in benefits, because it is a project-oriented product offering with exquisite collaboration tools and a wide range of online visualization of 3D CAD files in native and neutral formats, along with documentation, multimedia, and 3D scanning format. TeamPlatform also provides tools for project management by Gantt charts and Excel interaction.

Money is a factor in comparing products. Autodesk 360 offers quite a bit for free, but its costing for premium services is based upon a combination of subscription fees and cloud “units,” making it difficult for potential customers to price. By contrast, TeamPlatform’s pricing is clear, starting with free and then continues with easily accessible costing for increases in capability.

 

About the Author

Daniel Dobrzynski is a expert in the CAD/CAM industry with over 27 years’ experience as enterprise consultant. He has worked as a designer (mainly in automotive & aerospace areas of big companies), CAM programmer, post processor generator, advance machine builder for CAM simulation, PLM administrator, methodology and procedures creator. He has more than 20 years as a CAD/CAM/CAE certified trainer. More…

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